Opinion: A breath of (not so) fresh air

I’ve almost bought a Kawasaki KLR several times now. The first time was in 1985, back when it was originally introduced to North America as a 600. I wanted a motorcycle for riding around the world but ended up buying the Suzuki DR600 instead – I figured the Suzuki’s kickstarter and oil-cooled cylinder would be easier to maintain in the jungle than the fancy electric-starter and liquid-cooled engine of the Kawasaki. As well, the DR’s 21-litre gas tank was almost double the size of the KLR.

Now this is going back a few years…

Boy was I wrong. The Kawasaki was a better bike all-round, and Suzuki quickly installed an electric starter and an extra front brake disc to catch up. After a couple of years, it bumped up the capacity to become a 650 but so did the KLR, and the two bikes have been head-to-head ever since. The Suzuki’s developed into more of a dirtbike that’s good on the road, while the Kawasaki is more of a dual-sport that’s good in the dirt.

When my Suzuki was stolen sometime in the early 2000s, I almost replaced her with a KLR that a friend was selling. The Kawasaki was immaculate, barely used, and $4,000. My stolen bike was recovered just in time to stop the sale and yes, a part of me was very disappointed, but I had too much history with the Suzuki to make the swap.

And then last year, a friend was selling his KLR, gently used with many custom parts. My Suzuki was in pieces in the garage and it seemed the easiest thing to just move over but in the end, the friend held back and decided not to sell. He’s never regretted the decision.

For sale: Gently used Kawasaki KLR650. Never abused. Always kept washed.

Now, it seems the KLR has come to the end of its line. It’s a big thumper and such single-cylinder engines are more difficult to engineer for increasingly stringent emissions controls. I’m sure there will be plenty of motorcyclists who’ll look forward to a replacement bike with more power and better brakes and superior ride and comfort, but there’ll be plenty more who’ll lament the lost simplicity of the machine.

Jeremy Kroeker will be one. In his story this week, he takes us on a ride through the Alberta foothills on his KLR and it’s like a literal breath of fresh air. His bike is underpowered and straightforward, but it gets the job done, every time.

Kawasaki told us that there are still some 2018 KLRs to be found and now would be a good time to buy one if you’re so inclined. If you wait too long, well – there’s still the 2019 Suzuki DR650. If you yearn for the simple life, like me, you might find you have no other choice.

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