Kawasaki KLR 650


Make Model

Kawasaki KLR 650


1987 - 88


Four stroke, single cylinder, DOHC, 4 valve


651 cc / 39.7 cu-in
Bore x Stroke 100 х 83 mm
Cooling System Liquid cooled
Compression Ratio 9.5:1


Keihin CVK40 carburetor


Digital TCBI  
Starting Electric

Max Power

48 hp / 35.0 kW @ 6500 rpm 

Max Power

41.7 hp @ 7100 rpm

Max Torque

5.3 kgf-m / 38.3 lb-ft @ 5500 rpm


5 Speed
Final Drive Chain
Gear Ratio 1st 2.266 (34/15) 2nd 1.444 (26/18) 3rd 1.136 (25/22) 4th 0.954 (21/22)
5th 0.791 (19/24)
Frame Single downtubes, fully cradle frame box section aluminium swingarm

Front Suspension

38mm Air assisted Kayaba forks
Front Wheel Travel 230 mm / 9.0 in

Rear Suspension

Single Kayaba shock
Rear Wheel Travel 230 mm / 9.0 in

Front Brakes

Single 230mm disc

Rear Brakes

Single 204mm disc

Front Tyre

90/90 -21

Rear Tyre

Rake 28°
Trail 111 mm / 4.4 in
Seat Height 889 mm / 35.0 in

Dry Weight

153 kg / 337.3 lbs
Wet Weight 189 kg  / 416 lbs

Fuel Capacity 

23 Litres /  6.0 US gal

Consumption  average

18.1 km/lit

Braking 60 - 0 / 100 - 0

13.7 m / 40.0 m

Standing ¼ Mile  

14.2 sec / 139.9 km/h

Top Speed

163.5 km/h

Three Days Behind the Handlebars, or 750 miles on Kawasaki's great white whale.

KLR: The Extra-Terrestrial It was huge. Standing four feet six inches tall and weighing 400 pounds wringing wet, Kawasaki's KLR650 had to be the biggest, weirdest, most imposing dirt bike that's ever crossed the Pacific. With its seat arching up only an inch below a full-on motocross perch, short people got no reason on this motorcycle. And that hulking mass of tank carrying over six gallons (almost 40 pounds!) of fuel—enough to cover 300 miles at a single, hell-bent haul, enough to firebomb Alaska-rte was something more than just another dual-purpose bike.

Actually the KLR is really a triple-purpose machine, adding speed to the standard dirt-and-pavement repertoire. To prove the point, or beat all dissenters into pulpy submission, several key executives at Kawasaki U.S. invited the motorcycling press on a " ... unique and interesting riding introduction" for the new machine: three days over strange trails on a 100-mile-per-hour motorcycle with a 200-pound weight problem. Clearly, there could be a fourth, more ominous purpose to the towering

KLR. The expanse of the fairing glinted; the plastic handguards seemed to reach out, eager to grasp the unwary in some irresistible, fatal embrace. Kawasaki's white whale had the potential to grind the finest of the industry press into powder in the middle of nowhere and bury the squirming remains without a trace.

Cycle's policy of every man for himself counts double for the staff's contingent of disused dirt guys. With varsity trailsmith K. Vreeke away on business, that left only your humble scribe and Bermbag-to-be, with six-feet four of (as yet) unscarred body and six years of dirt-riding experience, to face the KLR Challenge. Realizing I'd likely spend as much time underneath the 650 as on top of it, I culled the cavernous regions of Cycle's garage for some top-flight body armor. Moldering quietly in a dark corner were two Bultaco jerseys, a single lineman's boot (bad laces), and pair of Cook's old sweatsocks.

The Froth Estate: Press In The Caféteria And Looks That Pick You Clean

Strolling into Team Green's corporate lunchroom for the pre-trip breakfast briefing, I felt like the appetizer. Everybody knows everybody, but nobody knows me. RR. chief Melvin Moore handles the introductions, delivering faces unto names I'd read for years. It is amazing how these pros can manhandle the printed page into an enhanced reality: There's Ron Griewe, the grizzled old desert fox from Cycle World ("He sure writes younger than that ... !"), Motorcyclist's Exec Ed and chief proboscis Jeff Karr ("Nice nose, hoser."), "Dangerous" Dain Gingerelli from Cycle Guide, Dirt Rider's Charley Morey ("Stay away from this guy!"), Clem "Another Street Guy!" Salvadori from Road Rider, and Kit Palmer (" Obvious desert type ... trouble."), from Cycle News.

That made for seven KLR-mounted scribblers. Shuttermen Dale "Red Rubber" Boiler and "Rich" Cox would accompany the troops on KLR250s, along with Melvin and Jose Gonzales, the instant wrench. A pair of Kawivans, driven by tech-guy Stuart Thomas and his faithful sidekick Keith the Wonderboy, would carry spares and sweep the course. In sum, the KLR outing promised to provide new and more painful definitions for the word "Press."

The Route Revealed?

Our itinerary for the next three days-long stretches of trackless waste, interspersed with long stretches of trackless waste—had been devised specifically to showcase the KLR's extended play and punishment possibilities. As closely as possible, according to Melvin, the KLR mis/adventure would approximate the circuitous ramblings of "Joe Average, Anywhere, U.S.A.," doing a little survivalist touring.

Near as I could tell from the three-minute pre-ride briefing, we'd head northeast from Kawasaki HQ into the tall pines of Big Bear Lake, then west to Lake Arrowhead, meandering through the Angeles National Forest on our way back home.

Monday: Momma Told Me Not To Come

Idling onto the streets of Irvine at 8:30 a.m. in full dirt regalia, the KLR gang instantly attracts a spontaneous police escort that follows us for four blocks. Nothing happens, though, and I take that as an omen—of what I'm not certain. The first few miles of nondescript blacktop are reassuring. Though long and tall by street bike standards, the 650 has quick steering and solid power from idle, an amiable inner-city skywalker.

Climbing into the Santa Ana mountains through Silverado, the road runs to a sign directing us toward the Cleveland National Forest. Scoutmaster Melvin regroups his charges. The fireroads to come are quite safe, he assures us, navigable by any four-by-four cretin. But this can't be right. Instead of wide, sweeping corners graded pool-table smooth, this looks more like the Ho Chi Minh trail, littered with Selectric-sized rocks, matching craters and wheel-hungry ruts. I peer over the side: Blow a corner and it's anywhere from four to 400 feet to your next stop. I say a little prayer, toe into gear, and wobble on down the trail.

Dirt Legs

Riding off-road is like riding a bicycle: You never forget, no matter how hard you try. I carry a flesh-colored, prosthetic reminder of my last "Good Times" escapade, an Ace Bandage around my left ankle where a KDX80 seized on the speedway track and tried to eat my leg. Melvin's idea of weekends filled with Michelob and blowing steam at ll/10ths may be right for Joe Average. Motorcycling is my vocation: Fun is gravy, and survival is paramount.

Rock-laced and rain-gouged, the trail's worst threat is the dust. But even running mid-pack with a blind man at the controls, the KLR bottoms only occasionally over bits I can't miss and goes where I think it's pointed with amazing grace. Run in hard, easy front brake. Tap the rear to set the slide, power out feet up and sideways. Running wide on too much throttle, the KLR's rear end gnaws suddenly, sickeningly at nothing. Whoa!

I drop off the pace; my sense of direction settles with the dust. No more orange ribbons at the crossroads, just a lattice of jeep trails disappearing into the distance. I'm lost. What is the sound of one kick starting (this bike doesn't even have a kickstarter)? What if a big single falls in the forest and there's nobody there to hear?

Jose Meets Mr. Ranger

Fighting for a footing when a water crossing turns major-league deep, I remember why rubber footpegs disappeared with lineman's boots. It's hard to appreciate a vibe-free ride doing the 40-mph Fireroad Flail while your adrenals air dry.

Back in the saddle, disappearing into the dust again means I'm on the right track. Sure enough, a gathering of green and white up ahead indicates a stop-off of some kind. Gingerelli's KLR becomes a solar sock dryer following a poorly executed Moses imitation at the water cross-

ing, while Gonzales relates his close encounter with the law. Seems the Wrenchman missed the 15-mph sign and strafed the Ranger who was busy surveiling a youthful KX-mounted lawbreaker at the time. Fast talk and nice teeth left Jose with only a story to show for the encounter. "But, hey ... who were all those other guys?"

The Clamato Papers Or Madmen In Perris

The KLR generates serious fire-road velocities if I play by its rules: 1) Set rear preload and damping stiff as you can stand, or the front end wanders, 2) Seek ye the positive camber; carom turns work best, 3) Since this beast loses weight with speed, maintain momentum at all costs, and 4) When the time comes to pay, always bail from the low side. After a 20-mile diet of dust, I find myself staring into Stuart's beady little eyes as I fearlessly chug down the dregs of the refreshment jug. They could have brought Coke. They could have packed in Gatorade. Even a slug of tongue depressor would have hit the spot. Stuart brought water with the flavor and consistency of warm Clamato juice.

Lunch stop: Venus Burger in Perris. Nobody finds the gaseous planet appealing, so we head for Sizzler. Standing in the order line in full-filthy dirt gear, I expect the manager to immediately reserve the right to refuse service to loonies. Instead, we are treated with all the respect due 11 grown men playing in the dirt. Not much.

Compromising Positions

Reeling in straight-line blacktop at 65-70 miles per hour through Moreno Valley toward Highway 10 and Calimesa, the counterbalanced KLR makes for remarkably smooth cruising, more so than any of the other big-bore D-P bikes. Freeway droning may be dull, but it does give the Clamato a chance to settle ....

Five miles past Barton Flats Station we hit the dirt again, some harder than others. Dusted with fine sugar sand, the rutted roller coaster of a forest trail suffers not the overzealous. Road Rider's Salvadori demonstrates, neatly disappearing from sight as the KLR pins him to the ground until help arrives. KLR rule #5: If you are inclined to ride like Clem, bring a friend ... and a jack.


Even though Dale Boiler is big enough to carry a KLR250 in his pocket, keeping pace with this giant in a punk haircut as the roller-coaster trail turns wild proves impossible on the 650. The big KLR is no woods bike. Locking the rear wheel to pivot around neatly kills the engine just before the downhill (cliff) three feet ahead. So at the moment I am skidding, dead engine, toward terminal compaction against oncoming pine trees—no bumpstart, no traction—electric-starter, final stab. ... At the moment I am also thanking God.

Bear Pavement... If It Feels Weird, Do It

Waiting for stragglers in front of Big Bear High, Rich Cox shows up with a cop car in tow. Swaggering out of the cruiser doing a bad Broderick Crawford, the Sheriff demands documentation on all these funny-looking motorcycles. We counter deftly with our best Eddie Haskell imitation, show him the papers, and scuttle crabwise out of town.

Highway 18 connects Big Bear Lake to Lake Arrowhead via 21 miles of sinuous perfection called The Rim of The World. Nine inches of fork travel is disconcerting on pavement at first, but everything works: the brakes are great (if high-effort) anchors, and the Dunlop K750s are amazing street tires, sliding slowly and predictably once the pegs begin to grind. Dragging past a disbelieving rider who's got his 500 Interceptor already dug into the ground, I figure the clutch lever will touch down next. This is sport-bike territory, but the KLR's never been told.

Two Coronas For Me, Please, And A Gurney For My Friend

Rolling frozen into Arrowhead Village at nightfall: the Hilton is a beautiful sight for seven bleary riders idling onto Conrad's red carpet. We trigger the automatic doors, and bask in the perverse satisfaction that only comes from standing in the lobby of a four-star hotel wearing dusty motocross boots.

Alone in the Hilton dining room except for a romantic young couple locked in a blissful stare down over a bucket of champagne, our entourage absorbs an ever-richening mixture of beer and brandy, and Stuart "You-can't-take-me-anywhere" is in rare form. Too much bench racing and collective exhaust breaks the lovers' spell as they drift off to quieter surroundings to effect repairs.

Adjourning to the lounge with Launch Lizard Jeff Karr, we keep swilling the Coronas, and Karr's olfactory appendage grows stranger with every incoming round. At 3:00 a.m., I finally realize caffeinated aperitif abuse is a fine prelude to studying the finer points of ceiling design until sunup, and another day.

Tuesday: Two-Pronged Assault

Day Two is Picture Day, and we're in a lot of trouble. Kawasaki had secured the talented lenses of Mssrs. Boiler and Cox to provide us with action photos, so Mel-vin splits the troops, and two KLR cadres fan out into the San Bernardino Mountains in search of publishable scenery.

The KLR has a disturbing low-speed handling quirk: it won't. As we move in tight formation atop a particularly nasty downhill, Salvadori slows to a crawl, slowing Karr, who stalls out, and whom I subsequently ram. Righting an overturned KLR in mid-slope while skating on a carpet of slick pine needles devours what little energy I have left. Where's the Clamato when I need it for traction? The electric starter comes to the rescue again, and the KLR* like me, sustains no visible damage.

Click, Click... Dolt Again

Here's my chance at photo stardom. Just launch this 400-pound enduro bike off a handy, near-vertical dirt ramp, do something stylish in mid-air while the cameras capture immortality, and land between two trees on a carpet of the ever-present slick pine needles. Anything for honor: I drop the clutch ... launch, style, scream, land in one piece. "That was great," says Dale. Then he utters the words that strike fear into the hearts of coverboys everywhere. "Do it again!" Twenty times.

Shine A Light

The photographers have spent the day chasing perfect light, and we have spent the day crashing down around their ears. Now, finally out of harm's way, we ride slowly toward the Hilton, while the sun sinks in the west where it belongs. In the gathering darkness I notice a peculiar attribute of the fairing-mounted headlight: It shines dead ahead, regardless of where the front wheel is pointing. You get to see a lot of dozing birds this way. Rule #6: Riders should approach twilight trailrides aboard the KLR with caution, flashlight and plenty of Omelette Helper.

Wednesday: Eleventh Hour Knock-Out

After checking out of the Hilton at 8:00 a.m., crouching half-frozen behind the fairing and blessed handguards for 44 miles, inhaling enough breakfast to feed a family of four, and road racing down the Angeles Crest, I sit defrosting in Chilao, waiting to begin the last and nastiest 17-mile stretch of dirt. The road deteriorates quickly, patches of pavement alternating with half-buried, helmet-sized rocks, then disappearing altogether under a layer of sand.

Unsatisfied with merely running off the road, I nearly hammer into a rock the size of a phone booth, and back off just in time to discover a prostrate J. Karr sprawled across the trail up ahead. We are all ragged now, our strength failing. With much the same delicate balance he demonstrated while negotiating the hotel staircase, Mr. Karr picks himself up carefully, remounts the fallen KLR, and continues on.

One Way To See Jose's Perfect Teeth

The razorback trail from Pinyon Flats to Alimony Ridge must be home for every treacherously misshapen, dangerously odd-sized mineral manifestation in the San Gabriel Mountains. As I hammer over a particularly inhospitable section, two things slowly begin to dawn on me: First, there are no other bikes in sight, and second, the trail up ahead is about to be swallowed up by the largest, nastiest rockpile I've ever seen.

The KLR launches and claws toward the top, where a manzanita bush lies poised between a solid-looking penguin-shaped rock and the smooth line. Discretion is out of the question now, so I pin the throttle and aim dead center. Next I recall lying flat on my back, wearing a white Kawasaki two sizes too big, and looking up at a bemused Jose Gonzales. The KLR's bodywork is looking distinctly dishevelled by now, and I am beginning to doubt if any of the KLR Bunch can ever get shevelled again.

Take It On Home

We rendezvous with the Kawivan for lunch at Little Rock Reservoir, and limp back along the pavement for a few miles before collectively sweating bullets while tight-rope walking down another one of Dale's impossible inclines to a "really neat" sandwash. Up and planing through the shifty stuff, the KLR continues its gyroscopic tracking, amazing for an overweight dirt bike minus knobbies. But on the hill, everyone's life's wish is a pinch of traction, and all I can picture in my mind is: "Carrithers dies in sand wash on last mile ... film at 11:00."

We climb back onto the pavement at Angeles Crest, where Melvin and Team Green, still suckers for punishment, decide they have trails to run before they sleep. Not me: I opt for a quick swing off the Angeles Crest and the familiar, fast track home.

Zooming down out of the mountains, the KLR beats a soothing rhythm, and the hills look so soft from the freeway. I'm bagged-out, sagged-out, messed-up and hacked-off, but I feel just great. Sort of like Ahab on his crazy quest. Only my White Whale took me way out to the edges of disaster, and brought me back alive. ■

Source Cycle 1987