Kawasaki KLR 650: Ultimate Utilitarian Beast of Burden

2008 KLR 650I’ve been a fan of the Kawasaki KLR 650 for a loooong time. The 2008 model boasts its most significant upgrades since first being introduced in 1987.

The bike is uniquely famous as an all-around, reliable beast-of-burden for taking you and stuff along either pavement and/or off-road adventures. As is the norm for any dual-purpose bike, it’s not the “best” machine for either role.

However, as one of a number of bikes that represent a “compromise” between street and off-road, this one is particularly successful, especially if you take into account its worldwide following of obsessed KLR devotees. The KLR is the top-selling, dual-purpose bike in the US market, selling about twice as many motorcycles as the next most popular, which is the Suzuki DRZ400S. (See earlier dual-purpose comparison that includes the 2007 KLR 650 instead of the 2008).

I took the new 2008 KLR out for a spin and was initially influenced by its uninspiring power. With a single cylinder, 650cc, 40 horsepower engine, it’s not going to make you a track-day darling.

Of course my test ride was on the same weekend that I was also riding some of the world’s most powerful sport-touring machines as well as pure sport bikes (and others).

Having said that, the bike has a comfortable, upright seating position, wide handlebars (with new bar-end weights to minimize vibrations), and generally cozy ergonomics (I’m 5’10”). It is quite a relaxedly enjoyable ride, as long as you can recalibrate your wits around appreciating this machine for its merits, instead of comparing it to something it’s not designed to be (such as a powerful street bike or light-weight dirtbike). It certainly has more than adequate power for riding dirt and gravel roads, up and down mountains, as well as riding you relatively comfortably at 75mph on highways.

Here are some of the changes for 2008:

A few of the most notable upgrades include dual headlights for added visibility (instead of one); an enlarged frame-mounted, half-fairing for better rider protection from rain and cold; improved front and rear brakes for better stopping power; upgraded suspension for better handling; wider spokes for increased wheel rigidity; firmer seat for longer-distance comfort; wider forks for better stability; a bigger luggage rack to carry more stuff; and a larger radiator for 20% better cooling efficiency.

Aesthetically, I like the new dashboard with rounded gauges, as well as the new, aerodynamic look of the entire bike, which includes new hand guards, fenders, side panels, and engine guard.

The 2008 KLR also as an alternator now rated at 17 amps (versus 14.5 on the old bike). Kawasaki claims that the system has enough power to deal with heated grips and other accessories, as well as the new (and brighter) dual-headlights.

There are also a number of engine tweaks, too. The big-bore, single-cylinder engine still features four valves, liquid-cooling, and double-overhead cams. However, for 2008, there’s an improved cylinder head, new cam timing and revised ignition to boost performance.

One of the primary features I am glad they did not change is the fuel capacity: The KLR still boasts a 6.1 US gallon tank, which is great for long rides to and through remote areas.

Kawasaki intended the upgrades to make the KLR a more “tour ready” dual-purpose motorcycle. The above enhancements accomplished that, albeit while adding 49 pounds to the bike’s weight, which, per Kawasaki’s specifications, brings it up up 386 pounds (without fuel, lubricants or and any other fluids).

The seat height is 35 inches, so it’s not going to be easy to get on an off for all riders, and that additional height includes about 8 inches of ground clearance. By the way, technically, the ground clearance in the new KLR is a little less than in the earlier model, however, per Kawasaki, it results in more usuable and improved suspension travel.

One of the best numbers is the price: at only $5349.00, this is one of the best values for adventure riding, including on highways and fire roads, as well as serving as a fuel-efficient commuting and urban bike (approximately 45-60 mpg).

Ultimately, this is a remarkably practical bike. And for me, as a motorcycle camping rider, and being particularly fond of riding across deserts, over mountains, through canyons — and definitely not always on the pavement — I could see one of these new KLR 650’s in my future….

8 thoughts on “Kawasaki KLR 650: Ultimate Utilitarian Beast of Burden

  • My brother has the exact same bike which is weird because I was looking for a part and came across this same bike 🙂 But he loves it and it seems like a great bike!

    Rebecca Cloud
    insurance peoria il

  • The horse power gain in the new KLRs is offset by the weight. I also note that upgrading the “Doohickey” is stell recommended.
    So for the money, an older KLR with a relatively easy lowering job is still a super good investment for a first bike. I just picked up a near new 03 with some nice add ons for $2000. That’s a super low price for Alaska.

  • I agree with the previous post about bigger bikes not being good for beginners. I’m 6’3″ 215 lbs. I considered pretty much all dual sports from TW200’s to 1200GS’s. I picked the 650 because it seemed to meet my needs (big enough to run on highway, capable enough for offroad use). I have had mine for 2 months and am so glad I didn’t go with a 250 or 400 as was suggested by many. The KLR is no speed demon but it is capable of taking me where I want to go.

  • People shouldn’t make blanket statements that XXX ccs are too big for beginners. By doing so, they are taking a very narrow-minded approach to their evaluation and judgment.

    The KLR 650 has 40hp on a good day. You are so much less likely to twist the throttle and kill yourself on this than many 500s and even some 250s that are built to rocket you to the stars.

    The 2009 KLR 650 was my first bike – I got it in Sept. 2009 and it is now almost a year later – no accidents, close calls or anything crazy like that. I took the MSF course right away, got my license and hit the road and then the interstate. I commute on it daily – rain, shine, hail, etc. Just take it easy on the inputs and keep the speed moderate and you’ll do fine. I am 6’1 and 200 lbs and the bike fits me perfectly – much better than a lot of other tiny bikes.

    The KLR 650s wide handlebars, upright seating position, and mild power (among other beginner-friendly attributes) make it a very easy to ride and forgiving steed. Add in the fact that it’s not complex at all and even someone with no mechanical skill whatsoever can take baby steps into learning to work on motorcycles. I change my own oil and do pretty much all other basic maintenance on my own!

    Plus, used KLR 650s are relatively cheap, and the insurance for them is about as cheap as you will find for a motorcycle. Easy for beginners to get into and see if they even really do want to stick with motorcycling.

  • Guess I should also say the 2005 was my first bike and I still ride it…Love it. Gonna keep it when I decide to buy another bike as it is handy around the farm


  • I am a begginer, and i am thinking of getting a dual purpose. is this a good choice to start riding bikes?

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