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Motorcycle History - The Kawasaki KLR650

November 28, 2012 - San Diego, CA

Kawasaki's KLR650 is one of the longest-running models in motorcycling history. Introduced as a 600 in 1984, it was upgraded and enlarged to a 650 cc four-stroke, DOHC, dual-counterbalanced, single-cylinder, water-cooled engine in 1987. Since its introduction on the market, it has been a favorite of many riders both on and off the road.

Aside from the colors of the bike, not much changed between the 1987 upgrade of the Kawasaki KLR650 and the 2008 revisions. The key differences in models of the Kawasaki KLR650 are:

1987: The engine is upgraded and the crankshaft on the bike is unique to this year.

1988: Beefed up the engine cases with extra bolts between the crank and countershaft; crank has a different part number, and may be lighter.

1990: Countershaft improved with longer splines for increased engagement with sprocket.

1992: Changes to front brake master cylinder.

Mid-1996: Improved clutch basket with more clutch plates; changed valve cover, added bracket to hold cam chain bumper; changed crank to heavier unit; changed countershaft sprocket retainer from slotted plate to large nut; changed second and third gear ratios. The kickstarter no longer fits with new clutch basket.

2001: around this time final assembly moved from Japan to Thailand. All major Kawasaki parts are still made in Japan, however.

2007: New shift lever.

2008: The KLR650 was radically redesigned with new aesthetics, modern dual headlights and a more powerful engine. The new 651 cc single-cylinder engine puts out 37 bhp (28 kW) at 6200 rpm and 33.4 ft'lbf (45.3 N'm) of torque at 4950 rpm. other improvements include: New fairing design, new instrument panel, redesigned handlebar control switches, new bar-end weights, revised powerband, revised suspension has reduced travel but with less static sag, new rear swingarm, new turn signals, larger petal-style vented brake rotors, new twin-piston rear brake caliper, increased radiator capacity, fork diameter increased from 38 to 41 mm (1.5 to 1.6 in), new headlight similar to that used on the Kawasaki Ninja 650R, larger motorcycle luggage rack, firmer seat, larger-diameter wheel spokes. Stator "alternator" upgraded to 17amp output, providing an additional 36 watt capacity.

Criticism of the 2008 re-design included its wide use of "sportbike plastics" for the new body panels which are prone to cracking and damage in the event of a tip-over. First and second year models have been recalled due to the wiring harness rubbing on sharp frame edges which have caused electrical shorts and documented fires.

2009: New piston rings are thinner and have more tension, resulting in a significant reduction in motorcycle oil consumption.

According to, in 2013 Kawasaki will return with the KRL as a carryover model with three new color schemes - Ebony, Pearl Solar Yellow, and Candy Lime Green/Ebony. "The KLR arrives with a 651cc, liquid-cooled four-stroke engine featuring a four-valve head, the engine tuned for a broad powerband that helps propel the 432-lbs (wet) machine respectably both on and off road. The engine is hooked to a five-speed."

We know many riders will be looking forward to the new 2013 Kawasaki KLR650!

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