Since 1987, Kawasaki has graced us with a true “swiss army knife” of dual sports in the KLR650. The KLR has become known around the world as the thumper that can do anything…just not well. Over its 30 plus year life span Kawasaki only made two generations, the 1987 to 2007 generation 1’s and the 2008 to 2018 generation 2’s. Both generations are essentially the same bike with few differences, the biggest being the exterior changes on the generation 2’s and a little engine work but overall, not a lot changed since 1987. Late in 2017 Kawasaki decided that the KLR’s production run was going to end that year. Many fans of the beloved thumper were pretty upset but we all knew it was time. The KLR had been surpassed by every dual sport and adventure bike in the market in terms of ride, looks, and performance, really the only thing the KLR had going for it was its amazing price point.
However, over the last three years Kawasaki was quietly working out the details on what to do with the iconic model. For three years many of us speculated the KLR would come back as a smaller displacement dual sport similar to the Kawasaki Versy’s 300X or a 700cc off road monster to compete with the new Yamaha Tenere T7. But somehow, we were all wrong. Just this week Kawasaki unveiled the upcoming 2022 KLR 650 and the response was somewhat disappointing. The bike that we wanted team green to build fell pretty short of our expectations.
In reality what if this isn’t really a bad thing. Right now, the adventure motorcycle market is booming with what seems like a hot new model coming out every six months that tries to change the segment. In 2020 alone we a saw the Triumph Tiger 900 and Yamaha Tenere T7 burst onto the scene. While manufacturers continue to design and build some amazing bikes one thing that has started to cause some issues is price. A Triumph Tiger 900 Rally run’s in the $16,000 dollar range and a new KTM 890 Adventure starts at $13,500. For someone that’s interested in adventure motorcycling and want’s a newer bike this can kind of be a turn off. Now, yes, I know theirs the used market and end of the year deals that Honda and KTM are known for but even then, the prices of bikes can be a barrier to entry. This is where the new KLR starts to shine.
Starting at an MSRP of $6,700 the 2022 KLR 650 is perfectly placed as an entry level adventure motorcycle. For that amount of money, you get a motorcycle that will take you on adventures from rural farm roads to single track to even go from Alaska to Argentina. The KLR is a motorcycle that can do it all and many have. Kawasaki finally gave us some things that KLR riders have been wanting forever such as electronic fuel injection, a shorter kick stand, and an anti-lock braking system. These simple refinements have modernized this dual sport legend that many riders first cut their teeth on almost as a “rite of passage” bike. Did we get a lighter bike with a new engine and suspension…not really? Kawasaki kept the mantra of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”. There are minor upgrades here and there such as a thicker swing arm, stiffer shock, and better disc brakes. But really this bike is still the same reliable dinosaur that it has always been.
I can see the disappointment out there in the forums and articles and I can agree with most of the critics on this bike. In some aspects I feel that Kawasaki missed the mark especially in the highly competitive mid-range segment. Here we have KTM 790’s and 890’s, Triumph Tiger 900’s, Yamaha T7’s and even BMW F750/850 GS’s. A bulky 650 thumper isn’t going to cut it. All of the KLR’s competitors have better suspensions and bigger engines; they are just plain smoother and faster.
The million-dollar question that many out there asking Kawasaki is “why”? I think Kawasaki took a look at the market and what’s available to the consumer and figured why should they commit a massive number of resources to design and build an entirely new model when it costs dramatically less to modernize and refresh an existing design. This has allowed Kawasaki to keep costs down and allows them to market and sell the KLR at an MSRP that’s very favorable to the consumer. As the prices of motorcycles continues to rise the KLR is still a beacon of light for those who want to get into adventure motorcycling but may not be able to afford to. The low price point coupled with the KLR’s simplicity and well known reliability is what’s going to help it sell.
Personally, I think Kawasaki made an interesting move with the 2022 KLR and I think it’s one the market really needed. For the last few years new motorcycle prices have climbed and climbed and have become a barrier to entry for many which is why the used market is so competitive. Kawasaki’s modernization of a proven platform kept costs down and is enabling a new generation of riders to head off on their own adventures with a bike that doesn’t run in the five-figure range. I guess if I was to have a major complaint against the new KLR besides its weight, it would be two things; first bring back the classic green, white, and blue color scheme from the late 80’s and Tengai editions because they looked slick. 2nd, the addition of 6th gear. For far to long many of us have been asking Kawasaki to add an extra gear to the KLR’s robust gear box. This would help smooth out the powerband and drop RPM’s when cruising at highway speeds and help with gas mileage a little bit.
In closing I’m guessing that some of you are wondering will I go back to team green and pick up a new KLR. In a one bike garage that’s a hard no. Even though my Triumph Tiger 800 is a gap bike I don’t think I could ever replace it with a new KLR since it would be a step down in many areas. That being said though I could see myself picking up a new model KLR in a year or two as a second bike that’s more off road focused. Plus, it would give my father something to ride when he comes and visits…it’s been an ongoing struggle to get him to convert from the cruiser world over to the ADV world.