The last time I rode a Kawasaki KLR650 was fifteen years ago, in San Francisco as a photo op for a story about the Motorcycle Emergency Response Corps. MERC was a non-profit organization composed of motorcyclists volunteering their skills to provide mobility, rescue, and communications during a disaster. Sadly, the MERC website now leads to a health blog, and any search I conducted didn’t turn up recent MERC information, so I must assume the organization has disbanded. But, the threat of disaster looms as large now as it did back then. Whether it be an earthquake, tornado, tsunami or zombie apocalypse the KLR650 remains the ultimate get-the-hell-outta-Dodge machine.
For much of its existence (1987-2007) the KLR650 reappeared annually with minimal, if any, changes. When the 2008 model KLR arrived it did so in style, flaunting new bodywork with dual headlights, a more powerful 651cc single-cylinder engine, improved braking performance, increased fork diameter, a new swingarm and a variety of other improvements. In 2014, the “New Addition” KLR650 boasted a fork with 40% firmer springs and 27% firmer rebound damping. At the rear, the Uni-Trak linkage suspension offered a 63% higher spring rate while the rebound damping settings were 83% firmer. The KLR’s seat was narrowed at the tank juncture, and widened in the passenger area.
The 2016 KLR650 is the motorcycle equivalent of your grandfather’s 20-year-old recliner – a relic of incredible comfort and familiarity. The carbureted Single requires a choke to get running when cold, and the occasional switching of the petcock from On to Reserve when fuel is running low. Its power output is modest, at best, while handling resides somewhere between deliberate and truckish. The KLR won’t get you anywhere fast, but it will
get you there. When Mommy Nature renders paved roadways impassable, Macchu Picchu is beckoning, or you’re fleeing the living dead, you’re gonna reach for the multi-tool that’ll surmount unforeseen obstacles of both the on- and off-road varieties.
The longevity of KLR and its minimal changes over the years ensures parts availability is universal, and for the parts that aren’t, chances are you can fix the problem with the correct application of duct tape or WD-40. We averaged 38 miles per gallon from the KLR’s 6.1-gallon fuel tank, giving the KLR a range in excess of 200 miles between fill-ups. A low compression ratio of 9.8:1 allows the KLR to run on fuel unfit for more high-performance engines.
Under the correct circumstances of low fuel, engine heat and because of the fuel tank’s tight seal, vapor locking becomes very real at very inopportune times (an issue resounded among KLR forums). For me, it happened thrice with around 180 miles on the trip meter, at continuously fast freeway speeds. The worst occurrence happened at night on my way home from Roland Sands Design