Many KLR enthusiasts were expecting a Ténéré 700 beater. It is not.
As RideApart's resident KLR650 enthusiast, of course, I have opinions on the new model. Sabrina has already detailed its quirks and features, as well as our collective surprise that the new KLR is so similar to the previous version. It's as though Kawasaki did as little as possible to update the KLR to meet Euro 5 emission requirements and called it good. As the meme says, "It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for them."
Honestly, the KLR community seems rather surprised that Kawasaki brought back the KLR at all at this point. It's been four model years since it went away in 2018. Since then, Yamaha has brought the highly capable Ténéré 700 to American shores. Many KLRistas have already jumped ship from Team Green to Team Blue, and for good reason. It's a much more capable motorcycle than our old tractors. Any KLR replacement, it would seem, would be playing catch-up to the T700, which has now set the standard for what a modern midsize dual-sport should be.
Third Verse, Same As The First
But it didn't. Rather than using Kawasaki's excellent 650 twin that already powers everything from the Ninja to the Vulcan S, the KLR stuck with the venerable single that's powered it since its inception, all the way back in 1987. Yes, it's fuel-injected now, but it's still essentially the same engine as before. The brakes are bigger, which will hopefully improve them to the point of "adequate." The digital gauge cluster brings the bike into the 21st century, but at the expense of a tachometer, a significant oversight. There's still no sixth gear, and there's no definite word as to whether the dreaded "doohickey" design flaw has been fixed.
Despite its legitimate improvements, the new KLR is very much an evolution of the second generation bike, not an exciting new T700 beater. As a result, the forums and groups have been ablaze with harsh criticism of the third-generation KLR. Current owners who had been looking forward to a major upgrade will now consider the T700, or even a used KTM, both of which will be much more capable motorcycles. I think they're forgetting the point of the KLR, though.
Most Affordable Mid-Size Dual-Sport On The Market
Sabrina already said this, but it bears repeating. When it goes on sale, there will be no more affordable mid-size dual-sport available than the new Kawasaki KLR650. It's no coincidence that the non-ABS version's $6,699 starting price is identical to the 2018 model, despite all of the upgrades. It's also the same price as the Suzuki DR650, which never went out of production but now seems rather behind the times compared to the new KLR. A low price has always been the KLR's strong point, especially for people who can only have one bike. It's a recipe for success, and Kawasaki hasn't altered it much.
The basic bike is still pretty much the same bike with a few upgrades. The upmarket versions give you a KLR already set up the way many enthusiasts modify theirs. Look at my own first-generation 2005 model. LED headlight: check. Auxiliary lighting: check. Added luggage: check. (Also, have you noticed that the optional top case looks to be about the same size and shape as the venerable milk crate?)
You Think It'll Work?
What really matters, though, is not what this guy blabbing about the KLR on the internet thinks (he's probably wrong because people on the internet always are). What matters is whether the new KLR's incremental changes are enough to get people to buy them. Is the KLR's previous winning formula, now dating back more than 30 years, still enough to get people interested enough to buy them in 2021?
Rather than the T700, priced $2,000 higher than even the most expensive version, I think the KLR's closest competition will ironically be the used KLR market. I bought my particularly-well equipped 2005 model for $2,100, less than one-third the cost of a new one. The new bike is nicer, and definitely less crashed than mine. I will not be looking to upgrade to a new one.
I'm extremely interested to try one, though. Statistics and numbers don't tell the whole story of a motorcycle. Only after riding it can I pass judgment on whether Kawasaki's bold strategy of making only incremental changes to a 1980s design should pay off for them.