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Why I like my KLR 650


After 10 years as a motorcycling writer, I’m often asked ‘What bike would you buy?’

The answer is that if money were no object there would be about 6 bikes I’d have in my ‘Jay Leno’ Garage.

The reality is ‘slightly’ different.

My first ride on a KLR 650 was in New Zealand back in 2009. It was a Kiwi Rider Magazine test bike and much to my hard-core Adventure riding buddies chagrin, I really liked the bike.

It just suited the way I ride, particular off the tarmac – and really enjoyed wringing its neck on the tarmac too.

I said at the time that I’m not one of those skilful ‘back it in/roost it out of the corners’ dirt riders. I prefer to look around and explore when ‘Adventuring’ – to take it all in and look for photo opportunities - rather than just rark it up - and the venerable KLR I found quite ideal for doing just that.

I also found it quite comfortable touring too and from ‘the adventure’ and similarly good and economical for around town and commuting duties.

So when circumstances moved me back to my native Australia last year, I was faced with a decision about what bike to buy.

I still work as a correspondent for Kiwi Rider and have added a couple of Aussie Magazines to my repertoire so still have reasonably regular test bikes, but I needed something to fill in the in-between times.

A KLR wasn’t actually on my radar as I was doing the rounds of the bike shops, looking at some second hand units - and a few new ones, when out at Team Moto at Mooroka in Brisbane,  a shiny blue KLR stood just near the rear doorway – right at the back of the shop.

KERRRR-CHING! Of course!

All of a sudden I was back in the back-blocks Waikato and feeling at one with a machine. Perfecto!

90 seconds later I had put down a deposit on a ‘run-out’ 2011 model for  $AU7,500 ride away – with a 2 year warranty.

8 months later I’m still very happy with the decision. From the recently released Australian sales figures where the KLR once again was the best selling vehicle in the Adventure Touring sector, it appears I’m not the only one.

I haven’t racked up huge mileage on it yet, having had a number of test bikes recently, but I have had some very good rides and always enjoy throwing a leg over its lofty saddle.

That’s another attraction, I’m tall – so is the KLR. The saddle height is a ‘man-size’ 890mm, and the rest of the ergos fit my frame equally comfortably.

The 1480mm wheelbase isn’t overly long, but the bike proves quite stable, yet agile on the open road and in the tight stuff.

It is very easy to get the foot pegs on the ground when sports/tarmac riding, partly because the bike is sure footed and well balanced enough to really ‘chuck it in’.

At 194kg it’s no lightweight trail bike, yet, as mentioned, the balance of the bike is very good and the Centre of mass appears to be quite low. Manhandling it along a single-track is quite manageable – if you are ‘Big Dave’ size.

The 651cc, DOHC, 4 valve, liquid cooled single is remarkably ‘compliant’ - without the harshness of some other big bore single bangers - possibly due to its dual counter-balancers.

It’s also one of the few remaining new bikes with  a carburettor, but the CVK40 unit does a pretty good job of feeding the 100.0 x 83mm bore and stroke and it’s sparked by a modern CDI.

Lubrication is by a wet sump and it runs a wet multi plate clutch that has good feel and is ‘one finger’ light.

Originally the bike was supplied as ‘restricted’ – with holes drilled in the carburettor sliders - so it qualifies under the local learner approved motorcycle scheme, but as soon as it was run it I had them filled and de-restricted to unleash its full ‘almost’ 40 horses..

The 5 speed gearbox is reliable, it does need a definite kick from 1st to 2nd, but like the power output, for what I use it for, five speeds is all it needs.

The Semi-double cradle, high-tensile steel frame is suspended by 41mm telescopic forks up front and a Bottom-Link, Uni-Trak (with 5-way adjustable preload and stepless rebound adjustment) shock absorber at the rear. It all works just fine right out of the box.

The twin Piston front brakes with 280mm disk up front are good for road and street use and the single 240 rear likewise. They aren’t street bike ‘savage’ brakes – but on the dirt that’s a good thing.

That’s how I generally find the bike – a good compromise right across the board.

It has a big cargo rack (although no under seat carrying capacity) and is generally a good utility vehicle.

Kawasaki started producing the KLR 650 in 1987 and it remained almost unchanged until 2007.  Some earlier models had a history of ‘known issues’; see The Doohickey (primary drive chain tensioner) rear sub-frame bolt - and some were prone to high oil consumption.

By  2011 these issues all seem to have been addressed and I’m quite confident in filling the large 22-litre tank and heading for the hills. I enjoy it every time I do.

Like this ride, I’d had enough of the office by 2pm so headed out to the M1 Freeway and pointed the bike North. 45 minutes later I took the Caboolture exit and made my way out to Woodford, where I turned into the Glasshouse mountains district and made my way over the dirt roads to the lookout.

From there I doubled back to the Mt Mee (funny name that one) turnoff and took the reasonably good sports bike roads back to Brisbane.

It was well past dark by the time I got back to base.

But as usual, the KLR took everything I dished up to it, Freeway, road, trail and track – in its stride.

And that’s why I like my KLR.