True survivor: Kawasaki KLR650
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In terms of longevity, there are few bikes around today that can hold a candle to Kawasaki’s KLR650. It was first introduced to the market in 1984 as the KLR600, then 1987 saw the release of the KLR650 (with the 600 going the way of the dinosaurs).
Fast forward 30 years and the KLR650 is still with us, with surprisingly few major changes. It has evolved slightly; its current look coming in 2008, with countless small tweaks over its lifespan, but in essence the KLR650 is almost the same machine as it was in the beginning.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the KLR’s lack of technology in a time when everything seems to be digital is a bad thing, quite the opposite.
There is just something so admirable for a bike in 2017 to have kept fragile electronics out of its design when it seems everyone else is going for fuel injection, ABS, Traction control and TFT dashboards.
The KLR has remained true to its original premise and has carved out a niche that few bikes can approach: a learner-approved bike that can reliably take you almost anywhere — global adventures included.
You see, while actor Ewan McGregor’s globetrotting bike of choice may be a 1200cc electronic elephant, for the less financially endowed rider, their choice for a globetrotter is almost always one of these simple, affordable machines — which are now a dying breed with new global regulations such as Euro 4 making it increasingly difficult for them to comply with emissions standards.
The KLR650 is powered by a 651cc single cylinder engine, which although receiving minor updates in the form of new piston rings, electronic starter, and other refinements over the years, is similar to its original 1987 incarnation.
Fuelling is courtesy of a carburettor, which means the use of the handlebar mounted choke is often needed when starting on a cold day.
Coming from riding EFI equipped bikes for the past few years, the start-up procedure was a novel reminder of a more analogue time.
The easy-to-read instrumentation is also a reminder of this, with big clock faces and no digital readouts of any kind.
There’s no fuel gauge for the massive 22-litre fuel tank, so when the bike spluttered to a stop after 368km of riding, I had to manually switch over to the reserve tank, which puts the range to more than 400km.
The odometer (trip meter) and speedo are analogue, with the cable running both easily visible on the right-hand side of the big 21-inch spoked front wheel.
The big 21-inch front wheel is an asset for when the road gets rough, which is one of the places the KLR thrives.
With a 17-inch unit in the back with both wrapped in dual-purpose Dunlop K750 tyres doing a good job of balancing traction needs on tarmac and gravel.
I have a rural highway commute and was a little worried how the 650cc learner-approved machine would cope with overtaking.
Thankfully the 32kW on tap and gutsy 50Nm of peak torque took care of that, with the tall machine surprisingly good at passing with a click down from top gear of the five-speed gearbox.
In its 2008 update, the KLR was given a new look, going from what looked like a large farm bike with lights, to the touring-inspired machine you see here.
That means it now boasts a protective front cowling with twin lights, hand protectors (which keep the wind off your hands nicely), and refinements to the suspension, which is now stiffer for better on-road handling.
The subframe appears to be the same as always, with a tall 890mm seat height, but there’s now a more modern luggage rack on the back with handy access to the factory tool kit.
You can definitely pack a weekend’s worth of gear away and take a pillion out with this sturdy machine.
Like the tuatara, the KLR is a survivor. It survived the great carburettor extinction of the early 2000s and so much more.
This incredibly versatile machine may be old-school in its approach to technology, but when it comes to a bike that is capable of circling the Earth, that low-tech componentry and 30 years in production, means it’ll be a cinch to get parts if anything should happen in the back country of the world.
Add to that an enormous aftermarket, with parts catering to the adventure rider, tourer, or everyday commuter, and you’ve got a bike that can be a perfect introduction to motorcycling, or a fun go-anywhere machine for the more experienced rider.
ENGINE: 651cc DOHC, water-cooled, single cylinder
PRO: Reliable, affordable, simple, massive fuel tank, LAMS approved
CON: Tall seat height, basic technology