Kawasaki KLX 650


Make Model

Kawasaki KLX 650


1993 - 94


Four stroke, single cylinder, DOHC, 4 valve


651 cc / 39.7 cu-in
Bore x Stroke

100 x S3mm

Cooling System Liquid cooled
Compression Ratio 9.5:1


Single 40mm Keihin CV carburetor


Starting Kick

Max Power

48 hp / 35.0 kW @ 6500 rpm

Max Torque

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


5 Speed 
Final Drive Chain

Front Suspension

Kayaba upside-down

Rear Suspension

Kayaba single shock

Front Brakes

Single disc

Rear Brakes

Single disc

Front Tyre


Rear Tyre

Seat Height 885 mm / 34.8 in
Dry Weight 145.0 kg / 319.7 lbs

Wet weight

153 kg / 337 lbs

Fuel Capacity 

12 Litres / 3.1 US gal

Consumption Average

19 km/lit

Braking 60 - 0 / 100 - 0

14.1 m / 42.03m

Standing ¼ Mile  

13.7 sec / 148.3 km/h

Top Speed

161.2 km/h / 101 mph

Road Test

Tuttomoto 1995

UP RUE DE LA Fromage, down Boulevard de Stalagmite and around the Arc de Triomphe for the third time. Paris was a blur of traffic lights, misread signs and Renaults, but strangely, the thought of spending the rest of the afternoon hurtling pointlessly between tourist attractions didn't induce sweat and rage.

Thanks to the KLX, Paris was Alton Towers with Cafés. Instead of stopping at each junction, futilely checking to see if a road name coincided with one on some scribbled directions and setting off cursing, the KLX was just pointed up a promising Rue which became a new and exciting ride.

Each one started with a wheelie, led into a thrilling game of high speed dodgems and ended with whopping fork dive. Refreshments were available under parasols on every pavement, where you could consult your notes before happily setting off in the wrong direction again.

Marvellous. Under these conditions a motorcyclist could fall in love not just with Paris, but the KLX too. For every city test it had the correct answer, getting to 15mph faster than Porches and GSX-Rs, slipping between buses with the push bikes, out-weaving pesky shopping scooters (most ridden by couriers apparently) and matching Africa Twins wheelie for wheelie. And when taking refreshments, it looked the business too.

But wait. There are two reasons not to sell the semi and head off to Dover with your valuables bungeed to a new KLX. Firstly, half a pint of Parisian lager costs £?>. Secondly, at one point on the journey to Paris I hated the KLX with a passion so intense that leaving the bastard thing by the side of the road and hitching home was a serious consideration.

Truly, the KLX was fantastic between traffic lights, but even this could not make me forgive it for what its saddle had done to my arse over the previous 200 miles. Climbing down from a chic new bike at a chic Café makes you feel like a million francs until you realise you'll have to massage your bottom for ten minutes before you can even consider sitting down. Arriving with a cushion taped to the saddle ruins the effect too.

God it was uncomfortable. Many thought Kawasaki reached a pinnacle of appalling saddle design with the KLE, but the KLX raises the pain threshold several winces higher. Although not as steeply sloped as the KLE's, the KLX saddle gently slides you down onto the front section which is just 12cm wide and made of a sponge compound that miraculously turns to granite after 30 minutes.

Because it was so narrow - and only 6cm wider further back where the pillion strap went across — it was impossible to get any support for your thighs: pain arrived fast. Spot the KLX rider at service stations walking like John Wayne and popping Nurafens.

Until rigor-bottice set in, the KLX impressed from the off. Instead of the usual pained groaning noises emitted by a starter motor turning over one big piston, the KLX chugged effortlessly towards a steady idle from the start, a heavy flywheel removing all traces of pulsing. The automatic decompression system worked faultlessly, and astonishingly so did the choke.

I waited for the traditional Kawasaki mental revving, but no, with the choke knob pulled fully out the KLX ticked over smoothly at around 2500rpm and actually stalled if the knob was edged in during the first couple of minutes — surely a first for Kawasaki. As if this wasn't enough food for thought as you used a footpeg to clamber onto the 35in-high seat, the bar mounted knob was mysteriously marked 'S', and the low coolant light came on whenever the bike was in neutral (coolant levels were fine). Weird.

Using the engine was straightforward: plonk it into a gear and plonk. Actually, it was more of a whirrey putt than a hearty plonk - the balance shaft, water jacket and ridiculously large silencer filtered out most of the chuffing and banging. Riders of older big singles like Yam's XT will find the refinement of the KLX motor an education, as it managed to combine savage chunks of torque right off the idle, with a smoothness not far off a decent Japanese twin.

With a radiator either side of the frame down tube, the compact slab-sided motor looked hip enough to sit in an open class motocrosser, but its modern appearance belied ancient origins. Basically, it was a bored-out, heavily revised version of the engine which powered KLRs a decade ago, which was itself a bored-out right hand pot of the legendary GPZ900R.

Refinement is relative of course — after riding a modern sports bike the KLX chugged away from the lights with all the smoothness of a dumper truck — but considering there was just one piston with a diameter not much less than a pint pot hammering up and down, the gear driven balance shaft did a fine job.

After the initial blap of head-jerking torque came a midrange reminiscent of the great Honda Dominator which is the KLX's nearest competitor in terms of weight, power and fun potential. From 2500 to 5000rpm the Kawasaki sunk its rear, raised its nose and went for it in a big way. Coming into Paris, the KLX faced off at traffic lights with two Africa Twins, a ZXR750, numerous Harleys and 400 scooters and only once was it matched over the vital first 25 yards.

This was down to the gearbox, which was slick by trailie standards, but not much cop if the last bike you rode was a TZR125. Every up change needed a deliberate movement of the lever to get the gears to mesh properly. Second in particular was a good 3in from first, with, 2in of neutral in between. Hence the horrible beaten-at-the-lights experience.

Light weight (the KLX is only 2kg heavier than the waif-like Dominator), low first and second gears and longish wheelbase were always likely to conspire with the thudding bottom-end to produce extreme nippiness, and should have made for champion long distance wheel-ies too. It didn't because of the engine. Popping up was easy with just a twitch of the clutch, but as soon as the rev counter hit 5000, the front wheel started falling.

The competition version of the KLX (the dirt-only R) has a stampeding top-end thanks to wicked cams and mapped ignition. The road version does not, and wilted when still way off the 7500 red-line. In third gear it thundered up to 5000rpm feeling loose and strong, when suddenly the tacho needle slowed and the engine felt stressed. In fourth and fifth the KLX's wardrobe-like aerodynamics just exaggerated the effect.

So, 90 per cent of the time I changed up at 5000rpm — where peak torque happened - and only ventured into the top bit when it was vital the KLX cracked 80mph. In top, 5000rpm meant 75mph which sent the high front mudguard into a flappy panic and was as fast as my feeble neck muscles could cope with — the KLX sported a tiny race-number plate in front of the equally tiny clocks rather any sort of screen. Neck pain was made worse by the bolt upright riding position, and the tingles through the bars were irritating; both were rendered totally irrelevant by the screaming agony of your arse.

If Paris is not available to let the KLX shine, a British country lane will do. Along bouncy, twisty, hedgey back roads the KLX bounded from corner to corner, skimming over lumps, looking over hedges and generally having a whale of a time. All trailies thrive on tatty tarmac, but the KLX was unusually brilliant. The perimeter frame and sophisticated long-travel suspension managed to stay accurate and unflustered while doing all the normal trailie things like smoothing bumps and hammering out of corners. Vague it was not.

The KLX's safety-first geometry meant hustling along at speed was hard work, as a long wheelbase (5mm longer than Yamaha's Super Ten), modest head angle (at 28° the same as BMW's R80GS) and 21in front wheel do not an RGV250 make. Left alone, the KLX rolled lazily into corners and was happy to potter home. Getting there fast was a matter of hunching over the wide bars, pulling your elbows up for extra leverage and dominating the front-end; heaving the bike down, and rolling on the throttle miles before the apex. Exhausting stuff, but worth every breathless second.

After seeing what the KLX can do to a hairpin, you start thinking about what it could do off-road - the low centre of gravity, wide bars and tractable power make tight tarmac manoeuvres such a doddle that the only thing to do is try a dodgier surface. Kawasaki encourages this by carrying on about the true off-road potential of the KLX. You can be "cresting a washed-out rocky hillclimb on a powerful lightweight four-stroke... leaving the two-stroke bunch far behind..." according to the blurb. Sounds all right, but what you'll notice while re-reading the brochure in hospital is that the chap getting radical in the pics is on a KLX with knobblies... a KLX650R, perhaps?

Also, it is likely that Mr Radical was born in a deep rut and has lived in the shadow of a tabletop jump ever since. In other words: he's very good, most of us aren't and whatever Kawasaki says, a 650cc trailie with road tyres requires big dollops of skill to get over all but the easiest off-road obstacles. Balance and comparative light weight made the KLX feel more capable off-road than any other big trailies, but that's only because they're so bastard difficult to start with. A DR350 or KDX200 would murder it on all but the driest, hardest, straightest tracks.

Given the right terrain the KLX will show its off-road breeding. The fast unmade roads that criss-cross France were ideal. Here the suspension at both ends was set-up perfectly for smoothing minor pot holes and taking all the sting out of bad ones, letting the rider float along while keeping a sharp eye out for corners. The forks, which were almost identical to the KDX250's, were especially good on fast going, but braking and turning on dust was nerve-racking — two Trailmaxes versus 3371b... oh dear.

Thankfully, the off-road styling meant inept get-offs weren't expensive. Once the levers were loosened (the toolkit did not have the correct spanner to do this) and mirrors removed, the only bits likely to be damaged by minor crashes were the easily replaced radiator scoop plastics and the side panel doing its best to hide the gargantuan silencer. This looked on the way out without our help anyway, as the heat from the mufHer had dulled the plastic and made it vulnerable to scratching.

Where the motocross styling came in to its own was Cafés. Sprinkled with a coating of dust with two or three stalks of grass poking from the footpegs for added credibility, the KLX looked the part. Aggressive radiator scoops, sophisticated suspension (the "up side down" stickers were rapidly peeled off the fork guards) and slabby motor oozed rugged off-road capability, and made the Super Tenere parked next door look a bit hopeless.

Style-wise only the back-end was suspect, with its KLE rack, boxy saddle, squared-off mudguard and the behemoth silencer that looked like a huge boil about to burst through the plastic side panel. The TT600 of BIKE's French correspondent had a swoopy motocross-style mudguard, tapered seat, slim side panels, and made the KLX look ugly. Naffest of all was the toolkit holder disguised as a shock reservoir - the ignition keyhole imitating a compression adjuster: handy, but gross.

It took a lot of pain to find out, but after two weeks and an uncertain number of miles (the speedo conked out during the first trail ride) it finally dawned on me that the KLX was not a dual purpose bike at all. In fact, it was more specialised than most racer-replicas: the saddle limited its useful range to 60 miles; its weight and road tyres limited where and when it could go off-road.

For the eight mile rip along country lanes into work I wouldn't have swapped it for all the FireBlades in Essex - on dry days it could even cope with the short cut across the fields - but that was the only journey it was truly suited to. Dual carriageways were a 75mph chore that soon turned into a pain, and anything remotely nadgery off-road demanded instant retreat. A FireBlade would be a more sensible do-everything bike.

And so would a Honda Dominator. Whereas Kawasaki gave the KLX off-road detailing (high, flappy mudguard, thin saddle, no hint of a screen) to ensure off-road credibility, Honda opted to ignore all that and gave the Dominator more everyday practicality instead. So the KLX won hands down on off-road ability and credibility, but those off-road details managed to eke every ounce of enjoyment out of longer journeys.

The KLX is a highly focused bike — big cities, country lanes, short trips are where it's at. If your life coincides with the KLX's focus then it'll be the wisest ^3850 you ever spent. □

Source Bike Magazine 1993