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ADV ProductsADV Bike AccessoriesKLR 650 with ‘Suspension Upgrade’ vs. KTM 990 Adventure R

KLR 650 with ‘Suspension Upgrade’ vs. KTM 990 Adventure R

It's David vs. Goliath as the KLR takes on the mighty KTM in an off-road race.

Published on 02.03.2015

Fan or not, most acknowledge the Kawasaki KLR 650 is a versatile machine. From single track to your daily commute or a tour across South America, it will take you just about anywhere you want to go. While it’s known for being a budget bike, many choose the KLR 650 because of its exceptional reliability, durability and simplicity, regardless of price.

1987 Kawasaki KLR 650

It was cutting-edge technology in 1987 when it was first introduced but not much has changed over the last 28 years.

The KLR 650 is not without its flaws though. One of its biggest shortcomings is the suspension. The pre-2014.5 KLR 650s are known for being too soft, even for an average-sized male without luggage. Out on the trail, it does a poor job of absorbing big hits and is quick to bottom out. If you push it too hard or if you are a little heavier than average, the KLR 650 rear shock can begin to fade and even blow seals.

That’s not to say the suspension flaws are so ingrained in the bike’s design that they can’t be fixed. The KLR 650 is relatively light for an Adventure Bike (40 pounds lighter than the BMW F800GS) and at its core, it’s really more dirt bike than street bike. Its compact size, 21″ front wheel and dirt bike ergos give it the perfect blueprint for an off-road capable adventure bike.


There’s a lot of hidden performance in the KLR’s DNA and one of the best ways to bring it out is with a suspension upgrade. But can an upgraded suspension really transform the budget-friendly KLR 650 and put it on par with off-road capable adventure bikes that cost two or three times as much?

Searching for the Best KLR 650 Suspension Upgrade

While reviewing the KLR 650 suspension upgrade options for our test bike, our first priority was maintaining the bike’s reliability and durability. We wanted high-quality suspension components that would handle the constant abuse of long-distance touring and heavy-duty construction to absorb the punishment of spirited trail rides. It would need to be custom-configured to the rider’s weight and riding style and have the flexibility to handle heavy gear and a passenger.

Touratech KLR 650 Rear Shock

Touratech’s rear shock is built with a 6082-T6 aluminum shock body, low-friction Teflon seals, high-strength stainless steel bushings and an oversized 16mm shaft.

Touratech’s KLR 650 suspension upgrade was a good fit for what we were looking for. We were impressed with their stoutly built rear shock specifically designed to handle the constant abuse of long-distance adventure touring. Its floating piston design eliminates the inconsistent damping that plagues the stock emulsion shock, and Touratech keeps it simple by using a single clicker for both rebound and compression damping. A shock length adjustment allows you to set the ride height (up to 8mm) without affecting shock travel (extremely helpful if you are inseam challenged) and an optional hydraulic preload adjuster can be used to fine tune preload by hand for different load weights.

For the front end, big improvements can be gained by swapping out the old linear-rate fork springs for progressive fork springs. We opted for Touratech’s KLR 650 progressive fork springs kit that gives a supple ride over small bumps while getting progressively stiffer as the forks compress deeper into the suspension travel.

Suspension Test: Timed Off-Road Course

In order to measure the improvement gained from the Touratech KLR 650 suspension upgrade, the bike was put through a technical off-road challenge and lap times were recorded both before and after the installation. To get a true sense of the KLR’s capability, we pitted it against one of the best off-road Adventure Bikes ever built — the KTM 990 Adventure R. The KTM would also act as a benchmark for our before and after tests, allowing us to measure the gap in time between the two bikes on the same date, with the same rider, without varying trail conditions playing a factor.

KLR 650 suspension upgrade takes on KTM 990 Adventure R

The KTM rides on a race-bred suspension with significantly more power and suspension travel than the KLR 650. At first glance, this may look like an unfair comparison but the lighter KLR has a fighting chance with its more nimble handling on a technical course.

ktm 990 adventure r powerslide
With 76 more horsepower and 2 extra inches of suspension travel, the KTM 990 Adventure R is a formidable opponent for the KLR 650.

Enter the Arena

The 2.3-mile course was designed to be a true test of suspension function with few sections where the KTM could use its significant power advantage. The course travels down through a set of sandy s-turns before entering a long section of medium-sized whoops. Up a steep rutted-out hill climb, then continues on a ridge trail where the rider navigates through a maze of baby head boulders and ruts. Hard left into a steep v-shaped ravine that can easily bottom the suspension, then watch out for embedded rocks through a roller coaster of ups and downs that includes natural jumps. Pass through a long set of motocross-style whoops before a sweeping right turn marks the furthest point of the course. Head back through the giant whoops, roller coaster section and deep ravine before starting the 3/4 mile climb through long continuous whoops all the way to the finish line. One lap takes a little over 5 minutes to complete.

suspension test course
Our suspension test course featured plenty of big whoops that would allow us to push the KLR 650 suspension to the limit.

Round 1: Stock KLR 650 vs. Stock KTM 990 Adventure R

While we were pretty sure the stock KLR 650 would lose our first challenge, we weren’t sure by how much. Heading out for some hot laps on the KLR 650 was a bit of a shock after riding the refined KTM. The bike danced wildly through the whoops and the stock KLR 650 rear shock bottomed out frequently. We received bone jarring impacts from the front fork and the bike struggled to keep the tires planted on hill climbs.

ktm 990 adventure r whoops
The KTM 990 Adventure R suspension felt refined and under control in the whoops.

Dropping into the ravine on the KLR required caution to avoid a hard bottoming out of the suspension. Overall, it was a scary and unpleasant ride but we pushed to the limit to achieve our best time.

klr 650 suspension upgrade hill climb
The stock KLR 650 suspension struggled for traction and had difficulty maintaining a straight line on steep hill climbs.

After recording the best of two runs for each bike, we were not surprised when the KTM 990 Adventure R beat the stock KLR 650 by a gap of 0:23 seconds. That’s a big gap when you consider this was a short course. More importantly, it required a lot more effort and stress to ride the KLR 650 at higher speeds. Nevertheless, the KLR would be back for a rematch after installing the Touratech suspension.

Installing the Touratech Suspension

The rear shock and fork springs upgrade is a fairly simple job for anyone with basic mechanic skills and tools. If you are new to working on motorcycles, we recommend taking it to a shop to ensure the job is completed properly. You can take a look at some YouTube videos for KLR 650 fork spring and rear shock replacements to get a better idea of what’s involved. Set aside a day to complete the job and always read the instructions carefully before beginning the project.

klr 650 progressive springs comparison

Touratech’s KLR 650 progressive fork spring above and stock spring below.

Touratech’s progressive fork springs kit for the KLR 650 includes springs and fork oil. Taking apart the forks may look intimidating at first but it’s a fairly simple operation and the instructions are straight forward. The forks are removed from the bike to completely drain the oil and the stock metal preload bushings are discarded. Forks are re-installed 10mm higher in the triple clamps to set the correct ride height.

klr 650 rear shock comparison

Touratech’s KLR 650 rear shock with hydraulic preload adjuster above and stock shock below.

Replacing the rear shock is even easier than the fork springs. It takes less than 10 minutes to remove the 3 bolts holding in the shock. Bolt the new Touratech shock into place with thread lock and your rear shock upgrade is completed.

The rear shock comes shipped from Touratech with settings optimized for your weight and riding style but you should always double check your “race sag” to ensure it’s adjusted properly. Touratech offers two useful resources that describe best practices for setting suspension sag and fine tuning damping settings on your new shock.

Round 2: KLR 650 With Suspension Mods vs. Stock KTM 990 Adventure R

With our new Touratech suspension installed on the KLR 650, it was time for a rematch with the KTM. Our initial test runs revealed a major transformation in the KLR.

jumping after the KLR 650 mods
The KLR suspension upgrade smoothed out washboard surfaces, and sharp edged bumps no longer rattled kidneys. Overall, the bike had a plusher more playful feel.

After achieving our best time out of two runs on the KTM 990 Adventure R, it was time for a lap on our upgraded KLR 650. In the whoop sections and hill climbs, the KLR stayed arrow straight. Heading down the ridge, the steering felt much lighter than before, making it easier to navigate the ruts and rocks scattered along the trail. Diving down into the ravine, we were able to carry more speed without bottoming out.

We could feel a big improvement with the KLR 650 suspension upgrade on the first lap, but we knew we could squeeze more out of it with some adjustments. For the second run, we increased damping on the rear shock to improve its ability to handle bigger hits. This allowed the KLR to stay on top of the whoops better.

Kawasaki KLR 650 through whoops
Increasing the damping adjustment on the rear shock helped the KLR 650 stay on top of the whoops and carry more speed.

We put in our best effort and the damping increase paid off. Our final run dropped the gap to within 0:09 seconds of the KTM 990 Adventure R.

Where Was The KTM 990 Adventure R Faster?
The course was designed to prevent the KTM from using its power advantage but the split times on different sections of the course revealed a few spots where the KTM was using its extra grunt. Whenever there was a steep hill climb on the course, the KTM distanced itself slightly. Its longer-travel suspension also allowed it to achieve higher top speeds through the long whoops section.

ktm 990 adventure r hill climb
The KTM 990 Adventure R gained time on the KLR 650 by using its power advantage to blast up hill climbs.

Where Was The Modified KLR 650 Faster?
Improved steering and maneuverability paid dividends for the KLR on the rocky ridge trail, allowing it to gain valuable seconds on its heavyweight competitor. The KLR was able to pick cleaner lines through the rocks and ruts and could carry more speed through turns than the KTM. The KLR 650 was no match for the big KTM in the whoops with the stock suspension but it was right on its heels after installing the Touratech suspension.

klr 650 manuevering through turns
The KLR’s lighter steering allowed it to carry more speed through turns than the KTM.

Final Thoughts

We were left impressed with how well the KLR 650 performed after the suspension upgrade. The Touratech suspension got us within close reach of the KTM (0:09 seconds away) and it was a major improvement over stock (0:14 seconds gained). However, the true value of the improved suspension goes beyond the race course. It’s about how the bike makes you feel when you ride it.

It doesn’t take a racer to tell a difference either. Riders of different skill levels that tested the bike, before and after the upgrades, reported they could ride faster with less fatigue, and that it was easier to react to surprises when they occurred. The bike now feels more connected to the trail and it’s a joy to ride at a brisk pace or just cruising down the road.

KLR on rutted out hill climb
The Touratech suspension upgrade transforms the KLR 650 into a more responsive handling bike and improves confidence on rough terrain.

On asphalt, the KLR has a more flickable feel and doesn’t wallow in turns. There’s no excessive dive under braking or squat during acceleration. When riding with heavy luggage or a passenger, there’s plenty of preload adjustment available to set the correct ride height.

A suspension upgrade is one of the best investments you can make in your KLR 650 and there is probably more room for improvement than on any other Adventure Bike. If your plan is to travel significant mileage or you are just looking for outright performance, then the KLR 650 suspension from Touratech is an excellent choice. The high-strength components are built to last and are backed by a 2-year warranty. The rear shock is also completely rebuildable with a maintenance interval of 18,600 miles.

Shopping Options:

Touratech Progressive
Fork Springs
Touratech Standard
Rear Shock
Touratech Rear Shock
w/ Hydraulic Preload

Photos by Bill Lieras

Author: Rob Dabney

Rob Dabney started a lifelong obsession with motorcycles at the age of 15 when he purchased his first bike – a 1982 Honda MB5. Through his 20’s and 30’s he competed in off-road desert races, including the Baja 250, 500 and 1000. Eventually, his proclivity for exploration led him to dual sport and adventure riding. Rob’s never-ending quest to discover what’s around the next bend has taken him on Adventures in Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and throughout the American West. As a moto journalist, he enjoys inspiring others to seek adventure across horizons both near and far.

Author: Rob Dabney

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February 3, 2015 11:38 am

I’d rather have seen a comparison to the KTM 690R as it’s more or less the same weight, and also a single cylinder….

Another things; TT get their suspension from Traxion in The Netherlands … ask around where you can get it serviced (locally).

Rob Dabney
Rob Dabney
February 3, 2015 12:18 pm
Reply to  Casper

Hi Casper. The KTM 990 Adventure R is widely known as the benchmark for off-road capability in the Adventure Bike category. However, the lighter weight of the KLR gives it some advantages on a technical off-road course and makes this a close comparison. The KTM 690 Enduro R is really an enduro bike that weights 100 lbs less than the KLR (fully fueled weights) and it has nearly 2x the horsepower. Getting the KLR to come close to a 690 Enduro on an off-road course would probably cost more money than just going out and buying a new 690.

February 6, 2015 11:22 am
Reply to  Rob Dabney

All you KTM guys are funny……I get it, bleed orange until you die(or find something else to spend your money on and say it’s best… the BMW guys). To say a guy who’s in the market for a KTM/BMW would even look at a KLR is the first exclamation point! Get over being intimidated by a bike thats more reliable and 1/3 the price. We get it, you love your KTM but the guys on KLR’s just laugh at you guys and use their money for other stuff. This is a comparison of improved suspension and not which bike is better.

OH…..and BTW, how about you look at a good used Husqvarna TE610 or TE630, even a KTM 640……..better, cheaper and more reliable then the mighty 690 (every ride i’ve been with a 690 off-road it has some issue, not starting, dash goes out, fuel pump, fuel leak, transmission issues…….three years in a row at the same annual ride).

I love what I ride but I recognize that their are A LOT of great bikes out there and how much $$$ it cost doesn’t relate to how good it is.

December 3, 2016 11:46 pm
Reply to  Paulo

Love the comments, cracked me up!
The KTM/BMW’s are fabulous to say the least having ridden both the KTM990 and BMW1200GS, but I currently own the older version of the KLR650 and just sold a DR650 with a few extras, both of which cost me less together than the cost of one of the above and have never let me down.
Funnily enough after drooling about a KTM1190 I just happened upon another DR650 with shiteloads of extras. Both bikes will do much better in the rough stuff than either KTM or BMW as in genuine adventure touring but its all a personal choice. Although more road focused I still want a KTM1190 too!!!

January 20, 2019 7:55 am
Reply to  Paulo

I was in the market for whatever bike I wanted, BMW/ktm/Africa twin. I decided to buy a KLR I wanted a bike that will go where I point it , without concerns of reliability/longevity. If it breaks I fix it for a fraction of what it would cost to fix the aforementioned bikes. In 100000kms if I need a new top end that will be 600$. I respect your brand loyalty but if it isn’t making you money or winning you trophies why spent the extra $$$?

Mario Poulos
Mario Poulos
February 3, 2015 11:50 am

Great write up! Very valid comparison to use the all-time best 990 as a benchmark on a technical off-road course. It is quite impressive how much improvement you can get from a suspension mod. Definitely, one of the best upgrades you can do on the KLR.

February 3, 2015 11:51 am

I did the Cogent DDC and spring upgrade to the front forks and was going to use their Mohab rear shock. Now thinking of the Touratech. Looks like a sweet setup.

tristan koepfli
tristan koepfli
February 3, 2015 7:34 pm

i just purchased a 2014.5 klr650. Took about 3 weeks for me to swap out the springs.
I`m a large man,tip the scales at close to 380lbs (football player build).
I went the semi budget route and went with racetech springs,.80kg in the front and a 9.5kg in the back and adjusted the dampning one turn from the hardest setting.Rode it to work with the new springs today.Unbelievable the difference that made! Cornering much better and overall handling all around. I will be saving up for a rear shock in the near furture

February 3, 2015 8:57 pm

Pretty surprised how affordable this suspension is compared to other ones I was considering. This looks like a winner.

February 4, 2015 4:57 am

Why cheap out on the front end? You swapped in a whole other shock for the rear, how about the Progressive Suspension Monotube Fork Kit, or the Cogent Dynamic Drop-in Cartridge Kit, or at least Racetech Gold Valves or Ricor Intiminators, or TRaxxion bits?

February 4, 2015 1:54 pm
Reply to  Falcn

@Falcn-Why not change one thing and see how much improvement you get from that? Seriously, I hate the typical ‘saturated add-on/ farkled out’ stories where they pack on so many upgrades you don’t even know what is contributing to the performance.

February 5, 2015 8:27 pm
Reply to  Patrick

Experience has shown me that changing the rest is not as rewarding as changing the fork to the best suspension you can buy. Of course now I just buy the best for the front and rear knowing that unmatched damping characteristics are maddening. I’ve done this kind of swap on numerous bikes and it always posts to do more than just spring changes on the front end.

Rob Dabney
Rob Dabney
February 4, 2015 10:16 pm
Reply to  Falcn

Hi Falcn.
What we liked about this fork spring kit was that it offered a big improvement for the money and was easy enough to install by your typical backyard mechanic. There is always more you can do though. We’ll consider improving fork damping control add-ons for a future rematch!

February 5, 2015 4:28 pm

Okay, I’m gonna rant here a little bit so bear with me.

First, I hate the freakin’ KLR650. I’m tired of hearing about it like it’s the default go-to budget dual sport. Does nobody pay any attention to the best TRUE dual sport for a budget, the DR650? Seriously. Just because it looks like a big dirt bike doesn’t mean it doesn’t kick butt in many ways.

For one, it’s 70 lbs lighter than the allegedly “lightweight” KLR650. For another, it doesn’t suffer from chronic “doo-hickey” problems that, if not corrected, will destroy the motor, that to this day, Kawi has not addressed. For another, it doesn’t suffer from oil consumption problems like the 2008 and early 2009 models did. And it’s ugly. If you drop it, there’s too much stuff to scratch up and break.

It also has a full TEN INCHES of wheel travel front and rear. Not a measly 7.9″ like the KLR. The DR650 would have been a far better match against the KTM.

I have about the same amount invested in my 1996 DR650 as a new one would cost (including the $2200 initial cost of the bike four years ago). That includes a full suspension job, ECONOMICALLY done by ME, not by Touratech, home of the overpriced bike mods meant mainly for BMW riders with more dollars than sense. 0.60 kg springs up front with Race Tech Gold Valves ($300), and in back, a rebuilt stock shock from Cogent Dynamics ($700) which adds fully adjustable compression AND rebound. I added an 8.3 kg spring. With everything dialed in, I can hit whoops WITH A FULL LOAD OF LUGGAGE and not bottom out.

I have a nice windscreen, handlebar risers, a very nice comfy aftermarket seat (Bill Mayer), Givi luggage and an Aerostich Motofizz rear bag. Add in a pumper carb, exhaust, LED lights, a fork brace, skid plate, 6.6 gal gas tank, and a few other misc goodies, and I’ll put this bike up against anything else in or above it’s class in off-road ability. And it’s plenty comfy enough on asphalt. I’ve ridden it from NW Oregon to Reno and back several times. The only mod I have left to do is the 790 big bore and cam. Maybe next year.

The only reason I figure people don’t look at it is because (1) Kawi does a better job marketing the KLR, and (2) it looks too much like a big dirt bike.

Okay, end of rant. 🙂

February 26, 2015 7:12 pm
Reply to  RobG

I enjoyed your rant and agree.

December 25, 2015 2:02 am
Reply to  RobG

a klr as farkled out as your dr is just as competitive… sure don’t miss my old dr650. love my 400 though.

Derek Alberts
Derek Alberts
February 6, 2015 2:35 am

Great article, and I can only concur, as most KLR riders would, that a suspension upgrade is the single best investment one can make, after buying the bike of course!

March 16, 2015 9:20 pm

I had a 2008 klr that I did about every mod in the book to. Big bore kit , [ended oil consumption] Ricor Fork valves ,Progressive springs, Ricor rear shock, full exhaust, fork brace, carb. work, thermostat to keep temp. in the middle. Was the best running klr in the area. But being an old dirt bike racer scared the hell out of me off road. Front end always wanted to turn in on a soft corner. Even going through a short section of sand at high speed it would instantly want to turn in. Also top and front end heavy when full of fuel. But that said, it never once let me down and I only had about 4500 total in it. I sold it for a 2014 Ktm 690 enduro. Fueling and vibration problems from the very start. It spent a lot of time in the shop before they found a bent crankshaft. Repaired that and it still had problems. 3 recalls in the first 3 months and I don’t think the fueling problem was fixed. Great off road but not so good on the highway. Klr was way better on the road. Klr and the dealer bought the bike back and I can”t say enough good about them. I think a complex ride by wire electronic bike might be to high tech for off road work. I’ve been riding dirt bikes for 53 years including a 53 Machless. I’ve never had as much trouble as I had with the Ktm. Me thinks I got rid of the wrong bike. Simple is better off road.

Rob Dabney
Rob Dabney
March 18, 2015 12:17 pm
Reply to  lee

So true Lee. For many the KLR is the best Adventure Bike you can buy regardless of price because of it’s combination of simplicity, reliability, highway comfort and decent off-road capability. And it’s inexpensive so you can customize it to your tastes to improve it in the different areas that matter most to you.

Damaso Ruiz
Damaso Ruiz
March 18, 2015 11:57 am

well I like what your wrote but I do not see it as a nice/fair comparison with 3x times more power and 2x cost. I have a KLR and love it for what it is, and I do not think of it as a dirt bike, nor as so I race bike, and ride it for the things it is, a good value transportation that has gotten me all over North America and I do not care if it gets dirty or somebody passes me 2x my speed,
I have not upgraded the suspension, when I bough it I was 145 lbs and did not notice the suspension limits, then I went up to 190 lbs and I did notice them, so for now I decided to go down to 177 and I am starting to enjoy it a lot more, however I would like a better shock for 2 up riding.

Rob Dabney
Rob Dabney
March 18, 2015 12:09 pm
Reply to  Damaso Ruiz

Good point to bring up Damaso. If you weigh around 170 lbs or less the stock suspension on the KLR650 might work for you. However, some of us big boned guys haven’t been that weight since Junior High School, and if you do enjoy riding off-road at a brisk pace the stock suspension can be quickly overwhelmed even if you are not a heavy guy. As far as the comparison, it’s true this is not fair if you are comparing the two bikes across the board. We realize these are two very different bikes. That is why we are just comparing suspension performance of the KLR to the suspension performance of a known “good” off-road adventure bike and nothing else.

November 14, 2015 10:04 am

I upgraded the rear of my ’07 klr to the progressive 465 and initially progressive spring s in the front. Couple of years ago, I swapped the front for for Kayaba inverted forks from a yz426. i used to really have to pick a line, now it is more of a point and go.
The swap was easier than expected and relatively inexpensive once I sold off the OEM parts.

Rob Dabney
Rob Dabney
February 15, 2016 9:35 am
Reply to  Chris

Sounds like an awesome build and you make a good point Chris. You can sell your old parts on eBay to help pay for the mods. A used rear shock from a KLR can fetch $150-$200.

February 13, 2016 10:10 pm

I have enough money to get a KTM or. a BMW. motorcycle. Those are great bikes. But since I ride in temote areas of South America like the Andes Mountains, deserts and jungle, having a KTM’BMW eould be a hughe liability. The KLR has plenty power and its simplicity makes it a bike of my choice. Stranded with a damaged bike is hard but a KLR can be fixed fast and plenty local mechanics will be able if repair was beyond my means. A KTM or BMW. broken would mean the end of a trip. Parts and know how are not around in those places. Those bikes are more at home in road traveling Europe or in Southern California were you could tow that bike to the dealer. I have a BMW. but it is my city commute in LA. In South America I have my KLR 650.

Rob Dabney
Rob Dabney
February 15, 2016 9:43 am
Reply to  Jaimesix

Very true. It’s hard to justify the cost and complexity of a bigger ADV Bike if most of the riding is on technical terrain on slower speed roads in remote areas. In those conditions, the maneuverability and simplicity of the KLR is an advantage and it has plenty of power for that terrain. On the big open highways in North America though, the bigger bikes are nice to have .

July 29, 2016 11:50 pm

So how much were the shock and springs? I had a KLR and I did every single must do mod including progressives, race tech, cogent suspension mods. The end result was I could of had a KTM for a bit more money than what all the mods cost. The KLR handles like a unresponsive pig because it is a 40 year old design. They are, however, reliable which may trump other motivators when purchasing. My final straw was picking the bike up 3 times while I was on a ride with my 10 y/o son. If you want a light performing bike, buy one. Trying to turn a pig into a gazzel never works. I’m not bagging on the article btw. I just thought that my life could once again serve as a lesson for others and save them some pain.

Rob Dabney
Rob Dabney
July 30, 2016 7:38 am
Reply to  John

Hey John. Total for this upgrade is $1,294. You probably won’t make the money back on resale value, but if you want a reliable, inexpensive, simple-to-fix adventure bike that offers decent comfort for long-distance trips, it starts making sense. Depends on the owner’s intentions though. Trying to get the KLR to perform like a KTM 690 off-road is probably a lost cause. Getting it to perform better than most of the other big adventure bikes on the market is within reach. Thanks for your insights!

Making the Suzuki V-Strom 650 Off-Road Ready? - ADV Pulse
September 6, 2016 10:25 pm

[…] this rugged terrain. Fortunately, we had one other comparison point to look at. Having previously recorded a benchmark test between a stock Kawasaki KLR 650 and the KTM 990 Adventure R on the same course and same test […]

John Watkins
John Watkins
June 1, 2017 2:24 pm

$5350 vs $15K: 23 seconds? how about that final cost after the mods on the KLR to really show what a great value it is??

June 15, 2017 12:44 pm

REAR SHOCK. I have a Penske 3 way adjustable rear shock on my 2008 KLR and it works really really well but under the CONSIDERABLE stress of true adventure riding, not to mention the crazy load, it proved to be somewhat fragile. It blew out at the compression adjuster twice and I lost several main seals so I ended up upgrading to an off-road seal and a trophy truck triple sealed head and it has finally become reliable (at the expense of dampening precision BTW). All of this R&D was done through Traxxion Dynamics and I have now noticed they have a specific line of Penske adventure shocks, which I assume incorporate these changes. If I had it to do over again I would get the Touratech/Tractive rear shock and I would get it from Ted Porters BMW shop.

FRONT END. I also use the Traxxion Dynamics AK-20 Axxion Cartridges in the stock forks. These are also amazing, completely transformative. I can’t stress that enough, it is a different bike. These turn that old dampener rod fork into a true cartridge fork with three way adjustability. These work so good that when I bought a Super Tenere this was the first modification I did.

KLR vs 990. I find this comparison valid. When the going gets rough with the group I ride with I find the 950/990 Adventure and the (heavily modified) 2nd gen KLR to be very evenly matched. The 1190’s and 690’s disappear out front and the Big BMW’s and Tenere’s lag behind. The only other bike that seems to be in that middle road is the 800 BMW. The DR’s, XL’s, and vstroms just don’t regularly show up, either can’t handle the freeway or can’t handle the dirt.

WHY. Good question. Like a lot of people I started on a KLR and I just wasn’t happy with the next step up. To me that step being the 800 BMW, which needs the same suspension mods anyway; and I wasn’t ready to take on the added expense of owning the BMW or a KTM ( KTM’s always break, and don’t cry me an orange river, they are neat, super capable bikes but I have watched a lot of them break down) so I decided to spend more money on my KLR suspension. I have also enlarged, modified, or replaced almost every other thing on it too, but at 85,000 miles it has had no major breakdowns and has never stranded me. The interstate is a challenge but I have done 700 plus miles days in relative comfort The other end on the dirt when it gets really hairy its also a challenge too but for the money, including all my mods, there is nothing out there that can quite get the job done for under $10,000. and the maintenance is a breeze, spares both new and used are plentiful. A KLR is the best bang for the buck for sure. I am contemplating an international trip and I am not even thinking about taking my Super Tenere.

Rob Dabney
Rob Dabney
June 15, 2017 10:22 pm
Reply to  sam

Great info Sam. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Although, we did run the 1190 vs 990 too and the 990 won! I totally get the whole ‘why not’ stick with the KLR650 reasoning. Many friends have started with the KLR and been tempted by prettier, more-sophisticated adventure bikes. But when you really analyze it from a practicality perspective, and you are honest about it, you tend to end up back at ‘why switch?’. A modified KLR with a premium suspension makes a lot of sense.

November 3, 2017 5:03 am

You mention the pre 2014.5 KLR650…..but the article never really says which KLR650 you tested. Was it a pre 2014.5 or was it the newer 2014.5 / 2015 KLR650 new edition with the new stock suspension and newer seat?
Thank you


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