You need a KLR

Yes, in fact, everyone does.  But we’ll get to that.

Everyone should own a motorcycle at least once in their life, and they should ride on the street in traffic.  I’d even suggest that the motorcycle curriculum and testing be wrapped into the automotive curriculum and testing.  There’s enough overlap there that the skills tests are really the only difference.

The benefits are plentiful: motorcycles are smaller, use less raw materials to build, are more fuel efficient than cars, are less punishing to infrastructure, and demand much more involvement to operate.  But they also leave the rider vulnerable, which will make for more attentive drivers.  That’s a huge plus.

Oh, and they’re a ton of fun.  If you’re angry on a motorcycle you’re doing something wrong.

So everyone should spend time owning and riding motorcycles, and at some point everyone should own a KLR.

What’s a KLR?  Glad you asked.  It’s a 650cc single-cylinder dual-sport bike that was introduced in 1987 and has soldiered on with little more than a few cosmetic changes.  It was a bare-bones bike in 1987, and it’s downright archaic now.  How archaic?  Well, it’s carbureted for starters.  It only has a 5-speed.  It has no hazard lights or gas gauge.  And it was made well before lightness became an important priority in motorcycle manufacturing.  It makes somewhere around 35 horsepower to move it’s 400+ pounds of bulk.  Oh, and it’s not a pretty bike either.

I’d been toying around with the idea of a beater bike to use as a commuter and as a winter ride.  Maryland dumps copious amounts of salt on the roads any time there’s even a threat of snow.  That salt works its way into every nook and cranny on a bike, and it’s nearly impossible to get it all out.  That’s a real problem on a $20,000+ Harley or BMW….The last thing you want is your expensive magnesium engine cases dissolving.

I spent a year on a BMW GS Adventure; a beautifully ugly machine that is often referred to as the “Swiss Army Knife of motorcycles”.  It’s a bike that excels at nothing but is massively competent at everything.  I rode that bike across country, through the desert, along winding mountain roads, through the snow, and so on.  That bike ate up everything I threw at it.  And because it was a big, tall Adventure bike, it fit me perfectly.  I could load it down like a mule, or strip it bare and ride it like a sportbike.

Now there was no way my beater was going to be a megabuck BMW, but I was sold on getting another Adventure bike.  Oddly, nearly every review I read mentioned the venerable KLR at some point, with one comparison test actually ranking it the best (over a BMW, a KTM, a Triumph, and a Yamaha…..All of which cost at least three times as much).

So I started reading up on the KLR, and discovered that it’s got a cult-like following.  For the people who understand what it is, there’s near-unanimous love for the beast.  Those that don’t like it complain about the weight, or the lack of power, or the antiquated suspension and brakes….But that’s the charm of the thing.  Completely unfettered from the complications that modern technology imparts, the KLR is dead-simple to operate and maintain.  And because it’s so cheap, if you manage to screw something up while you’re fixing it, replacement parts are plentiful and inexpensive.

I’d initially planned on picking up a used one, but the prices weren’t much less than a new one.  I found a great deal on a 2014 at a dealer for the same money I saw three-year-old ones on Craigslist, and I scarfed it up.

On my first ride, I was…..uncertain.  The bike sounds like an old Briggs & Stratton mower engine.  The throttle is sloppy.  The handling is vague.  The brakes are mere suggestions to slow down.  The gearbox clunks agriculturally into gear.  The acceleration is lackluster, and that’s really upselling it.

But the riding position is brilliant.  The seat is comfortable.  The wind protection is actually pretty good.  And there’s something that’s freeing about riding an inexpensive bike that you can fix yourself, no matter what the problem is.  And it holds 6-1/2 gallons of Regular Unleaded.  And it gets 55mpg.

After a few hundred miles I decided to take it apart (as is my wont) and see what I could do with it.  A valve adjustment, cam timing advance, carb jetting, and intake-opening-up later, the bike was running much better.  Still slow, but not painfully so.

And then I got past the break-in period and started having serious fun.  On a tall bike, any turns you make are magnified.  Your head’s so high off the ground, it moves a considerable distance when turning.  It makes you feel like you’re going much faster than you actually are.  And in order to get any sort of acceleration from the thing, you’ve got to work the throttle and the gears constantly and with malice aforethought.

Then it hits you…..”I’m having a ball riding the hell out of this bike, and I’m in no danger of getting a ticket!”  Wide-open throttle gets used a lot.  You bang down a gear or two through every corner to let the engine help out the almost-there brakes.  The name of the game is preservation of momentum, and when you play it well, the old beast dances for you better than you’d think it could.

So why should everyone get one?  Because most of you need this kind of fun in your life.  Even if you slap street-only tires on it and use it as nothing other than a commuting vehicle, it’s still just silly fun.  The long-travel suspension gobbles up potholes and frost heaves.  It’s narrow enough to slice through any traffic.  It’s light enough to be easy to handle in stop-and-go slogging.  And it’ll do okay at highway speeds.

Wanna go for a ride by yourself when the weather’s crappy and not worry about having to clean it?  KLR!  Want to see where that gravel road goes without worrying about scratching up your megabuck Touring Vessel?  KLR!  Want a simple bike to work on that’s forgiving of mistakes?  KLR!  Want ridiculous gas mileage (so good you can sneer derisively at Prius drivers)?  KLR!

Seriously, buy one.  You won’t regret it.IMG_1066


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