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Is Kawasaki About To Unveil a New KLR650 for 2021?

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A few days ago, Kawasaki released a teaser video that showed six new models they will unveil on November 23rd. It’s the one in the middle with the spoked-wheels and semi-knobby tires that has us most intrigued though. The only clue given of what’s under the cover are the scenes in the video showing desert terrain, dirt roads and long scenic highways, which would suggest it’s some type of adventure bike.

Could this finally be a new KLR650 or its successor? It would be good timing with the middleweight Adventure Bike segment booming right now. Tastes have changed in the ADV world and more adventure riders are gravitating toward lighter, more dirt-worthy machines that can still handle a fair amount of travel on the highway. Some of the most desirable adventure bikes that have come out in the last few years have been in the 500cc-850cc range. What was once a domain where the KLR650 had few competitors is now filled with offerings from most of the major brands. Even Aprilia and Benelli are getting into the game. With the discontinuation of the KLR650 in 2018, Kawasaki seems to have left the party right before it got started.

Kawasaki KLR650 off-roadPhoto by Bill Lieras

With a bike as ubiquitous as the KLR650 being discontinued, you can expect there was much speculation about what would replace it.  We spoke to a Kawasaki rep at the time of it’s removal from the lineup and he would only say that “it’s gone for now but it could come back.” Perhaps it wasn’t discontinued then? Maybe just a pause? This happened with the KLX250S which returned to Kawasaki’s US lineup in 2017 after a multi-year hiatus. While it looked just like the old KLX250S, it did get some important updates like fuel injection, a revised suspension and more-modern instrumentation.

So what might the new KLR650 look like? Many dream of a modern rendition of the KLR: something more hard-edged, with the performance and athleticism to take on bikes like the KTM 790 Adventure and Yamaha Tenere 700. 

Kawasaki KLR 700 by Overdan BezziMany would like to see a modern rendition of the KLR. Something with improved performance, more athletic and capable like this Oberdan Bezzi concept.

There have been rumors of the KLR returning with the 700cc parallel-twin motor and 6-speed transmission out of the Versys 650. Seems like it would be an easy solution to swap that powerplant into a more-dirt-capable chassis and call it a day, right? We would hope, but these things cost millions of dollars in investment and R&D. Typically, all-new revamped models don’t arrive unless the profits in the market are a sure thing. Selling a bike year after year that uses your old tooling and technology investments from the 1980s is a great way to make a profit. The fact that most of the 2018 KLR650’s parts can fit on the 1987 model is evidence that Kawasaki isn’t looking to take a lot of risks in this segment. While it’s fun to dream of the possibilities, it’s best not to get your hopes up. 

All we can see peeking out from underneath the tarp is a linkage and bottom of a skid plate. But that can tell a lot. If we take a picture of the old KLR650 and overlay it on the image, it matches up nearly perfectly. You can see a match with the skid plate and swing arm linkage, even the 21″ front and 17″ rear wheels look identical. The upper silhouette of the machine also looks like a match, other than the mirror positioning. Odds are that whatever bodywork is under there is close to the old KLR in form. 

2021 Kawasaki KLR650 to be revealedIs there a new KLR650 under the cover?

Our best guess is that something based on the old KLR650 will be announced on November 23rd. But there must be something significant changed right? It would be a pretty underwhelming unveiling if Kawasaki just revealed the same KLR650 they retired in 2019, “We present the same old KLR650… again!”. Since they are teasing it, and it’s the central bike in the video, we can expect it’s something newsworthy, otherwise they would have just quietly added the KLR650 back into the lineup for 2021 with ‘bold new graphics.’

We’d expect Kawasaki to avoid messing with the powerplant, which could increase tooling costs and require additional certification requirements. Our best guess is that Kawasaki will do something similar to what they did with the KLX250S’s return to the lineup: a few mild yet important updates. 

Most likely we’ll see the addition of fuel injection to meet more stringent emission standards and to give it a boost in power to help match up with new competition. We can also expect a simple ABS system that can be turned off with the push of a button on dirt roads. There will probably be some changes to the bodywork and a new instrument cluster as well. These days TFT’s are getting cheaper to build than the old school LCDs, so we might see one used on the dash. New LED lighting could also give it a fresh look. The last KLR650 had an MSRP of $6,699, so it will probably be priced somewhere just north of that.

If it is what we think it is, some diehard KLR fans will probably be disappointed with any change to the tried and tested design, while others may feel let down by that lack of innovation. What we can be certain of though, is that many will welcome the KLR650 back to the party with open arms. And who knows, they may have even fixed the doohickey, once and for all!

It won’t be long before the veil is lifted and we get answers to all of our questions. Stay tuned!


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 Mexico, North Africa, Europe, and throughout the American West. As a moto journalist, he enjoys inspiring others to seek adventure across horizons both near and far.

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