The Kawasaki KLR 650 New Edition is the adventure motorcycle in its purest form. Its distilled design focuses not on being the fastest or the most beautiful bike on the market, but instead on providing unparalleled capabilities and potential — all for 20 percent of the cost of other industry darlings. It is completely undaunted by the surfaces that make lesser bikes scramble and costlier ones go down. Its simple mechanical construction can be serviced in all corners of the globe — usually by the rider. Instead of distracting riders with customized modes, infinite ABS options and finicky traction control settings, it’s a bike you simply get on and ride.

For almost thirty years Kawasaki’s recipe for their middleweight dual-sport motorcycle has remained the same: one part upright ergonomics, two parts long-travel suspension combined with one lump of mechanically simple engine. It’s one of the most capable machines on the market and a perennial best-seller. But despite this success, the KLR received some mid-year tweaks in 2014. Spices were added in the form of upgraded suspension and a wider, more comfortable seat. The result is a tastier version of the purest adventure touring bike available today.

On tarmac, the KLR650 New Edition is infinitely more engaging, communicative and fun. Off road, it’s virtually unstoppable. The new seat has been carved and tapered up front to deliver better positioning while standing and widened towards the back to create a more comfortable saddle. Its wide, hand-protected bars deliver intuitive control and quick maneuverability. The liquid-cooled 651cc, single-cylinder engine thumps and chugs to create enough power (about 43 horsepower) and torque (36 lb-ft) to happily cruise beyond legal speeds on the interstate and loves to lug all day long in the rough stuff. Best of all, it’s bullet-proof. Fed by an old-world Keihin CVK40 carburetor that would probably digest sand-laden yak piss if it had to, nothing other than a refill every 250 miles can stop it.

On tarmac, the KLR650 New Edition is infinitely more engaging, communicative and fun. Off road, it’s virtually unstoppable.

The modified suspension, however, is the single greatest improvement on the New Edition. While the 41mm fork tubes remain geometrically unaltered, their guts have been greatly improved to deliver a 40 percent increase in stiffness and 28 percent increase in damping. Out back the story is similar. The adjustable Kawasaki Uni-Trak rear end is now 68 percent stiffer and provides 83 percent more damping. This makes the New Edition infinitely more tractable and confident on roads, delivering a predictable, neutral stance in corners, under braking and acceleration. Off the beaten path and in the dirt, the New Edition has become more capable than a mountain goat: where previous models constantly tested the KLR’s incredibly tough skid plate by bottoming out almost 8 inches of suspension travel on the particularly tricky terrain, the New Edition doesn’t. Previous jabs that Kawasaki had forgotten to add fork oil to their old KLR’s didn’t go unnoticed. That new front end has also been topped up with an extra 5mm of crude to soak up Death Valley washboards and the boulders of the Kolyma Highway.

Kawasaki’s standard edition KLR was already regarded as equal, if not superior, to the most advanced adventure touring rivals from BMW, KTM, Yamaha and Triumph. Despite the comparative rolling-relic construction, its literal go-anywhere capabilities combined with a sub-$7,000 price tag made it attainable excellence. At just $100 more ($6,599), the 2014 Kawasaki KLR650 New Edition is boundlessly better. Riders with worldly wanderlust now have even fewer excuses. For less than the cost of a new BMW R1200 GS Adventure, they could completely fund a ride around the world on a fully equipped 2014 Kawasaki KLR650 New Edition and have change left over. If that doesn’t define the spirit of adventure, nothing does.


Engine: 651cc four-stroke single-cylinder
Horsepower: approx. 43 hp
Torque: 34 lb-ft
Fuel Capacity: 6.1 gallons
Curb weight: 432 pounds

Matt Neundorf

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