The Kawasaki KLR650 and the Suzuki DR650 have remained virtually unchanged for many years. Some say that this is largely due to the fact that they got it right the first time. Others think it’s simply a cost saving tactic. Whatever the answer is, we know that these two bikes deserve a true battle to see who is better. Having owned both a 2000 Kawasaki KLR650 (sold in 2014) and now owning a 2000 Suzuki DR650 (15k miles and counting) I felt like I could write this article objectively. I’m going to tell you the good and the bad about both motorcycles so you can hopefully ride the bike that is perfect for you.
The KLR comes in two basic flavors, Gen1 and Gen2. The Gen1 KLR650 is a dual sport motorcycle intended for both paved and unpaved roads. The Gen1 KLR was first introduced in 1987 and did not get an update until 2007. The Gen1 KLR is usually referred to as more dirt oriented than the Gen2 because there are no large fairings to receive damage.
In 2008 the Gen2 KLR was introduced and was essentially the same motorcycle but with a more elaborate gauge cluster and larger fairing. The engine, brakes, swingarm and suspension have some very minor differences but the rest of the motorcycle is almost directly interchangeable. Gen2 motorcycles were known to have oil burning issues that plagued the KLR for many years. Some experts say that the issues stemmed from out of round cylinder bores, or poorly seating rings. There is not a known year mark where the oil burning issue ceases, but most cases are from 2008-2010 models.
Another known issue for the Gen1 and Gen2 klr650 is a balancer system that is somewhat prone to failure. In some cases this can be catastrophic. There are several companies that offer a replacement but I suggest you purchase a genuine Eagle Mikes brand balancer adjustment lever. This part is commonly referred to as the “doohickey”.
Tipping the scales at roughly 402 pounds wet weight the KLR is not a light bike. Once moving this weight is not as noticeable, and the motorcycle feels balanced. On road the KLR feels planted, although a little sluggish.
Adding preload to the shock helps the KLR to feel more planted in corners and handle heavier loads. The KLR does not have a full range of adjustments but it does have a preload adjuster that can be easily adjusted without special tools. Although, this adjuster is also prone to breaking.
The motor on the KLR is unique in the way it feels. The motor likes to be short shifted and not revved high, and feels most natural low in the rpm’s. You can nearly feel the “thump” of the cylinder while riding up hills or when accelerating hard. The KLR’s predictable nature helps keep traction in loose terrain and is easier on a newer rider who may enter an obstacle a gear high and need the extra low end torque.
The KLR needs a few things before it is worthy of a trip across the states, or around the world. The first invest should be a genuine Eagle Mikes “doohickey” upgrade. While ordering, another worthy investment would be a jet kit and subframe bolt upgrade kit. The factory subframe bolts on the KLR are weak and prone to breaking if loaded with saddlebags or ridden over washboard roads. The factory rear shock is weak at best and usually under sprung and dampened. It would be wise to upgrade the shock and fork springs for your weight. Also the factory skid plate is plastic so if you plan on serious offroading i suggest you look at another option like THESE.
The Suzuki DR650 began life in 1990 but had a major revision in 1996 which is the DR we know today. There are very few of the pre 1996 DR’s still on the road.
The 1996+ Suzuki DR650 or as it is actually designated the DR650se is a 644cc single cylinder dual sport motorcycle similar to the KLR650.
The DR has no tachometer, fuel gauges, or other non-essential hardware on the dash. A simple speedometer and warning lights hide behind the small headlight fairing. This lack of instruments adds to the simplistic or minimalist feel of the DR. It feels like you are on a much more dirt oriented motorcycle.
The suspension on the DR is not incredibly adjustable, however it does have factory lowering options built in. The rear shock can be moved to a different lower mount and the spring flipped in order to lower the rear of the motorcycle. To lower the forks, they must be disassembled and the top out spring must be moved along with a spacer. This feature is unique and should help the DR fit a wider range of riders.
While the KLR builds its power much lower in the rev range, the DR feels a bit different. Power comes on strong in the mid-range and continues to build. The engine does flame out more when lugged, and likes to stay at a higher rpm than the KLR.
The DR needs a few things before its worthy of a long adventure. With its small tank you will be limited on your distance between stops. I suggest you purchase the IMS aftermarket tank. Investing in a proper skid plate would be wise since there is no factory plate on the DR. Suzuki offers a factory plate available HERE, or you can get a simple MSR plate available HERE. If you plan on carrying luggage and want a rack there are three really cool options: Factory Suzuki rack, Pro Moto Billet rack, or the Dirtracks version. If you chose not to install a rack you can use the Green Chile Adventure Gear kit since no rack is required.
Rather than declaring an outright winner I decided to declare a winner of each category and let you decide what is more important between them. Remember that everyone is different and their needs may be different. I hope you can view these results without bias to whatever bike you own.
Ergonomics, ride quality, and style aside, value is a large reason anyone purchases one motorcycle vs another. There are some brands or bikes that demand a premium but for the average buyer has to weigh cost into the buying experience. The dual sport market is very competitive today, just as it was when these motorcycles first came out. The KLR was first out of the gate and hit hard with the value oriented people. This motorcycle came from the factory with a plastic skid plate, a factory rack, windshield, and tachometer.
Probably the biggest selling point was the huge rack and grab handles on the KLR. This meant that you could leave the dealership and strap your favorite milk crate to it without placing an order for an aftermarket rack. The DR on the other hand does not come with a factory rack of any kind but Suzuki offers one at an additional price.
The DR is a great value in comparison to other motorcycles, but its not a better value than the KLR. The KLR offers more to the buyer for the money.
The winner of the Value category goes to the KLR650.
Both motorcycles are very capable. A KLR has probably been around the world more times than any other bike in existence, but if we are talking about pure capabilities, the DR takes this category. The DR can do anything the KLR can do, but with a much narrower frame and nearly 50 pounds lighter the DR can handle the rough trail riding easier.
In my experience I was more willing to ride the DR into areas I would have never taken the KLR due to the lower weight and more dirt friendly ergonomics.
The winner of the Capabilities category is the DR650!
Both machines are pretty reliable. One thing that weighs very heavy into the ownership of these machines is that the average person can work on them. They are both carbureted, both have no elaborate electronics or dealer only serviceable items.
Both the KLR and the DR have their faults though. A quick search online will almost scare a perspective owner away from these bikes. In their defense, I have never seen a dual sport that didn't have some sort of factory defect.
On the KLR you have the “doohickey” problem where at any given time your adjuster chain could go slack and destroy the engine. The rear shock likes to wear out even when not ridden hard and the swingarm mounts tend to seize up if not serviced. The “doohickey” isn’t a horrible job to do yourself, but it can be a little much for some owners. Luckily, Eagle Mike offers great support for his products and with a simple call or email can walk you through most anything. 2008 and newer KLR’s tend to burn oil due to either poorly seating rings or out of round cylinder bores.
The DR is not without its faults. Suzuki is notorious about having the nsu (neutral sending unit) bolts loose from the factory. These are an easy fix, however you must remove the right side cover and the clutch in some cases. Most people agree that using a thread locker is the best solution.
For some reason, the DR likes to leak oil. There are far more posts and comments online about the DR leaking oil than the KLR. For many years the DR used a paper base gasket that was guaranteed to fail. They eventually swapped to a metal base gasket nearly solving the issue. Another leak prone area is the cam chain tensioner. I have seen this leak on both the KLR and the DR, but most of the time it is a problem on the DR.
Both bikes suffer from an apparent lack of grease in Japan. It seems like every bearing, pivot or axle is given the bare minimum to make it past the warranty. It would be wise to lube everything with a high quality waterproof grease.
The winner of the Reliability category is going to be a tie between both bikes. Both the KLR650 and the DR650 are on par with each other.
The maintenance on either bike is not difficult. Each one has its quirks and you will need a service manual to get it right. Picking the winner for this category is simple for me. The DR is simply easier to work on than the KLR. The DR has a completely different valve adjustment type than the KLR and can be adjusted with simple hand tools. On the KLR you will either need to have a large assortment of valve shims handy, or a dealer that stocks them close by. Each time you adjust the valves you will check gap, order shims and wait. Sometimes this can take over a week.
The DR has no radiator or coolant to maintain, and no balancer to adjust at each oil change. Even changing a tire or adjusting the chain is easier due to the snail type adjusters. The clear winner for me in this category is the Dr.
The winner of the Maintenance category is the Suzuki DR650!
Both of these motorcycles if serviced regularly will last a long time. It is common to see these motorcycles with more than 50,000 hard miles on them. With long term use the DR will probably need a bottom end replaced, while the KLR will probably need the top end gone through. The bottom end of the KLR seems to be a little tougher in the long run. Naming a winner in this section would be hard to do since there are so many variables.
For the Service Life category I am declaring it a tie. Both the KLR and the DR can have a long service life if treated well.
There is a large online following for the KLR that is simply not there for the DR. There are your experts floating around on the forums, but there are far fewer posts or forums dedicated to the DR. With the KLR you can simply search for any repair or problem and will be instantly taken to thousands of posts and solutions from other riders. Posting up on one of the many forums or facebook groups will instantly get you much needed answers.
For the KLR, there is one major forum dedicated to it, that if it were not for the overbearing moderation would be great. The people on that particular forum are there to share rides and help in any way possible. The owner however simply wants you to become a premium (paid) member.
The DR on the other hand has a much smaller web presence. There are not nearly as many posts or forums dedicated to it. While the DR forum is more user friendly thanks to a helpful and friendly staff, it just does not have as many members. This is partially due to the DR having much lower sales than the KLR.
The winner of the online support category is the mighty KLR650.
This category is going to be both aftermarket parts and factory used parts lumped into one. Since it is almost required that you modify your motorcycle using aftermarket parts the availability or options are important. Another thing you should be aware of is the availability of used parts. Generally, used parts are cheaper than new parts but sometimes they are harder to find
In the case of the DR, used parts are harder to find. Used DR motors go for a premium and are rarely found for sale. The KLR on the other hand literally has millions of used parts floating around and in some cases you can snag a parts bike off craigslist for cheap. This limitation for the DR is not a deal breaker, however you may need to shop around more or purchase your parts new.
Both bikes have many aftermarket parts available, but the KLR has more. There are simply more companies that produce parts for the KLR than they do for the DR. Lately companies like JNS Engineering has started producing some nice aftermarket parts, but they have been producing KLR parts for a couple years now.
The winner of the parts availability category is the mighty KLR650.
I hope you enjoyed this comparison of two great dual sport machines. While I had hoped my DR would win each category I knew once I started writing it wouldn’t. There are simply too many things we ask these bikes to do. Your opinion may be different. In the gallery below you will find many great pictures that the owners were kind enough to donate to this article. Both the KLR and the DR are well represented.
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This article written by Jacob Roby, writer and motorcycle enthusiast. You can contact Jacob at firstname.lastname@example.org