Tag Archives: kawasaki

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. Motorcycle.com 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.

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.