KAWASAKI KLR650 (1987 - 2002) Review

Highlights

  • Great value compared with BMW GS
  • Flexible single-cylinder motor
  • An excellent trail-basher

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Power: 42 bhp
Seat height: Tall (34.3 in / 870 mm)
Weight: Low (370 lbs / 168 kg)

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
4 out of 5 (4/5)

There’s nothing quite so surprising as something utterly unremarkable. And so it is with the Kawasaki KLR 650 – it’s comfortable, grunty, quiet and reliable.

Forget your fancy-pants BMW R1200GS' - providing you can live with adjusting and lubing a chain the Kawasaki KLR650 is at least as good at overlanding and a mere fraction of the price.

In January 2021 Kawasaki revealed a new version of the KLR 650, but it's not set to join the UK market, heading to the USA instead. It features ABS and an LCD display, but otherwise the spec remains fundamentally the same, with a focus on dependability rather than technological progress. 

Once you've read this review and our owners' reviews, why not join the community at the Kawasaki KLR650 Owners' Group on Facebook?

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
3 out of 5 (3/5)

The Kawasaki KLR 650's suspension is soft and, typical of most trail-style motorcycles, colossal fork dive buggers up the braking. It’s nothing that can’t be assuaged with some stiffer fork springs and/or thicker oil, but fundamentally the suspension/braking package is budget that works better off-road. The Kawasaki KLR 650's rear brake’s not quite ineffectual.

Engine

Next up: Reliability
4 out of 5 (4/5)

There’s nothing particularly special about the Kawasaki KLR 650's 4v DOHC motor; it feels lazy and doesn’t particularly care for speeds above 85mph. But the Kawasaki KLR 650 is torquey, flexible, reasonably free of intrusive vibration and dependable. The ratios in five-speed gearbox are well-spaced, the action is smooth and it wears well.

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
3 out of 5 (3/5)

Kawasaki KLR650 clutches are a bit weak and you’ll need to keep the switches doused in WD40 to prevent them corroding. Chain tensioners on the Kawasaki KLR650 are fragile and have been known to break – the aftermarket can supply more reliable kit. If you use the KLR650 to carry heavy luggage it’s worth replacing the subframe mountingbolts with high tensile steel items – the stock stuff is of very poor quality.

Our Kawasaki KLR 650 owners' reviews show the bike is extremely popular, with the only negative comments around the hard seat (after 40 miles of riding), poor dipped headlight and some minor frame paint issues. None of this prevents it from being a seriously good off-roader, though. 

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
4 out of 5 (4/5)

The Kawasaki KLR 650 is excellent value and much cheaper than BMW’s comparable BMW F650GS. You may also consider a Suzuki DL650 V-Strom.

Equipment

3 out of 5 (3/5)

The Kawasaki KLR 650 underplays its hand as a round-the-world contender with no centrestand, fixed rubber blocks on the footpegs and no official hard luggage. All of which can be fixed on the aftermarket thankfully along with colossal 30-litre tanks. The Kawasaki KLR 650's charging system is a bit weedy, throwing out around 12 amps, which will limit your ability to plumb in heated vests and a GPS.

Specs

Engine size 651cc
Engine type 4v single, 6 gears
Frame type Tubular steel cradle
Fuel capacity 14 litres
Seat height 870mm
Bike weight 168kg
Front suspension None
Rear suspension Preload
Front brake Twin mm discs
Rear brake 220mm disc
Front tyre size 120/70 x 218
Rear tyre size 180/55 x 18

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption 53 mpg
Annual road tax £101
Annual service cost -
New price -
Used price -
Insurance group 8 of 17
How much to insure?
Warranty term Two year unlimited mileage

Top speed & performance

Max power 42 bhp
Max torque 45 ft-lb
Top speed 94 mph
1/4 mile acceleration 14.8 secs
Tank range 160 miles

Model history & versions

Model history

  • 1987: Kawasaki KLR 650 introduced.
  • 1995: Kawasaki KLR 650 gets improved front forks, engine, crank and clutch.
  • 2002: KLR 650 goes off sale in UK. 

Other versions

None.

Owners' reviews for the KAWASAKI KLR650 (1987 - 2002)

6 owners have reviewed their KAWASAKI KLR650 (1987 - 2002) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your KAWASAKI KLR650 (1987 - 2002)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 4.7 out of 5 (4.7/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 4.2 out of 5 (4.2/5)
Engine: 4.5 out of 5 (4.5/5)
Reliability & build quality: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Value vs rivals: 4.8 out of 5 (4.8/5)
Equipment: 3.7 out of 5 (3.7/5)
5 out of 5 God would ride a KLR, with a fancy seat.
19 December 2022 by Patrick Lane

Year: 1999

I’m a single dad with two teenage boys that have their own dirt bikes. I have had to sell my DR 350 but we had some good times but now being 69 the KLR 650 is something that is so universal and low maintenance. The only problem is some shops won’t take in old bikes for repairs, Tires this is Very disappointing This bike is Not for short people I’m 5’10” and I’m on my toes. It is a Giant dirt bike that’s 70 on the highway is no problem. I Love riding standing up on the foot pegs. You can see why the military and police Love this Big Kawasaki 650. Lots of upgrades to create a frikn Monster a very respected bike. But most of the paint jobs suck I don’t like ugly not for me. Old school. Keep the rubber side Down!

Ride quality & brakes 3 out of 5

The KLR isn’t built for comfort it’s built to get your Ass anywhere you want to go. You have the Balls to ride this bike it has a very wide range of Fun, you will want to make sure you can hold on Tight you can easily maintain a superiority complex if you can stay on. The one thing I appreciate is the way this big thing just Sips the gas, so you can stay out having Fun slapping on the Gas.

Engine 5 out of 5

Think of one piston goes up and down over a thousand times a minute rpm and doing 6000 revolutions per minute Crazzy these machines are bulletproof if ya keep your eye on the oil window. You don’t want to be real hard on the clutch this is the real weakness but you learn how to ride this machine it’ll last forever.

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

5 years in SC the rear brake caliper had a problem but just general slack maintenance and tires.

Equipment 5 out of 5

This is a search and rescue vehicle that will cover more ground than anything else on the planet that I know of. Standing on the foot pegs is understandably the absolutely most attention you could ever get ridding in on a two wheeler. If you have a KLR try it. If you don’t have one, if you see one ask them if they have ever tried that and ask to see them ride standing up on that thing. Intimidating

Buying experience: I got a Great deal. KLR People a great 👍

4 out of 5 Good rattler for the money
07 November 2021 by JF DELACOE

Version: A-11

Year: 1997

Top heavy with full fuel load.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

Front brake is less effective than the rear.

Engine 4 out of 5

Reliable but noisy, however parts are ok price. Balancer self adjust mechanism is failure prone.

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

Frame paintwork very thin.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 3 out of 5

Basic Speedo and tachometer that's it.

Buying experience: Privately

5 out of 5 A great old school road/off road bike
25 April 2020 by Jonny60

Version: C2

Year: 1997

An easy, laid back, go anywhere bike, cheap to maintain, easy to work on, fantastic on fuel, torquey motor. Has a few bad points, seat not too comfy after 40 miles, finish on frame is thin, dipped headlight poor.

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5

It's great on A+B roads and lanes etc. Ride quality is good with an updated shock, seat I find is a killer after 40 miles or so, regular stops needed, rear passenger will struggle if short and the seat is no sofa for them either.

Engine 4 out of 5

Torquey, only makes about 40 horses, so it's not quick, but its relaxed and smooth compared to my old XT600.

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

Generally good, frame paint poor, rest of paintwork is good, chrome wheel rims need looking after, rear shock on my 1997 model changed to a Yss shock....much better, fork seals changed, solenoid replaced.

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5

Running costs are very low in comparison to many bikes due to its simplicity, I get about 60+ to the gallon, tyres last ages due to being road going knobbly's.

Equipment 4 out of 5

Hand guards are great when it's cold or rains, rear rack is useful, it's not big, but with side hooks below, it surprising what you can carry.

4 out of 5 Just for me
23 January 2010 by jasukas

I was looking for a dual purpose with a very limited budget. Now I am a proud -97 KLR owner. Handling and engine are very nice. It is so narrow. Only things I don't like are difficulties with maintenance, take off the seat and petrol tank. However it is easier with KLR than with KLE. Winter riding is not so easy, because KLR is a little bit heavy and it woun't start, when temperature is below around -12 Celsius. I have spike tyres to make life a little bit easier (safer). Need to learn to ride too. Cheers Jyrki Finland

Ride quality & brakes 4 out of 5
Engine 4 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 3 out of 5
Value vs rivals 4 out of 5
Equipment 2 out of 5
5 out of 5 I know what I like
23 November 2008 by vitesse7749

Been in the saddle 44 years, I have toured, commuted, ran wild etc. After 38 bikes and my present rides I got hold of an 06. I've always loved the big single for it's simplicity and narrowness and flickability. This is a fabulous machine. No it won't do a ton comfortably. It will scoot at fun speed and with proper rubber will corner as well as most . The way the power comes on when held it torque through the cogs is very enjoyable. If you want one, ride it first, they are a cult bike because there is a distinct character to the beast. It is a machine that will handle off road for the mild to mid talented adventurer. I t is so easy to work on if it requires. It rarely does. Fill and go. Tour at LEGAL motorway speed, green lane at just up to the edge of grip envelope and pull off into that farm or forest road with aplumb. The problem with most bike reveiwers is that always compare unlike for unlike. This is not a VMax , an R1, VFR and on. It isn't even an F650. It fits in one catagory, the KLR650 one. All bike have their place and all riders have their bikes. Don't be put off by "it won't do this as good as...." It does everything as good as you'd like if you like it. Amen

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
5 out of 5 I know what I like
23 November 2008 by vitesse7749

Been in the saddle 44 years, I have toured, commuted, ran wild etc. After 38 bikes and my present rides I got hold of an 06. I've always loved the big single for it's simplicity and narrowness and flickability. This is a fabulous machine. No it won't do a ton comfortably. It will scoot at fun speed and with proper rubber will corner as well as most . The way the power comes on when held it torque through the cogs is very enjoyable. If you want one, ride it first, they are a cult bike because there is a distinct character to the beast. It is a machine that will handle off road for the mild to mid talented adventurer. I t is so easy to work on if it requires. It rarely does. Fill and go. Tour at LEGAL motorway speed, green lane at just up to the edge of grip envelope and pull off into that farm or forest road with aplumb. The problem with most bike reveiwers is that always compare unlike for unlike. This is not a VMax , an R1, VFR and on. It isn't even an F650. It fits in one catagory, the KLR650 one. All bike have their place and all riders have their bikes. Don't be put off by "it won't do this as good as...." It does everything as good as you'd like if you like it. Amen

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5
Engine 5 out of 5
Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5
Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 4 out of 5
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