Initially when I started this blog for a marketing project in college I was attempting to document and write about the budget friendly side of adventure motorcycling. One of the biggest misconceptions about adventure motorcycling is that you need to have a BMW GS or a KTM to have epic adventures which is incredibly inaccurate. In fact, prior to the big European adventure bikes that we know and love today, the Japanese single cylinder thumpers were the original adventure bikes even though they were technically classified as dual sports. Starting in the mid 1980’s Kawasaki released the KLR, first as a 600 and later as a 650. The KLR was somewhat revolutionary when it debuted in 1986, it was equipped with a 600 to 650cc engine that was built around an off-road oriented suspension and frame. Despite being a mid-sized bike, it wasn’t exactly a show stopper in the performance department but it was the type of bike that could do anything…just not well. Fast forward three decades and this year Kawasaki graced us with the third generation of the KLR 650 and somehow not a whole lot really changed.
The story of my KLR started in June of 2016. At the time I was riding a Yamaha XT225 and while it was an amazing bike, I had pushed it to the limits in terms of what it could do. My next bike needed to have the power and ability to travel several hours on pavement and then transition to off pavement riding. It needed to have a range of at least 200 miles on a tank of gas and it needed to be reliable since I rode in remote areas. Lastly, it needed to haul camping gear and luggage for multi day trips. After spending massive amounts of time on Facebook groups and motorcycle forums I decided that the Kawasaki KLR 650 checked all of the boxes for my next bike. Luckily for me I ended up finding a lightly used 2011 KLR at my local Kawasaki Dealer in Pueblo, Colorado and after they threw on a set of Dunlop 606 tires the rest is history.
That summer, my KLR and I spent some overnight trips in the Wet Mountains and Sange De Cristo Mountains in Southern Colorado. It was on these trips that I learned about the capabilities of the KLR and what it could do and somewhat do. From single track to forest roads the KLR took everything I threw at it and then some. While it wasn’t the fastest bike with an amazing suspension it could literally do anything…just not well. As summer started to fade away, I took on the daunting task of riding two Back Country Discovery Routes back-to-back. Over the course of a month, I rode the Colorado and New Mexico BDR’s and explored some beautiful areas of both states. These trips would end up being the final good bye to high altitude mountain riding for the KLR since my wife accepted a new job in Minnesota.
Adventure and dual sport riding in Minnesota was very unique considering how rural most of the state is however, there aren’t a lot of trail systems or BDR type routes in the state. While in Colorado I was able to ride established and well-known routes like the Trans America Trail or the Colorado BDR but those opportunities didn’t exist in Minnesota. Despite a lack of well known routes and a short riding season the KLR and I managed to have fun and made the most of our time there. I learned how to string together gravel farm roads to create off pavement loops and I also learned that most areas along the bluffs of the Minnesota and Mississippi River held some hidden gems in the form of “No Winter Maintenance Roads”. The KLR and I managed to go on a few overnight adventures in the St. Croix River Valley but most of the KLR’s time in Minnesota was spent commuting with a lot of gravel farm road riding thrown in.
From a riding perspective I didn’t really enjoy riding in Minnesota mostly because of the short riding season and the lack of off pavement riding options in the Minneapolis area. Fortunately, that was about to change as my family decided to relocate to our current home here in South Carolina. I made the decision to ride the KLR cross country from Minnesota to South Carolina in early fall of 2019 and I wrote a series of blog entries about that ride which was the longest adventure that the KLR and I had together. For me that cross country trip was the KLR’s swan song and the beginning of the end. While I loved the simplicity of a 650 thumper and how basic of a bike it was, I wanted something that was a little bigger, faster, and modern. For six days the KLR and I slugged it out through the wind-swept farm country of the Mid-West to the Appalachian Mountains and finally down to the Atlantic Coast. While the KLR did amazing it was time to move on towards something new.
As I wrap up the story of the KLR, I can’t help but think how great of a bike it was. For a rider who was fairly new to adventure riding and crushing miles on and off pavement the KLR was the perfect bike to do it. From high altitude riding in Colorado to spending miles on arrow straight gravel farm roads in Minnesota and then trekking halfway across the country the KLR did everything I needed it to and never let me down. After four years and 17,000 miles the KLR will go down as the most capable bike that I have ever owned and will always hold a soft spot in my heart. To me the KLR is not only the “Swiss Army Knife of Motorcycles” but it’s also a right of passage bike for those in adventure motorcycling. At some point almost every adventure rider has owned a KLR or know some one who has and it’s incredibly common to hear about them being an adventure riders first bike. To close out this entry I’ll leave a quote that I read many years ago on a motorcycle forum and I still get a kick out of it to this day “when the world ends the only thing left surviving will be cockroaches and KLR’s”.
Fond memories of El Burro Rojo, my red first gen KLR. I learned a ton on that bike!