Kawasaki KLR650 par­ties like it’s 1989

Kapiti Observer - - MOTORING -

The KLR650 proves they re­ally do make ’em like they used to, says

They ev­i­dently don’t make mo­tor­cy­cles like they used to, but it ap­pears that no-one told Kawasaki. For the lightly-re­vised KLR650 has been with us since the mid-1980s, a pe­riod long enough to make it the tu­atara of the ad­ven­ture bike sec­tor.

Where bikes have mostly be­come ex­pen­sive and so­phis­ti­cated, sprout­ing all man­ner of giz­mos and rid­ing aids, the ven­er­a­ble KLR pares ev­ery­thing back to sim­ple and af­ford­able again.

You don’t get trac­tion con­trol, rid­ing modes, ABS, a ride-by-wire throt­tle or even fuel in­jec­tion with this throw­back. What you do get is a rugged, mildly-com­pe­tent big­bore sin­gle that only costs $8990. You could buy a re­ally nice car and a new KLR650 for the $35,490 that BMWasks for one of its mor­e­iconic R1200GS Ad­ven­tures.

The sim­plic­ity of Kawasaki’s big sin­gle also has its place. You can read all about the ar­du­ous trav­els of third-world ad­ven­tur­ers on ADVrider.com, and when you do it’s a sur­prise to find that a quiet ma­jor­ity of th­ese mo­t­o­gyp­sies are KLR-mounted. It is also the big­gest-sell­ing mul­ti­sur­face bike in the US, and is pop­u­lar with mil­i­tary forces the world over, al­though bul­let-proof is pre­sum­ably a term that should only be ap­plied to its leg­endary re­li­a­bil­ity. Some have even adapted it to run on diesel and/or he­li­copter fuel.

The worth of the KLR is some­thing the back-pack­ing mo­to­hip­pies and camo-clad special forces agree upon. For just about any­one can fix one with a few tools, zip-ties, and a lit­tle me­chan­i­cal nous. There’s no need for engine di­ag­nos­tics, so the rudi­men­tary me­chan­ics of na­tions like Peru and Pak­istan can quickly come to grips with the KLR, re­sult­ing in lit­tle de­lay to that three-month trans-con­ti­nen­tal ad­ven­ture. Delta Force can crash their brains out while in en­emy ter­ri­tory and know that the bike will ei­ther keep go­ing af­ter they’ve kicked the bent fork legs straight, or be read­ily fixed with a lit­tle span­ner work.

Such is the rugged na­ture of the test bike, I sus­pect it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter to the mis­sion du noir if the para­chutes don’t open af­ter a KLR650 gets thrown out the rear door of a C-130 Her­cules.

The KLR650 first drew breath as one of the first liq­uid-cooled four-stroke trail bikes, com­pet­ing with air-cooled big-bores like the Honda XL600R and Yamaha XT600. In 1990, Kawasaki tried a lit­tle ex­per­i­ment in the light of the pop­u­lar­ity of the first GS model fromBMWand the big-tanked Yamaha Tenere. It fit­ted a more com­fort­able seat, a huge 24-litre tank, and at­tached a framem­o­unted fair­ing to the KLR and cre­ated the Ten­gai vari­ant, the brand’s first ad­ven­ture-tour­ing model. This re­ally widened the hori­zons of KLR650 rid­ers, which is fit­ting be­cause Ten­gai means "the end of the sky" in Ja­panese.

The Ten­gai also pro­vided the blue­print for the sin­gle big up­grade given to the KLR in 2008. In came a sim­i­larly ef­fec­tive fair­ing, a more ro­bust set of 41mm front forks, bet­ter brakes with new calipers and petal-pro­filed discs, new in­stru­ments, a softer de­liv­ery of power, and a sus­pen­sion re­tune that re­duced wheel travel while fit­ting firmer springs. Thus equipped, the KLR sol­diered on, con­tin­u­ing to con­quer third world roads and Mid­dle East­ern desert ter­rain while on top-secret mis­sions. For 2017, the bike gets an even-bet­ter sus­pen­sion tune, and a more thickly-padded seat that im­proves rider com­fort.

The latest changes might be mi­nor ones, but they clearly change the KLR650 for the bet­ter. That’s pro­vided you have legs long enough to reach the ground from the el­e­vated po­si­tion of the thicker padded seat, which is now lo­cated a lofty 890mm from terra firma. That more sump­tu­ous seat means there’s now no need to get off the KLR un­til all the fuel in the 22-litre tank be­gins to run out. The er­gonomics, gen­er­ous fair­ing and soak-it-all-up long travel sus­pen­sion all pam­per the KLR rider with plenty of com­fort.

That’s once you get used to the high-fre­quency vibes of the low­stressed 651cc sin­gle. There are twin bal­ance shafts fit­ted to quell th­ese, but any time the nee­dle of the ana­logue tacho passes the 4000rpm mark the mir­rors of the KLR be­come full of blurred images. Con­sider this a self­polic­ing mo­tor­cy­cle as that fuzzzone be­gins right at the 100kmh le­gal-limit when out on the open road in top gear (5th).

The de­liv­ery of this old-school pow­er­train might not set the world on fire, but it sure is use­ful. The KLR gen­er­ates am­ple torque

At a Glance

Engine: 651cc dohc liq­uid-cooled car­bu­ret­tor-stoked sin­gle; 32kW (43bhp) at 6,500rpm; 50Nmat 5500rpm. Trans­mis­sion: Five-speed gear­box, chain fi­nal drive. Chas­sis: High-ten­sile steel twin-cra­dle frame with twin-sided square-sec­tion al­loy swingarm; 41mm un-ad­justable forks with 200mmof travel; rear monoshock with preload ad­just­ment and 185mm of travel. Price: $8990. Hot: Costs five dol­lars less than the newVer­sys-X 300 yet will go fur­ther into the wilder­ness and de­liver more long-dis­tance com­fort; can be fixed with rocks. Not: Big KLR is a charisma-free zone and at­tracts no at­ten­tion from any­one; vi­bra­tions above 4000 can ir­ri­tate; no low­fu­el­warn­ing light. through­out the rev range, and al­ways feels tractable and un­stop­pable. Get it on the gravel roads that the dual-pur­pose Dun­lop K750 tyres seem to be born for, and the 50Nm of rid­ing force that the engine pre­dictably de­vel­ops will make slid­ing the KLR feel like child’s play.

On tar, this is still a bike to be en­joyed, the nar­row tyres, re­duced crank in­er­tia, and wide lever­aged bars adding an ag­ile cor­ner­ing dy­namic that’ll re­sult in fur­ther chuck­les. The sin­gle disc front brake is a beaut, im­part­ing plenty of feel­ing for front tyre trac­tion through the lever, and scrub­bing in stop­ping per­for­mance that’s more than a match for the KLR’s mod­est ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

So why let all those US Marines and hash-smok­ing hip­pies have all the fun.

For this is an ADV that’s as ca­pa­ble as any when it comes to com­fort and tak­ing on the roads and tracks less trav­elled. All for a four-fig­ure price-tag.

KLR650 has given US mil­i­tary and ad­ven­tur­ers 30 years of ser­vice; new seat and re­vised sus­pen­sion this year.

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