On September 15, 2005, I bought a new, lime green, 2006, Kawasaki KLR650.
Over the course of the following year I rode that same KLR over 13,013 miles, in 11 different American States, in temperatures ranging from +14F to +104F.
In this column, below, are my thoughts on the experience of that year with the KLR.
Updated March 3, 2007:
I should begin by writing that the KLR650 has proven itself to be an utterly reliable and versatile motorcycle.
Too, that I am thankful for the helpful information and colorful stories
that so many other individual KLR owners, and KLR communities,
have provided on-line.
Freely sharing knowledge gained through personal experience - our own stories in our own words and pictures - represents the best that the internet has to offer us.
Lime plastic shining, at first glance the KLR looked like something akin to an oversized Kawi MX bike - fitted with a ridiculous fuel tank.
A year and 13,013 miles later it's still the 'dirt bike' single-cylinder engine and 6 (5) gallon tank that largely determine the riding experience.
If you're planning to travel a long distance on bad roads, in as efficient a manner as possible, the KLR is an excellent choice.
Competition Within the Class:
The 650cc single-cylinder dual-sport motorcycles sold by Kawasaki, Suzuki and Honda are all tough and simple machines.
But Suzuki's DR650 and Honda's XR650L, in stock form, circa 2006, are missing a few things that Kawasaki's KLR650 offers:
(1) a large fuel tank;
(2) a small winshield;
(3) a small fairing;
(4) a large cargo rack;
(5) a liquid-cooled engine.
The cumulative effect of those five features is that the KLR outperforms the other Japanese (650cc single-cylinder dual-sport motorcycle) models in:
(1) easily carrying gear;
(2) travelling at (relatively) high speed;
(3) cruising long distances.
I think that it would take the addition of several hundred dollars worth of aftermarket equipment to the Suzuki and/or Honda in order for either of those bikes
to compare to the KLR - on the road.
Having written that, off-road or 'around town' the stock Honda and/or Suzuki probably outperform the KLR.
The Suzuki has gotten good press in Cycle World, lately, while the Honda was praised in Motorcyclist magazine.
Where do you intend to ride?
Knowing that I wanted to travel across the United States, the Kawasaki KLR was the right choice for me.
If purchasing a used Honda XRL or Suzuki DRSE for an extended road trip, it would be prudent to look for modifications -
most notably a larger gas tank, windshield, and cargo carrying accessories - that have been made, or to take the cost of making those modifications into account.
air and oil
With sufficient modification, any motorcycle can be used for any purpose.
Where do you want to put your time and money? On the road? In the shop?
What sort of budget do you have? Equipment? Skills?
Acerbis 6.0 gallon tank upgrade for the XR650L, at dual-star.com, $219.95, as of March 3, 2007.
For more, read debates concerning Bike X vs. Bike Y at
The Fuel Tank, Weight and Center of Gravity:
I keep returning to the topic of the KLR's fuel tank because the KLR's character changes with the amount of fuel that it carries.
As has been said in another place, while the KLR is rather light, a significant percentage of its weight rides high as a result of:
(1) the fuel that it carries, (2) the elevated path that its exhaust travels, (3) its liquid cooling and (4) its ground clearance.
And the amount of fuel in the motorcycle is the only one of those four points that varies.
While the Owner's Manual indicates a fuel tank capacity of 6.1 U.S. gallons, it is safer to assume a practical,
or usable, fuel tank capacity of 5.0 U.S. gallons.
Given a conservative estimate of 50 miles ridden per gallon of fuel burned, it is probably 'OK' to suppose
that the motorcycle has a 250 mile range between fuel stops.
Though it is better - for the sake of managing rider fatigue as well as fuel - to stop at least every 100 miles.
While it seems counter-intuitive, the more often you stop, the farther, and safer, you can ride in a day.
Traction and Tires:
Fuel down - GVW down - air down - slow down; or fall down.
But I digress.
The less fuel that one carries in the KLR's tank, the more stable the KLR becomes;
and so it's good to (1) carry less fuel in low-traction situations, e.g., off-road, in rain/snow.
Too, (2) when travelling off-road, ridding the bike of all excess weight (cargo) is really helpful.
Also, one might (3) slightly reduce the volume of air in the KLR's tires in order to gain traction/stability in such situations.
And (4) the tires that one chooses to mount on the wheels go a long way towards determining the bike's fitness for a particular surface,
e.g., a KLR wearing Dunlop 606's is a different machine than a KLR wearing Dunlop 607's.
The bike's stock tires are Dunlop K750's. The stock rear tire lasted, roughly, 6000 miles; the stock front tire has lasted, roughly, 14,000 miles.
The rear tire on the bike, now, is a Dunlop 607; after 8000+ miles of service it still has some life left in it.
I have run 21 p.s.i. in the front tire, and 28 p.s.i. in the rear tire, on the highway, with good results.
The end result of the comparison/contrast between the KLR, DR and XRL is, in my opinion, that the KLR more properly belongs in the adventure-touring class of
motorcycles, while the DR and XRL, in stock form, ought to be considered as examples of the dual-sport class of motorcycles.
It is too tempting to lump the three Japanese 650cc singles together, as a result of their origin;
the KLR, by virtue of its function, belongs with the German BMW GS and Austrian KTM Adventure bikes.
It's the psychology of 'branding' that prevents most people from being honest about that fact.
The 650cc Single-Cylinder Engine:
The 650cc single-cylinder produces adequate power for all riding situations that one is likely to encounter.
The key words in that sentence are 'adequate' and 'likely',
i.e., you will not race away, on one wheel, while being pursued by laser-wielding secret agents.
If you do want to go faster, on a similar bike, consider the BMW GS, Aprilia Pegaso or KTM Adventure.
New, the character of the KLR's engine did change after completing both the 500 and 1000 mile portions of the break-in period;
it became both smoother and also more powerful at each of those increments.
I took care to observe the Factory's break-in instructions.
The engine now has a familiar pattern of revolution in which anything under (roughly) 2000 r.p.m.
seems to result in 'lugging,' in a manner akin to a little man hitting my seat with
a big hammer; the KLR does not like to rev too slow.
Given current conditions, I would suggest that 70 m.p.h. be considered the MINIMUM sustained speed of travel on the Interstate Highway System.
The KLR's engine will run at 5000 r.p.m. in 5th gear - an indicated (roughly) 75 m.p.h. on the speedometer - all day long, even if that day last for 700 miles.
At 5250 r.p.m. in 5th gear - an indicated (roughly) 80 m.p.h. on the speedometer - gas mileage falls dramatically, and the temperature needle can rise.
In Imperial Valley, (below sea level) California, I achieved an all-time high speed of an indicated 103 m.p.h. while travelling down a mild slope.
Two-lane state highways are my preferred routes.
I think that the engine is 'happiest' when it roundly thumps between 2500 and 4500 r.p.m. in any given gear.
The motorcycle's engine speed at idle is a solid 1250 r.p.m., and it hasn't been necessary to perform any adjustment in the past several months.
Vibration, the Elements and Fatigue:
The KLR does produce a distinct vibration - through the foot pegs and handlebars, but not the seat.
And gel inserts became a part of my footgear; gel gloves became a riding option too.
Though I think that, while vibration does affect the rider, the greater part of the fatigue that one feels while riding is the result of exposure to the elements:
(1) wind; (2); sun; (3) heat/cold; (4) rain.
And stress - both physical and psychological - is a major consideration in rider fatigue too:
travelling at high speeds, in heavy auto/truck traffic, through monotonous terrain wears down
the sharp 'edge' that a motorcycle operator ought to possess.
Again, the two-lane state highways tend to move slower, be less heavily (especially by trucks) trafficked, and also offer more beauty per mile than the Interstate system.
The stock wind/rain guards on the KLR's hand controls really do function - not as armor against impact, but as useful protection against the elements.
The stock windshield, though, isn't quite the right height for anyone who's six feet, or taller.
I applied a replacement face shield from my grinding mask (Wilson Protecto-Shield) over the KLR's stock windshield,
increasing the height by 3 inches, and the width by 2 inches, over the stock measurements.
The upgrade was free, and it created a much more comfortable 'pocket' in which to ride.
Windshields and Wind:
Windshields are a double-edged sword: Any surface exposed to the wind is, potentially, a sail.
And gusting crosswinds are, perhaps, the most difficult condition in which to ride; it is not good to be moved perpendicular to one's intended path of travel.
In high winds it is useful to (1) reduce speed; (2) reduce the surface area one's body presents to the wind, i.e., lay on the tank; and (3) alter arm/leg position to
manipulate the flow of wind as necessary to remain upright.
A large winshield, and especially a large windshield mounted to the handlebars, has the potential to become a large course-altering sail.
I have ridden the KLR through 40 m.p.h. winds; I have stopped riding in high winds mixed with rain too.
It is important to know when to stop.
There isn't a 'fix' for every condition/situation that will allow you to keep riding.
At some point, if you don't stop, you will crash.
Even more useful than the winshield modification, the best thing that I did to the KLR was put Ortlieb saddlebags on it.
The Ortlieb ThinCase Dry Bag Saddlebags work.
Protective Gear and Conspicuity:
Aerostich's Roadcrafter One Piece Suit has been an excellent companion to the KLR and Ortlieb bags.
Having purchased the KLR with the intent of doing everything as efficiently as possible with only one motorcycle,
it made sense to pair that motorcycle with the piece of gear that would do more for me - the rider - than any other individual item of clothing.
There might be better choices for the track, or the commute to work, or a trip across the country.
But what other single item will work as well for all three of those purposes?
It's versatile; it's well-made; it's tough; it's offered in conspicuous colors; it's manufactured and sold by nice people in Minnesota.
I bought a size 44 regular, with a red body and hi-viz lime yellow ballistic patches.
My chief complain relates to sizing: I've had to remove the shoulder armor in order to make room for my shoulders and chest;
they (my shoulders and chest) would be more comfortable in a size 48.
The rest of my body fits well in a size 44; thus the dilemna.
I have worn the Roadcrafter in temperatures ranging between +14F and +104F.
Layering - Cotton Kills:
Paying attention to the layers that I wear underneath the Roadcrafter allows for an even more useful and versatile riding system.
Given my druthers, I don a pair of clearance-priced REI silk, long-sleeved, tops and bottoms as a first layer against my skin.
I try not to wear cotton as a first layer - if I know that I'll be spending a day in the saddle, or that I'll be exposed to severe cold for even a little while.
But I do keep a red cotton Carhartt 'union suit' as a second or third layer.
On top of the union suit, if I need it, I'll layer a quilted nylon/polyester 2-piece suit.
Cotton traps moisture, looses insulating value and is abrasive.
Take a cue from the marathon runners, mountain climbers and hunters: layer different materials according to their properties.
We've heard about 1.0-2.0mm elk/goat/deer leather, or Cordura/ballistic nylon as outer layers.
Think about silk, merino wool and the synthetics as first layers.
Like the KLR and the Roadcrafter, I chose a full-faced helmet because it was the most versatile option available to me.
In rain, or cold, or in situations with air-borne debris (gravel/bugs) full-faced helmets rule. Period.
Like the layers of clothing under the Roadcrafter, a 'Thermax' balaclava has made the full-faced helmet even more useful;
the more of your neck and face that you have insulated, the less of your body heat you will lose.
Realizing that you have hypothermia is like realizing that you have heat stroke, or that you are dehydrated, or that you are too fatigued to continue to
operate the motorcycle safely: it is a realization that comes too late.
I purchased a KBC Racer-1 helmet because it fit my head, and it was DOT/Snell approved.
I have a long-narrow head, and I would recommend KBC products to others with a similar 'oblong' skull.
You have got to know (1) your head size; and (2) your head shape.
Different makes of helmets fit different heads; try helmets on.
Help keep me on the road.
Contribute to my Ride America Fund for gas, food, and lodging.
I'll keep rolling till the money runs out...
The King Family
This is a document that reflects its author's personal experience.
The information presented on this page is not a substitute for any factory manual, or professional service.
Go to Kawasaki, the MSF, the SMF and the AMA; they want to help you.
Read the Hurt Report.
Do your own research; formulate a hypothesis; test it.
Read the material linked from this site.
Ride to be alive.
safety - gear
Everyone knows the minimum gear: (1) eye protection; (2) helmet; (3) gloves; (4) over-the-ankle leather boots; (5) long-sleeved shirt; (6) long-legged pants; (7) high-visibility indicators of some kind.
And everyone understands the importance of said gear.
Yet, most riders in the area do not wear it.
Or, they dress head-to-toe in black.
I do want other people to see me.
I do not want to love the concrete, at 70 m.p.h., unprotected.
I am too old to worry about making a fashion statement, and so I've tried to do what works.
I began the first long-distance ride with the following equipment:
Aerostich Roadcrafter One Piece Suit
red suit, with hi-viz yellow ballistics
size 44 regular
(The Roadcrafter was an excellent investment. It has worked. I spent a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to be wearing when I fell; this was the answer. The ventilation is superb. I am nagged by the thought that I should have purchased a size 46. It is possible that what little discomfort I do feel is attributable to the suit's six pieces of energy-absorbing body armor.)
KBC Racer-1 Helmet
red, with reflective stickers
(The KBC still wins my praise for comfort and ventilation; but wind noise is a problem - at high speed, over long distances.)
ColdPro 2 Gloves
(These are, in truth, cool weather gloves - and not winter gloves.
They did keep my hands dry in the rain.
But, I nullified that advantage after melting through the Hipora membrane via accidental contact with the KLR's (hot) exhaust pipe.)
Alpinestars Light Touring Gloves S-MX6
(These are, still, the most comfortable gloves that I have worn. They allow their wearer to "feel" more than any other model I have tried.)
Hi-Viz Safety Vest
lime/yellow nylon mesh, with 2 inch relfective strips
(The last bag on the motorcycle wears the safety vest, now. It helps me to be seen - day or night.)
Hearing loss resulting from repeated and prolonged exposure to wind and engine noise is a reality.
I picked up a bag that contained 50 pairs of 36db rated, disposable, foam earplugs for about $10.
Do it now, before you lose your hearing.
In my opinion, any clean visored, highly visible, DOT and SMF approved helmet that fits YOUR head properly is a good helmet.
My boots are Hi-Tec Magnum leather and nylon SWAT footgear, left from my time at the Sheriff's Office.
The only strike against them is that they lace; laces and chains do not mix well.
Still, should it be necessary to walk they are far superior to most motorcycle-specific footgear.
Thoughts after the first trip:
My preparation was, on the whole, good. But I underestimated the effects of two conditions:
(1) altitude, and (2) vibration.
In the mountains, I was cold. And on the return trip I invested roughly $150 in long silk underwear, a cotton union suit, glove liners, sock liners, a balaclava, and a skull cap.
As a last resort, I wore two plastic ziplock bags on each of my hands. Even so, my thumbs were nipped by frostbite.
For the sake of your survival, it is always most important to insulate your head.
But on the KLR, the combination of cold temperatures, altitude, wind and vibration will be felt in your fingers.
One of the best things about the KLR650
is the fact that thousands of riders have been on-line
sharing their experience with said model for a decade.
Make use of that knowledge.
Find as much relevant information as possible - prior to making your own decision.
- The most encompassing single-page collection of general information that I have found, on-line. Compiled by Chris Krok.
- Elden Carl and company. A great resource for Kawasaki KLR, Suzuki DR/Z and Honda XR/L riders. Maintenance, ride reports, etc.
- BMW F650GS focus, with useful commentary on tires, riding tips, etc; applicable to most 650cc single-cylinder motorcycles.
- Diesel engine conversion from F1 Engineering.
U.S. Marine Corps KLR650
- YouTube video, including multi-fuel capable segment.
- Five-time KLR650 owner Verle Nelson. A good read.
2001 KLR650: mods, trips, etc.
- Good pictures of Ortlieb dry bags mounted on a KLR650. Mods, etc.
- Mods, tires, etc.
An unhappy owner :(
- The first, and still the largest, KLR-specific forum on-line.
- ADV's Hondo and company; member's rides featured.
- Dual Sport News' Yahoo! Groups KLR650 list. Since 2000. Register to read.
Bob's KLR650 Arctic Adventure: 2005
- Gear reviews and mods, on the road to the Arctic Circle via Alaska (again).
- An old hand's advice on packing, gear, lodging, etc. Good stuff.
- The Archive of Wisdom at Iron Butt.
- An awesome, global, adventure touring website.
- A great forum, and archive, dealing with adventure touring, and motorcycling, generally.
- Crow Indian Tribe, PhD Economics, author, motorcyclist. He's been doing it a long time.
- Racks, bags, etc. Fuel tanks. Washington State.
- Racks, aluminum panniers, guards etc. Made in the U.S.A., at the Happy Trails shop in Idaho.
- Parts, tires, helmets, etc.
- Utah, Moab, "Fred" has a good reputation.
Eagle Mfg. and Engineering
- Most "doohickey" upgrades appear to be "Eagle" Mike's work. And people are pleased.
Schnitz Motorsports, Inc
- In addition to the usual parts, also the 685cc upgrade. Folks have mentioned being happy with their work.
- A compendium of rider's opinions on various tire models culled from the Yahoo! list, and the klr650faq. Check f650.com for additional.
AMA: 2005 model review
- On the road, in Alaska.
Motorsports-Network: 2004 model review
- Up the California Coast.
Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly: 2002 model review
- Through the Upper Midwest.
Motorcycle Daily: 2002 review
Epinions.com: 2000 model review
Specs: 87-96 models
When I began looking for a motorcycle on which to take a long ride, I found
Mariola Cichon's "Ride of the Heart" website.
It's gone, living now only in memory and the
But it was because of that Polish lady from Chicago that I wound up on a KLR650.
Idiot's Guide to Motorcycling
by Darwin Holmstrom
by Hunter S. Thompson
Rebuilding the Indian
by Fred Haefele
The Perfect Vehicle
by Melissa Holbrook Pierson
by Herman Melville
by Hermann Hesse
Dirty Old Man
by Charles Bukowski
Beyond Good and Evil
by Friedrich Nietzsche
Had it not been for the women in my life, on-line, and behind the books, I would not have done this - this way.
The best MSF course that I took contained the most female students - including two mother & daughter pairs. (It was taught by the oldest instructors too.)
There are height, weight and strength issues in motorcycling; but there are no gender issues between you and the machine.
Women on bikes, on-line:
And Melissa Holbrook Pierson wrote a really good book:
The Perfect Vehicle.
The ugly truth of the matter is that motorcycling - more precisely: long-distance motorcycle touring - is not cheap:
5600 - Motorcycle
1048 - Gear
400 - Insurance
161 - Bags
135 - Tools
(Critical, today, and unlisted: fuel consumption. I cannot imagine failing to take it into account when purchasing a vehicle - any vehicle. Fuel + Maintenance + Insurance = Cost Over Time. At 50-60 m.p.g. the KLR650 is, again, one of the better choices.)
There are very few new motorcycles that are less expensive than the KLR650 - and there are no motorcycles, at the KLR's price, that will do what the KLR will do.
If you can afford a new BMW F650GS, good for you.
Reliable used motorcycles, in the Chicago area, circa 2005, seem to start at roughly $2000.
If you possess, or have access to: (1) strong mechanical skills; (2) a full set of tools; and (3) shop space, then, again, good for you. You can get a used bike, cheap.
I began my search for a long-distance mount with the hope that I would find a nice, used BMW K75 in the market.
Once upon a time, someone wrote something about the best laid plans of mice and men.
Having no interest in a cruiser, high-end sportbike or full-dress touring motorcycle, the number of options diminished drastically.
For someone coming from the era of the KZ550, CB650 and the like, it was a rude awakening: motorcycles in the U.S.A. have grown - like the cars. I do not intend that to be flattering.
If you plan to do nothing but ride around your city, fine. Recapture your youth - or someone else's youth.
I am still not tempted to ride a 20 year old motorcycle of unknown history through West Texas.
My story is not about the search for an elusive vintage part.
And the difference between $2800 and $4800 is not so great, nor is the trust I have in my fellow man so strong, that I regret my purchase.
You make your choice; you pay your money; you take your chances.
The $7344 amount listed above was all the money that I had.
But, if it keeps me alive, and wanting to live, it was worth every penny...
Paul E. Germanos
478 S. York
Elmhurst, IL, 60126
It seems impossible to discuss what has, and has not, worked - without making reference to particular products.
"What should I get?" "Where should I get it?" "How much should I expect to pay?" "Who has good service?"
People want to know.
Prior to making a major purchase, most savvy consumers attempt to gather as much information as possible.
For most of us, a motorcycle is a major purchase.
Look around. Be informed.
If I write about something, it is only because I have used it.
If I link to something, it is only because I have found it to be helpful.
If I include ads, it is to help to pay for the cost of the website.
And Google's ads seem to supply content that is relevant to this page's purpose.
Again: I don't know how to provide information about the KLR650, accessories and motorcycling generally, without advancing, or inhibiting, someone's commercial agenda.
Be smart: Look; learn; decide; and then get away from the computer - and go ride.
Motorcycling isn't in here; it's out there.