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ADV NewsInto The Void On The New KLR650 With A Mission To Run Out Of Gas

Into The Void On The New KLR650 With A Mission To Run Out Of Gas

Sand, rocks and running on fumes in one of the most remote deserts of California.

Published on 04.07.2022

It all started as a bad idea. Map out the most remote stretches of California deserts, ride deep into them, and run out of fuel on purpose. Why would anyone do this? For science, of course. Yeah, I’ll go with that.

Kawasaki’s KLR650 is a legendary underperformance machine. Following its introduction in 1987, the 651cc thumper quickly gained a reputation of being the ideal “around the world” motorcycle. Simple, mostly bombproof design provided both functionality and reliability for long-haul adventures, at the expense of sheer speed and more aggressive performance characteristics.

Exploring the Colorado Desert on the KLR650

2022 saw some of the most significant design changes to this legendary platform, most notably the bike’s use of electronic fuel injection and addition of an off-road oriented ABS system. The big thumper’s 1980’s heritage is still evident in things like the brake reservoir caps indicating “only DOT 3 or DOT 4” brake fluid or the use of bolts to secure the seat. 

This ride fell into the gray space between bike test and adventure story. While I ended up being pleasantly surprised by some of the KLR’s performance characteristics (once I got accustomed to some of the design quirks), the main thing we set out to test was fuel range. A 6.1 gallon tank hung over a mid-displacement, fuel-injected machine portents a long range, with the potential for somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 miles. Estimates can be made, but trail conditions and riding style can greatly affect that. The only way to be completely sure what distance the bike ‘can do’ in the terrain you ride, is go ride it, and run out of fuel. Into the abyss we go…

Riding the KLR650 through the California Desert.

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Given the KLR’s reputation for being a long-haul tank, what better place to begin this test than in the middle of a group of actual tanks? Probably the dominant feature of the tiny community of Chiriaco Summit is the General George S. Patton Memorial Museum. Formerly serving as the entrance to Camp Young, headquarters of the Desert Training Center, this massive corner of the southwestern United States was a key training facility for tank units engaged in combat during the WWII North African campaign

Riding the KLR650 on the Bradshaw Trail.
The historic Bradshaw Trail runs along the north boundary of the 459,000 acre Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range. Stay on the trail and away from any unexploded ordnance you might come across.

Our first day would take us along the north boundary of another historic WWII training ground — the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range. This massive 20 miles wide by 50 miles long restricted area is still in operation today, used for aerial bombing and live fire aerial gunnery practice. Something to be aware of, as unexploded ordnance has been known to show up along the edge of the trail.

How unchanged much of this desert remains is part of the lure. The Bradshaw Trail was the first stage coach route through the Colorado Desert heading towards the Colorado river. William Bradshaw blazed this trail in 1862, and for the last 160 years it has remained an unpaved route through an undeveloped desert. The most noticeable changes being the evolution of fairly severe washboard conditions in some of the sandy sections, and the occasional wrecked vehicle as the desert claims its mechanical victims. Basically, an ideal spot to run your motorcycle out of fuel.

Some of the leftover mechanical bits in the desert are more bizarre than others. Over 10 miles west of Wiley’s Well, far from any hint of civilization other than the Bradshaw Trail itself, sits the remains of a large boat. Actually a boat mold, which we discovered on this trip had been burned down by vandals sometime in the last couple years.

The desert boat destroyed on the Bradshaw Trail
The iconic ‘Desert Boat’ is no more. Unfortunately, vandals got to it and destroyed this oddity on the Bradshaw Trail.

As much as one becomes accustomed to finding weird in the desert, a boat stands out. Asking the question of “why,” the answer comes by simply allowing desert weird to one-up itself. Apparently, this boat-shaped structure was on its way to Salvation Mountain at the far southeastern corner of the Salton Sea, to be used as part of the Noah’s Ark display. As the story goes, the reason it remained parked in an empty desert is because some champ decided to steal the wheels off the frame and supporters of Leonard Knight, the creator of Salvation Mountain, couldn’t afford to move it at the time.

The Desert Boat on the Bradshaw Trail

Avoiding pavement was a key goal of this trip. Skirting Blythe and hopping a highway for fuel, the Yamaha Tenere 700, Honda CRF300L Rally and KTM 1190 Adventure R in our group were replenished, while the KLR was left to venture on with whatever it still had leftover in the tank from yesterday’s ride. 

Riding the KLR650 through the California Desert.
Never pass on gas they say. But this time we did in the name of ‘science.’ With its new revised 6.1-gallon tank and fuel injection for 2022, we were on a mission to find out how far the Gen 3 KLR650 could go on a single tank of gas.

Just outside of Blythe are what could be thought of as “California’s Nazca Lines.” The Blythe Intaglios are gigantic figures carved into the earth, and only clearly visible from high in the air. Some are now fenced in by the BLM for protection, as one can very easily ride or drive over the top of them without ever being aware of it. Other sites, such as the Kokopelli Intaglio exist in open desert.

Blythe Kokopelli Intaglio

Debate about the age and authenticity of some of the Intaglios exists, and we were able to eliminate some of that debate on this trip. Rewinding Google earth images to June of 1996 reveals a heavily detailed Kokopelli Intaglio, similar to what currently exists. Rolling that space camera’s clock back to June of 1994 erases all that detail. Who scratched this huge design into the earth remains unknown, but whoever they were, they’re not ancient. They drew this up during the Clinton administration.

From large archeological sites pretending to be ancient, to massive and unapologetically modern desert installations, possibly the largest solar plant I’ve ever seen sits less than five miles north of that dancing 90’s Kokopelli flute player. Actually two separate solar plants, the Blythe Mesa Solar Power Project and McCoy Solar Energy Project are directly adjacent to one another, combining to form a 485 megawatt complex covering over 4,000 acres.

Massive Solar Complex near Blythe
This massive solar energy complex took us nearly 30 minutes to ride around.

Still under construction and expanding, what felt like miles of riding around fences that just kept bending and continuing on was interrupted only by an employee stopping in a work truck emblazoned with some sort of official-looking logo. Rather than being a security check or anything of that kind, this employee just thought we could use some water, and threw a couple bottles over the fence. Turns out this desert soothsayer was entirely correct, as both water and fuel supplies would become concerningly low later that same day.

Our brief respite of hardpack terrain from the deep sand of Bradshaw trail was short-lived. Any road that goes through an area with “sand dunes” in the name is likely going to be sandy. The “road” through the Rice Valley Sand Dunes, is literally a path directly through a small ocean of low dunes. To provide an idea of just how remote our trek was, long ago this area was an OHV park until the BLM permanently closed it in 2002 due to lack of use. At the BLM Desert Advisory Council meeting on June 2, 2002, BLM Resource Area Manager Dick Crowe indicated the area had seen “basically no use in 20 years.” Surprisingly, the KLR shod with Dunlop D606 hoops did amazingly well in the deep sand, far from any signs of civilization. 

Rice Valley Sand Dunes on the 2022 Kawasaki KLR650
Dunlop D606 Tires on the KLR650
We spooned on a set of Dunlop D606 DOT knobbies to prepare the KLR650 for a sandy journey.

Learning to ride within the limits of the KLR’s non-defeatable ABS system, and keeping your feet on the small and incredibly vague rubber-covered footpegs attached to their rubber-mounted perches seemed the two main hurdles to overcome. The third would likely be not riding the bike too high in the revs. Let the thumper thump, and it chugs through the gnarliest sand and rocks with an understated but welcome stability.

Adventure Ride in the Colorado Desert

Part of this stability comes from the comparatively raked-out front end on the 2022 model. This year’s rake and trail numbers push things a bit away from the nimble side of the spectrum and plant the bike in a more sure-footed space. Combine that with the inertia of a 651cc piston thumping along, and a traction advantage can be found to go along with a very stable chassis. Where a multi-cylinder bike is almost constantly putting power to the ground, the D606 tires would take advantage of the KLR’s piston swinging through its exhaust stroke to grab traction before the next firing stroke came around. That makes it a very forgiving bike to ride, even if it’s not the fastest. We would also learn, however, that while the new electronic fuel injection system is a notable improvement over the older model, technical desert conditions still drastically increase fuel consumption.

Adventure Ride in the Colorado Desert

Three of our four motorcycles were already deep into reserve long before we were weaving through the deep sand either side of Lazy Daisy Ranch. In fact, the T7, with its 4.2-gallon tank, had already run out and tapped into the reserve supply intended for the KLR at 149 miles since the last fillup in Blythe. As the KLR kept chugging along and the remote fuel station of Hi Sahara Oasis in Fenner drew closer, confidence of success increased.

Exploring the Colorado Desert on the KLR650

Just over 10 miles away from fuel, the KLR finally sipped its last drops and sputtered to a halt at mile 239.6 of the trip. Given the endless sand and loose rocks we’d been riding up to this point, 39.3 mpg was a respectable number. Snap a couple photos and out came the Giant Loop Armadillo fuel bag. While I had a full gallon stashed on the bike, we didn’t dump it all in so as to save a bit for the 1190 that was currently running on fumes. A wise choice, as the thirsty KTM came to a fuel-induced halt less than two miles later after achieving only 153 miles on its 6.1-gallon tank. 

Fuel Range of the KLR650
At mile 239.6 the KLR650 sipped its last drop of fuel from the tank. Our range calculations were way off due to the excessive amount of sand we encountered.

We re-stocked at Hi-Sahara Oasis and nearly had to sell some stocks to purchase fuel. $8.29 a gallon for premium unleaded. Looking at the gas station’s price board felt like looking at a wine list. Fortunately, very shortly after leaving the land of mind-bending fuel prices, we were thrown into yet more stupidly deep sand, and the KLR kept doing surprisingly well. 

Testing the fuel range of the KLR
Are these gas prices or a wine list?

Surprises in the desert can come in many forms. From large fake boats, to even larger fake flute dudes, to massive solar installations, our trip seemed to keep one-upping itself with the sheer scale of things we stumbled upon. Navigating the high-speed and extremely sandy roads from Fenner headed south-east towards Twentynine Palms, our path was interrupted with the largest, and most strangely colored blockage yet. 

Riding the vast Colorado desert on the KLR650

After coming out of the mountains and under a low railroad bridge, the empty brown and grays of the desert were interrupted by the shining silver of a long chain link fence. Reaching the end of this, the earth tones of our ride were brought to a halt by a vast sea of green in a remote section of the Amboy Valley. Covering 9,600 acres, this massive farm on the Cadiz Valley property blankets the desert with both vegetation and controversy. 

Discovering Cadiz Valley on the Kawasaki KLR650
Riding across the East Mojave
Riding for days through a parched desert we suddenly came across this vast sea of green. Water deep underground supplies 9,600 acres of crops in Cadiz Valley.

Far beneath the ground here lies an ancient aquifer known as the Fenner Basin, which is estimated to hold between 17-34 million acre-feet of water. Vastly more than an ample supply for the automated watering machines of this huge farm, it has been suggested these comparatively modest farms are being operated as an agricultural front, with the ultimate goal being much larger mining operations and exportation of the Fenner Basin’s water to Southern California cities.

Pausing for photos where the road ended at this enormous agricultural installation, we discussed camping at a dispersed spot in the Yucca Valley. This meant crossing the mountains to the west. In keeping with the theme of this trip, the section of mountains we would have to cross was essentially a gigantic sand dune, with endless deep sand roads on either side of it. The KLR would chug through nicely, but lacks the power of big-twin adventure bikes. As the bike slowed from around 60 mph, eventually I’d have to grab a gear. Then another. And then another. Some of these paths are extremely deep and can get steep in spots.

Sandy trails on the KLR650

Perfectly timed, we found a spot and had camp pitched just as the last rays of sun began to fade. Our project had not gone exactly as planned, but that perhaps worked out for the better. Had this legendary bike’s range been what we had expected, you could say nothing was learned. In the case of this ride, the key thing we learned was to plan for the worst, then prep a bit more if you can. Adventure motorcycle travel presents some unique challenges when compared with four-wheel off-road exploration. Limited available space for supplies means prioritizing things like fuel and water in the most practical way possible is key, especially in exceedingly remote areas like we were traversing.

Moto camping on the KLR650
Epic moto camping in the Colorado Desert

Having ridden through this portion of the state a few times, it was amazing to realize just how vast it is, and how much more there is to explore out here. Reports of riding this area in depth seem relatively scarce. One reason might be the sheer difficulty of the terrain. Each day seemed to present a new and more arduous mix of endless sand, sharp rocks, or some combination of the two. Seeing no other tire tracks for hours on end is commonplace on many of these routes, and the paths themselves sometimes fade to barely perceptible.

Riding into the void on the KLR650

The desert is an inherently difficult environment. It teaches you all sorts of things about machines, yourself, and sometimes reveals its own secrets. Using the right bike, packed with the right supplies, and working up a comfort level with sand riding is rewarded out here. Many of the most remote peaks and valleys can make you feel like you’re the only human who’s ever been there. Although, you might stumble onto a gargantuan drawing of a Kokopelli flautist who you later learn was probably covering Ace of Base. As harsh as the desert can be, it does have a sense of humor too. 

Maps and GPS Tracks

Want to do this ride? Detailed GPX tracks and an interactive map are available for download free.*

View Larger Map

* Terms of Use: Should you decide to explore a route that is published on ADV Pulse, you assume the risk of any resulting injury, loss or damage suffered as a result. The route descriptions, maps and GPS tracks provided are simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due diligence. It is your responsibility to evaluate the route accuracy as well as the current condition of trails and roads, your vehicle readiness, personal fitness and local weather when independently determining whether to use or adapt any of the information provided here

Photography by Ely Woody, Jon Beck and Rob Dabney.

Author: Jon Beck

Jon Beck is fulfilling a dream of never figuring out what to be when he grows up. Racing mountain bikes, competitive surfing, and touring as a musician are somehow part of what led Jon to travel through over 40 countries so far as an adventure motorcycle photographer, journalist, and guide. From precision riding for cameras in Hollywood, to refilling a fountain pen for travel stories, Jon brings a rare blend of experience to the table. While he seems happiest when lost in a desert someplace, deadlines are met most of the time.

Author: Jon Beck
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17 thoughts on “Into The Void On The New KLR650 With A Mission To Run Out Of Gas

    • Thanks for the fantastic read and amazing photos. I’m desparate for the klr to come to the UK so that I can do my own adventure riding, one man and his bike and tent. Happy adventures and ride safe, cheers.

    • The KLR’s tank was redesigned for the new fuel injection system, and the pickup is now positioned where you don’t need to flop the bike around to get at all the fuel.

    • The CRF300 was the most fuel efficient bike of the trip, averaging 57 mpg. It was the only bike in the group that didn’t run dry at some point between fuel stops, making it the full 170 miles from Blythe to Fenner with .38 gallons left in the tank upon arrival at Hi Sahara Oasis.

  1. Can you break the GPX file into two separate files? I tried importing to OnX Maps Offroad but it has a a 4 mb limit. I also tried importing the GPX file to Google Maps and it has a 5mb limit.

    • Hey Justin.

      No problem. We just added a smaller gpx file to the zip file. Use the download link again and look for the file ‘ADV-Pulse-Colorado-Desert-Adventure-reduced-size.gpx’ in there. Enjoy!

  2. What will be a must add to this Bike ;for this adventure?! Fantastic journey.. Pls keep these adventures coming..

  3. Awesome article! I had a first Gen KLR loved the bike but just found it to bulky and top heavy.. Would love to see the same style of article on the 300 Rally since that’s my next bike if it ever shows up! Keep up the Awesome content! Cheers from Canada

  4. That looks like Wolfman’s personal Rally (saw it on a forum). Since no mention of it’s fuel consumption being a problem and seems like a great ADV platform, how about doing an article on his bike?

  5. I noticed the Givi saddle bags. What model are those? I have a standard 2022 klr and am looking into racks, bags, crash bars etc.

  6. I noticed you didn’t say anything about the crf300l rally’s gas mileage ,why is that ? With its 3.4 gallon tank thats half the amount of the klx650 is said to get around 60 mpg with luggage. That would put it going over 200 miles per tank . I take it since you didn’t say anything about it that it never ran out of gas .

  7. Fun read. What a ride and love the pics. I love that you included your route. I’ve ridden some of these areas or around them but you’ve given me ideas for future rides. This section of the state is so expansive and awe inspiring, in the proper riding months. Thank you!

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