Allowing for a couple of model year omissions, the Kawasaki KLR650 has been in constant production for a total of 35 years. Not many motorcycle models can claim that kind of longevity. It has remained desirable for its ability to be both freeway-capable and dirt-worthy, while being affordably priced.
By my recollection, I first road tested a KLR650 circa 2002, 15 years after the 1987 model appeared in Kawasaki’s lineup. In the two decades since that initial road test, I’ve swung my leg over various iterations of the bike. And now, with a 2022 KLR650 Adventure in my possession, it’s befitting for me to have a 20th anniversary road test. Boy, I feel old.
While on hiatus, the KLR has been outfitted with fuel injection, probably the most significant change since its complete makeover in 2008. Gone are the petcock and choke, and—in my opinion—that’s a change for the better. I imagine those bemoaning the lost simplicity of carburetion are of the same ilk as those who cursed the dropped kickstarter option circa 1996. But why? I can now thumb the big single-cylinder engine to life with all the effort of pushing a button and letting it settle into a loping idle all by itself while the engine warms—a menial task the carbureted version struggled to perform.
The 2022 KLR wears a new look and comes equipped with a variety of other upgrades, such as better brakes, LED headlights, and an LCD instrument cluster. But has the overall riding experience improved? Let’s jump right in.
Freeway, Twisties, And Dirt
A two-day trip from southern California to the state’s central coast afforded me ample time to be impressed with the comfort level of the KLR. Its redesigned fairing provides better wind protection, and I didn’t experience any profound wind buffeting of my 5-foot-11-inch frame while riding at sustained speeds in excess of 75 mph. Nor did my hands or fingers ever tire from holding onto the bike’s wide handlebar. This, combined with roomy ergonomics and the flat, wide seat—with not-too-soft-not-too-hard foam—meant I could spend hours aboard the KLR with only the occasional need for fuel demanding I stop.
And even then I didn’t have to stop often. The combined freeway and backroad twisties of my route included a lot of throttle-to-the-stoop accelerating, and the KLR still managed an impressive 41.7 mpg. Considering its 6.1-gallon fuel capacity, that’s a 254-mile range!
Attacking a gnarled, paved backroad that eventually gives way to a dirt fire road is where the KLR felt most at home. The 21-inch front wheel and wide handlebar provide good control when riding over this type of terrain. Kawasaki literature claims increased stability via a change in rake/trail measurements, with the new KLR boasting 30 degrees and 4.8 inches whereas the old KLR measured 28 degrees and 4.4 inches. Also adding to the bike’s stability is a 30mm longer swingarm and a larger, 17mm vs. 15mm, swingarm pivot shaft.
Where To Spend The Money You Saved
When it comes to the bike’s weakest point, I’d have to say the suspension is the worst offender. Plush on smooth freeway pavement, the fork moves through its 7.9 inches of travel too easily on tight, paved switchbacks. Off-road aggression needs to be kept in check or the combined weight of the bike (487 pounds claimed curb weight) and rider (187 pounds claimed rider weight) will have the fork and shock bottoming out in no time. Kawasaki chose not to provide any kind of adjustment to the fork, leaving aftermarket fork internals as the most obvious fix.
The stock shock is a slightly better performer than the fork, largely due to its adjustability for preload and rebound. According to Kawasaki, the shock was revised for 2022 with new settings to provide “a more planted feel,” but an aftermarket component would also be money well spent.
Enter the KLR Adventure’s non-ABS price tag of $ 7,699. It’s a lot of motorcycle for the money, but you’re going to make concessions somewhere, and suspension is one place where Kawasaki saved on production cost. Luckily, you can start typing “KLR suspension” into Google, and the search engine auto-fills with “upgrade.” The money you save buying this bike as new is handily spent on aftermarket suspension upgrades.
The mid-range power delivery of the KLR’s DOHC single-cylinder engine is fun but could never be considered exciting. The engine’s reputation of being nearly indestructible stems from its underwhelming inability to produce much horsepower. While the 652cc thumper isn’t going to wow with its power output, it does manage to keep spinning no matter how low you let the revs fall. Surprising to me is the fact that the counter-balanced engine manages to emit a thrum but not once did I notice my fingers or toes tingling. I won’t go as far to say the KLR single is equal in smoothness to the newest offerings from KTM, but there’s a significant cost difference to consider. For substantially less money, the Kawasaki motor has proven itself to be a traveler’s companion.
The larger front disc brake, 300mm vs. 280mm, brings the bike to a stop decently at moderate speeds in the dirt, but it can get a little overwhelmed when asked to do the same quickly while traveling at freeway speeds. There’s a good feel at the lever, but of course, neither it nor the clutch lever offer any adjustability.
Minimal Impact, Maximum Damage
For an extra $ 1,000, the Adventure model differs from the standard KLR by way of saddlebags ($ 429.95), LED fog lights ($ 399.95), engine guards ($ 249.95), a tank pad ($ 59.95), a DC power outlet ($ 95.95), and a USB socket ($ 94.95). That seems like a pretty good package price, but let’s break it down. The DC power outlet and USB socket are worth their weight and cost. Plug your phone into the USB socket and you no longer have to worry about it dying when following a map, chatting with your significant other, or listening to your tunes through your Cardo Packtalk. There’s a funky external cover on the USB socket that doesn’t stay sealed, but it’s followed by a second, internal cover that keeps the port clean. The DC outlet makes it easy for anyone to utilize their heated gear. Wonderful! The tank pad is nice and the engine guards will, for the most part, do the trick protecting exposed bits and pieces. But that’s where the accolades end.
The LED fog lights do a good job illuminating the darkness, but while they’re mounted on metal carriers the housing is plastic and susceptible to damage. So, too, are the plastic saddlebags. My initial inspection of the KLR Adventure led me to believe the saddlebags wouldn’t survive a punch from my five-year-old daughter. My fears were given voice when, upon returning from lunch to where I parked the KLR in downtown Long Beach, I found the bike prone on its kickstand side. The left side fog light was hanging by its wires and the saddlebag suffered a huge crack and a broken hinge. A lot of damage for a mere tip over, let alone an actual crash somewhere off the beaten path. Otherwise, I love the saddlebags’ one-key locking mechanism, and the ease with which they go on and come off the bike.
Revisiting my review of the 2016 KLR, I noted then that the gas cap required an occasional push to release pressure in the fuel tank. If not, a vapor lock would result, causing the engine to suffocate. I’m happy to report this didn’t happen once on the 2022 model. I should also note here that the old-school mechanical clocks have been replaced with a digital LCD screen that features a speedometer, odometer, dual trip meters, a fuel gauge, a clock, and idiot lights. While I really like having the fuel gauge, I have to admit that not having a tachometer is strange. It’s probably unnecessary, though. As my friend, Kevin Duke, would say: “A big single will clearly let you know when it needs shifting.” Still, it feels strange to not have one to look at.
If the Adventure ($ 7,699) or Adventure ABS ( ,999) models are too fancy for you, Kawasaki also offers the standard KLR650 ($ 6,699), KLR650 ABS ($ 6,999), and KLR650 ABS Traveler ($ 7,399) that comes outfitted with a 42-liter top case, a DC outlet, and a USB socket.
All in all, no matter which model you choose, the KLR has once again proven to be a modestly good motorcycle with performance equal to its pricing. The KLR’s been around for more than three decades and will most likely be around for another three in one form or another. Buy yours today, change the oil, and ride it within its comfort zone—it too will provide decades of adequate fun.
2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure
+ all-day comfort, engine vibration is minimal for a single, EFI
– underperforming engine and suspension, new LCD instrumentation but no tach or GPI, paper-mache saddlebags
Distributor Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A
MSRP $ 7,699
Engine liquid-cooled, 1-cylinder, 4-valve, DOHC
Torque 39.1lb-ft @4,500rpm (claimed)
Transmission 5-speed, return shift,wet multi-disc manual clutch
Wet Weight 487lbs (claimed)
Seat Height 34.3in
Fuel Capacity 6.1gal
Fuel Consumption 41.7mpg (as tested)
Fuel Grade premium
Color Cypher Camo Gray