Edited to add: this post was written before I’d had enough time with the bike. Riding it more I’ve come to understand it better, and have posted here and here on my increased appreciation for it. Please read those posts before getting angry about this post, which I’ll be leaving up to document my discovery process. -Eric
I’m just going to get this out of the way right now: The Kawasaki KLR650 sucks.
Now, as with any critique, this is strictly from my point of view. I’m sure the dozens and dozens of satisfied KLR riders would argue until they’re blue in the face that it’s a great bike and I just don’t get it. Maybe they’re correct and it’s just a bad bike for me and my needs at the moment. That doesn’t change the fact that the KLR650 is the motorcycle equivalent of a Kindle Fire- the only good thing about it is a cheap purchase price and beyond that it doesn’t do anything terribly well.
I’ve written about all the great bikes available before. I didn’t follow my own advice and buy one on that list. Noooo…. Instead, I bought something I could pay for with that cash I had on-hand. And why wouldn’t a person? Watch this YouTube video, or this one, and read how many guys love their KLRs on ADVrider or KLR650.net… Well, eventually it becomes a very convincing argument in favor of the bike. But did you catch that last sentence in the first YouTube vid? He didn’t say “it can do anything your bike can do and do better”. No. He said “do it cheaper”. And it only took me one commute to work to realize that it’s not a great bike- it’s a bike that’s loved because it’s inexpensive. That’s all.
I need to be very clear now before I “blast” the Kawasaki unfairly: I fully believe the Kawasaki KLR fully delivers on what it promises and it doesn’t promise to be anything it’s not. No, the problem here is I listened to KLR owners rather than Kawasaki. See, KLR guys are a little bit like Hi-Point firearm buyers and seem to have this bizarre need to validate their purchase by decrying any other nicer competitor as being “overpriced”, rather than just say/admit that they’re cheapskates. Kawasaki never promotes the KLR as being a competitor to KTM, BMW, or the new (ish) Yamaha Super Tenere. They simply say it is what it is. It’s the KLR owners who insist it’s just as good and everyone else paid too much.
KLR owners are lying to themselves.
The KLR is just fine for what it is: a street legal bike with off-road capability. If you want to ride around an off-road playground, and not have to trailer your bike there, this is a fantastic choice. What this bike is not is decent for touring, and the instant highway or Interstate is a factor I would say you need to forget about the Kawi, despite the capacious fuel tank. There’s a reason it’s categorized as a dual-sport and the big BMW GS is an adventure tourer. The KLR just doesn’t have the horsepower to travel at speed, and is a little too tall and light in my opinion and easily pushed around by cross winds.
The torque is fine, but now we’re getting into the same arguments Harley guys make to defend their bikes- torque vs. horsepower. Torque is important, as that’s the real measure of power. This is what Harley guys cling to. But horsepower is just as important when you’re trying to maintain speed effectively, and is the measure of power over time. You can’t have horsepower without torque, but you can have lots of torque without much effective horsepower. This is the problem with Harleys and the KLR and why they’re just… slow. They can accelerate wonderfully at the low end, but trying to maintain speed on the highway is just an exercise in frustration. (Here’s a detailed description of torque vs. horsepower, and here’s a simpler explanation.)
Which brings us to the real problem I have with the KLR- it just isn’t any good for my needs. I have a 35 mile commute to work each way, and it’s on ridiculously straight, boring highway. It is absolutely mind-numbing. The speed limit is 70mph on the highway, but everybody travels closer to 80. Except me, now. I got up to 80 and could practically hear the bike begging for mercy and asking what it had done to deserve such treatment. Since the motorcycle really hadn’t wronged me in any way or done anything to deserve my wrath, I relented and eased back down to 65-70 mph. That, and lower speeds made the ride more stable as I had more traction to fight the cross winds.
The only part of the commute that enjoyed at all was riding over the speed bumps when I finally got to base. It’s really depressing to realize the best part of the ride home will be in the first 4 minutes and the 30-40 minutes that follow will be me daydreaming about a vehicle more capable and comfortable. This will be the only day I ride the KLR to work, and it will be going on Craigslist to be resold by the end of the week. Of course, then I’m going to extoll it’s virtues…
My biggest problem is that a few years ago I used to own a Ducati Multistrada, and even though it was only a 620 it was light years better than the KLR for what I need. I need to reiterate, if a dual-sport is really the goal then the KLR a really cool choice and a lot of fun- I could feel that just from the speed bumps that I didn’t slow down for (and may accelerate for just a little on my way off base). But that’s not what I need. I need something that can handle being on a highway. I need the touring capability of an “adventure touring” bike like BMW’s big GS; the “adventure” part of it would just be for fun. Maybe the BMW K1600GT someday. Even an old Multistrada (meaning “many roads”) would be a better choice and worth the cost and more frequent maintenance. I miss that bike…
The KLR is just not a touring worthy bike, no matter what it’s fans say. They can farkle it up with new wind screens or home-fabricated luggage all they want; it’s still a cheap bike rather than a good one for the purposes they claim. Without an engine and transmission swap, it’s a gutless wonder and I should have known better. After all, “if something seems too good to be true”, right? I have a few hours yet before I need to get back on it and ride home, and I’m trying not to think about it. The underpowered engine close to redline just be at highway speeds. The crappy fairing and noise/wind protection. The cheap build quality. Ugh… Never trust a cheapskate. Ever. I wouldn’t buy a Hi-Point and I shouldn’t have bought this. I’d rather drive an old beat-up Ford Focus to work than this thing. I’ll be selling the KLR and glad to get rid of it.