2012 Kawasaki KLR650 | Commuter Test

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: 90/90x21
  • Rear Tire Size: 130/80x17
  • 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

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