2012 Kawasaki KLR650 | Commuter Test

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2012 Kawasaki KLR 650 Review

Kawasaki’s KLR650 dual sport bike is a fun around-town bike that, when not hitting dirt roads and trails on the weekend, makes a credible commuter bike for everywhere but the tightest, nastiest freeways.

The Kawasaki liquid-cooled DOHC 651cc thumper has a nicely agreeable temperament that is easy to handle across the power band. Activate the handlebar-mounted choke – yes, it has a 40mm Keihin carb – to warm up the engine, mindful of the late-engaging clutch, and then move off idle smoothly.

The KLR650’s wide powerband and well-spaced ratios allow easy low-speed riding through neighborhoods, yet has enough pull at the top to comfortably keep up with aggressive freeway action. Shifting action from the five-speed transmission is impeccable.

Like any dual sport bike, the seat height is going to be an issue, as the bike’s off-road responsibilities require extra inches of travel. While the KLR650 does not stand at the back of its class picture, the 35-inch seat height will be a limiting factor for some riders.

The tall saddle had me on my toes with my 32-inch inseam, though I was able to get one foot flat at stops, so I was not uncomfortable. It does, however, require more attention and I am not as casual about parking lot maneuvers as I would be on a Kawasaki Versys, which has a seat height 1.7 inches lower.

That tall perch does have its advantages, allowing a good view as you snake between congested lanes of traffic on surface streets and freeways. It’s easier to spot the drivers who have not gotten with the hands-free program, and give them a wider birth.

The dual nature of the KLR means that for every advantage there will be a disadvantage, and the extra leverage afforded by the wide handlebars – a welcome attribute off-road – is a limiting factor when lane-splitting. You’ll find yourself carefully negotiating the space between trucks and SUVs, as their mirrors are about the same height as the KLR650’s large vibration-free mirrors that give an excellent view to the rear.

The KLR650’s upright ergonomics are extremely comfortable for casual riding, commuting, and off-road excursions. Hands and feet fall naturally into position on the bars and pegs, neither cramped nor extended, and the one-piece foam seat is plush enough for all-day rides. A sturdy aluminum cargo rack with grab bars sits behind the passenger seat, perfect for strapping down a bag.

When freeway conditions allow high speed riding, the KLR’s fairing does a good job deflecting most of the windblast over the rider, with additional wind protection coming from the handguards–especially welcome during the chilly winter months.

The Dunlop K750 tires feel secure well past the posted speed limit, and the 650’s 58.3-inch wheelbase contributes to the stable ride. Standard 21-inch front and 17-inch rear tires allow for a wide variety of aftermarket tires, so you can get just the right rubber for the kind of riding you do.

A single 280mm petal disc up front does a fine job of bringing the KLR650 down from speed with good feel from the soft initial bite of the four-piston caliper. A two-piston caliper on the 240mm petal rotor competently handles rear brake action.

A basic instrument panel with analog tach and speedo, along with odometer, trip meter and temperature gauge, keep the dash simple and uncluttered. A clock would be welcome for commuters, though I probably don’t need anything that will make me ride faster than I do.

At 432 lbs. (claimed curb weight), the KLR is not a featherweight bike when its 6.1-gallon tank is full, but it carries its heft well and does not feel unduly awkward at low speed.

With a claimed 55 mpg, I can skip that freeway off-ramp to work and play hooky in the hills for more than half the day. An appealing thought with a versatile bike like Kawasaki’s KLR650 under me.

2012 Kawasaki KLR 650 Specs:

  • Engine: Four-stroke, DOHC, four-valve single
  • Displacement: 651cc
  • Maximum Torque: 36.9 ft/lbs @ 5500 rpm
  • Bore x Stroke: 100.0 x 83.0mm
  • Compression ratio: 9.8:1
  • Cooling System: Liquid
  • Carburetion: Keihin CVK40
  • Ignition: Electric CDI
  • Transmission: Five-speed
  • Final drive: O-Ring Chain
  • Frame Type: Semi-double cradle, high-tensile steel
  • Rake/Trail: 28 degrees / 4.4 in.
  • Front suspension / wheel travel: 41mm telescopic fork / 7.9 in.
  • Rear suspension / wheel travel: Uni-Trak single-shock system with 5-way preload and stepless rebound damping / 7.3 in.
  • Front Tire Size: 90/90×21
  • Rear Tire Size: 130/80×17
  • Front brakes / rear brakes: Single 280mm petal-type disc, two-piston caliper / Single 240mm disc, single-piston caliper
  • Overall length: 90.4 in.
  • Overall width: 37.8 in.
  • Overall height: 53.1 in.
  • Ground clearance: 8.3 in.
  • Seat height: 35.0 in.
  • Curb weight: 432 lbs.
  • Fuel capacity: 6.1 gal.
  • Wheelbase: 58.3 in.
  • Color Choices: Metallic Flat Raw Graystone / Ebony, Candy Persimmon Red / Galaxy Silver, Metallic Imperial Blue / Pearl Stardust White
  • Good Times Protection Plan: 12, 24, 36 or 48 months
  • Warranty: 12 Months
  • Fuel Consumption: 55 MPG
  • MSRP: $6299