New Kawasaki KLR650 – Not a Land Rover Defender

by Jan 31, 2021

This is a discussion about the new Kawasaki KLR650. But first, we must consider the recently released Land Rover Defender, a car with zero carry-over parts from the previous model. Only the name and some historic styling cues identify it as a Defender. The Defender is a prime example of a revolutionary update. But should it have been done?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against progress. On the contrary, I am fascinated with the technological progress displayed in the latest models. This, of course, brings with it higher complexity and cost, à la Defender.


This is very evident in the Adventure market. There are many examples of the ‘Defender Syndrome’, where new models continually bring more complexity at a higher cost to market. The business model works. Just look at sales of the BMW GS series to confirm this.

High-cost machines are great for profit margin and offer a high degree of status for the riders who can afford them. However, some riders can’t afford such machines.

More importantly, some riders don’t need or want the complexity, or status, expensive motorcycles offer. For some, an old school Defender ticks all of the boxes. Enter the new KLX650.


Before some of you berate me for lumping the ‘dual sport’ KLR in with the ‘adventure’ crowd, hear me out. The new Kawasaki KLR650 is an adventure bike. It is capable of traversing rugged terrain as well as munching miles on the motorway. It allows you to access more types of ‘roads’ than many so-called adventure bikes can.

Sorry, but standing on your pegs in meerkat fashion on your road-biased tall sport tourer on your way to the café does not qualify as adventure riding (nothing like controversy to spark a pub debate).

I am merely making the point that many adventure models are now too pricey for some and no longer support the market’s cheaper end. Value is subjective, but model creep is real.

2021 Kawasaki KLR650 Right
Dual sport or adventure bike?


Kawasaki has made a conscious decision to keep the KLR in a class of its own. And that class is the same one the KLR has occupied since 1987; low cost, versatile, uncomplicated and adventure (sorry; dual-purpose) capable.

These are the traits that have made the model so popular over the decades, and Kawasaki is not about to jeopardise that popularity by pricing it out of the target markets range. It has done this by only making precisely targeted changes.

Notable changes include the addition of fuel injection to help pass emissions regulations, larger fuel tank, larger brake discs, ABS, LED headlights, LCD instruments, USB and 12V power, and increased subframe carrying capacity. Semi-active suspension, radar-guided cruise control and TFT screen nowhere to be seen.


This is not a Yamaha Ténéré 700 style remake. Building an all-new KLR would have made the machine too expensive. One could argue that this is a lazy approach. I say that Kawasaki has identified a need and continued to fill it.

This update is more of the same; more of what traditional customers have always loved about the KLR. I challenge you to name another motorcycle that does what the KLR does at this price point.

Royal Enfield Himalayan? Half the power, a fraction of the reliability and little heritage (has the Himalayan been around 34 years?). Suzuki V-Strom 650? Doesn’t hold a candle to the KLR’s off-road abilities. Yamaha Ténéré 700? On a different price planet.

Some of you might be shouting, ‘what about the Honda XR650 and Suzuki DR650 dummy? Well, these are still lacking fuel injection and Euro 5 compatibility. They are not long for this world as a result. Emissions laws have already removed them from some markets, and you can’t compete if you’re not in the ring.

Any other competitors you can think of then? Exactly.

Many people lament a perceived missed opportunity on Kawasaki’s part to entirely remake the KLR. Well, if you want an all-new KLR 650, buy a Ténéré 700. But if you want a KLR650, buy a KLR650.


Kawasaki has made an astute decision. They have sprinkled just enough love on the KLR while maintaining the value equation, which is unmatched in the marketplace. This is not a new Defender; It’s the same KLR. And that’s a good thing.

What do you think? I invite you to comment below.

Want more information on the new KLR? Click here to go to the Kawasaki AUS website, or here for the Kawasaki USA website.

Interested in Kawasaki? You might like to read about the new 2021 ZX-10R here.

Or read the latest SpeedeeJ posts here.




  1. Paul

    Makes a lot of sense from the big K. Didn’t see any headlines about a few less kilos and some more horsepower, just more of what John and Mary, Frank and Jane want. Unlike our Ducati friends who brought in a new less kilo more horsepower monster… will it sell and be the icon it once was?
    Cheers for the read

    • Fast Joe

      Thanks for reading and commenting.


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