If you’re seeking the latest and greatest in ADV technology, click on the next article. For those with tighter purse strings, the long wait is over. Introduced in 1984 as a 600 and quickly bumped to 650 cc in 1987, Kawasaki’s KLR spent the next two decades waiting for another major revision, which it got back in 2008. Following some 2014 tweaks to suspension and seating, Kawasaki has finally retooled their best-seller.
After a 24-month hiatus, mostly due to the aging platform’s inability to meet modern emissions standards, the KLR650 returns for 2022, with a substantial quantity of otherwise minor updates. We subjected the bike to 425 miles of punishment in the harsh mountain-and-desert terrain of northern New Mexico, and now, we believe it was worth the wait. Kawasaki’s game plan was to make relevant changes that adhered to a consumer-driven dichotomy of “modernize it” and “don’t change a thing!” In other words, make it better, but not less reliable or more expensive.
Somebody did their homework, because the KLR, always an affordable introduction to reliable adventure motorcycling, is even better now. Need to know if you should add one to your garage, or upgrade from an earlier model? The answer to both is maybe. Let’s discuss which changes work, and which are marketing gobbledygook.
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION:
The most obvious change to the 652 cc liquid-cooled, four-stroke, DOHC, single-cylinder engine is the addition of fuel injection, primarily for improved fuel efficiency, but more importantly, for easier starting, especially in cold temps and at high elevations. A new honeycomb catalyzer combines with a new O2 sensor to monitor the closed loop injection system, contributing to cleaner exhaust emissions.
Emissions-oriented upgrades also include revised and lighter-weight starter, ignition coil, and evaporator canister. With the goal of improving mid-range torque, the intake and exhaust cam profiles have been updated and exhaust pipe diameter was reduced from 42.7 mm to 35 mm. A stronger cam chain guide is also said to improve reliability, as if KLR reliability was ever in question.
The removal of a petcock cannot be made without adding a fuel gauge, lest one become stranded, so there’s also a new digital LCD dash. While it’s both simple and functional, focusing on speed and fuel, it unfortunately eliminates the tachometer featured on former analog models. There is space on the right side of the display that would be perfect for a gear indicator, yet such novelty is suspiciously absent. No matter, there are still only five gears, so always a 20% chance of being in the right one. Honestly, more like a 40% chance, the way the grunty single happily delivers torque in second and third gears.
As typical for a KLR, gears shift smoothly, even without the clutch, though it’s a bit tougher to find neutral with the engine off. However, stated reliability improvements include revised third-gear dogs and shift fork, and a “shaved finishing” on fourth and fifth gears, which sounds like it belongs on a gentleman’s Monday morning face. The clutch was also updated from ball bearing to thrust-needle bearing. These improvements are unnoticeable when riding.
The high tensile, semi-double-cradle frame received several updates, including a new rear frame, which has been integrated with the main frame, providing more torsional rigidity. The swingarm has been extended 1.2 inches and the swingarm pivot shaft increased by 2 mm, also said to increase stability.
Unfortunately, the same nonadjustable 41 mm forks with 7.9 inches of travel carry over, along with the same five-click preload, three-turn rebound and 7.3 inches of travel in the rear shock. Rake has been extended to 30° (from 28°) and trail improved to 4.8 inches (from 4.4) to coincide with the geometry changes elsewhere. A 2.3-inch longer wheelbase (60.6 inches) and slightly more rake did noticeably improve both slow-speed handling and high-speed stability, but it’s still floaty and wants to wash out when terrain gets soft.
WHEELS AND BRAKES:
The new KLR comes with Bosch ABS as a $400 option in the U.S., and standard in countries where it is required. ABS cannot be adjusted or disabled, but features less-sensitive intervention timing, so not to engage too quickly under decreased traction in dirt. The front brake is now mated to a 20 mm larger diameter 300 mm disc and there is a 1 mm thicker disc out back, for improved heat dissipation.
The 21-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels were beefed up with stronger materials and larger diameter axles, for improved rigidity, durability and stability. Both ends still run tubes in the stock Dunlop K750s: 90/90-21 up front and 130/80-17 out back. The bike felt more planted overall, but the tires were not confidence inspiring.
ERGONOMICS AND STYLING:
New bodywork includes a 50 mm taller, two-position adjustable windshield, which we found to be more than adequate in its lower position, negating any need to raise it another 30 mm. There’s also a new half-inch bar above the dash and behind the shield, for easy accessory mounting.
A more squat fuel tank shape not only tucks nicely around the legs, but also allows a full 6 gallons of fuel to be used. The handlebar and footpeg lengths were extended 10 mm, providing a touch more room to move, as well as more steering leverage. While the handlebar, footpegs and seat are all rubber mounted, they failed to reduce the ample vibration from the big single in any meaningful way, but do work well in a standing position.
New colorways cover a new armored shroud, side cover and tail cowl. There’s even a plastic bash plate underneath and brush guards for your digits. All of these defenc es tested effective and, when combined with the engine guards, should make the KLR even more damage-resistant.
The seat shape was narrowed and optimized for thickness and firmness, to improve comfort and make it easier to drop legs to ground. We were able to flat-foot with a 32-inch inseam, and found the seat handled a 250 mile day fairly well. The pillion seat is adequate as well, and features reshaped grab bars, which is supposed to make them easier to hold on to, according to team green. The new 30 mm shorter side stand was easy to deploy and provided ample footing that doesn’t sink in soft soil swiftly.
The new LED headlight is welcomed, and reduces power consumption, but why LED wasn’t extended to the revised taillight or blinkers is a mystery. Mirror arms were extended slightly, and the round mirrors worked well, without distracting. The battery was changed to a sealed 8 Ah unit, which is smaller, lighter and requires less maintenance, but puts out 7 Ah less power than the former model. A new AC generator outputs 26 A (up from 17.5 A) with a total capacity of 80 W, to power all those accessories that ADV riders love, like heated grips and clothing, navigational aids and auxiliary lighting. Or simply recharging your phone.
KLRs have notoriously been heavily overloaded, so Kawasaki claims carrying capacity was increased. The 2008–2018 KLR650 had a GVWR of 788 pounds, curb weight of 428 pounds and thus a cargo capacity of 360 pounds, including the rider. According to the 2022 specs, GVWR is 861 pounds on the base KLR650 and 888 pounds on the Adventure. Our tech rep couldn’t explain why Kawasaki headquarters quotes the otherwise identical (but heavier) bike with more capacity. Regardless, curb weight is 461 pounds on the base and 487 pounds on the Adventure (less 5 pounds without ABS), magically leaving stated cargo capacity at 400 pounds on both. The Traveler edition weights 472 pounds, so we’ll assume it can also carry 400 pounds. Small math errors are due to rounding, big ones to corporate abacus.
The Adventure model comes equipped with easily detachable (optionally ignition-keyed) 21-liter plastic side cases, LED auxiliary running lights, engine guards, tank pad (but not knee pads), and DC and USB outlets. The oversized water and dustproof USB port cover seemed like an afterthought, as it didn’t stay closed. The Traveler model includes a plastic 42-liter top case and the same DC and USB outlets. The side cases are narrow, but the top case can swallow a full-face ADV helmet, and each case can hold 11 pounds.
With ABS, the KLR650 is $6,999 in Sand, Traveler is $7,399 in Orange, and Adventure is $7,999 in Camo (USD). Add $530 for delivery and subtract $400 if available and optioned without ABS. If you don’t like the preconfigured colorways, options include heated grips ($200), reduced reach seat ($300), USB port ($95), DC port ($96), LED auxiliary lights ($400), engine guards ($250), tank pad ($60), knee pads ($90), 21 L side cases ($430), and 43 L top case ($210). Add all of the options to a base model for about $2,000, or simply choose the Adventure, and completely deck it out for another $500, unless you need the shorty seat.
Kawasaki marketing exclaims: “Escape. Explore. Envy.” The 2022 KLR650 is indeed a capable steed that can take a rider nearly anywhere they want to go. However, it never feels fast, rather, like it has primitive traction control. Roll the throttle wide open and always receive linear acceleration. It can exceed 90 mph in top gear, wide open, downhill, with a tailwind, but trying to pass on a two-lane highway at 75 mph is a chore.
It will grind over slow uphill climbs in first, and in second will lug along happily over almost anything. The suspension is tolerable, but minimally adjustable. It still looks straight out of 2008, which is likely why it’s so affordable, but most of the aftermarket farkles from the last 35 years likely won’t bolt on directly.
Envy? Maybe not, but two out of three ain’t bad! There is a reason the KLR650 retains a loyal following. Explore this bargain bike to save some dough for your next escape!
Engine: 652 cc, 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, DOHC, 4-valve, single
Bore/Stroke: 100 x 83 mm
Fueling: DFI with 40 mm Throttle Body
Rake/Trail: 30°/4.8 in.
Front Tire: Dunlop K750 90/90-21
Rear Tire: Dunlop K750 130/80-17
Front Suspension: 41 mm leading axle hydraulic telescopic fork, 7.9 in. travel.
Rear Suspension: Uni-Trak, preload and rebound adjust, 7.3 in. travel.
Front Brake: 300 mm disc
Rear Brake: 240 mm disc
Wheelbase 60.6 in.
Fuel Capacity: 6.1 gal.
Ground Clearance: 8.3 in.
Seat Height: 34.3 in.
Curb Weight w/ABS and 90% fuel: 460.6 lb (BASE), 471.7 lb (TRAV), 487.1 lb (ADV)
Warranty: 12 months