Kawasaki’s legendary KLR650 dual sport made its debut way back in 1988, and in the decades since has developed a loyal, if not fanatical, worldwide following. In 2022 Kawasaki replaced the bike’s carburetor with electronic fuel injection, improving smoothness and tractability, and with them, one assumes, tailpipe emissions. The market response remains so strong, especially in North America, that for 2023 Kawasaki has added an additional version to the three previous variants, the KLR650, KLR650 Adventure, and KLR650 Traveler. This new KLR 650 S is aimed at riders who love the crossover style but would also like a more roadworthy chassis.
The KLR650 is a big bike: Its 456-pound curb weight is substantial, and its tall profile and long-travel suspension are a recipe for compromised handling on fast pavement. To boost agility and steering response, the new S model gets reduced suspension travel and new damping settings. The 41mm male-slider fork offers 6.7 inches of front-wheel travel, while the Uni-Trak rear suspension has been reset as well: The new linkage results in 7.0 inches of rear-wheel travel. This means the front has 1.2 inches less travel, and the rear 0.3 inch less than Kawasaki’s other KLRs.
More important, the seat height has been radically cut back to 32.1 inches, more than 2 inches lower; this comes from reshaping the seat’s profile and reducing the thickness of the specialized padding. Other minor ergonomics include a shorter sidestand and different footpeg-to-shifter dimensions.
All 2023 KLR650 models including the S share the same engine and basic chassis components. The huge liquid-cooled 652cc four-valve DOHC single is equipped with dual balancing shafts, much needed with a bore and stroke of 100mm by 83mm. The compression ratio is comparatively mild at 9.8:1, and the fuel-injection system uses a 40mm throttle body, relatively small for an engine of this size and chosen to help smooth out throttle response and flatten the torque curve. An oxygen sensor in the exhaust system transfers information to the injection ECU.
Except for the S model’s suspension settings, the basic Kawasaki KLR650 chassis platform remains unchanged: the same semi-double-cradle frame, braking system, wheels, and tires. The front brake uses a single 300mm rotor and a two-piston caliper, with ABS available as an option. The KLR650 S rolls on a 21-inch front wheel shod with 90/90-21 semi-knobby tire and a 17-inch rear (130/80-17). Among the options are heated grips and a set of additional LED front lights; to help power them the electrical system puts out 26 amps. The generous fairing offers adequate comfort for long hauls, while electronics here are limited to a large TFT instrumentation display.