My relationship with the Kawasaki KLR650 began in 1987 when I purchased the bike from a Newport Beach dealership. It fulfilled my need to release work stress on fire roads behind Camp Pendleton so I could face another week.
Eventually the bike was transformed into the Dakar Rally machine — in looks, anyhow — I really dreamed of owning. It was treated harshly on high-speed drifting and single-track trails throughout California, and not just alone, but with my ever-present companion and passenger.
Attending many dual sport events on this bike with a passenger, including the Six Days of Michigan, earned us a fair bit of notoriety.
The years of beating took a toll on both the bike – breaking the rear shock and cracking frame joints – and my body, including a few hospital trips after high-speed flying-Ws caused by unseen road dips.
So when the word of a New Edition model with improved suspension was offered, it was time to revisit the KLR650 and to put it through a rigorous test.
The bike’s initial feel is heavier and more street-oriented. It won’t do well in the dunes of Africa, and I don’t think I would attempt the same transformation into a more off-road capable Adventure bike. In the 2010s, there are better choices off the showroom floor.
As advertised, the new suspension is noticeably better than the standard ver- sion, which is an upgrade from the 1980s settings. With firmer rebound damping and spring rates, the KLR takes on the deep dips in large whoops and potholes, feels stable on narrow, winding and unmaintained disintegrating asphalt.
The KLR650 does quite well on the highways, with the cushy new textured seat doing its job. The fairing works better than it looks, and cruising is smooth and effortless.
The New Edition sits low enough to dab the ground when things aren’t feeling stable, and the still-carbureted thumper has enough power to get you out of trouble.
The six-gallon fuel tank may be a little big for most needs, but when you need it, it’s there. Range is over 200 miles, and is a nice contrast to the two-gallon capacity found on Kawasaki’s KLX250S.
The 2014 Kawasaki KLR650 New Edition’s blacked-out scheme looks great and the bike remains amazingly inexpen- sive. It can serve as a stress-reducing commuter bike, as well as a weekend getaway vehicle to the mountains and back country. Best of all‚ you can bring a passenger, comfortably.