2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Dual-Sport Adventure Motorcycle

Before 1984, street-legal motorcycles that could also be ridden off the curb (without crashing immediately) were known as “enduros” or “scramblers,” and for the most part they were slightly modified street bikes with knobby tires, high-mount exhausts and perhaps a bit more suspension travel than their street-based counterparts. They were fine for plunging down a dirt road, buzzing around the farm, or exploring nearby canyons. But on balance they were small bikes, with limited power, short range and really limited ability to tackle really rough terrain – let alone take an epic journey to the far corners of the world.

But spurred on by wanderlust and books like Ted Simon’s epic 1974 travelogue Jupiter’s travelsand Elspeth Beard’s 1982 lone rider, a new type of motorcycling — now called dual-sport, adventure, or “ADV” riding — was beginning to take shape, and motorcycle manufacturers began to notice this just as major technological shifts were taking place in the motorcycle industry. BMW is generally seen as the first maker of a special “adventure bike” with the 1980 R80 G/S, an 800cc ugly duckling of a bike that was clearly designed to leave the curb and take a rider and their gear to places. tows previously inaccessible by motorcycle – and virtually any other type of vehicle.

In 1984, Kawasaki launched the KLR600, a modern, powerful, sturdy, capable and affordable 600cc single-cylinder model that also enticed riders to chart epic ‘around the world’ (“RTW”) odysseys. A few years later the bike grew to 651cc, and it remained in Kawasaki’s lineup – largely unchanged – for the next three decades. During that time, adventure riding – and adventure cycling – continued to grow in popularity and received a huge boost in 2004 when Star Wars actor Ewan McGregor and his friend Charlie Boorman released their first RTW Adventure Bike TV series, Long way ’round, causing adventure driving to gain massive prominence in popular culture (below). This was followed by two follow-up series, as well as skyrocketing adventure bike sales.

But in 2019, KLR650 fans – now in the millions worldwide – held their breath when the KLR650 first disappeared from the roster. Then the pandemic started and for 2020 the KLR was again MIA. Would it ever return? At the end of 2021, there was joy when the KLR650 reappeared – and with some notable improvements. Recently, Kawasaki’s Good Times Demo Tour waved through the Portland area, and Media Relations Supervisor Brad Puetz was kind enough to bring a pair of top-spec $7,999 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure models with him for two days filled with riding around the Pacific Northwest with Forbes.com.

The updated KLR650 hasn’t strayed far from the successful recipe earned by the bike legions of dedicated owners. It is still powered by a liquid-cooled, single-cylinder, 4-valve thumper, but has grown by one cubic centimeter to 652cc. The bigger news, though, is the inclusion of a much-anticipated digital fuel-injection system that replaces the now-old-fashioned carburetor. In addition, buyers can choose ABS brakes and hard rear bags, USB and 12-volt powerlets and a few additional LED assist lights, which our bikes have included as part of the premium Adventure trim. Two other finishes include a more commuter-oriented version and the base bike; but all variants share the basic KLR650 platform.

Other changes to all models include a stronger rear subframe, a digital LCD screen in the cockpit instead of analog dials, a larger, more modern and adjustable windshield, bigger brakes, LED lighting all around, more juice on board for the electronic today’s companions, and a better seat. But overall, the KLR is still instantly recognizable as a KLR.

Driving time

Puetz and I headed for the Oregon Coast via the winding Highway 6, a narrow, twisty two-lane road that climbs 1,600 feet and winds through Oregon’s Coast Range before flowing into the coastal town of Tillamook, where, yes, they make a lot of cheese ( and ice). From there, we rolled up Highway 101 along the shoreline and stopped for a quick snack at the Pronto Pup in Rockaway Beach, home of the original corn dog. Tourist trap ticked, we continued on to Gearhart, a luxury burg that gives access to driving (and horseback riding) on ​​the beach.

Oregon’s beaches are all public by law (there are no private beaches), but for the most part motor vehicles are not allowed to venture where the ocean meets the sand – except at Gearhart and a few other isolated spots. Our KLR650 Adventure models wore slightly knobby dual-sport tires, and my bike dutifully churned through a patch of deep, dry tallow sand, throwing up a rooster tail of dusty silt, but eventually took me to the hard packed wet sand near the surf. Once there, I ran the KLR through a shallow surf, soaking my TCX Infinity 3 boots and Sai1nt breeches. But the weather was clear and dry, and by the time we reached Astoria at the top of the state, only a crust of salt remained as a memory.

Returning to the interior of Oregon’s panhandle, we followed the winding Highway 202, through small wooden towns like Jewel, Vernonia, and Mist before returning to our starting point outside Portland.

The next day we headed east to the Columbia River Gorge (above) and crossed into Washington to pick up Highway 14, which runs along the steep canyon walls formed by a series of catastrophic seismic events along the river centuries ago. Back to Oregon at the Hood River Bridge, we followed GPS crumbs to Lolo Pass Road, a narrow line on the map that crossed the flanks of 11,250-foot-tall Mount Hood. Eventually, pavement gave way to even narrower stretches of dirt roads, complete with potholes and chasms to avoid, as well as tree tunnels, craggy rock faces, and epic views of Mount Hood.

The KLR650 was in its element, but the revised long-travel suspension absorbed the bumps and washboard sections with ease, the bars at the perfect height for standover riding, with the rider standing on the pegs to avoid hard hits. Adventure driving is a terribly active form of motorcycling, similar to dirt biking, but often in traffic (no matter how light it is on unpaved roads). It can be a workout for the cyclist and the rider alike, but the KLR650’s friendly power delivery, easy shifting and relatively light weight make traversing the heavy stuff manageable, and it’s easy to see why riders don’t hesitate to make epic trips on the KLR. Finally Lolo’s dirt roads came back to narrow sidewalks and we stopped for a delicious lunch in the small mountain town of Zigzag. Yes, such a place exists.


Admittedly, these hundreds of miles were the longest ride I’ve had on a KLR650, although I’ve tasted the bike many times over the years, as I know a lot of riders who own them (I personally don’t). Several aspects stood out. The engine, while not hugely powerful, is incredibly smooth and tractable, with just a hint of the physics coming through the bars and pegs below. The new EFI also means better mpg — and more range from the big six-gallon tank. Adventurous riders are far less interested in massive horsepower and boastful top speeds, as they can cover long distances on a fill-up and control their bike fine, especially when traversing a technical trail or passage with little traction. Kawasaki knows this and has kept the slow-paced charms of the KLR, but thanks to liquid cooling and the new EFI, it can still blast through the highway at extra-legal speeds all day.

I was further impressed with how comfortable the KLR650 is while rolling down the highway. As noted, you spend a lot of time out of your seat riding adventure bikes off-road, so it was nice to sink into the firm but comfortable seat on the KLR after a long session on the pegs that crisscrossed Lolo Pass. The legroom for this 6-foot-1 rider was pretty much perfect, and the riding position is neutral and comfortable, with room to move around on the flat seat.

The new adjustable windshield is a huge improvement over the old bike, and on the road the KLR650 takes corners with a confident, controlled composure, even with a tall rider like me and rear cases full of camera gear and riding gear. Adding a passenger and more gear can change things, but the rear shock is preload adjustable to compensate for any imbalance. Overall the KLR650 just feels solid and capable, whispering in your ear that hey, another 100 miles to that vantage point, small town or international border is no problem, just enjoy the ride.

Complaints? I regret the lack of a tachometer in the new and somewhat basic LCD meter display, but having a gas meter was a nice plus. While the new track cluster is modern, it’s pretty basic, but it would be nice if Kawasaki invested a little more there, as I and many other riders can never get too much information about what their bike is doing. The stock rear bags are plastic and on the small side, but seem waterproof and easy to remove. And while the KLR650 isn’t really meant for racing down a highway for hours on end, that is indeed the number of adventure rides that kick in, so I’d love to see Kawasaki add cruise control as an option or even standard equipment now that EFI is positioned. And I wasn’t in love with the quasi-military cypher-camo paint/wrap on the KLR Adventure’s tank, while other model variants have solid colors to choose from. Red, white, blue or Kawi green, please. Or just black.

Furthermore, the new KLR650 continues the appeal of the old KLR650: an affordable, reliable platform for launching an adventure on the local coastline and mountains, or with some planning and accessories, a world trip to distant and exotic lands. KLR riders have been making it possible for decades; now they have an even better bike that allows them to arrive safely at almost any distant destination.

Gear box:

TCX Infinity 3 Boots

Bell X-9 Adventure Helmet with Photochromic Visor

Tifosi sunglasses (prescription)

Adventure Spec Dirt Gloves

Adventure Spec Aqua Pac rain bowl (just in case)

Sant Riding Breeches

Bilt adventure jacket (old)

Cardo Edge helmet communication

Lumix 2500 digital camera

Insta360 One X2 360 Degree Camera

Apple iPhone 13 Pro

Leave a Reply