The KLR650 doesn’t suck, and I owe the bike an apology. It just wasn’t the bike I thought I was buying. Let me explain.
One of my dream bikes is a BMW R1200GS Adventure, but since I just paid off my car and credit card I’m not quite willing to jump into a monthly payment again and equipped like I want it goes for around $20,000. More, when you figure tax, document fees, plates and tags, etc. Ouch. But if you watch this video or read the enthusiasts opinions at KLR650.net forums it sure seems like a KLR is an acceptable alternative for a whole lot less money. Thing is, they’re not remotely the same bike.
Now, yesterday I griped about this and claimed the bike sucked because of it. I also blasted KLR fanatics for being cheapskates, which is the only part I’ll stand by as being accurate now. But if the bike has a totally different purpose in mind, it’s really unfair to complain when it doesn’t do something else. That would be akin to griping that a front wheel drive Jeep Patriot isn’t as off-road capable as a “trail rated” Rubicon, or a Honda Fit lacking the room of an Accord.
What got me started on the path to forgiving the KLR was a talk with my pal Brett. “The thing you have to remember about KLR guys is they’re completely ****ing nuts. I mean, those dudes are certifiable.” And when he said this, I thought back to The Pace podcast guys making reference to KLR guys being a different breed, with their own language and nomenclature. I’ll stand by calling ’em cheap, because most of ’em will admit it, but they also are a bizarre mix of extreme limits daredevils and backyard engineering mad men. Referencing that YouTube video again, look at the luggage the narrator mentions. Your average KLR owner doesn’t have any aversion to fabricating their own bags out of military surplus ammo cans, and some guys weld up their own luggage racks instead of buying a commercial product. There’s nothing wrong with this; I just failed to realize that I’m not one of those guys at the moment since I move so much with work. As an apartment dweller, it’s a whole lot harder to set up shop.
Now, the bike is still a miserable failure as an adventure touring motorcycle. It’s just not any good at highway speeds and even worse when being blown about by heavy crosswinds. On the commute home last night I finally had to just pull over at one point and wait for the winds to die down. It was awful, and I’ll never ride that thing to work out here again.
But then I took it out in the dirt.
Woo-hoo!!! The whole character of the bike seemed to change when I used it in the correct application! As I noted yesterday, Kawasaki markets this thing as a dual-sport motorcycle and at that, it excels. Once I got home, I took off my backpack and any unneeded weight and just went to play for a bit. After the fun I had popping over the speed bumps on base, I had a real clear indicator where this thing needed to be ridden and I’m so glad I did. I’ve never ridden in the dirt, or anything even vaguely resembling motocross before yesterday afternoon. It was scary at first, because the riding dynamics are so different, but slowly easing into it was a joy on the KLR. It was stable, and didn’t scare me once. Any little foible was clearly due to me being unfamiliar with dirt riding; the bike was stable and reassuring the whole time.
Before too long, I was going down this hill and up another. It was like the first time I took a mountain bike where Schwinn 10-speeds fear to tread. It was like being a kid again. Once I quit riding it like a road-going Ducati and started playing with it like a Trek mountain bike it became a whole new beast and I fell in love. It became almost natural much quicker than I anticipated because of all the reckless things I would do on a mountain bike as a young teen. It was so much fun, and so different from the day-to-day monotony of being a grown-up that it’s easy to see why people get hooked on these things. It was glorious.
The KLR is a great bike. It’s just not the bike I thought I was getting.
I hate to say it, but I’ll still likely sell it. A street legal dirt bike is very cool, and part of me wants to keep it for the brief few years I may have left riding dirt. Being 33 years old seems a strange time to finally learn how to ride an enduro, and I can’t really picture riding as aggressively as I might have ten years ago. Frankly, it doesn’t fit my need right now for something to eat up highway miles and keep wear and tear off the car. I need a machine that will do long stretches doing 80+ mph with ease, and be a little bit more wind resistant (likely lower and a good bit heavier to get pushed around a little less). But where other folks buy quads, this sure has me considering getting a smaller off-road bike as toy instead. I might have to jump on the KTM bandwagon after all…
It’s no fun to realize I bought the wrong bike and frankly, I may be moving so soon that I doubt I’ll do any serious shopping for another one. Less to move and re-register in another state that way. Between the car and my old ’91 Jeep XJ, if (when) I get a bike again it will be with this thought in mind: Nobody needs a motorcycle. My bank finances them as a recreational vehicle rather than a conventional vehicle loan because while they can be used as daily transportation, it’s fairly uncommon. With the extra hoops one has to jump through like helmet laws, MSF classes, or reflective vests on military bases, riding a motorcycle is decidedly less convenient than driving a car. We ride because of love. Motorcycling is a thing of passion. I’ll likely go back to eyeing an old BMW airhead or Ducati SportClassic. I’m just happy to say the KLR isn’t a bad bike at all; just a bike for a different passion.