The KLR 650 is Back, Jacked, and Ready for Adventure!

Written by Dan DiMaio | Photos by: Drew Ruiz. Posted in Bikes

Kawasaki’s 2018 cancellation of its venerable KLR650 model really ruffled some fans’ feathers. It proved to be a short break however as Kawasaki came back a few years later with a host of new improvements to their much beloved 650 thumper. Some look at the bike and say all they did was redesign the plastics, but does it go much deeper than that?

 Aside from aesthetics, Kawasaki made notable updates to the KLR650’s engine. The all-new fuel injection uses a 10 hole fine atomizing injector which maximizes air-fuel mixing for optimal combustion. It worked great at the up to 9,000 feet elevations on our test ride. We did lose a little power, but had we been on the carbureted version, it definitely would have been a different experience.

A host of updates improve performance on and off road.

A revision on the intake and exhaust cam profiles helps the mid-range torque we appreciate for every-day riding. This mates to an all-new reduced diameter exhaust (42.7mm to 35 mm) and an O2 sensor which provides feedback to the closed loop fuel injection creating a much cleaner and fuel-efficient engine.

Improvements in the clutch and transmission department include changing from ball bearing to a thrust-needle bearing creating a better clutch feel. Although they didn’t give us the sixth gear we would have loved, they did revise the third gear dogs and shift fork along with a shaved finishing on fourth and fifth gears for increased durability.

Spacing between first and second gear is pretty big. But, second gear is still usable in off-road technical conditions with a little clutch modulation. We wonder if a slipper clutch, similar to the one found in the Versys 300 would be a good additon to a bike like the KLR 650?  Or even better, a Rekluse type of clutch that would make learning and riding off-road even easier.  

2022 Kawasaki KLR KeihinFI2022 brings Keihin Fuel Injection to the KLR 650.

Combined, the engine updates had us thumping down the road more comfortably at 80 to 85mph than the previous version. We’d say this is a definite win despite not having a 6th gear.

We are also really happy to see they made more room for electronic gadgets, with a new lighter weight sealed maintenance free battery that charges from a new 26A output alternator helping to power more accessories with a total capacity of 80 watts.

• Did Kawasaki Fix the Doohickey? What is the Doohickey?

Hot on every KLR owners mind is whether or not they made big changes to the balancer chain tension system, many call the “doohickey.” In a nutshell, it’s a spring tensioned pulley that removes slack form the chain driving the engine’s counterbalancer.

Kawasaki made some updates to a stronger cam chain guide material and, from what we understand, revised the tensioning spring to be less brittle. Still, there’s no doubt previous KLR owners would have liked a more substantial revision to this problem since robust aftermarket solutions already exist.

2022 Kawasaki KLR EngineIt’s still short a gear, but other changes mean overall improvement for the ol’ 650.

A Kawasaki design rep mentioned that changes like this are based on service records and suggested the earlier revisions have worked well on recent models. To be honest, we likely won’t see this system disappear until the KLR650 receives an all-new powerplant. It’s not likely to be a big problem going forward but, even if it is, there’s no shortage of help to get it modified.

• KLR650 Ergonomics and Electronics

The newly shaped 6.1 gallon fuel tank is easy to live with even in the standing position. I wore full knee braces on the two day ride and never had any issues with the tank getting in the way.

Kawasaki set out to reduce as much vibration as possible on the new KLR and added rubber mounted foot pegs, handle bars, and seat to increase rider comfort on longer rides. The vibes are not totally gone, but definitely cut way down from the previous model. This is especially noticeable at highway speeds.

2022 Kawasaki KLR WindscreenAn updated windscreen for better wind and weather protection.

A totally redesigned windscreen is 50 mm (~2 in.) taller than the previous generation and can be raised with tools to increase height 30 mm (~1.2 in.) more. I rode with the windscreen in the standard (low) position and at five foot eight inches, felt it offered adequate protection for the type of riding we were doing.

Although the seat resembles the 2014.5, it’s been slightly reshaped using optimized vinyl and urethane for thickness and firmness helping to comfort your bum on those long rides while keeping the seat height to around 34 in. Reshaped pillion grab bars offer greater comfort for passengers along with a shorter side-stand making it easier to pop the kickstand up while sitting on the bike.

2022 Kawasaki KLR SeatThe seat is just one of many comfort updates.

The cockpit has changed a bit as well with a new white back-lit LCD instrument panel displaying speed, dual trip meters, fuel gauge, clock and your standard indicator lamps. It’s easy to read in daylight and considerably smaller than the previous round analog dials. We miss the tachometer but the dash has filled out some with modern features like a built in GPS tower mount bar, fog lamp switch (for Adventure models) and both 12v/USB power sockets which come standard on Adventure and Traveler models. Base models can be upgraded with power sockets for around 100 dollars each.

2022 Kawasaki KLR DashA digital dash replaces the analog clocks, but leaves riders without a tach.

• KLR650 Chassis & Suspension

Kawasaki really lined up a nice array of terrain from high-speed twisties to sand, rocks and even a water crossing or two. Without making any adjustments the KLR was pleasantly stable on the pavement even at speeds in excess of 80 MPH and felt like it could do it all day.

Pulling off the pavement into the desert we railed a stretch of dirt and sand for about 10 miles. The suspension soaked up most of what was thrown at it, only bottoming the rear a few times. A little more preload in the rear would have helped in the bottoming for sure. The suspension stayed planted in rocky two-track sections while we weren’t riding aggressively and should be fine for most riders.

2022 Kawasaki KLR Action DirtRight at home on gravel fire roads.

To mention some updates, the semi double-cradle frame is carried over from the previous 2014.5 model with improvements in the rear frame being integrated with the main frame providing a more composed ride while offering an increased carrying capacity. Curiously enough, the revised swingarm is now 30 mm longer with a 2 mm larger swing arm pivot bolt for greater durability and stability. Kawasaki also went with a steel box cross section swing arm instead of the cast and more modern looking version on the previous generation. More than likely it was simply easier to produce the new longer version with steel and probably won’t make much difference to most riders.

Front forks are still 41mm with revised settings and carry over the heavier duty springs from the 2014.5 model offering a total of 7.9 in. of travel. Out back the adjustable Uni-Trak shock offers 7.3” of travel with five clicks of preload and three clicks of rebound adjustments to fine tune to your riding conditions. Overall, the stock suspension is competent, but as with any bike it’s best to set it up for your weight and riding style. Very few bikes come perfectly tuned for your weight and riding needs straight from the factory.

2022 Kawasaki KLR LinkageAdjustable for preload and rebound, the rear suspension helps keep things in control.

The base model weighs in at a curb weight of 460lbs which is 28lbs heavier (432lbs) than the previous model but overall it was hard to feel the difference as the bike is pretty decently balanced.

• KLR650 Brakes & Wheels

We got the KLR650 Adventure non-ABS version for more off-road oriented riding so can’t speak about how well the switchable ABS versions did. ABS is offered on all models as an option, with the exception of the Traveler model which is only offered with ABS.

Braking on the new model is much improved with firm lever and pedal feel over the previous version. The 20mm bigger front rotor (up from 280mm) brought the front end to a halt easily enough while the now thicker rear rotor also worked well.

2022 Kawasaki KLR Action Road2Larger brakes provide better performance and instill more confidence when you’re on the binders.

Front brake rotor is increased 20 mm to 300 mm for improved stopping power which definitely had better feel over the 2014.5 model. Rear brake rotor is 240 mm and 1 mm thicker to help disperse heat more effectively during heavy braking.

Front 21” and Rear 17” wheels wrapped in Dunlop K750 rubber uses a stronger aluminum for improved strength and durability. Both front and rear axles are also larger diameter to improve durability and rigidity over the long run. The K750’s work well enough as a standard dual sport tire, but it has been the same on all KLR’s since the 80’s and refreshing the rubber wouldn’t hurt since there are now many more dual-sport tires options.

• KLR650 2022 Styling & Model Variations

Last, but not least, is the considerable amount of styling changes made to the 2022 KLR650. While it carries some of it’s lines over from previous bulbous looking models, there’s no doubt it has joined the rank of modern bikes which look like they could transform into robots. Generally speaking, the lines are more angular and aggressive while providing good wind and rider protection. One of the biggest changes in this area are the side plastics which look sleek up front and cover more of the rear frame. We like the built-in shroud protector that helps guard the fairing on accidental tip-overs.

2022 Kawasaki KLR FogLightFog lights come standard on the top spec Adventure line.

Headlights have evolved from a two to four bulb design which we didn’t get a chance to test. New super bright LED headlight lights are available on all trim lines and should be plenty bright for you commute home or out on the trail after dark. Unfortunately, the brake light and turn signals missed the LED train but should be easy enough to upgrade. 

All new colors and graphics further enhance the rugged look of the 2022 line up. Pearl Sand Khaki and Pearl Lava Orange are available on the base trim while the Traveler series only comes in Pearl Lava Orange along with a top case and power sockets. Kawasaki’s Adventure line, gets, side cases, fog lamps, power sockets and a special Cypher Camo Grey finish.

2022 Kawasaki KLR FogSwitchAlong with the fog lights, the Adventure models also sport integrated USB and 12V sockets.

• Kawasaki’s 2022 KLR650 in Summary

Let’s face it, there are probably more KLR’s roaming the earth than any other mid-sized ADV/dual-sport model ever produced…and for good reason. It’s a simple, affordable, easy to own go-anywhere motorcycle. All-in-all, the improvements were what this model needed for a while now and made for a better riding experience.

Sure, we would have liked a sixth gear added but the revised five-speed actually does a good job carrying speeds of 70-80 MPH with decent comfort for extended pavement pounding sessions. Perhaps replacing a doohickey for peace of mind will be a signature common bond between all KLR riders, but ultimately these and other upgrades (like adding a Versys 650 engine) would have come with additional cost and design time.

2022 Kawasaki KLR Action TownWherever your adventure takes you, the 2022 KLR 650 is ready.

At the end of the day, while it may not have been what everyone was dreaming about, Kawasaki managed to bring a hefty amount of very welcome updates to an already legendary platform without much, if any, price increase. We’d say that’s a great success for many new and returning adventure riders out there. Fact is, aside from Suzuki’s out dated DR650, there are currently no new bikes which compete in this size and price range. While they could have gone bigger, faster and more expensive, we feel there’s no shortage of riders out there who will appreciate the 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 for exactly what it is: an affordable, fun, friendly and reliable way to explore the world. 

Do you like the new KLR? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

MSRP: $6,699 (Base w/o ABS) to $7,999 (Adventure w/ ABS)

• Pros

  • Fuel injection works great
  • Many updates without big price bump
  • Sharper looking rugged body work
  • Rubber mounted handle bars, foot pegs, and seat mounts
  • It’s back!

• Cons

  • No sixth gear or updated doo-hickey
  • Box style rear swing arm
  • Heavier
  • No tachometer

2022 Kawasaki KLR Action WaterAfter a long day on the trails, everyone could use a quick dip to cool off.

• 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Specifications:

  • Displacement: 652cc
  • Bore x Stroke: 100.00 x 83.0 mm
  • Compression Ratio: 9.8:1
  • Fuel System: DFI w/ 40mm Throttle Body
  • Ignition: CDI
  • Transmission: 5-speed, return shift with wet multi-disc manual clutch
  • Maximum Torque: 39.1 lb-ft @ 4,500 RPM 
  • Seat Height: 34.3 in
  • Length: 89.8 in
  • Width: 38.2 in
  • Front Suspension: 41mm telescopic fork w/ 7.9 in of wheel travel
  • Rear Suspension: Uni-Trak single shock with adjustable rebound and preload / 7.3 in of wheel travel
  • Ground Clearance: 8.3 in
  • Chassis: Tubular, semi-double cradle
  • Curb Weight: 460.6 lbs. (Base) 471 lbs. (Traveler) 487 lbs. (Adventure)
  • Wheel Base: 60.6 in
  • Brakes: front 300mm disc w/ 2 piston caliper and rear 240 mm disc w/ single piston caliper; ABS available
  • Tires: Front 90/90-21 Rear 130/80-17
  • Warranty: 12 Months

We would love to say thanks to the author of this short article for this outstanding material

The KLR 650 is Back, Jacked, and Ready for Adventure!

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