kawasaki klr 600 650

Is This The Unicorn of Adventure Bikes?

This is one of those motorcycles that illustrate for me, how much the modern bike industry seems to have lost its way. People have been searching for that unicorn Adventure bike for years now. Stable, reliable, lightweight, with a strong engine, and on the list of requirements goes.

My only question would be,

Why can’t they build a bike like this one today?

Now let me be clear right from the start. I am biased. I loved this bike. I rescued the one I had from Scotland where it was sat sadly in a shed, not running and with little chance it would get any work done on it. After a complete rebuild from the ground up which you can read about on the web site linked below, it was a really solid and reliable bike, even though it was 35 years old when I finally sold it.

It did have the advantage of being the electric start version, which was a breath of fresh air after the old DR600 I had been riding before it. I do still miss it, but I can’t keep all of them sadly. It was replaced by a Cagiva W12 you can see in some of my other videos.

Why do I say this motorcycle is the ultimate adventure bike?

That’s a good question, The KLR 650 has arguably done more miles of adventure than any other bike and it did replace this bike after all. So what makes this bike better?

Well for starters, and probably the most important reasons was its weight. This bike weighed in at just 134kg dry weight. That’s less than 300lbs. Now let us consider that for a moment. That is over 70kg or about 150lbs less than the latest KLR650 or the Tenere 700. It is even 15kg or about 30lbs less than a KTM 690 Adventure.

You might ask how? Well this was a fairly simple bike, designed beautifully with quality components but with nothing added that didn’t need to be there. The frame was a standard single down-tube steel cradle but the swingarm and rear subframe were both box section alloy and it had alloy wheel rims too. More weight was saved using what was then the all new lightweight Uni-Trak suspension system that had helped Kawasaki win the Motocross world championship.

Arguably, I would say the engine was better than the later 650 engines too. The 564cc lump was massively over-square with a huge bore to stroke ratio and spun up much faster than the later 650. It produced more power too, so overall the power to weight ratio was amazing compared to the later bikes. It was much more like a modern four stroke motocross bike, but with enough oil to keep service intervals reasonable.

Does this sound more like your unicorn?

So, I ask, Is this starting to sound more like your unicorn now? Despite its light weight the rear subframe was strong. More than strong enough to take a passenger and some luggage. The seat was comfortable too, especially compared to some of the modern seats. My pillion was never as happy as I was with the seat, but she was happier on the KLR than on a Tenere 700 or the KTM 790 Adventure for sure.

The light weight made it a joy off road compared to any of the new Adventure Bikes and with over 220mm or 9 inches of suspension travel front and back it soaked up the bumps really well. Great ground clearance with nothing sticking out to get damaged was a real bonus too.

A nice surprise

The real surprise to me came when I took it out on the open road for the first time. Now don’t get me wrong this bike won’t break any speed records, but it pulled like a train through twisties and down the highways. It would cruise happily at 70mph all day fully loaded and still have power to overtake. It was surprisingly stable too. Perhaps the lack of electronic wizardry made Kawasaki concentrate more on getting the basic geometry right?

I don’t know, I’m no expert.

Whatever Kawasaki did, it just worked.

So what you got from the KLR 600 was a 42hp engine in a bike that weighed about 150kg wet which was happy wherever you wanted to go, even if you wanted to carry luggage and a passenger.

Sound interesting? If they built it again would you buy one now? It sounds a tempting package to me. I think the closest we have had in modern times would perhaps be the CCM GP450, but they are rarer than hens teeth already.

Why is it no one seems to want to build an adventure bike like this today?

Modern options

We could have………..

An AJP PR7 with a rear seat? Except I would need stilts.

A Fantic Caballero Rally? If it had a bigger tank, bigger seat and didn’t have that silly sticking out exhaust header?

A CB500X? If it had better suspension, more ground clearance and was 30 kilos or more lighter?

Or a KTM 500 Enduro? If it had a cush drive, something that actually resembled a real seat and a fuel tank that got me further than the next garage?

Progress?

I thought we were supposed to make progress over time?

Yes it would be good to have better, newer brakes, and suspension,

but please Kawasaki,

or any other manufacturer,

can we have an adventure bike like this again?

Ill leave you with some footage from a slow ride down a green lane in derbyshire. Just me having some fun one sunny afternoon.

Enjoy the ride everyone.

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