A bike that is okay at everything but fantastic at nothing. Those are my cliff-notes for this review.
I acquired my 2004 KLR650 while trekking in Central America. I had never viewed the bike as the most advanced piece of machinery (and trust me it isn't) but instead an economical workhorse that will get you where you need to go, ticking the miles away like a finely tuned sewing machine…if a sewing machine could drive down the road that is.
My bike had approximately 20,000 miles on it, but it had been a hard 20,000 miles. She was rough to say the least, having had lived in Costa Rica her entire life. The bike did have its' merits however. My friend who I was purchasing it from, a Dutch Costa Rican resident, had made some smart upgrades such as a progressive shock in the rear and the Doohickey mod (a level of specificity common among KLR users). These two critical modifications (the first for off-road use and the latter for reliability) made strides towards the bikes' overall appeal.
This was one of the first pictures of my bike I took. As I said, it was pretty rough. Costa Rica is a brutal country
For off-road use, the bike faired decently well. Though it couldn't hold a candlestick to purpose-built off-road bikes, it really wasn't "so bad", the worst of it probably being the bulky weight. With the progressive shock tuned correctly, I was very impressed by the suspension.
For street use it could hold its' own, running laps around the bikes common in Central America but getting stomped on by anything with 4 cylinders. The revs run a bit high for highways, so I purchased a larger countershaft sprocket and smaller rear sprocket for about 8% gains (that is, reduction in RPM at speed).
Fuel economy was great, yielding me about 50-60 mpgs depending on whether I was riding through the jungles or on the highways.
One of the many jungle trails of Costa Rica, this one in the northern Guanacaste, where I spent the majority of my time (aside for a random stint in San Jose teaching elementary school kids for a month)
Reliability was something I fought with, but generally shouldn't be such an issue. At one point in the bikes' life the exhaust had developed a leak at the header pipe/slip on junction. This slip joint was unfortunately placed directly below the plastic air filter box. There was soon a very difficult to see hole in the box that, when riding through jungle would quickly allow debris into the carb. I was forced to clean the carb countless times while troubleshooting the problem. I checked everything from the filter seal to the breather hoses to the boots and could not place the problem. Finally I managed to make out that there was a leak somewhere. I went through the ridiculous process of removing the filter box, found the enormous opening and repaired it using thin gauge metal sheet and epoxy. I was actually forced to do this twice as my first fix left an opening and the problem persisted.
I did eventually resolve the issue however, and since then the bike ran like a champ! But this initial troubleshooting was a real headache, and many a day were spent huddled inside the garage of a Costa Rican dairy farm (a significant portion of my accommodations in the country) working on the bike. I was soon dubbed a "buen mecanico" by the Tiko family I was staying with.
Would I recommend this bike to others? Yes, if you want something that will ride in dirt and street decently well. This is not a race bike for either terrain, but it will manage just fine through most conditions, but unlike many dirt bikes is not designed to be dropped often, and will quickly deteriorate if subjected to such abuses. I broke two turn signals, the brake pedal and shift lever in a matter of two drops…I also messed myself up pretty good.
The KLR is a workhorse – treat it right and it will take you wherever you need to go.