The Kawasaki KLR650 has graced showroom floors around the world for over 25 years. That’s an impressive run for any motorcycle model and more so when you consider that the KLR has seen only one truly significant redesign since its introduction in 1987. The KLR catches a lot of flak for being an old man’s bike, and its riders take an equal about of ribbing for being stereotypically cheap bastards. (In the interest of full disclosure, my dad has a KLR, and he is both old and a cheap bastard. Love ‘ya, Dad!)
But, despite the jokes and jabs, it’s hard to deny the KLR’s flexible utility. You can ride it to Starbucks, or Kalamazoo, or Timbuktu. You can get there on gravel, or Main Street, or super slab. With the right luggage, you can even take half your worldly possessions with you.
And, you can do all of that for notably less hurt on the wallet than anything comparable. The KLR is relatively reliable and, with a few minor modifications, is nearly indestructible. The US military has even adapted a version that runs on diesel.
However, there are some trade-offs. The KLR, for all its versatility, is also—in this gal’s humble opinion—kind of a bore. It is absolutely basic, lacking any fancy accoutrements, and it doesn’t have any exceptional European pedigree or design qualities.
I’m currently on the hunt for another dual sport, and I refuse to entertain the idea of a KLR for the same reason I refused the possibility of another Honda when I got my last car. Everything works well (aside from the infamous “doohickey” and the notoriously craptastic shift levers), and it fills its niche with near perfection, but it’s just so vanilla.
(Ed. Note: The “doohickey” is the KLR650 community’s term for the “Balancer Chain Adjuster Lever”. The stock levers and springs of the 1987 – 2007 KLR650 have a history of failure, sometimes causing catastrophic engine damage when the pieces get loose. The 2008 KLR650 has a completely new lever, machined from one piece of steel.)
The KLR is the quintessential jack of all trades and master of none. It is absolutely average in every arena, and that’s why we all love to mock it. But, it’s also what makes the KLR a deservingly longstanding and truly spectacular motorcycle. …even if an AARP membership and a perfectly balanced checkbook are prerequisites for ownership.