CHOOSING YOUR DREAM MACHINE
There seems to be a nearly endless stream of adventure motorcycles flooding the market these days, dripping with high-tech goodies, light-weight alloys and futuristic fairings. This is great for budding adventurers, yet there are a number of factors to consider when lusting over your next ride. After months of online research, test rides and helpful, yet often incredibly biased, chats with riding buddies, I chose the KLR650 for my South American adventure. Let’s take a look at the factors most important to me when choosing the Kawasaki KLR650.
Let’s not beat about the bush – everybody has to consider budget when choosing a bike for adventure travel. The expenses for a trip like this quickly stack up, and cutting costs at every opportunity becomes less of a nicety than necessity. I picked up the KLR650 brand new for $7000AUD. When comparing that to the high end KTM and BMW machines, you’re saving yourself 15-20G. That’s enough to buy another two KLRs if they fail over the journey. The KLR, bang for buck, is incredible, leaving more cash for all the other expenses along the way.
Availability of aftermarket Parts
This has turned out to be one of the most enjoyable parts of buying a simple, no-frills bike – the opportunity to customise it with aftermarket parts. The KLR650 is a blank canvas, ready for you to make it your own. I’ve torn this bike apart and rebuilt it from the ground up. New dash, light, exhaust, electrics and protection has all been added. I now know the KLR inside out. Admittedly, I’ve had to spend a little more on aftermarket parts than for other bikes – the plastic stock hand and sump guards are merely decorative when compared to the robust BMW and KTM stock protection. However, the aftermarket parts for the KLR are plentiful and affordable, making this a great opportunity to really get to know your new bike.
It’s a simple, single cylinder, carburetted bike. Whilst its pedigree spans back over 30years, its only had one major design over-haul, retaining much of the tech that was available in the late 90s. Many may see this as a weakness, however, for me, this is one of its greatest assets. Yes, it is probably going to break down more than a fuel injected twin, but when it does, I’ll be in a great position to fix it. Carbs can be cleaned, hoses repaired and electrics re-soldered, but fuel injectors, high-tech stability controls and semi-auto gearboxes are an unknown to me. There is certainly an argument for the improved safety of ABS and stability control systems. And the lack of horsepower in sand and dirt could be problematic. But this is a beast I know that I can fix on the side of the road... I hope.
This is a big one. The KLR is admittedly a little chunky for a 650 at 196kg wet (fueled & oiled), but that’s a good deal less than the KTM990 and BMW 1200 GS that tick over 250 when wet. The other lightweight options would be the BMW Sertao which is now out of production and the V-storm which is more tarmac oriented. The Suzuki DR650 and XR650L are both great bikes and were the two prime alternatives to the KLR for me. However, they required a good deal of frame re-enforcement and expensive new (plastic) tanks in order to make the distance. The KLRs sub 200kg weight sits nicely in the middle – solid enough to take the payload I’ll be carrying, yet light enough to hopefully make it through the mud, dirt and sand ahead. And when I inevitably have to pick it up, its going to be a little easier on my back than the heavier machines.
This was the klincher for me. The KLR650 has a solid reputation for being bulletproof. There is an amazing community of fellow riders out there ready to help on dedicated KLR forums and the toolkit is simple and universal. Parts are easy to fix and readily available around the world. The simple engine & transmission that hasn’t changed much since the 90’s means that if I get out of my depth, there will hopefully be a mechanic in the next town who can help. It may not be the most exciting bike to ride, but its durability is confidence inspiring.
Buying a bike, especially one you plan to live off for years at a time, is a personal decision. It’s worth doing the research because getting the right bike for you is the first step to enjoying every moment of the adventure ahead. There is no perfect bike, but I am absolutely stoked with the KLR and can’t wait to ride it in South America. It’s not the sexiest stock bike (but we’ve certainly turned that around I think) and it isn’t the most powerful machine on the market. It is affectionately known by riders as the mule or tractor of the adventure bike world. But this juggernaut is almost guaranteed to keep me rolling through South America's dirt, sand, mud and tarmac.