Kawasaki's Revamped KLR650 Creates a Trimmer Adventure Touring Bike

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Kawasaki's revamped KLR650 takes some of the bloat out of adventure touring

Key Points
KLR650 sales jumped 31% in 2004 and have increased steadily since then
Target riders: those who want to use one motorcycle for everything from short trips to multi-day jouneys, on and off-road.

The phrase adventure touring usually brings to mind a big Bavarian-made machine rumbling across the tundra, menacing in its enormity and boxcar-sized aluminum luggage.

Just regular old touring has an image of its own — power cruisers rolling along completely at home in accessorized comfort, iron butts safely padded in flesh.

Either way, long-distance riding comes with its own baggage. But a question comes up when considering Kawasakis 2008 KLR650. Is touring getting a face-lift?

Not a touring bike in the weighty sense of the word, the KLR650 is already one of the bulletproof dependables for those seeking dual-purpose adventure.

Kawasaki recognizes this popularity and is seizing on it and the overall health of the touring and dual-sport markets. In its official press introduction, Kawasaki showed off the newly revamped thumpers abilities over more than 400 miles of hill, dale, highway and trail.

Near Monterey, Calif., Kawasaki notes that the KLR650s sales stats have steadily increased since flattening out in 2001. The company's KLR650 sales jumped by 31 percent in 2004, followed by an increase of about 76 percent over the next two years.

Product manager Karl Edmondson points out that the KLR650 is now the top-selling dual-purpose bike on the market and is the OEMs fourth-best-selling motorcycle.

The new bike acted like it was made for most of the roads out of and into the city of Cambria — or vice versa. For consumers whom Kawasaki identifies as wanting to "leave the pavement behind," the KLR may be perfect.

Its redesigned seat made all those miles seem shorter, and the KLRs improved brakes and suspension helped me through many of the pucker moments I had along some the sheer-drop roads we rode. Across dirt and asphalt it was nimble and light, granted the only baggage I carried was my fear of sailing off into a deep ravine.

Kawasakis research reveals that many of its target riders are looking for a bike on which to take everything from short day trips to multiday journeys across a variety of roads — not just miles of super slab. According to surveys, KLR650 owners list back roads as their favorite type of riding.

The folks at Kawasaki were sure to play off this stat with the route chosen for the press ride. Save for a few short highway blasts, most of the riding was along the bucolic byways of central California dirt farm roads, twisties and, of course, Santa Rosa Creek Road into Cambria.

Just about the whole trip had adventure touring written all over it — on a big thumping single no less.

Slim and Dressed

It would have been great to take the trip with the saddlebags, expandable tank and tail bags and handlebar bags Kawasaki will offer. We had chase trucks carrying all our luggage, but with the KLRs new larger rear rack and improved space for saddlebags there are some real overnighter possibilities.

For riders looking for creature comforts on longer distances, Kawasaki installed a high-capacity alternator for improved accessory power needs and brighter headlights. The electrical upgrade could come in handy if Kawi comes out with the heated grips its considering. Otherwise, there are aftermarket options for toastier hands.

Wind protection is a huge factor on the open road, and the new KLR comes equipped with all-new bodywork and a taller windshield. An even larger screen is available as add-on option, as is a gel seat.

While not exactly in Kawasakis researched demographic I can appreciate that it points out the average adventure touring customer is a middle-aged man who wants to hit the but is not ready for a full dresser. Even with the KLRs full luggage lineup, its likely a far cry from a 860 lb. Honda Gold Wing.

The company says that most of this segments customers are 40 to 49 years old, followed by those 30 to 39 — that's me. Interestingly, the smallest percentage of riders fall into the 20 to 29 age range.