The KLR reality

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 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.

14 thoughts on “The KLR reality

      • Sorry to hear that. (As someone who grew up in MN) you are actually going to be living someplace colder than I grew up. At least you will be moving in summer.

      • What’s bringing you to Fargo? Looks likemaybe you’re AF and a FF. Our paths may cross if thats the case.

      • Former AF. My Dad was FF, but I blew my right knee halfway through the academy. I’ll be heading there with work though. The economy in ND is booming!

      • Yes the economy is strong with oil and commodities booming and a decent tech sector the jobs are here. Any questions about the area I might be able to help, been here most of my life other than a couple years in phx.

  1. Cool Eric!. Yes dirtbiking is terrifying at first and then fascinating, and when you get into the tuff stuff, like rocks and sand, its a great workout! Dragging your machine up the side of a hill is also a great workout, haha.

  2. Pingback: Buyer’s Remorse | eric.r.shelton

  3. Good job on finding out what niche the bike fits & making the correction. I have to agree. Still tough to believe anyone could compare it with a GS worth 1500% more.
    Bummer your too old to play in the dirt though. I guess I should give it up too because I’m like 12 yrs older. But I get a kick out of it.

    • LOL! Well played, sir! I guess when I think of playing in the dirt I still think of flying around and jumping things, etc. and afraid of injury. I’m still a noob in the dirt and having to work through some (wrong) preconceptions.

  4. Sounds like a good learning experience. I too have a KLR, but it shares the shed with two others, a KTM 950 ADV and a BMW 1200RT. I bought the KLR after going through all the studying that you did so realized before I picked it up it’s the ‘chev’, ford, merc of bikes. It does things good but nothing really well. I rode it for a while but the reality of it is that it just doesn’t ring my chimes. Hence the KTM in the shed.

    It is a good, ‘affordable’ bike which allows many to see if what dual-sport riding is, and in some cases, isn’t. They are relitivly reliable, parts abound around the world and have taken many to distant places with mega miles under their wheels.. A lot of it boils down to the rider and perhaps, as mentioned a bit of insanity. The affecionados out there, and there are some zelous ones, will say their bike is the best. You’ll hear that on any board that is model specific along with the horror stories. Take those for what they are and recognize their opinion. There are a lot of opinions and trade offs and for me it’s sometimes impossible to map to the realities the bike will really deliver until you live with it for a while.

    Like everything these days there are many considerations to make when choosing one and MANY options out there. I too was enamored in the past with the mighty GS (owning a few other BMW oilhead/hexheads and inline fours) for a while but after really stopping and considering what the calling in my head was that beast was going to fill I figured it might not be the bike for me. It’s big and heavy and taking it off-road, for me would be a handful and limited to fireroads only. That’s cool if that is all you are looking to do, but if you ever drop the thing it will be a heavy pickup. I dropped my 1200RT in my driveway once on a downhill slope with loaded bags and that wasn’t fun to pick back up, luckily none of my neighbors where home! 😦

    KTM, I drank the cool-aid and after studying up on them picked up a 950 ADV. Figured it would be just what I needed to do the things in this dreamers head. Wasn’t as big as the GS, was faster and could get me to Baja and back in stride. It’s and awesome bike but it’s a heavy beast toobut every time I get back from a ride I am in awe about the thing. The down side is it IS HIGH maintainence. I end up working on it a lot more than the KLR ever saw a wrench. Again I knew this going into it but now that i’m into it I’m questioning if it is something I really want to be working on all the time.

    The good thing with the KLR is that there are a lot of others out there that are as you and I were, looking to buy one all with differing dreams in their head. That will provide you a good base to sell it to when the time comes and they seem to hold their value well. Hopefully their dreams and choice will match and if not it will be a memory of a bike they will have owned.

    GL in your search of the bike for you.

  5. I read your “buyer’s remorse” blog first, because I’m in the same boat. I jumped the gun, when I picked up my KLR, and didn’t realize I would want to (have to) change EVERYTHING. I thought it would be fine with just some luggage and protection, but after spending more on farkles than I ever have on any other bike in my life, I’m at a point where I realize the spending has only just begun. I calculated the costs of what I wanted my bike to be, and I have another $3,300 to go, before it’s even “ridable” for my needs. After all is said and done, I will have invested a grande total of $11,728, which is really close to a BMW F800GS, but with the RE-SALE VALUE of a KLR, which is not much.

    If I would have known it was going to cost nearly twelve grand, and I’d still have trouble passing people on the highway, I probably would have chosen the BMW F800GS right off the bat. Yes, the F800GS would have still needed some things, but not nearly as much, and would be worth a lot more than the $4,000 my bike is worth now.

    Do I get out now, while I realize I got trapped in a money-grubbing black-hole, or just accept my fate, and go all the way with ownership? Selling my bike now, I would lose $4,000. (farkles don’t fetch a dime on the used market, just help sweeten the deal for the buyer) The other option is to just go all the way, blow another $3,300 on it, and lose $7,300 later. The whole time, thinking about how I wish I had a different bike.

    My other bike, hasn’t depreciated at all in the three years I’ve been putting miles on the clock. It hasn’t begged me to change everything about it, because it was built right to begin with. It’s came capable of stopping and going and transporting me and my luggage in a comfortable manner at highway speeds – of course, it’s a different type of bike from a different maker.

    I only like my KLR when I compare it to the Honda Ruckus. I LIKE the Honda Ruckus (not sure why), but I would not be happy with its highway performance, obviously. I would have to farkle the Ruckus the same way, because it’s a “cheap” bike. I’d upgrade just about everything, like they do on the forums. I’ve read how it costs about ten grand ($10,000) to do the 150cc motor, with extended/lowered frame, etc. Even with a pimped-out Ruckus, ten grand could buy you a lot of motorcycle, that would be more practical than the most pimp Ruckus. Probably more comfortable too.

    When I compare my KLR to other motorcycles, I don’t like it as much. I keep telling myself it’s better than a “battle” scooter, and LOOKS like a real motorcycle. It LOOKS much cooler than Smart Cars or mopeds, but it’s not much different in other aspects.

    Yes, I like the dirt-worthiness of the KLR. That’s good stuff. I’ve just reached the point where I have to spend a couple hundred dollars “fixing” things. I feel like keeping my money and not owning a bike that NEEDS so much CHANGED. I have to open my (newish) bike up and change the doohickey – which is more of a pain than anything, I have better things to do, like riding my other bike, which doesn’t NEED things to operate in a safe and functional way. If I invest the time and energy into the DooHickey, I might as well go all the way. Upgrade the suspension, change the fairing situation, new seat, etc. All the way up to almost $12,000 spent, on my off-road scooter. (I call it a scooter, because it would rather not do highways, and its favorite roads are similar to roads a scooter would utilize.)

    Well, it’s better than a Ruckus, although I think of it as my “Big Ruckus” and think I’ll put some Ruckus headlights on it, but I wanted a MOTORCYCLE. (This is from a guy coming from an R1150 GSA, so I had high expectations.)

    The KLR is like a blank canvas, that you’ll need to build into something that works for you, but it’s value, or worth, will always be low to others. Meaning, you can’t sell it for squat. If I would have known this bike was going to end up costing me $12,000 plus all the time turning wrenches, I would have seriously chosen the BMW R800GS. I wish I could do it over, and I can, as long as I eat the $4,000 depreciation factor, which leaves me $4,000 further away from the bike I really want.

    Oh, it’s not as rewarding investing time and money into a bike that I’m not satisfied with. Always wishing I had something better, does not make spending money on it much fun. I’d rather spend $100 on gas, than the DooHickey right now. Fuck Eagle Mike. I don’t feel like giving him a hundred bucks, just because I made a poor buying decision. Lose $4,000 now, or $7,300 later? With a sub-par experience all the while.

  6. Great article. And yes us KLR riders are most definitely cheapskates. And ever other dirogotory thing you called us. Proud of it to…
    The KLR is that slow going bike that you will almost never achieve a speeding ticket on. It looks just fine with a milk crate wired to the back rack and as for ammo cans, they work extremely well. They are a little heavy depending on the brackets you build to hold them up.
    KLR650s are not an “Interstate” adventure bike but more of a country highway/county road bike. They have a sweet spot of 65mph depending on how they are geared but nothing is suited better to take you on the back roads where you can pick up dirt for a couple hundred miles and then back to pavement.
    I am working on my second KLR650 and loving every moment of it. It is my daily rider but I will confess that I have a very short commute through town.

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