Kawasaki KLR 650
Liquid cooled, four stroke,
single cylinder, DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Bore x Stroke
100 x 83 mm
CDI / electric
43 hp 31.3 kW @ 7000 rpm
47 Nm @ 5000 rpm
5 Speed / chain
38mm Air assisted telescopic forks, 130mm
Uni-Trak with 5-way preload and
4-way rebound damping, 230mm wheel travel.
Single 252mm disc 2 piston
Single 203mm disc 1 piston caliper
14.2 sec / 139.9 km/h
LOS ANGELES, March , 1999
-- The latest version of the KLR emerges from Kawasaki Heavy Industries like a
beastly apparition staggering out of a miasmic swamp.
Clearly, this is a bike capable of holding its
own in a variety of unfriendly (or friendly, depending on your personal
Bombing around pothole-infested canyons of a
Big City downtown? No problem. Smoking the unpredictably serpentine curves of
a treacherous mountain fire road? Yes, please.
Strafing an interstate at illegal velocities
from dusk till dawn through torrential downpours? Let's go.
Bogging through narrow Bolivian jungle passages
awash with unforgiving mud? If you insist. Kawasaki's big tri-purpose machine
(dirt/street/touring) takes a thrashing and doesn't have the sense to roll
over and beg for mercy. In other words, this bike is fully equipped to live up
to the claims Kawasaki makes: 1999 Kawasaki KLR650, Two-wheeled Adventure
Should the Earth be flooded, buy, borrow, or steal a KLR and grab your
When approaching the big single, the KLR itself
appears quite tall. After saddling up, however, one discovers that a goodly
bit of the 9.1 inches of suspension travel -- front and rear -- disappears
from sag, and those of you over six feet tall will find yourselves able to
plant both heels firmly on the ground. Shorter riders will find themselves
making do with tip toes on the tarmac.
Initial feel of the bike is somewhat top heavy,
but the KLR's wide bars offer great leverage, so handling is extremely light.
One more detail: the person riding on its back holding onto its ears will be
smiling fiendishly under a helmet, because the Thing is fun to ride.
"The KLR650 is at
home in the concrete jungle. The single headlight is surprisingly powerful. "
Twist the throttle and the KLR responds with
alacrity. This bike pulls down low and maintains respectable torque most of
the way through the powerband. Things peter off as redline is approached, but
power is available where it will be needed most.
At first, one might expect a little more zing
from a big single, but it is easy to adapt. The KLR650 still gives a
respectable account of itself with its four valve, dual overhead cam mill.
Dual counterbalancers do an admirable job of eliminating most of the
vibrations coming from the motor. The frame housing this motor is a
semi-double cradle frame with a detachable rear subframe made from
high-tensile steel. Cool.
The Kawasaki will oblige, just. Perhaps it is
the sizable flywheel that prevents the KLR motor from lofting the front tire
without a little portion of effort. A bike with the KLR's characteristics
should, by all rights, be a mono monster.
Don't misunderstand. Once the front is up,
which happens readily if one should happen to roll the throttle off and then
abruptly on again in first gear, the smooth power delivery makes for
dial-an-angle precision monos. The Swamp Thing is quite at ease balancing on
its hind leg. As far as actual touring goes, the KLR will fit the bill with
whatever you have in mind. Long superslab stints can be dispatched with
aplomb. The wide saddle is comfortable and well padded. The flatness of the
seat also lends itself to adjusting position from front to rear, so there are
a variety of poses one can adopt to keep one's limbs awake.
The back pegs are well situated and offer
another place to rest one's feet on long hauls. Which brings us to the best
part of the whole ensemble: The
6.1 gallon gas tank. What a luxury to be able
to milk out 250 miles of riding between fill ups. You'll think the bike is
magic as you cruise past the 200-mile mark checking to make sure that fuel was
not accidentally left on reserve. Those who worry that a mere 650 single won't
be up to the task of droning at high speed for hours on end, rest assured.
Even at highway speeds, the motor is up to the job of passing cars, and even
blasting up around the 100-mph zone.
Two-up touring, however, could be asking a bit
much. Comfort would certainly be a factor since movement is restricted with
two passengers aboard. Kawasaki makes some accessory soft luggage, such as a
tank bag, panniers, and tail packs that offer decent carrying capacity. Those
blessed with creativity when it comes to bungee cords will also be able to
haul pretty much anything they want. The built-in rack, which houses the tool
kit in a recessed pocket, can hold a duffel bag without complaint.
The cockpit is functional, featuring a speedo
that actually goes to 120 mph. Mirrors are positioned perfectly, though they
buzz at times, reducing clarity. The temperature gauge is an added bonus.
Sitting on the bike, it seems like most of the mass is directly in front of
you (because it is).
lanes is easy because of the upright seating and good visibility."
Splitting lanes is easy because of the upright
seating and good visibility, but complicated by the wide handlebars and hand
guards. As for gripes, there are a few worth noting. Kawasaki has outdone
themselves in the transmission department and managed to engineer a gearbox
with a few extra neutrals included. To keep things interesting, they pop up
unpredictably, mainly when downshifting. Occasionally, sitting at a stoplight
astride the KLR650, you can look forward to finding yourself in a bonus
neutral, perhaps somewhere
between third and fourth gear, with the clutch fully disengaged.
To find proper neutral, some banging around
with the shifter and pumping of the cable clutch is necessary. For a bike with
a Jurassic life span like the KLR, there is no reason to put up with a
shortcoming like this. This niggle should have been remedied back in the 80's.
Swamp Thing deserves a five-speed gearbox fit for such a charismatic mutant.
The fork is great for soaking up irregularities
in corners and landing wheelies. However, it could be more compliant and
progressive around town. Bumps are felt more than one would expect with 9+
inches of travel to play with. The air adjustment feature is largely useless.
The front binder is a single piston unit and feels mushy and anemic.
Next gripe: The wimpy front brake.
Clearly, dirt-oriented motorcycles don't need
the same level of braking power demanded by street bikes (can you say,
"front-end wash outs"). Get real Kawasaki, the Swamp Thing may look like a
Jeff Emig special, but this is a bike that belongs on the street; riding a KLR
in a serious dirt environment is like mud bogging in a Geo Tracker. It might
look like a fish, but it will drown if you actually submerge it in water. A
second disc up front would inspire more confidence in the front binders.
At the very least, a larger diameter disc would
help. The rear brake, which performs quite well, features a disc that is
almost the same size as the front! KLR riders may want to replace the way-long
front brake line with steel braided piping to eliminate some of the
frightening vagueness one encounters in hard braking situations on the street.
The prospect of making an emergency stop going down a steep hill, on a fully
loaded machine, full of gas, with a passenger, from high speed, with the wind
at your back, will lead to an understanding of why they build those runaway
truck ramps on long steep inclines.Clamp down on that skinny front lever for
all your worth, because you ain't stopping in hurry, not with stock brakes
for a bike for heavy adventure applications would be wise to consider the
The star of the show is the 6.1 gallon fuel
tank. An oil level sight window is well placed and makes checking oil levels a
snap. A minor amount of oil was consumed in 800 miles of testing. The token
skid plate on the bottom leading edge of the motor might deflect small
critters and even smaller rocks, but would be hammered silly by real blows
from logs and errant mufflers. Still, it's nice to have something there.
Minor gripe-age: what is up with that starter?
It always works, but some fiddling is often required. Pull the clutch in? Kick
stand up? Choke? What do you have to do? It can be a black art, this awakening
of the Swamp Thing. One more thing, must the parking light be the last click
on the ignition switch? Can't it just be all the way to the left?
I'm sure some batteries will be slain by new
KLR owners leaving the tail light blazing, unaware that they left they've
removed the key with the ignition switch in the park position. But as we
mentioned, these are minor issues. They may in fact lead to a closer
relationship between bike and rider since bikers often revel in the quirky
subtleties of their own machines. It's like having children: We can love them
despite their faults especially if they are our own.
Anyone searching for a bike for heavy adventure
applications would be wise to consider the KLR650. This is one of the few
bikes that strike a balance between relative light weight (compared to a BMW
R1100GS, for example) and enough substance to feel at home on the interstate.
Little touches like the Swamp Thing's spark arrestor and adjustable UNI-TRAK
shock will encourage some gentile dirt-oriented exploration.
Since the Kawasaki features liquid cooling and
has a decently sized radiator with an automatic fan, hot, summer days in the
Big City and thick traffic and multitudinous stoplights won't precipitate
meltdown. This will also assure long distance tourers that reliability
shouldn't be a problem.
The KLR is a bike designed to fill a very
specific niche. It is lucky for us that niche seems to overlap with many
different facets of the motorcycling universe, touring, exploring, dirt
trails, potholes, etc. Kawasaki has managed to create a machine that can
comfortably adapt to almost any environment.
Riding the KLR is good fun, perhaps not always
clean fun, but good fun nonetheless. If you plan on banging around Bangladesh,
or buying some chilies in Chile, and you plan on blowing across some borders
and dicey roadways to get there, Swamp Thing will deliver you in style.
By Kerry Ward,