2022 Kawasaki KLR 650 Review - First Ride
Back from the dead in the Land of Enchantment
Which side of the fence were you on when you got the hot goss that a new KLR 650 was coming down the pike? The for the love of god don’t change it! troop, or the this thing better be a Twin- cylinder Tenere-killer gang?
2022 Kawasaki KLR 650
Well, as you likely already know from our First Look article back in January of this year, the 2022 Kawasaki KLR 650 has received more than a few choice upgrades while largely remaining the same motorcycle that has undergone few major changes since its inception in the 1980s. It’s still the low-cost Single cylinder adventure bike that filled a particular niche long ago, putting it atop sales charts for Kawasaki over the years while simultaneously tractoring its way into a special place in motorcycle-cultdom.
Despite Kawasaki using fuel injection technology for motorcycles back in the early 1980s, it has taken more than three decades for that tech to make its way onto the side of the 652cc Single cylinder of the KLR 650. A new Keihin throttle body with a 10-hole fine atomizing injector sprays 60-micron droplets into the cylinder to deliver more precise and efficient fuel/air ratios. This also helps the new KLR meet emissions requirements within the markets it will be sold, which include Canada, Australia, Thailand, and the U.S.
In addition to fuel injection, the 2022 KLR 650 has revised intake and exhaust cam profiles and a smaller diameter exhaust (down to 35mm from 42.7mm) for better mid-range power. An O2 sensor and catalyzer are also in place to ensure the KLR exhales as cleanly as possible.
Clutch updates include the change from ball bearings to thrust needle bearings as well as revised third gear dogs and shift forks. New finishing on fourth and fifth gears is also said to aid reliability. For better or worse, we’re still rowing through a five-speed transmission.
Speaking of for better or worse, the Kawasaki KLR 650 now uses a one-piece frame. Older KLR’s had a habit of weak subframe bolts failing during heavy off-road use or while carrying heavy loads. So, while Kawi has increased strength for carrying capacity out back, I’d be remiss to not mention that most ADV buyers have been asking for bolt-on subframes for some time now. Every once in a while you tip over off-road and sometimes those tip-overs mixed with just the right amount of whiskey throttle end up more catastrophic than others. Being able to replace a subframe versus an entire frame could be ideal for those planning to take it to the limit – and the limit isn’t hard to find with the KLR 650.
The one-piece frame isn’t the end of the story for the chassis, though. Rake has now increased from 28 degrees to 30, and trail has increased to 4.7 inches from 4.4. The swingarm is also 30mm (1.18 inches) longer, which all results in the wheelbase extending to 60.6 inches versus 58.3 inches on the previous model. It’s probably not a bad choice to go all in on stability for the KLR versus trying to make it a corner-carving tool, as the frame can feel a bit noodly in the twisty bits.
Suspension remains the same aside from some slight damping changes, with the 41mm fork still giving 7.9 inches of travel and a Uni-Trak rear linkage suspension allowing for 7.3 inches of movement. The shock is adjustable for preload and rebound, the fork is static. Kawasaki tells us the ‘22 KLR has 8.3 inches of ground clearance.
A larger, single 300mm (from 280mm) rotor attached to the 21-inch front wheel is squeezed by a two-piston caliper while the 240mm rear rotor (thickened by 1mm) gets hugs from the single-pot unit to slow the 17-inch rear wheel. ABS is a $300 option on the base and Adventure trim KLRs. The Traveler trim comes with ABS standard. Should you choose an ABS model, it can only be disabled by pulling a fuse.
Ergos have been tweaked throughout with a slightly wider handlebar and footpegs in addition to a new seat – all of which are now rubber damped. The redesigned windscreen, fairing, and cockpit area also provide more shelter for the rider. The new windscreen is also two-position adjustable, though it can only be changed by removing four allen bolts. The new screen is almost two inches higher than the outgoing unit and can be further raised by 1.2 inches in the higher position.
While some weak points have been addressed, the infamous doohickey’s problems live on. This relates to the balancer chain tensioner, both the plate and the spring. Originally, the plate which attaches to the lever would actually break over a relatively short period of time. In the 2008 redesign, the plate was made more robust but fit somewhat sloppily onto the shaft. At this point the plate wasn’t breaking, but the spring itself was too long so it wasn’t able to keep tension on the chain to keep it taut. Kawasaki told us there haven’t been enough warranty claims on this issue, so, while we have a more robust cam chain guide, the tensioner remains the same from the gen two era.
It would appear there have actually been quite a number of changes for the reintroduction of the new KLR 650. Does it amount to a radically different riding experience?
Not really. It’s still a KLR. All of the small changes mentioned above more or less add up to the same experience the Kawasaki KLR has always delivered. Adequate performance with a steadfast resolve to get the job done reliably.
Kawasaki put together a fantastic two-day ride for us atop the new Killer that spanned 400 miles of highway, mountain, and gravel roads and even managed to incorporate a few miles of sage-strewn two-track as we meandered through northwestern New Mexico.
We began our ride from the RFD-TV ranch – a beautiful sprawling compound that does some serious good for cancer-stricken children. I was excited to finally spend some quality time on Kawasaki’s stalwart adventure machine. I’ve had some experience on KLRs before, but not much so I was eager to find out for myself why this bike has such a following.
The perfectly neutral ergonomics were immediately apparent (as was the somewhat tall 34.3-inch seat height). As we rolled out of the garage the torque just off idle was plentiful. Once we turned onto the highway though, that torque quickly petered out to modest acceleration despite holding the throttle to the stop. Then, at our first photo stop, I got into the brakes a bit – also quite, ahem, modest despite the larger rotor for 2022. The underwhelming performance forced me to get relative.
The Kawasaki KLR 650 has become a legendary motorcycle for a reason. It’s reliability, simplicity, and low cost of entry and ownership are some of the main reasons. There’s also the fact that there isn’t anything quite like it in the market. For decades now, the KLR has been the more comfortable dual-sport machine. Where Suzuki DR 650s and Honda XR650Ls would be the closest competitors, their touring comfort falls short fast when compared to the KLR. And while those machines may be more capable off-roaders, the KLR isn’t far behind. So, basically, the KLR 650 is the cheapest and simplest of what we now call ADV bikes.
So don’t compare the KLR 650’s performance to that of the current middleweight adventure class – you’ll be disappointed. Rather, just focus on what it is and what it has been. With my mind wrapped around this notion of relativity, I carried on with my new enlightened way of thinking. We always talk about how fun it is to ride slow bikes fast, so that’s what I did. I’ve never spent so much time on a 652cc motorcycle at full throttle.
On the highway, touring comfort is bountiful. The windscreen, even in its lower position, combined with the newly designed fairing, shields the rider from windblast, whether you’re cruising at highway speeds or blasting down a freeway at 90 mph for 13 hours. The fairing also has a tendency of trapping a warm (not hot) bubble of air from the knees down which might be pleasant in cooler weather, but was not during our ride or during my solo freeway blast through 115-degree heat. At least the hefty bar end weights and rubber damping of the seat, handlebar, and footpegs keep undesirable vibes from harshing yours.
In Adventure trim, the KLR 650 tipped 483 lbs on the MO scales (Kawasaki claimed 487 lbs). The base model sans ABS is said to weigh 456.2 which is 24 lbs heavier than the previous gen. Much of this is likely due to the fuel injection system and required emissions equipment. Even with the added weight, the KLR carries it well, feeling planted both on road and off.
During our long stretches of gravel roads, the KLR felt stable whether I was seated or standing. Breaking the rear loose around corners with the brakes and attempting to carry the slide with the throttle isn’t something the KLR is capable of on all but the loosest surfaces thanks to its modest power delivery, but I was always impressed by how predictably traction broke and also by how quickly the Killer pulled itself back into line. The Dunlop K750s proved to be an excellent tire for our mix of riding, constantly surprising me as it hooked up in the gravel and silty terrain we experienced.
The creek crossing where I whined about not wanting to get my feet wet and the long rutted road to the fun sandy two track section were where I had the most fun with the KLR 650 and consequently came to the realization of why the KLR is so popular. It actually is a lot of fun to ride off-road and comfortable enough to get you there without feeling spent before you get into the good stuff.
It doesn’t take much speed over rough terrain to bottom the suspension, which is something you’ll want to be wary of particularly because once you run out of ground clearance, as it was before, the drain plug is just waiting to get sheared off by an ill-placed rock. Despite the KLR urging you to take your time and enjoy the scenery during your off-road excursions, it still manages to be fun and comfortable at the same time.
When our group slowed to confirm we were pointed in the right direction for our GPS coordinates, I washed out the front end in some sand and was able to get slowed almost to the point of stopping before taking off again. Had I been on a bigger machine, the momentum (and top heaviness) would have likely been unrecoverable.
One point of contention amongst all of us there for testing was the rubber-mounted footpegs. The KLR already uses big squishy rubber footpeg covers, but for 2022 Kawasaki added rubber at the mounting point to help further quell vibration. This results in a reasonable amount of flex which was resoundingly noted as a detriment when riding off-road among our crew. I can only imagine water and mud would make the situation worse as they give the feeling that sliding off the sides of the footpegs could happen at any moment. That said, while riding off-road, I managed to stay put. Even still, rigid-mounted more aggressive footpegs would be on my shortlist.
After the model introduction was over, I spent one day pounding out 800 miles on the freeway to get back to my family as quickly as possible. At nearly full throttle for 13 hours, I averaged 35.2 mpg which in theory should give you just over 200 miles per tank. At around the 120-mile mark, I was ready to hop off for a stretch (and a chance to refill my hydration pack) and while I did bang out 170 miles in one continuous chunk, my glutes would rather I didn’t.
Also of note, despite the left handguard never hitting the ground, or anything else for that matter, it folded back into the lever abruptly while going 85 mph down the freeway hard enough to disengage the clutch which, for a split second, had me very concerned that I might get stuck in the 110-degree heat near the Dead Mountains Wilderness (hmm, I wonder why they call it that..). It would seem the stock guards aren’t even capable of deflecting windblast, let alone protecting from any other impacts.
The KLR delivered me from the land of enchantment back to the boulevard of broken dreams safely with nary a protest despite my heavy wrist holdin’ ‘er wide for three days straight.
I think I get it now…
In the end
Turns out it wasn’t just about lowering my expectations to get relative, it was also about enjoying the KLR for what it is. It manages. It always manages. Off-road, on-road, and whatever in between, the KLR 650 is easy. It may be the easiest adventure bike to ride, period. Its low price and simplicity combined with the staying power the model has shown (let’s just forget about the hiatus over the past few years) means there are tons of accessories on the market that will likely still fit the 2022 model, too.
As I said previously, the 2022 Kawasaki KLR 650 provides adequate performance with a steadfast resolve to get the job done reliably which means the Single-cylinder adventure bike has stayed true to its roots as it moves into the third generation.
2022 Kawasaki KLR 650
- “A relic of incredible comfort and familiarity”
- As simple as do re mi
- Easy like Sunday morning
- Floppy hand “guards”
- The annoying bubble of engine heat around the lower legs
- Underwhelming performance
2022 Kawasaki KLR 650 Specifications
|$6,699 – $7,999
|652cc 4-Stroke, Liquid-Cooled, DOHC, 4-Valve, Single
|Bore and Stroke
|100mm x 83mm
|DFI with 40mm Throttle Body
|41mm Leading Axle Hydraulic Telescopic Fork, 7.9 inches of travel
|Uni-Trak® with 5-Way Adjustable Preload and Stepless Rebound Damping, 7.3 inches of travel
|Single 300mm disc with 2-piston caliper, ABS
|Single 240mm disc with single-piston caliper, ABS
|30 deg/4.8 in
|456.2 lbs. (Non-ABS, claimed), 483 lbs. (Adventure Non-ABS, measured)
|Pearl Sand Khaki, Pearl Lava Orange, Cypher Camo Gray
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Ryan’s time in the motorcycle industry has revolved around sales and marketing prior to landing a gig at Motorcycle.com. An avid motorcyclist, interested in all shapes, sizes, and colors of motorized two-wheeled vehicles, Ryan brings a young, passionate enthusiasm to the digital pages of MO.
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