Review: KLR 650

The Kawasaki KLR650 has been one of my most controversial choices for this trip among people I talk to. Opinions range from certainty that it is a good choice, if not the best, to horror that I would even consider such a bike. I hope to track how good or bad a choice the KLR really is for my trip.

Total Mileage: 40,000 miles
Trip Mileage: 13,000 miles
Trip Duration: 2.5 months


I spent the first thirty years of my life exploring the Colorado Mountains with my parents, my scout troop, and eventually by myself. I’ve traveled by motor home, car, motorcycle, bicycle and on foot. Through all of this there is one constant: I want to explore the interesting side roads. Any motorcycle I travel on must support this desire to seek out and explore the roads less traveled.

The KLR650 has been perfect for this. It has taken me down every road, track and trail I have asked of it and never balked once. I have run into my own limitations in skill many times but never been limited by the bike.

There are times I wish the bike were smaller for off-road riding or more powerful for highway stretches. Rather than being annoyed by these limitations I take this to mean I have found a good compromise which allows me to explore both types of roads with equal ease.


Reading through other people’s travel stories, one common theme occurs: The more thorough the maintenance, the fewer mechanical problems occur on the road. The simple design of the KLR makes maintenance quick and easy. I can perform all maintenance myself, if necessary with the tools I carry with me on the bike.


While the KLR has its faults, the fact that it has been made since 1987 with only relatively minor modifications means that the faults are well known. The stock bike probably deserves a rating of only 1/5, but I have made prudent changes and have no hesitation giving high marks in this category.


Any bike ridden as long and hard as one on a tour around the world will have breakdowns. I view the true test of a bike not in how long it lasts before breaking down, but in how easy it is to recover from those failures. How much time is wasted waiting for parts and how costly is it to obtain those parts? Can I repair the bike myself or am I forced to use a mechanic? When a failure occurs, how likely is it I will be stuck until a repair is made, or is it possible I can perform a field repair and ride on until a permanent fix can be made?

The KLR receives top marks here because the design is extremely simple and has been around mostly unchanged since 1987. I carry most of the tools necessary to work on the bike and have the knowledge (and manuals) to perform repairs myself if necessary, up to and including rebuilding the engine should that become necessary. Parts should be as widely available as any other bike I might choose.

The only drawback to the KLR in this category is that repairs are regrettably frequent. This is an inexpensive bike with cheap components and it shows. This is balanced against the east of repairs and the availability of higher quality components for many repairs, however I cannot give a perfect score.


As I just noted, the KLR is an inexpensive bike with cheap components. The bike is not designed to last for the number of miles I plan to put on it. I already have had failures in OEM parts (such as the Voltage Rectifier/Regulator) and make repairs with higher quality components when possible. Yet it is entirely possible, even likely, I will not complete this trip on the same bike I started on.

My hope is that the ease of finding parts will allow me to replace worn components as I travel. But I know this will be a constant battle as the miles add up.


If a motorcycle is going to be my home for a few years I want my “home” to be as close to my ideal as I can make it. The long history behind the KLR has led to a wide availability of parts I can use to turn a cheap bike not really suited to me or this trip into my idea of the perfect motorcycle. I have spent a significant amount of time and money making modifications, possibly spending as much money in farkles as I did on the bike initially.

It is worth noting here that while I have had problems with the KLR, these problems have only been with OEM parts, never with modifications I have made.

Overall Rating:

Overall I am delighted with the KLR650 as a travel bike. Is it perfect for this trip? Hard to say, it is still far too early in the trip. I have deliberately pushed my KLR, the Phoenix, very hard the past 2.5 months and 13,000 miles and I am satisfied that at 40,000 miles it is ready to continue around the world.

At the moment I would say the KLR is the right bike for me on this trip.

1 comment to Review: KLR 650

  • Bill Hamilton

    You are a smart man.. I know many who profess the attributes of the BMW line of bikes however as an owner of one of these monsters. I can truly say that they are a money pit. It doesn’t matter what you need for them They can be a deal breaker when it comes to repair / maintenance costs…Parts however are available almost anywhere in the world but at a price.. Probably the most unsuitable bike brand to do any adventure travelling on would be any American Iron Harley Davidson.I’ve got one of these for cruizin and comfort riding. I use a 92 Africa Twin for adventuring and find it to be inconvenient because of the lack of parts in North America but a total blast otherwise So I will probably switch to a KLR when I am finished with Canada and US for the same reasons hte you and others chose a KLR.
    From a retired 62 yr old fosil still riding flying and parachuting just for fun…..

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