Category Archives: Two Wheels

Motorcycles, both bikes and trikes.

The Piston Slap Dual-Sport Roundup

At IMS Outdoors I had the opportunity to try out a wide variety of motorcycles. (So do you, and you should.) My current ride is a 2005 Kawasaki KLR650, and although I’m not in the market right now, I was particularly interested in trying out as many other comparable bikes as I could. Here’s what I discovered.

This is, by no means, a complete list of everything on the market right now. Some manufacturers didn’t attend IMS, among them BMW, which leaves an enormous hole in this comparison and analysis. I didn’t get to try every bike in this category that was present at IMS. And, importantly, I didn’t get to try any of them out in the dirt, which of course is an important aspect of any bike in this category. This is simply my personal experience with the bikes I had the opportunity to try out for myself on a simple street ride.

Kawasaki KLR650

Naturally, as a current KLR rider, I was most interested in the brand new version of this bike after a three-year absence. I already wrote a full comparison to my current KLR. Among dual-sports in general, the KLR occupies an excellent place. It can handle any reasonable street conditions, and it’s pretty capable when you leave the pavement as well. It’s a good all-arounder, and an excellent place to begin your dual-sport journey unless or until you decide you want something more on- or off-road oriented.

The new KLR’s biggest competition? The vast used KLR market. I like the new one, but it’s only slightly nicer than mine which cost 1/3 the price. Amongst other new bikes, its $6,699 starting price is extremely reasonable. Most of them also give you a tachometer, which the new KLR, surprisingly, does not.

Harley-Davidson Pan America

There’s a lot of buzz about this bike, a vast departure from Harley-Davidson’s traditional cruisers and baggers. I was thrilled to see it at IMS Outdoors, and have the opportunity to see for myself if it really is all that or not.

When it comes to big adventure bikes, this Harley is the real deal. The Revolution Max engine is powerful and fast. If it’s any slower than the smaller Sportster S, I couldn’t notice it. Put it into sport mode, though, and it scoots right along. (It’s a bit of a dog in rain mode, but that’s on purpose.) The riding position is upright, comfortable, and exactly what you’d expect and want on an adventure bike. Standing up while you ride is easy and comfortable. The only quirk is that the kickstand is mounted much farther forward than you’d think — unless you’re coming from a Harley cruiser or bagger.

I talked about the Pan America with Bret Tkacs, and he pointed out a major potential shortcoming. The radiator runs across the entire width of the bike, and has absolutely no protection from rocks, mud, or anything else your front wheel will kick up when you’re going down a dirt road. Additionally, what appears to be a voltage regulator has only a thin plastic cover to protect it from a similar fate. Of course, Harley being Harley, there are probably a bunch of accessories already available to address this issue, because Harley owners love to bolt stuff onto their bikes.

From what I experienced, I’d say the Pan America is best for people mainly interested in street riding, but who also want to hit the dirt occasionally. This is the real deal, not a poser, but best for someone not wanting to get too serious or technical about their dirt riding. Of course, there’s also the question of whether you want to spend about the same for an untested Harley as you would for the tried and true BMW R 1250 GS.

Yamaha Tenere 700

I didn’t come to IMS Outdoors to find my next motorcycle, but I think I have anyway. The Tenere 700 is absolutely everything I love about my KLR, plus absolutely everything I wish it was. In no way should the T700 and KLR be considered competitors to each other. The Yamaha costs over $3,000 more, and it shows in how it rides.

Yamaha’s MT-07 is an excellent naked sport bike, but it’s physically too small for me to be comfortable on. The T700 uses the same engine, and it works perfectly for this bike. While I don’t enjoy riding my KLR long distances to get to good dirt riding, I would have no issues whatsoever doing it on the T700. Then, when I got there, the T700 would be at least as capable in the dirt, probably more. It physically fits me well, and though it has great ground clearance, my seating position is actually a little bit lower than my KLR, so I can just about flat-foot it.

As with the new KLR, I can’t justify spending several times more money than I already spent on my current bike to justify the upgrade. Besides, a bike this nice would deserve an enclosed trailer, or at least a garage to live in. But for me, personally, the Yamaha Tenere 700 is my Goldilocks bike. It’s perfect for me.

Suzuki V-Strom 650

There are many who compare the KLR650 and the Suzuki DL650, a.k.a. the V-Strom 650, a.k.a. the “Wee-Strom” as compared to its previously 1000, and now 1050 cc big brother. After all, both are 650 cc single-cylinder motorcycles that claim both on- and off-road cred. The bike I rode had huge side boxes that simply screamed “adventure bike.”

The ride, however, was probably the most road-friendly bike of the bunch I rode. Where my KLR feels like an adventure tractor, the V-Strom actually felt a bit sporty — certainly not compared to something like a Ninja 650, but within the dual-sport category, I think this is one of the most road-friendly motorcycles there is, and one of the most comfortable for me.

If I was sticking mostly to paved and dirt roads, with the occasional trail or unmaintained road thrown in for fun, the V-Strom would most likely be my pick. I have friends who swear by these bikes, and I completely understand why now.

Suzuki DR650

There are those who criticize the KLR650 for never evolving. There are also those who praise it for exactly the same reason. That second group will also be fans of Suzuki’s direct competitor, the DR650. That goes double now that the KLR’s design has moved into the 21st century, while the DR650 remains the same. That means it’s still a single-cylinder, carbureted, simple motorcycle that can tackle anything you can throw at it.

I may criticize the KLR’s tachometer deletion, but the DR650 never had one. That’s how basic of a bike this is. It’s physically smaller than the KLR — both the new model as well as my personal first-generation bike. Unlike my KLR, I can flat-foot the DR650. It feels lighter, but that’s probably because it’s slightly smaller than the KLR. It’s also the least refined of any of the bikes here.

If your primary interest is dirt riding, the DR650 is for you. It’s basically a big dirt bike that’s legal for the street, the opposite of the V-Strom 650. That’s probably why Suzuki offers both.

Royal Enfield Himalayan

This is one I’ve been wanting to get my hands on since it came out. It comes from India, and by its name it purports to be ready to handle the Himalayan mountains. Is it?

The riding experience feels basically like a less powerful version of my KLR. That’s because it has only a 411cc engine instead of my 650. While I noticed the lack of power, it still had plenty for everything I needed to do on this demo ride. From experience, it would’ve struggled on the Cherohala Skyway, where I had to wring my KLR pretty hard to get up some of those hills, especially two-up.

Other than that, it was quite comfortable and familiar, even though I’d never ridden any Royal Enfield before. The instrument panel was basic, but complete. It includes a speedometer, tachometer, and fuel gauge, as well as a compass. Are you listening, Kawasaki? It can be done!

My main concerns with using the Himalayan for serious off-road adventures is parts availability. While Royal Enfield is making a big push into the US, their network still isn’t nearly as big as the big four Japanese brands, BMW, or even KTM. If I break something in the middle of nowhere, I just need to find the nearest Kawasaki dealer, and I’m all set. The nearest Royal Enfield dealer may be hundreds of miles away, and the aftermarket is tiny in comparison.

Triumph Tiger 850 Sport

While the Tiger 900 and 1200 have been around for a while, the 850 Sport is a new addition at the bottom of the Tiger lineup. It’s distinct from its brothers in that it has a three-cylinder engine, not a twin borrowed from the Bonneville and its numerous variants. I’m a sucker for a triple.

The Tiger 850 Sport is… nice. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. There is also absolutely nothing that stands out in my mind about it, either. It’s a good solid motorcycle, but there was nothing about it that played with my emotions, either. That was very much not the case for the Street Triple R I rode immediately afterward, which I immediately wanted to take to the track and wring out.

I’ve ridden both the 900 and 850 Sport. Unfortunately, despite the very different engine, I can’t tell a great deal of difference between them in the riding experience. Maybe it just comes down to how many cylinders you want.

I have no complaints at all about the Tiger 850 Sport. It’s a great bike. For me, though, I’d take the Tenere 700 all day long.

Kawasaki Is Developing a Hybrid Motorcycle With an Electric Supercharger

Kawasaki already makes the H2, a motorcycle with a supercharger. has put some patent and trademark application pieces together that strongly indicate that an electric supercharger is currently under development.

Previously, electric superchargers have been a joke. I’ve seen devices that are basically 12-volt fans, running off the starter battery, spliced into a car’s intake system and allegedly cramming more air into the engine. The actual performance benefits of these systems is either none, or negligible.

But the way Kawasaki is going about it, this might actually work. The electric supercharger would run off the much larger battery of a hybrid motorcycle. These are far more powerful than a regular starter battery. In short bursts, they could supply enough power for an electric supercharger to actually be effective. While the old electric superchargers were built and sold by no-name snake-oil companies, Kawasaki is a reputable business. They wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t work.

Organizations Just Say No to Mandatory Motorcycle Inspections in Europe

Nancy Reagan couldn’t have said it better herself. In response to the European Parliament Committee on Transport and Tourism’s request to implement mandatory motorcycle inspections, three organizations in as many countries have spoken out loudly against them.

RideApart has the full story, but basically, the argument is that technical issues represent only a tiny percentage of the causes of motorcycle accidents. By far the biggest factor is rider error and/or ignoring traffic and safety laws that are already on the books. The effort and expense of cracking down on inspections should instead be applied to rider training for a much greater benefit. I completely agree.

IMS Outdoors Provides Around 14,000 Demo Rides, And Counting

One of the major attractions of the new IMS Outdoors format is the ability to actually take a demo ride on the motorcycles you’re interested in, not just sit on them like the old indoor show. During the first three events, around 14,000 demo rides took place. That number doesn’t even include how many there would have been by now if the New York show hadn’t been canceled.

“Transitioning to an experience-forward event series has been very well-received by both our attendee and exhibitor community, a model everyone is excited to continue,” said Tracy Harris, Senior Vice President of Progressive IMS Outdoors in a press release. “This new and improved layout mirrors the Powersports lifestyle by providing a fun environment for enthusiasts to reconnect after so many months apart and demo product of interest, from on and off-road, four-wheels, to the latest e-bikes on the market.”

Although this is the number of rides, not the number of people taking them — many, like myself, took multiple demo rides — it’s still most impressive that IMS Outdoors provides this opportunity. Previously I’ve only been able to get on four different Harleys at a dealer, or four Kawasakis at one of their regular demos. The opportunity to make the most of the day and bounce between brands at will is something you don’t normally get elsewhere.

Despite the increased competition for attention, the manufacturers also enjoy the new format.

“Progressive IMS Outdoors has been a great opportunity for Kawasaki to showcase our exciting Side by Side line-up to the IMS fan base and the motorcycle industry,” said Kawasaki’s Chris Brull, Vice President of Marketing and Racing. “The Kawasaki demo experience is equal parts educational and exciting, especially for first-time riders. In addition to our complete line-up of motorcycles, including Ninja®, Versys®, Vulcan®, and Z motorcycles, we are thrilled to offer attendees the chance to ride our new Teryx KRX®1000 side x side line-up through a unique off-road course and tackle any obstacle with ease.” 

“Progressive IMS Outdoors has proved to be a major success for Indian Motorcycle,” said Taylor Young, experiential marketing manager, Indian Motorcycles. “We’ve been thrilled with the exposure to new and existing riders, as well as our family of Indian Motorcycle owners who’ve been coming out to support. We look forward to the remaining markets on the Tour.”

“We do not have plans to return to the indoor event series,” says IMS Senior VP Harris. “Our mission is to support the industry’s growth, connect enthusiasts with the brands they love, and provide an experience that is so much more than simply looking at new models—and the Summer months allow for this level of engagement. With so many smiling faces in Northern California, Chicago, and Pennsylvania, we could not be more excited to share that Progressive IMS Outdoors is here to stay.”

That’s good news for all of us, I think.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to IMS Outdoors

In the beginning, the International Motorcycle Show was a series of traditional indoor events. Manufacturers and other vendors could show off their wares to the public. The public, in turn, got the opportunity to see all these bikes in person without the pressure of a salesperson, as well as the chance to see many different brands of bikes under one roof.

COVID-19 changed all that. 2020 was canceled, the entire year, and IMS was no exception. Rather than simply give up and wait for next year, though, IMS reinvented itself into IMS Outdoors. As the name implies, it is now an outdoor event, as the fresh outside air vastly reduces the chances of infection. Much of it is similar to the old indoor show. The vendors are still there, as well as presentations, and the highly popular Discover the Ride program, which gives people who have never touched a motorcycle before a taste of what it’s like to ride.

For those of us who already ride, the biggest difference besides the open air is the manufacturer booths. Rather than static displays that enable you to sit on a ride variety of motorcycles as in the past, IMS Outdoors brings a whole lot of demo fleets together in the same place at the same time. Now, instead of waiting for Kawasaki or Indian to come to your area once a year, you can actually ride a lot of bikes from different manufacturers all at the same time. This is the most profound difference between the old IMS and the new IMS Outdoors.

I spent the entire weekend at IMS Outdoors Pennsylvania, which took place at the Carlisle Fairgrounds best known for its car shows. IMS Outdoors only took up a small fraction of the available space, but it packed a great deal of goodness into it. Here’s what I learned about how to get the absolute most out of your visit to any IMS Outdoors show.

Ride All the Things

I can’t recommend highly enough the opportunity to try out so many motorcycles at the same time on the open road. I don’t know of any other opportunity like this out there. Even professional motorcycle journalists don’t get the chance to try a Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide and an Indian Challenger back-to-back. I did exactly that (there’s an article about that coming). Yes, I had media credentials, but that didn’t matter. These opportunities are available to anyone, including you.

To avail yourself of this opportunity, bring your riding gear with you. More than likely, you’ll be riding your own bike to the show, which makes it easy to show up fully equipped. If not, make sure you bring a helmet, long sleeves, long pants, gloves, and boots that go over your ankle. Regardless of what you normally wear, this is what every manufacturer requires for their demo rides. If it means you have to gear up more than you usually do, so be it. You’ll also need a motorcycle license, of course. Kawasaki will also have you blow a .00 on a breathalyzer test before they put you on their bikes or in a side-by-side. This is their standard operating procedure for all of their demo rides, not just for IMS Outdoors.

Different brands handle demo rides in different ways. The Japanese Big Four, for example, as well as Royal Enfield and Zero, take you on organized group rides. You sign up for a particular bike at a particular time, and ride in formation along a prearranged route while escorted by a lead and a tail rider. They make sure you all stay together, stay safe, and avoid any shenanigans. Others — namely Harley-Davidson, Indian, and Triumph — will collect your information, then set you loose on your own. You’re still required to follow a specific route, but there’s no escort, so you’re free to experience the bike on your own terms. Anyone who’s ever done a test ride at a Harley dealership will already be familiar with this format.

To maximize how much time you have to ride, I recommend going to the Big Four, Royal Enfield, and/or Zero first, and scheduling your demo rides throughout the day. If you’re there all weekend, you can only sign up for that day’s rides, so decide that you’re going to do Honda and Suzuki one day, for instance, then Yamaha and Kawasaki the next. Once you have these times locked into your schedule, visit Harley, Indian, and Triumph in between your scheduled rides to fill the time with their more freeform demos. Harley, in particular, will want to put you on as many bikes as they possibly can. Don’t worry, their demo fleet has many examples of the Pan America and Sportster S. There was often still a wait to get on one, but it wasn’t long, so you’ll definitely get to try them if you want to.

Need Gear? Visit Cycle Gear

Back in the main vendor area, IMS has always had numerous vendors showing off their wares. These range from local dealers and motorcycle clubs to large companies like Cycle Gear. Much to my surprise, Cycle Gear actually set up a small store right there at IMS Outdoors. Helmets, gloves, boots, jackets, pants — it was all there. I needed a new pair of gloves anyway, and just hadn’t gotten around to ordering some online. Instead, an extremely helpful salesperson helped me try on a whole bunch of different gloves, and I bought a pair that fit me well. I was thankful to have my new gloves for the numerous demo rides I’d take throughout the rest of the weekend.

You don’t even need to bring wads of cash with you. Cycle Gear took my card with no difficulty whatsoever. It wasn’t so much a vendor booth as it was a small temporary store under the tent.

Check Out the Presentations

If you’re so inclined, you can even learn a thing or two while you’re there. As a KLR rider (and yes, I did try out the new KLR), I spent a bit of time in the Adventure Out! area. I enjoyed the opportunity to meet Bret Tkacs, who I’ve been following on YouTube since long before I started riding dirt. He gave two great presentations. One was all about his standardized system for rating different types of terrain, as well as your own ability as a rider. A trail that’s easy for an experienced rider may be quite difficult for a novice. With this system, you can both call a particular trail a “3” and know what that means for your ability level.

His other presentation demonstrated a variety of ways to pick up a dropped motorcycle beyond the traditional way. This was of particular interest to me, because as a relatively inexperienced dirt rider, I’ve had to pick my bike up a lot. With my KLR, I have about two traditional lifts in me a day before I’m exhausted. Now I have a few more tricks up my sleeve to use so I don’t wear myself out so much.

Different shows have different speakers lined up. The website tells you who will be where. Check it out.

Non-Riders: Check Out “Discover the Ride” and “Ride With Us”

IMS’s popular Discover the Ride program easily made the transition from indoors to outdoors. People who have never even touched a motorcycle before have the opportunity to start with a bicycle, something most people already know how to ride, and work their way up to a detuned Zero motorcycle on a closed course. I already know how to ride, but I experienced this for myself in New York a few years ago, and absolutely loved it.

New for IMS Outdoors is the Ride With Us program. By the end of Discover the Ride, you’re doing laps on an electric motorcycle programmed to be no faster than the bicycle you start on. Ride With Us builds on that experience and puts you on a real gas-powered motorcycle on a closed course. MSF RiderCoaches take what you learned in Discover the Ride, then teach you clutch control and how to actually operate a traditional bike. Don’t worry, they’ll put you on something small like a Honda Grom, not a Suzuki Hayabusa. This is no substitute for a proper MSF Basic RiderCourse, but it’s an excellent way to bridge the gap between it and Discover the Ride. After completing both of these, you’ll be a step or two ahead of your classmates in the Basic RiderCourse.

If You Can, Spend the Weekend

With everything going on, it’s impossible to see it all in a single day. I haven’t even touched on the IMS Vintage motorcycle display. The J&P Cycles Ultimate Builder Custom Bike Show now has all of the bikes under one tent, rather than spread out across the entire show like in the past. Personally, I like this format much better, because it makes it easier to pick your favorite and write it in for a prize.

Kawasaki brought not only their motorcycle demo fleet, but also their side-by-sides for demos on an off-road course (making good use of the extra space that Carlisle Fairgrounds had to offer). I’d never driven a side-by-side before, but they put me in a Teryx KRX 1000 and had me driving over obstacles I couldn’t have tackled on my KLR. The gear requirements are similar to the motorcycle demos, but they have loaner gear available. This is something else fun to do with any non-rider friends or family you might bring to the show.

While I got to try all of the motorcycles I was most interested in, I didn’t come anywhere near being able to try every single model available. You won’t either. But if you’re a new rider who isn’t quite sure what type of bike you’re interested in getting, you can try every type of bike you can imagine to figure out whether you want a sportbike, dual-sport, cruiser, or something else entirely.

A three-day ticket is only a few dollars more than a one-day ticket (actual price depends on the show). Unless you live far way, there’s no reason not to get the three-day ticket and go in and out all weekend. If you do live far away, consider getting a hotel room or campsite in the area and spending the weekend anyway. This is a unique opportunity in the motorcycle world unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, even for journalists like me. There’s even more to see than I’ve described here. Seriously, if IMS Outdoors is coming anywhere near your part of the world, you owe it to yourself as a rider, or a wanna-be rider, to check it out for yourself.

Yamaha, Honda, KTM, and Piaggio Commit To Standard Swappable Batteries

The biggest issue with electric vehicles is the recharge time. Society is accustomed to stopping at a gas station, filling the tank in a few minutes, and driving another few hundred miles. Electric doesn’t work that way — yet. One way to bypass this issue is rather than wait for your batteries to recharge, simply drop your depleted battery into charger, install a freshly charged battery, and zoom off into the sunset. It’s all the speed and convenience of a gas station fill-up in an electric world.

Of course, one of the main issues with this is every manufacturer has a different battery design and standard — until now. Motorcyclist reports that Yamaha, Honda, KTM, and Piaggio have signed an agreement to form the Swappable Batteries Motorcycle Consortium, which will help and promote the establishment of common standards for vehicle batteries across corporate boundaries.

This is absolutely crucial if swappable batteries are to succeed. There are many different standards out there right now, both for charging as well as the batteries themselves. Seeing a few big companies jump on board with this idea is encouraging. Standardization to allow swappable batteries makes it easier for manufacturers to sell us on electric vehicles, because they become much easier and more practical to use. No more range anxiety. Just pull into a battery swap shop just like you use a gas station now, swap batteries, and keep going. At that point, it doesn’t matter if the batteries take a few hours to charge. They’ll just sit there, charge, and go right back into someone else’s vehicle afterward. It’ll work great, as long as the electrical infrastructure can handle it. (Are you listening, Texas?)

Zero Motorcycles Already Sold Out For 2021, Updating For 2022

If you wanted to buy a 2021 motorcycle from Zero, you’re too late. They’re all sold out, according to Jalopnik. Zero is already hard at work on updating the electronics to make most 2022 models even better.

After I got to ride a Zero SR/F at IMS Outdoors, I understand the popularity. If you can get over the almost complete lack of sound from these bikes, they’re legitimately fun to ride, and FAST. Did I mention fast? On our demo ride our leader got us all onto a nice quiet straightaway real slow, then mashed the throttle and took off like a light cycle from Tron. Naturally, the rest of us did the same. There’s nothing like the instant power and torque from an electric motor.

I could definitely see myself owning an electric bike as a commuter or city bike. They’re perfect for squirting in and out of traffic, and use virtually no power at a stop. My thing, though, is getting out of the city, out into the middle of nowhere, for hours at a time. That’s where electric bikes in general, not specifically Zero, fall short. It comes down the same old problems: charging time, and places to charge them. I’m sure that situation will continue to improve as more and more electric vehicles hit the road.

Quick Spin: 2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S

The Sportster, as we know it, is dead. Long live the Sportster. (And it will live on in the form of the Iron 883, Iron 1200, Forty-Eight…) There’s a new Sportster in town: the Sportster S.

To say this bike is controversial would be like saying the ocean is a little damp. Some Harley owners already don’t consider the Sportster to be a “real” Harley, even though the model goes all the way back to 1957. Now, there are many who say the all-new Sportster S isn’t a real Sportster, let alone a real Harley.

Honestly, there’s some truth to that. It’s nothing like the outgoing Sportster except for its small size. Its Revolution Max 1250T engine is the same one in the much larger Pan America (more on that in our upcoming dual-sport roundup), and is by far the most modern engine to ever appear in a Sportster. “Modern” is the name of the Sportster S game, from its rectangular LED headlight to the oversized high-mount exhaust, which evokes the Indian FTR 1200 in my mind. The engine is closer to the one from the V-Rod than the Iron 1200. This is not your father’s Oldsmobile, or Sportster, for that matter.

Moving Forward

“Real” or not, the important question is what is it like to ride? At IMS Outdoors, I got to find out. My pure chance riding partner, Paul, and I rode the same two bikes. One had the standard forward foot controls. The other had the optional center controls. Because I have longer legs than Paul, I started on the forward control bike.

I’ve ridden a few Sportster variant motorcycles in the past. The Sportster S is absolutely nothing like them. Forget the name, and don’t even think about trying to compare them. The Sportster S is more similar to the Kawasaki Vulcan S than any previous Sportster. The Vulcan S is a modern-looking cruiser wrapped around a sportbike engine, Kawi’s parallel-twin 650 from a whole bunch of their bikes. Similarly, Harley built the diminutive Sportster S around its new Revolution Max engine. It’s a big engine in a small frame, the classic muscle car formula.

And it goes. The Pan America is plenty quick in its own right, especially when you switch from street to sport mode. The controls on the Sportster S are identical, and the effect is even more pronounced. The standard forward control bike is a mini muscle cruiser. It has gobs of power and torque that propel the bike down the road even quicker than the Pan America, which itself is far from slow.

About halfway through the ride, though, my back started to ache from leaning so far forward to the handlebars. I try not to let such issues get in the way of evaluating a bike, particularly Harleys, because there’s such a wide variety of customizations you can make to place the handlebars where you want them. Still, though, I felt like my body was almost folded in half to operate the forward controls, and it was uncomfortable. I wanted to like the Sportster S, but I can’t ride it if it’s going to hurt me.

Knowing that there was a mid-control bike right next to me, at the end of our first demo ride I sat on the mid-control version. Immediately I knew this would transform the bike for me. I got back in line to try the mid-control Sportster S. The bike deserved another chance. Paul didn’t like the mid-controls, so he got back in line with me to try the forward control version I rode.

Take Two

Moving the controls back completely transformed the bike for me. I wasn’t bent over or overextended to reach them. In fact, I had much better control over the bike. With the foot pegs under me, I could weight the pegs, lean off the side of the bike, and apply all kinds of riding techniques that I simply couldn’t do with forward controls. My long legs were surprisingly not cramped, despite not being stretched out in front of me. It was actually more comfortable. And because I could really lay into what few corners there were on Harley’s demo route, I felt like this version of the bike literally put the “sport” back into the Sportster. It’s no sport bike, or FTR 1200, to be sure. But it’s a fun small cruiser that isn’t afraid to go around corners. Bring them on.

Paul, on the other hand, enjoyed the forward controls more. He comes from an Electra Glide, which may explain his preference for forward controls. He’s more familiar with them, while I’m more familiar with mid-controls on my KLR and almost every other bike I’ve ever owned. That’s the beauty of a Harley-Davidson. You can customize it to your heart’s content. What works for him doesn’t work for me, and that’s perfectly okay. Harley has the parts to turn mine into the bike I want.

Who’s It For?

I do have to wonder, though, exactly who H-D is making this bike for. It’s absolutely, positively, not a Sportster in the classic sense of the name. It’s much closer to the canceled Bronx, which was going to be a streetfighter type of motorcycle. (At this point I understand why Harley canceled it. It’s too close in style, function, and performance to the Sportster S.) So they’re not going to get buyers who would’ve otherwise bought a Sportster.

With mid-controls, it’s actually a fun sporty bike, but it’s no match for a genuine sportbike. Even the Ninja 650 I rode with almost half the engine displacement would eat the Sportster S for breakfast in the corners, simply because the Sporster S is not a sportbike. If you want a sporty bike, you typically get either a sportbike or a naked sport, not a Vulcan S, and not a Sportster S. So who, exactly, is Harley’s target market here?

Maybe it’s me. As I get older, I find that I appreciate a comfortable cruiser more and more. But I also like to be able to get on it when the mood strikes me. The Sportster S would serve both purposes for me. It’s a cruiser that still lets you be a hooligan when the mood strikes you. Maybe that’s what Harley is going for here, a genuinely H-D take on the idea of a hooligan bike. Now that, I think, would have a target market.

I do hope there are enough people out there interested in a bike like this for it to be a sales success. Harley needs it. From what I saw at IMS Outdoors, the longest demo ride waits at the Harley booth were for the Pan America and the Sportster S, the most non-traditional Harleys there are. If some of those demo rides translate into sales, the Sportster S may become a common sight on the road — perhaps as common as the number of demo bikes I saw cruising up and down the out-and-back demo ride route this weekend.

Quick Spin: 2022 Kawasaki KLR650

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.

Digital Dashboard

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.

Better Brakes

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.

We’re at IMS Outdoors Pennsylvania

The gates aren’t officially open yet, but with credentials in hand we are onsite at IMS Outdoors, the reimagined International Motorcycle Show that is now an outdoor motorcycle festival rather than a traditional indoor show.

Most of the major manufacturers are here, though some are missing (BMW, for one). Many are offering demo rides, something that was never available to me when I covered New York IMS in the middle of winter. To my delight, a few brand new models are here — the Harley-Davidson Pan America, for example, and the controversial Sportster S.

The one my jaw hit the ground over, because I’m extremely biased, is the new Kawasaki KLR650. I own a first generation model (2005, going on 1987), and I’m most curious to see how the new one compares to the original. I’m hoping to get my hands on all of these bikes, and more, once the show actually opens up.

One change that I quite like is that the J&P Cycles Ultimate Builder Custom Bike Show is all under one tent. At least at New York IMS, these bikes were spread all over the show. They were great decorations, but it made it difficult for attendees to compare and vote on them. Here you can see them all in one place, which makes it much easier to choose your favorites.