Death of another dinosaur, is it the end of the KLR?



Death of another dinosaur, is it the end of the KLR?

Death, it all sounds so permanent. I’ve never been to a funeral I’ve enjoyed, and one for my beloved motorcycle would be no exception. As of late, rumors have been flooding the online KLR650 groups like New Orleans during Katrina. The whispers in the air, are that the long running life-span of Kawasaki’s dinosaur may be coming to an end. Hang on to your hankies weeping wrenchers, this might be the end of the line.

Why it might be over...

If we, the suffering dinosaur dual-sport biker community can take a minute to reflect. Here are some serious reasons for why it all might be over. First off let’s be real, the bike is mainly marketed for its price-point. Often dubbed as “The Poor Man’s Dual-Sport”. Like any budget item, you often deal with the predictable problems and don’t expect a premium product. In the case of the KLR there are some obvious pain-points; first off, it’s relatively gutless. Maybe, just maybe, if you are heading down the right hill with an ample tail wind it’s said by the manufacturer, that the odometer will hit 108MPH. Personally, I’ve never experienced this, and have been amazed when we’ve hit 90MPH!

Next up, the suspension has always been similar to that of the ever-classic toy of the 80’s, the pogo stick. You can bounce up and down on it all day long, though you’ll probably feel a bit unsafe at times and get thrown off at some point. The brakes, they are awful! Like a couple of wet sponges, you squeeze in the hopes of gaining some sort of lubed-traction. Also, how could anyone overlook the doohickey? A problem with your balancer chain tensioner that could literally bring you to a grinding halt. Kawasaki says it’s fine, thousands of aftermarket sales of an improved replacement part say otherwise.

One would think these kinds of issues would bring sales to an end. In the case of the KLR, quite the opposite. It spun off tight knit groups like the KLR650 Wrencher’s Network, and KLR650 Owners Facebook groups, along with various threads to address common issues. It also led to a niche market of parts manufacturers like Eagle Mike. He manufactures the high-quality doohickey, 685 kits, and a whole host of other KLR products. It seems that Kawasaki built the bike to a standard that they could sell it at while letting the consumer deal with the rest. Shockingly, this has been working with incredible results. Imagine if this was the case when you bought a Kawasaki Sea Doo. I think it would more of a situation of sputter, sputter, sputter, sink!

The History: A short story...

The Kawasaki motorcycle has had more or less one major overhaul since conception in 1987. For the firsts twenty years in the United States, you could pick up a KLR650-A model. This model included a 651CC water-cooled, 4-stroke, single cylinder that came with various graphics for the time, including some sweet 80’s shades of purple and green.

1987 Kawasaki KLR

Nothing looked better than a middle-aged man with a perm, riding a light-purple and aqua-green dirt bike to the office!

In 2008 Kawasaki gave the KLR an “overhaul” by upgrading to 1.6-inch forks, changing to a D-section swing arm, and installed a better stator that put out an additional 36 watts. They also upgraded the brakes (sort of), gave us two separate front headlights, changed to a beefier fairing, and added a few other minor updates.

2008 Kawasaki KLR

Since then, Kawasaki has mainly been sticking to its “Bold New Graphics” changes and a few tweaks now and then. Thus, side-stepping the costs of sinking too much money into R & D.

In other parts of the planet, you could have also picked up a KLR650-B, a.k.a “Tengai”. Or a KLR650-C model that each had their own limitations and benefits. Another more interesting item that will get any KLR aficionado excited, are the military versions that were modified for combat. Easy now, they weren’t outfitted with rocket-launchers and flame-throwers. They were kitted out with diesel engines that could burn military grade fuel and was painted in that sweet military matt green color that screams authority!

A Comeback Story: What the hell is a KLRsys?

Since the rumors are in full gossip-mode, we might as well get everyone’s hopes up and dream of the idea that Kawasaki is building, a hybrid model KLRsys. It’s no secret that the KLR does not sell well in many parts of the globe. This due mainly to not meeting emission standards. This single-cylinder, carbureted thumper could be more aptly named a dinosaur because of all the fossil fuels it consumes. Opposed to its pending extinction. When compared side by side by the California Air Resources Commission, the KLR stacked up considerably worse than Kawasaki’s 650 Versys.

Wait, now here’s where it could get exciting. What if you could take the low emission, twin-cylinder, six-speed engine from the Versys, then put it where there used to be a high-emissions, single-cylinder, five-speed stock KLR engine. Is this playing God, is this asking too much, can it be done? Hell, yes it can! Some crafty tool smith has already done it. Not once, but three times! He noted that the hardest part was “…getting the throttle bodies hooked up…” and that “ Figuring out how to do a lot of it took far more time than actually getting it done.” With a Kawasaki budget and workforce behind you, I imagine this dream could be brought to mass-market fairly easily. 

Ask yourself, is a dual-sport really the best of both worlds?

Much like those really cool El Caminos of the world that can be seen driven by our mullet wearing friends in the parking lots of Walmart’s everywhere. Does a part car, part truck, really solve a problem like the dual-sport tries to do? In some cases, you could argue that a dual-sport does it all. A bike you can take camping & cruising all in the same weekend.

Now from a much longer journey and an overlanders expedition kind of view. Smaller, lighter 250CC bikes like Honda’s CRF250L are gaining traction and popularity. It seems that once you’ve picked up an overloaded 650CC+ bike out of the mud and sand enough times, you get to thinking that a smaller bike is just as capable as a bigger one, as long as your ego can handle it. For most round the world adventures, you’re not likely to go over 60MPH most of the time anyway so why the need for all the extra horsepower. Who needs a big dual-sport, just get a little dirt bike.

Looking at it through the windscreen of comparable bikes, why not spend the extra money and get something superior. Bikes like the KTM990, BMW GS series, the Africa Twin, or even a Triumph Tiger. All highly capable machines that you can get down right dirty with, or can shine up and go two up on your way out for dinner. These highly capable machines do dig a litter deeper into the pocket and can often come with a highly increased price tag. Thus again, bringing us back to one of the main selling points of the KLR, its low cost.

Does Kawasaki need the money?

Segueing from the cost factors, how about we open a spreadsheet and examine Kawasaki’s bottom line perspective. In 2017 Kawasaki’s public company (KWHIY) took in total revenues of 13.54 billion. After writing a few paychecks to its 35,000 or so employees, distributing funds to shareholders, and paying their utility bills, KWHIY was left with profits of 233.54 million.

Now ignoring all the other ways they bring in this revenue, and strictly focusing on their “fun” category. Let’s see what else is making sales; we’ve got items like a side by side that might sell for around $17,000. Something a farmer might pick up a couple of, or a survey company might be interested in buying a fleet of. Then there is a host of Jet Ski’s that might go out a dealers door for up to $16,000, quads for $10,000, and of course a variety of motorcycles for all demographics.

The Vulcan Voyager $17,000, Z900RS $11,000, and the Ninja H2 R has a staggering $55,000 sticker price! Heck, even a little KX250 has a higher price tag at $7,749 than the most premium of KLR’s, the KLR Camo with an MSRP of $6,999. Adding insult to injury, and knowing the KLR crowd like I think I do. Upon sale, they aren’t asking the dealer to install new suspension, fix their doo, or upgrade the accessories from their showroom selection of options. These people are buying their aftermarket products and upgrades wherever has the lowest price, then doing their own garage work. The incentives to keep pushing a bike that doesn’t come with much reciprocal benefits just aren’t there.

In The End

When it comes down to it, we all know that where the money flows, business goes. With governments continually increasing emissions requirements from a bi-product of the last major extinction. A society that wants all the benefits, without all the price tags, and corporations with shareholders who are more interested in a black balance sheet than a red one. It’s easy to see why even an underdog motorcycle with a legion of loyal fans might find itself in the cross hairs of boardroom meetings. Chances are, if you own a KLR it is going to run for decades after the warranty runs out. Even if the original parts can’t be found, you can easily invent something that will keep it running well past its expiry date.

For now there is some dealer confirmation, though Kawasaki has made no public statement. I guess time will tell if Kawasaki’s leaders in innovation arrive dressed all in black to in fact make a final statement about the time tested KLR650. A bike so ugly, that only true love could see through its exterior and appreciate more of what’s on the inside. Hold your heads high wrencher’s, time will tell.