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