The Kawaksa KLR 650 is a dual-sport, on and off-road adventure bike designed to fluctuate between trail riding, touring, and sporty street riding.
The KLR 650 has been around since 1987, widely recognized as one of the most affordable and accessible adventure bikes since the day it hit the streets.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at its most common problems.
Table of Contents
1. No Off Switch for the ABS
Not all KLR 650’s come with the ABS or Anti-lock Brake Systems, but an ABS-equipped option is available for those who favor the extra support, especially when riding their dual-sport bike on paved roads.
That said, unlike other ABS-stocked dual-sport bikes, the 2022 KLR 650-year models that do come with ABS have no module or switch that disables the ABS.
While some say this is simply a complaint and not indicative of a significant issue, more than a handful of KLR 650 enthusiasts found the lack of an ABS disable switch to be problematic for off-road riding.
As a dual sport bike, riders expect the KLR650 to perform safely and efficiently on and off-road.
However, ABS engagement on loose gravel doesn’t function the same as it does on the street, sometimes causing the wheels to slip and slide around on the off-road terrain under the influence of the electronic governing of the ABS system.
This is why many of the KLR’s rival dual-sport bikes have a switch or mode that allows the rider to turn off the ABS during offroad riding.
To be fair, ABS systems have come a long way with their performance and the intuitiveness of their response, thanks to the bike’s sensors and ECU programming technological development.
This makes modern Anti-lock Brake Systems more adaptable to loose dirt terrain than they once were.
Still, much of the KLR’s competition allows the riders to turn off the ABS response on the back tire, while others have an off-road riding mode that kills the ABS altogether.
The fact that the 2022 KLR 650 doesn’t have an ABS kill switch means riders are either left to pull a fuse out of the motorcycle or wire an aftermarket kill switch into the ABS electronic system, depending on the design.
The latter not only requires a particular skill set and tools but also voids the bike’s warranty, as tampering with your electrical system risks indefinitely changing your bike’s performance.
Many KLT enthusiasts look at this as an insult to injury.
As if it wasn’t enough that they have to update their bikes with a switch they feel should be inherent to a dual-sport ABS system, riders spend their own time and their own dime only to discover they may have lost Kawasaki’s warranty support in the process.
2. No Tachometer
While the 2022 KLR 650’s stock LCD screen is as crystal clear as ever, one of the issues riders take with it is that it no longer includes a tachometer, as it has in previous years.
It’s true that the newest KLR display offers a fuel gauge and monitors a few other engine functions no previous year has.
It’ll be easy to understand how the absence of the KLT 650’s tachometer can be problematic if we ask ourselves one question:
What does a Tachometer do on a motorcycle?
A tachometer is an electrical instrument that monitors and gauges the motorcycle engine’s activity for consistency and reliability by monitoring RPM levels and highlighting shift points for gear changes.
Older KLR 650 models equipped detailed tachometer gauges that watched the revolutions per minute and emphasized the shift points, allowing the riders to anticipate their gear shifts and adjust their speed.
The KLR packs a sporty motor and some owners feel the monitoring of the KLR engine’s performance is critical for avoiding redlines during aggressive closed track riding.
On other days it’s necessary for highway riding, something Kawasaki boasts the KLR 650 is suited for.
A tachometer also monitors maintenance miles and erratic engine behavior, which is why many of the KLR fans critical of the decision to remove it commonly classify it as a maintenance issue.
3. Damaged Wiring Harness
In 2009, Kawasaki recalled a number of 2008-2009 year model KLR 650s due to the potential for their wire harnesses to incur damage.
The recall notice specified that the source of the wire damage was friction resulting from contact between the motorcycle frame and the wiring harness.
In time, the friction caused by this issue could result in various forms of electrical failure, including power loss.
Abrupt power loss while riding a KLR can be dangerous, whether you are ripping city streets or trodding off-road trails.
Power loss can result in the loss of bike control, a collision, damage, injury, and even death.
Kawasaki’s response to the severity of this issue was to instruct dealerships to examine and replace the wiring harness on any suspect 08-09 year models.
We’ve included this section because there are more than a few used KLR 650s available from those years.
If you’ve got your hands on one with erratic electrical behavior, contact your local Kawasaki dealership immediately for a free inspection and a free upgrade at the first sign of damage.
4. Kickstand Come Down While Riding
In 2007, the brand new ‘08 KLR 650 was recalled after a handful of units were discovered to have kickstand issues.
The ‘08 KLR 650 equipped what we call a center stand–a kickstand that lifts and sustains the bike from the bottom center of the stand instead of from the side at a leaning angle.
The center stand utilizes a spring mounted to the frame to keep the center stand retracted until the rider pulls it down into the parked position.
In particular 650 units, the retaining pin of the retraction spring wasn’t welded entirely into place. If this pin came dislodged while riding, the spring would release its tension, and the center stand would drop down, interfering with the bike’s riding and potentially causing a collision.
This was such a serious situation that the recall didn’t just result in free repairs, it resulted in a buy back.
This means that Kawasaki offered to repurchase any suspect models.
We’ve included this section just in case there were any riders who missed this notice. If you’re in the market for a used KLR 650 and you encounter a 2008 model, be sure your run the VIN to determine if its suspected of having a poorly welded center stand retaining pin.
5. Shift Lever Breaks Easily
Another common problem with the Kawasaki KLR 650 is with its shifter lever. According to numerous consumer reports published in online forums, the pre-2010 KLR 650s equipped shifting levers with weak welds that had a tendency to fail early.
Apparently, the shifting levers would snap, sometimes while riding, and usually right by Kawasaki’s weak factory weld.
Here are a few excerpts taken from the accounts of KLR enthusiasts:
“ I figured that since I’m not a hard rider by any stretch of the imagination that I didn’t have to worry about mine breaking. Well, I was wrong. With only 7500 km (4700 miles) on the bike it happened … cracked right at the weld … just like y’all said it would. Thanks for the warnings guys. Too bad for me I didn’t listen. But maybe other dudes reading this post will be smarter than I and buy a decent one before they get stuck somewhere.”
“Fortunately for me, [when my shift lever broke] I was able to limp back home in fifth gear since it was all highway driving … only having to stop a few times. Amazingly, I was able to get the bike running again from a standing stop in FIFTH! I don’t imagine my clutch was too happy with me but it wasn’t really that hard getting the bike started and up to speed. “
“I took the good advice of the folks on this board and replaced it before it broke. I’m riding an 01′ and it was welded on both sides. However, upon close inspection, the welds did not hold and were cracked on both sides and it felt mushy. So I replaced the stock lever with a stock lever and had the first one welded back up by our welder
“Mine broke at 2500 miles on my 04
“Mine broke at 4000 miles. It was on a 2003 and also welded on both sides. Replaced it with an IMS lever.so far so good.”
And the list goes on, revealing that the broken shift lever is indeed a common problem on the pre-2010 Kawasaki KLR 650 year models.
In 2010, the KLR got a thorough redesign with multiple upgrades, including a better quality shift lever.
6. Balancer Chain Tensioner Prone to Failure
One of the most commonly discussed issues with the Kawasaki KLR 650 is what some call the “doohickey problem,” what we choose to explain here as an issue with the bike’s balancer chain tensioner’s tendency to get brittle and fail.
The strange part about this phenomenon is that counter balancer failure has been reported on various model years.
At the same time, enough KLT owners of all year models report no such signs of failure.
In fact, some even say it’s only connected to poor owner maintenance, citing that Kawasaki has never issued a notice on the subject
We dug deep into the issue and couldn’t find any commentary from Kawasaki themselves.
That said, we found multiple reports, some of which, like the following, came from the mouths of admitted KLR enthusiasts offering an unbiased explanation for the problem:
“… [KLR 650s] seem to be more prone to [counterbalancer] failure, perhaps because of the change to solid balancer sprockets. If this system fails and the balancer chain jumps, it can seize the engine. Sagebrush Machine Shop and Eagle Machine both make a machined adjuster arm that should be much more reliable than the stock unit. (Both units are of equal quality, although they offer different spring lengths.) The required parts are: Idler spring, 92144-1860; 7mm O-ring, 670B1507; washer, 92200-1263; idler adjuster bolt, 92150-1923.’.”
- Accessible Dual-Sport Riding Experience
- Easy to Learn on
- Practical, simple, and overall it has an economic and dependable engine.
- No Off switch for the ABS
- No tachometer
- Damaged wiring harness (2007-2008 Year Models)
- Shift lever breaks easily (Pre-2010 Models)
“Gear shifting aside, the KLR’s supple suspension comes into its own off-road, and riding the rocky trails is fantastic fun. The new KLR is still equipped with Dunlop K750 tires, a road/trail compromise with an emphasis on compromise. Nonetheless, tractor-like low-end torque enables the KLR to maintain traction in sandy, loose terrain. It’s almost impossible to stall, and the moment I get bogged down, a slip of the clutch is all that’s required to churn my way through.”
“I got a chance to throw the KLR into some corners. At slower speeds, the 21-inch front wheel and tall stance result in a bit of steering flop, but once adjusted to its characteristics, the KLR’s road handling exceeded expectations. The semi-knobby tires squirm a bit on pavement, but the bike is composed when accelerating through tight corners.”
“Pulling onto the highway, the KLR rides like a middleweight Single; that is to say, the pace is leisurely. Kawasaki has done a good job of balancing the old thumper, so there is very little in the way of vibration. Although the KLR is not a highway bike per se, it happily cruises at 75 mph. But at higher speeds, it would really benefit from a 6th gear.”
|Kawasaki KLR 650||$6,599|
|Suzuki DR 650S||$6,499|
|Honda XR 650L||$6,690|