The DR650 and KLR650 face off: same loop, same terrain, same price bracket. Which should you buy?

STORY BY MATT BERNARD
DR650
Suzuki DR650

You’ve got around $8000 to spend. You love exploring, want to ride in the bush, on the tar and chase the sunset as part of the world of adventure riding. There are two bikes that should be very high on your wish list: the Suzuki DR650SE and the Kawasaki KLR650.

Let’s weigh them up and see which you should throw your hard-earned at.

THE ENGINES

Both the DR650 and the KLR650 are LAMS-approved 650cc machines. Both have simple, reliable engines — the DR650 has built a legacy on that. The main difference is that the KLR is liquid cooled, the DR air/oil cooled.

On board, the DR650 is the livelier of the two, the reason being the Suzuki does carry less weight in standard form and the engine also puts out a little more power over the Kawasaki. The Kawasaki is a little slower off the mark but is more than happy to sit on a high speed on the tar at low rpm. For a long ride on the blacktop, the Kawasaki’s engine is a smoother ride and offers less noise and vibration while holding a constant speed. In the dirt, the DR has that bit more snap and bottom-end grunt to pick your way through narrower trails.

KLR650
Kawasaki KLR650

ON THE TAR

The riding positions are very different on the KLR and DR. Simply put, you sit on the DR and in the KLR.

I found the KLR a lot more comfortable and plush when riding bitumen. The fairing, although it could be bigger, offers protection from the wind and the elements while the seat is quite plush and welcoming. In the sitting position, the bike is comfortable and well spaced out.

The DR has a more upright feel to it and is more exposed. In standard form, you have no protection from the wind, so with a peaked helmet you’ll feel like a break after a while at high speed. The bike is a tad firmer and harsher, too, but in no way unbearable.

KLR650
Kawasaki KLR650

OFF-ROAD

Hitting the dirt is where the DR pegs the KLR back as far as performance goes. It’s a much more dirt-orientated beast. It’s nimbler and will certainly be easy to handle in difficult terrain; it’s planted on the open trails and feels a lot more like a trailbike to me.

But if you’re buying it for long periods in the dirt away from civilisation, you’ll be shopping for a bigger tank straightaway. The 13-litre standard tank comes in well behind the KLR650’s 22.1-litres.

In the standing position, both these bikes need much higher handlebars. I found this more noticeable on the DR650 when I was standing for the majority of the off-road ride; it’s like riding with your hands in your pockets. Ditch the stock bars on both the KLR and the DR and purchase some better-quality handlebars and bar raisers.

If the riding was never more than dirt roads and wide fire trails, the Kawasaki would be on a par with the Suzuki in most aspects; in fact at high speeds the Kawasaki is slightly more settled and confidence inspiring. However, the second the going gets a little slippery, rocky, hilly or sandy, the DR650 is going to be a lot easier to hang onto and control. You can pretty much ride the DR like it’s a trail bike, while the KLR will find its limits when the trail gets narrow and the terrain difficult.

DR650
Suzuki DR650

SO WHICH SHOULD I BUY?

There’s no simple A-or-B answer to that question. However, a certain type of rider will enjoy and excel on each of these machines.

In standard form, the KLR650 is going to eat up long distances in the dirt, be more comfortable on the road and need fewer stops for fuel. The DR650 is going to be nimbler in slow-speed terrain and more enjoyable off road.

For $8000, you can’t really go wrong with either of these machines — it’s a case of horses for courses. Long stints at high speeds, go the KLR; mostly off-road riding, it’s the DR650.

That is until you start modifying, which opens a whole other discussion.

KLR650
Kawasaki KLR650

SPECS: KAWASAKI KLR650

Engine: Liquid-cooled, four-stroke, DOHC, four-valve, single-cylinder

Capacity: 651cc

Bore/stroke: 100mm×83mm

Compression ratio: 9.8:1

Fuel system: 40mm Keihin CV carburetor

Transmission: 5-speed

Final drive: Chain

Clutch: Wet

Frame type: Tubular steel semi-double cradle

Front suspension: Telescopic 41mm fork, non-adjustable, 200mm travel

Rear suspension: Uni-Track monoshock, adjustable for preload and rebound, 185mm travel

Front brakes: Single 280mm petal disc with twin-piston caliper

Rear brake: Single 240mm disc with twin-piston caliper

Wheels: Spoked

Tyres: Dunlop Trailmax

Sizes: Front 90/90-21; rear 130/80-17

Claimed kerb weight: 194kg

Seat height: 890mm

Wheelbase: 1480mm

Fuel capacity: 22.1L

Price: $8099

Warranty: 24 months, unlimited km

 

SPECS: SUZUKI DR650SE

Engine: 4-stroke, single cylinder SOHC, air-cooled with SACS

Capacity: 644cc

Start: Electric

Transmission: 5-speed

Front Suspension: Telescopic, coil spring oil damped

Rear Suspension: Link-type coil spring, oil damped, spring preload/compression damping adjustable

Front Brakes: Twin-piston caliper, 290mm floating disc

Rear Brakes: Twin-piston caliper, 240mm disc

Wheelbase: 1490mm

Seat Height: 885mm

Length: 2255mm

Width: 865mm

Height: 1195mm

Wet Weight: 166kg

Fuel Capacity: 13L

Warranty: Two-year, unlimited km

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