2023 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure Review

Kit Palmer | October 24, 2023

I was reminded recently just how sweet the third-generation Kawasaki KLR650 really is. For the 2022 model year, Kawasaki gave the KLR650 a complete overhaul, and we came away impressed after having the motorcycle in our possession for nearly 12 months.

2023 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure motorcycle wheelie
The KLR650 is no lightweight, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun on it.

The KLR650 now comes in four levels of trim. There is the standard KLR650, which can be had with or without ABS ($7199/$6899). Next up is the KLR650 Adventure, which comes with more goodies to make your long-distance adventures a little nicer: factory-installed side cases, LED auxiliary light set, engine guards, tank pad, and a DC power outlet and a USB socket. It’s also available with or without ABS ($8199/$7899). Then, you have the Traveler ABS, which comes with a factory-installed top case, a DC power outlet, and a USB socket. It’s only available with ABS ($7599). All these models were around in 2022, but new to the family is the KLR650S, which is essentially the standard model with a lower sitting position. It, too, is available with or without ABS ($$6899/$7199). The “S” model’s seat height is 2.2 inches lower than the others, which is significant. This was achieved by reducing wheel travel at both ends by approximately one inch and a slightly less cushy seat. Other than that, it’s the same bike as the standard KLR650.

Our 2023 Adventure KLR650 here is the same as before but with a slightly longer shift lever. As insignificant as this may seem, it was a significant issue for my size 12 feet last year. I could still use more room down there, but at least it’s livable for me now.

2023 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure motorcycle right side
2023 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure right side

Still, the KLR650 Adventure is a joy to ride. It handles well, the suspension is plush and is surprisingly good at soaking up good-sized bumps at speed, and the KLR’s five-speed transmission is nicely matched to the KLR’s power, which is delivered from its simple and reliable DOHC liquid-cooled single-cylinder engine.

The bike’s relaxed sitting position means you can painlessly ride the KLR650 all day, and the two-way-adjustable windscreen does an admirable job keeping the windblast off you without excessive helmet buffeting. The KLR is just as at home on the street as it is on the dirt.

Running out of gas is never a thought while aboard the KLR650 with its massive 6.1-gallon fuel tank that feels smaller than it is between your legs.

2023 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure motorcycle front view
For $8199, you get your money’s worth for the top-of-the-line KLR650 Adventure.

The KLR650 is easy to pick on, however. Yes, it’s heavy for a single-cylinder dual sport (which is how Kawasaki classifies the KLR650) but is relatively light compared to big-bore, multi-cylinder adventure bikes, which many will compare this bike to. Its brakes aren’t terribly inspiring, you can’t turn off ABS (even just the rear), six instead of five speeds would be nice, tires are so-so, saddlebags

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2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Dual-Sport Adventure Motorcycle

Prior to 1984, street-legal motorcycles that could also be ridden off the pavement (without immediately crashing) were known as “enduros” or “scramblers,” and for the most part, they were lightly modified street bikes with knobby tires, high-mount exhausts and perhaps a bit more suspension travel than their street-based counterparts. They were fine for plonking down a dirt road, buzzing around the farm, or exploring nearby canyons. But on balance, they were small bikes, with limited power, short range and truly limited ability to tackle truly tough terrain – let alone mount an epic journey to the far corners of the globe.

But spurred by wanderlust and books like Ted Simon’s epic 1974 travelogue Jupiter’s Travels, and Elspeth Beard’s 1982 Lone Rider, a new type of motorcycle riding – now called dual-sport, adventure or “ADV” riding – was beginning to take shape, and motorcycle makers began to take notice just as major technological shifts were happening in the motorcycle industry. BMW is generally credited to be the first maker of a dedicated “adventure bike” with the 1980 R80 G/S, an 800cc ugly duckling of a bike that was clearly designed to leave the pavement and haul a rider and their gear to places heretofore unreachable by motorcycle – and most any other kind of vehicle.

In 1984, Kawasaki launched the KLR600, a modern, powerful, sturdy, capable and affordable 600cc single-cylinder model that also tempted riders to start mapping out epic ‘round the world (”RTW”) odysseys. A couple of years later, the bike grew to 651cc, and the KLR650 remained in Kawasaki’s lineup – largely unchanged – for the next three decades. In that time, adventure riding – and adventure bikes – continued to grow in popularity, getting a massive boost in 2004 when Star Wars actor Ewan McGregor and his friend Charlie Boorman released their first RTW adventure bike TV series, Long Way ‘Round, which gave adventure riding massive exposure in popular culture (below). Two sequel series then followed, as did skyrocketing adventure bike sales.

But in 2019, KLR650 fans – now numbering in the millions worldwide – held their breath as the model suddenly went missing from the roster for the first time. Then the pandemic set in and for 2020, the KLR was again MIA. Would it ever return? Late in 2021, there was rejoicing as the KLR650 reappeared – and with several notable improvements.

Recently, Kawasaki’s Good Times Demo Tour swung through the Portland area, and Media Relations Supervisor Brad Puetz was kind enough to bring a pair of top-spec $7,999 2022 Kawasaki KLR650 Adventure models with him for two days of riding around the Pacific Northwest with Forbes.com.

Good news: The updated KLR650 hasn’t strayed far from the successful recipe that has earned the bike

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