Kawasaki’s venerable KLR650 is one of the least powerful big bore dual-sport motorcycles on the market. The KLR has been around since God was a boy, feels and looks a little dated and has about as much sex appeal as Kevin Rudd.
So why is it by far the biggest selling adventure-touring motorcycle in Australia?
Unrivalled value is no doubt by far the chief reason, but don’t for one minute think the KLR650 offers only a boring and mundane ride.
I must admit I greatly underestimated the Kawasaki before taking it along on a three bike comparo which included the much more expensive Yamaha XT660R and BMW G 650 GS. The dearer machines were much more powerful and a bit more thrilling to ride due to the extra grunt, but the Kawasaki was never left behind and quickly endeared itself to all riders.
Climbing above Snobs Creek Falls, scraping pegs through the Eildon-Jamieson Road. Then out on open dirt roads through to Woods Point before tackling a lot more dirt from Big River back through to Eildon. Then it was mainly a dirt run from Eildon through to Bonnie Doon before hitting the tarmac and onto Mansfield, back down to Jamieson and then another run through the fantastic Eildon-Jamieson Road that provides 65 kilometres of motorcycling nirvana. Half dirt and half tarmac, this route is dual-sport paradise. All up this testing loop amounted to around 500 kilometres of extremely spirited riding across all road surfaces and clearly underlined just how damn competent Kawasaki’s KLR650 is in its intended role.
Despite the somewhat dated look and lack of outright power the KLR650 is still great fun to ride through such challenging terrain.
Dragging pegs on big chook chasers fitted with dual-sport tyres doesn’t seem the most natural thing to do but it was immensely satisfying. So much so that after a particularly epic run chasing each other through a tight and twisty sealed section a riding partner and I turned to each other and remarked how that ride had just been one of the best motorcycle experiences of our lives. This from two blokes accustomed to riding 1000cc sportsbikes on racetracks and roads.
Even with all of 40 horsepower from a soft single lung dual-sport, there is still plenty of fun to be had on tight sections of tarmac.
Despite the KLR650’s large dimensions and lardy 194kg wet weight the KLR actually works quite well in the dirt. The shape of the tank allows the aggressive rider to stick the boot out to help when cornering hard and the 21” front tyre provides a proper dirtbike feel when off road.
A quite high 890mm seat height might be a concern for those short of leg but it does help the KLR650 to offer a handy 210mm of ground clearance.
41mm forks offer 200mm of travel but no adjustment, while the single shock rear end provides 183mm of travel along with preload and rebound damping adjustments. The suspension is quite soft but the damping does a reasonable job of keeping the show under control.
On our test loop in the company of the more powerful BMW and Yamaha the Kawasaki sucked the most juice. At 22 litres it has by far the largest tank but with the modest power output generally making throttle use a constantly wound to the stop affair, it drank 8 litres per 100 kilometres, giving a range of 275km. More moderate use would easily extend that range well over 300km and, I would expect, 400km is achievable.
The seat is a veritable lounge chair that I suspected might have been actually a little too soft but it proved quite accommodating throughout a long day in the saddle.
Standard handguards give your fingers a little protection from the elements.
The windshield does protect the rider a little, but is not tall or wide enough to fulfil its intended role. An optional taller shield is available for a very reasonable $145 but the real icing on the Kawasaki accessories cake are the extremely well priced luggage options.
A tail bag to suit the generously sized standard luggage rack is only $212. Saddlebags command an extra $313. Add to that the optional $115 tank bag and for the grand total of $640 toted up with the bargain $8499 sticker price of the KLR650, you have a fully equipped adventure tourer capable of taking you anywhere with a minimum of fuss and expense.
All that for a little over nine grand on the road.
To put that in perspective, the complete KLR650 package is priced around the same as the full fruit basket of optional extras alone on BMW’s R1200GS.
In bang factor the KLR650 doesn’t score highly, but when weighed against the value equation, the KLR650’s bang for the buck score is at the top of the charts.
The engine could certainly do with an update and a move to fuel injection would certainly help matters, but overall the KLR650 still makes a compelling case in its favour. A jack of all trades but master of none, the KLR650 is a reliable and versatile machine that out of the box is ready for any adventure and suitable for all skill levels.
Click the following link for a large pictorial featuring the KLR650 in detail.
Specs – Kawasaki KLR650
Engine – 651cc, liquid cooled, single
Transmission – Five speed manual, chain drive
Seat Height – 890mm
Wet Weight – 194kg
Fuel Capacity – 22.1 litres
Average Consumption on test – 8 litres per 100km
Range – 275km when riding hard (400km would be achievable if riding moderately)
Warranty – Two years
Price – $8499 Positives
+ Great value
+ L.A.M.S. eligible
– Engine needs updating
– Would benefit from a diet plan (a bit like this tester)