To call the 2022 KLR650 “new” would be a bit silly. Improved, absolutely, but it’s hard to call a motorcycle that has gone relatively unchanged since 1987 new. I think even the Sportster has seen more changes, than Kawasaki’s legendary dual sport.
Having last been significantly updated in 2008, the KLR650 was starting to show its age. Its carbureted engine in particular needed an upgrade. After being discontinued in 2018, there were legit concerns that Kawasaki wasn’t going to invest in updating the KLR. It appeared that the legend was going to be relegated to the history books, and modern dual sports and adventure bikes in their lineup, like the KLX 300 or the Versys series, would fill the void.
Fortunately, Kawasaki had the good sense to understand that dirt bikes with headlights and tall Ninjas in ADV clothes were no replacement for the Les Stroud of motorcycles and its ruggedly durable versatility. Make no mistake, they could never truly inherit its place in the motorcycling world.
Enter the third-generation KLR650. What does the new KLR650 bring to the table? Nothing surprising or revolutionary, just the bare necessities, in classic KLR fashion. That doesn’t mean the updates are underwhelming or unwelcome. To the contrary, they make the KLR interesting and exciting for the first time in years.
There’s fuel injection, new brakes with an ABS option, updated digital instruments, revised ergonomics, new bodywork and fuel tank, a taller adjustable windshield, a new larger aluminum rear carrier, a more powerful charging system, and an LED headlight.
The updated fuel injected 652cc liquid-cooled single cylinder engine is the most obvious and needed change. It now produces 39 lb-ft of torque at 4,500rpm, up from 36 lb-ft at 5,500rpm. Maximum power has not only increased by almost 10%, but now comes on lower in the power band. This should make the KLR more usable on the highway.
There have also been countless refinements and fine-tuning made to the chassis, bike geometry, and suspension, which will contribute to better handling. More power and better handling mean the new KLR will be an even more capable motorcycle than it already was.
It also brings two new trim levels to the mix: the Traveler at $7,399 and the Adventure at $7,999.
The Traveler adds a top case, DC and USB ports for charging, and includes ABS standard.
The Adventure model is clearly built around being as rugged and utilitarian as possible. It has the same DC and USB ports and standard ABS, but includes side cases instead of the top case, and adds fog lamps, frame sliders, and a tank pad to the package.
One thing left unchanged is the massive 6 gallon fuel tank. The KLR is famous for its incredible range thanks to its huge fuel tank, so it’s great to see that remain.
Another aspect left unchanged is the price. At $6,699 for the non-ABS model, and $6,999 for the ABS model, the Kawasaki didn’t make a lazy cash grab by hiking up the price, and the KLR650 is likely to remain the motorcycle of choice for adventurers on a budget.
Heck, for less than the price of a BMW R1250GS, you could buy a new KLR650 (with the Adventure trim package) at the starting point of your travels, ride it across the country, then buy a second new KLR (also with the Adventure trim package) at your destination to ride back home. You’ll end up keeping enough money in your pocket to practically live like a king over the course of your trip, too.
Thoughts and Reaction
Honestly, I’m stoked. I’m obviously a fan of the KLR (and Kawasaki in general). Detaching from the perspective of a fan and looking at it as unbiased and objectively as possible, it’s a welcome update. Kawasaki shows that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to be exciting. It’s possible to keep a classic in the lineup and make incremental improvements and changes to it. These improvements serve the rider, without overcomplicating things, which is exactly what you want from a KLR.
The new bodywork looks pretty good, too. More contemporary than the previous model, but nothing wild or out there. I dig the paint schemes, especially the gray camo of the Adventure trim.
Sometimes surprising, ground-breaking, thrilling announcements and launches are necessary, but in the case of a reliable workhorse like the KLR, a more understated approach is of greater service. Eschew the flashy stuff, and let the capabilities of the machine speak for itself.
There is some grumbling and dissatisfaction over a few things that that have been said to be missing from this update, though. There are demands for a six speed transmission and a bit more power to be even better on the highway, upside down forks, a two cylinder engine, and different wheel sizes for more tire options. In other words, the Versys 650. That Kawasaki already produces.
Though I don’t think a six speed transmission would have been a bad idea at all.
There’s nothing else quite like the KLR, and Kawasaki wisely left the important parts alone. It doesn’t need heated grips, ride modes, an electronically adjustable windshield, or a phone-syncing, GPS-enabled TFT screen. The KLR stands out for its simplicity. The more stuff there is, the more stuff there is that can break, and that’s not what the KLR is about.
Truly, the KLR has an identity all its own, and Kawasaki did a great job retaining it. I think it’s a good thing they’re keeping Toyota Hilux of motorcycles alive and up-to-date without reinventing it or sacrificing any of its capability. It was already good, and now it’s a fair bit better.
Like the bike itself, the lineage of the KLR remains unbroken, and everyone’s favorite two-wheeled Swiss Army Knife has a new lease on life.