Is Kawasaki Bringing Back the Legendary KLR650?

Dual sports are some of the best motorcycles for off-roading. They combine the simplicity and capability of dirt bikes with just enough comfort for on-road travel. And one of the best and most iconic models is the Kawasaki KLR650. Unfortunately, it’s been off the market for several years now. But new rumors suggest the Japanese motorcycle company is bringing the off-road icon back.

What makes the Kawasaki KLR650 an off-road adventure legend?

The Kawasaki KLR650 was a remarkably long-lived motorcycle. It started production in 1987, Silodrome reports, and didn’t receive a significant update until 2008. Even when production ended in 2018, it didn’t have ABS, RideApart reports. But then, rugged simplicity is the Kawasaki KLR650’s biggest selling point, Revzilla reports.

Every KLR650 has a carbureted single-cylinder engine, Rider reports. The earliest models have a 651cc engine with 37 hp, as well as front and rear disc brakes. Kawasaki made minor changes over the years, improving the bike’s clutch, gear ratios, and other engine components, WebBikeWorld reports.

A camo-colored 2018 Kawasaki KLR650
2018 Kawasaki KLR650 Camo | Kawasaki

The 2008 update brought smoother power delivery, better and more-adjustable suspension, and a redesigned frame, Cycle World reports. By the end, the Kawasaki KLR650 had over 7” of suspension travel, 8.3” of ground clearance, and several 12V outlets. The 2018 model only has 3 gauges—tachometer, speedometer, and fuel—as well as a voltage readout and warning lights.

However, there’s a reason why the US military and generations of off-roaders love the Kawasaki KLR650, The Drive reports. With basically no electronics, it’s easy to fix on the side of the road or in the middle of nowhere. Plus, it has a reputation for being essentially un-killable. Cycle World describes as a “battleship for the Apocalypse.”

The suspension makes for a comfortable ride, as does the flat seat. You can easily use it as both a commuter bike and a weekend adventure ride, Jalopnik reports. It’s a regular Swiss Army knife of a motorcycle.

The rumors of its return

Unfortunately, while riding off-road might not kill the Kawasaki KLR650, emissions regulations did. So did its aging design. At 432 pounds, the KLR650 isn’t terribly heavy. But other dual sports offered better performance with more modern equipment. Plus, European regulations require bikes to have ABS.

https://twitter.com/KawasakiUSA/status/1310942665857474561

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However, Kawasaki might be bringing the KLR650 back, Cycle World reports. The company recently revealed most of its 2021 motorcycle lineup. However, it also revealed that it plans on showing off 6 more bikes in November 2020, RideApart reports. And one of those bikes is a dual-sport model.

Admittedly, the bike in question is pictured underneath a cover; all that’s visible is the bottom of the frame and part of the wheels. However, the exposed parts superficially resemble the Kawasaki KLR650’s wire-spoke wheels and skid plate.

Several color variants of the 2021 Royal Enfield Himalayan
2021 Royal Enfield Himalayan | Royal Enfield

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Nostalgia isn’t the only thing that would inspire the Kawasaki KLR650’s return, though. Although the Royal Enfield Himalayan is an adventure bike, not a dual sport, it shares some similarities with Kawasaki’s mule. Like the KLR, the Himalayan has a single-cylinder engine, a cargo rack, a skid plate, and an overall bare-bones approach to off-roading.

Could the Kawasaki KLR650 come back as a KLX?

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Speaking of the Himalayan, it’s possible that Kawasaki could revive the KLR650 as a KLX model, RideApart muses. In the early 90s, Kawasaki offered a KLX as an even more rugged version of the KLR. If it really wants to compete with ADVs like the Himalayan and Yamaha Ténéré 700, such a bike would make a lot of sense.

A rider on a green 2020 Kawasaki KLX250 looks at a sunrise
2020 Kawasaki KLX250 rear | Kawasaki

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Plus, Kawasaki already offers several models under the KLX name. The KLX230 and KLX250 are dual sports, like the KLR650, and even come with single-cylinder engines. However, their engines are smaller—233cc and 249cc, respectively—and fuel-injected. The KLX bikes are also significantly lighter, Motorcyclist reports, and offer optional ABS.

If the KLR were to return, it would likely have to offer similar features to be commercially viable, especially in Europe. And at that point, it might not have enough to connect it to the original.

Let’s just see what November brings, then.

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