Adventure Touring Aboard a KLR 650 – A First Experience

Ultimate MotorCycling contributor Jason Belz aboard the 2013 Kawasaki KLR 650
Ultimate MotorCycling contributor Jason Belz aboard the 2013 Kawasaki KLR 650
Ultimate MotorCycling contributor Jason Belz aboard the 2013 Kawasaki KLR 650

Adventure Motorcycling Tales

When Ultimate MotorCycling’s Online Editor Ron Lieback asked me to help test the 2013 Kawasaki KLR 650, mostly off road in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, and do a little camping, I jumped at the chance.

However, I was never off road on anything bigger then a 250, and have not camped since I was a kid. Adventure riding is all the rave these days, and I had to get a taste. It turns out there is a huge reason why it’s so popular, because it’s so damn fun. And the best part? I didn’t need to cross a continent to realize this.

Not having any adventure gear, Lieback supplied me with a River Road / Speed & Strength setup, along with the KLR and his Touratech-prepped V-Strom DL1000, the “Trail Mule,” as he calls it. But where would I get camping gear? I didn’t want to go out and buy a tent and sleeping bag for just one night in desolation. I knew my cousin Jed was an avid hunter and had just what I needed – a quality one-man tent, light weight sleeping bag and a self inflating sleeping pad. After bouncing around on tree roots, ruts and rocks all day, a little comfort is welcome.

Before we set out that Saturday, I got to spend some time with the KLR. I packed the thumper up and completed a little riding up and down the street, over some rough payment, and played around on gravel before we set out.  I did not realize it at the time, but it turned out this was time well spent. New bike and a new environment meant a little more prep then I’m used to on street rides. I had to get all the controls positioned to operate comfortably while standing and sitting.

Making sure everything was strapped tight and I could move on the bike as needed with my mini one-man-hotel strapped to the back, we set off. Once on our way, about a mile into the first off-road section I received an abbreviated off road riders course from Lieback.  He attended various off-road adventure-riding schools, and passed along a few basic but vital tips to keep me out of trouble in the loose and ever changing terrain. Nothing beats doing 60 mph in the dirt, locking up the rear brake, and learning how to control a skid to a stop. Too much fun, almost like learning how to ride all over again.

This style of riding, with a big bike  loaded up with gear, requires a skill set most street riders do not have. I hope to one day set off on a bigger journey on my own adventure bike. What I learned in two days on the KLR taught me that a multi-day class should be required before you can take this hobby seriously. Starting a trip is awesome, but finishing it is the reward.

Journeying off the payment, on fire roads, and some more challenging terrain heightened my senses to the environment around me. Traveling skinny paths elevated high alongside a small stream or parading with the evergreens put me in another state of mind, something that couldn’t occur on a typical sport bike ride while shooting for apexes or even cruising along on the old Panhead.

I felt like I was spending time somewhere instead of just traveling through. As the day went on the miles clicked by slowly, and at the end of the first day, it was amazing just how few miles were traveled yet my body felt otherwise. We completed just over 100 miles in something like 8 hours, a few of those hours on paths dedicated to strictly ATVs (as we learned later by Pennsylvania’s finest sheriffs). The only thing more challenging than the ride was how to figure out those tent poles before the sun went down, and figuring out how to not consume our supply of rum, wine and beer so quickly.

Sunday was a brief ride back to civilization, but allowed enough time to warm back up to the bike and further test my newly developing skills.The night before, we discussed various techniques and strategies, and a great night of sleep allowed them all to seep in. Within minutes of the ride, I was already enjoying myself.

Even on the street the KLR was a fun bike – no need to worry about pot holes and dips in the pavement. You can run the bike at a fun pace, and even shoot down the highway as we did for a short sprint in the name of thorough testing.

Following my first adventure-touring experience, the Kawasaki KLR 650 is on my short list of possible adventure bikes. With the low entry cost I just might be able to get my own sleeping bag, and maybe even a tent.

To read Lieback’s review of the 2013 KLR 650, click here.