After taking a few years off (many great bands do that), the venerable adventure tractor is back. The third generation of the KLR650 has some of its biggest updates yet, including fuel injection and a digital dashboard. Yes, these are features some bikes have had for the past 20 years, but the KLR lags behind a bit. Quite a bit. Its simplicity is a big reason for its popularity. When something breaks in the middle of nowhere, you can use vice grips and a big rock to fix it well enough to get home again.
A great deal has already been written about the new KLR. I’m not going to repeat all that. That’s not what this site is about. I’m just going to give you my impressions from a 20 minute demo ride at IMS Outdoors. This will not be nearly as thorough as spending a week or ten living with a new KLR, and I didn’t get to try it on dirt. That’s why I’m titling this as a “Quick Spin,” not a true review, because I realize it isn’t one. I do, however, have two years and nearly 10,000 miles of experience on my own 2005 KLR650, which may count for something when sizing up the new kid on the block.
It’s Still a KLR
While the new digital display is quite different compared to my 2005 going on 1987 gauges (right down to the special 55 mph mark on the speedometer from back when that mattered), I felt instantly at ease on the new KLR. Though updated, everything was right where I expected it to be, except for the stock shifter since mine came with a longer IMS shifter. Start it up, and it sounds like a tractor, just like mine. The fundamental engine design is basically the same as the old bike. We’re still waiting for reports as to whether Kawasaki has actually updated the “doohickey,” the cam chain tensioner that in previous models liked to spontaneously grenade the engine.
Going down the road, it feels just like my bike would if it was stock. It’s still the same slow but capable motorcycle we’ve grown to know and love. Any KLR purists out there who are concerned about how fuel injection ruins the simplicity of the bike should stop worrying. The only point of validity to this argument is that you don’t need electronics and computers to fix a carburetor out in the field, but pretty much every bike is going this way because laws and emission standards require it. It seems like Kawasaki updated the KLR as little as possible to get it back into production. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
It will be easier to describe what few things are different about the new KLR than to continue describing what’s the same, so let’s do that.
The KLR has finally entered the 21st century with an LCD dashboard. Yes, many bikes have already moved on to brilliant full-color TFT displays, but even though it looks like a relic from a time when people still thought digital watches were a pretty neat idea, this is still a major step forward for the KLR. It is clear and easy to read in any lighting conditions, including full sunlight. It even adds a fuel gauge, something no KLR has ever had until now. With a huge gas tank you can still expect to get over 200 miles before needing gas, but it’s great to be able to monitor that.
My one gripe, and my biggest gripe about the entire bike, is the elimination of a tachometer. Why? Why, Kawasaki? The fuel gauge is great, but I’d gladly give that up in place of a tach. As your speed increases, wind noise blocks out the fairly quiet stock exhaust, so you can’t judge your speed or RPMs by the sound of the engine. On my 2005 model I find myself referring to the tach frequently to make sure I’m not revving too high. I try to keep the engine under 4,000 unless I really need the extra power, because above that it tends to drink a lot of oil. I can’t do that on the new KLR, and the engine is similar enough it’s reasonable to believe it will drink oil in a similar way.
The front brake is a bit bigger than the second generation bike, and the rear a bit thicker. The second generation bike already had slightly bigger brakes than my first generation model, and I can feel the overall difference in braking power. They joke that early KLRs have anti-lock brakes because they’re too weak to lock up. (It isn’t true. Trust me.) I don’t believe the new KLR deserves that criticism. They’re not super powerful, mind you. I had a rude awakening the first time I touched the brakes on the Ninja 650 I rode right afterward. But they’re adequate.
Slightly More Refined
Don’t get me wrong. The KLR650 is NOT a refined motorcycle. We like it like that. That said, despite my bike’s upgrades and modifications, the new model still felt half a notch more refined than my bike. Everything is a bit nicer, and the entire bike felt just a little bit more solid (which is impressive considering how solid the original version is).
If you want refinement, get a BMW. The KLR will never be that. But it is a smidge nicer than the old bike.
Third Verse, Same as the First
To sum up, the 2022 KLR650 is still a KLR in all the ways we like the KLR. Kawasaki tweaked the original formula slightly, and didn’t revolutionize it. To do that would’ve been to put their parallel twin engine into it to fight the Yamaha Tenere 700 (another bike I plan to try). This would not have been a true KLR. What we got is. Kawasaki got it right.
As great as the bike is, I don’t see a compelling reason to buy a brand new KLR when used ones are so affordable and available. You can spend $3,000 and get a really nice first or second generation KLR. A starting price of $6,699 is really good for a brand new bike that will do absolutely anything. I’ve had my own KLR on everything from off-road trails to a race track, and I believe the new KLR is just as capable. But it’s not enough of an improvement for me to think about buying one new.
I want my tachometer back, too.