DR vs KLR: Battle of the Budget 650 Adventure Bikes

two KLR650 motorcycles next to two DR650 motorcycles on the side of the pan americana highway in Peru

Table of Contents

DR650 vs KLR650

If you’re in a rush, I’ll open with the conclusion:

The DR650 is a much better adventure bike than the KLR650 in almost every conceivable way. Anyone who tells you the opposite is lying to you, delusional, trying to justify their own purchase of a KLR, or all three.

I know it’s a bold claim, but if you’re not in a rush, I’ll explain why I’m so adamant that the DR650 would be defecating all over the KLR, if only the KLR could keep up to be defecated on.

I’ve ridden a KLR650 through the talcum like fesh fesh of the Atacama Desert, high up into the Andes mountains where it was gasping for air, around twisty bends of some fantastic sealed roads at sea level and most variations in between. I’ve ridden a DR650 across as many varying terrains in Australia, possibly even more. I know that this is just my opinion and not fact, but I have put in the miles, so I don’t feel unjustified in sharing this opinion. Here’s why the DR650 is the best option for adventure riders.

Arguments For the KLR650 and Against the DR650

I’ve collated the most common reasons people advocate the Kwakka over the Suzuki, and then we’ll look at whether or not it’s true.

Claim: The KLR is Cheaper than the DR

This is true.

When I bought my latest DR650 in Australia, the timing of people being off work coalescing with Coronavirus stimulus packages and being able to access $10,000 in superannuation (like a retirement plan or 401k) meant that the bottom end of the second hand motorcycle and car market got bought up overnight. Where I could have previously chosen between 10 DR’s around the $4-5k mark, I had to put up wanted ads and bide my time. During that whole period, there were plenty of KLR’s available to choose from for $3k.

I have to ask myself why, and the answer seems to be because they’re just not worth spending as much money on.

My only fear is that someone who is limited in budget, will be talked into buying a KLR because it’s cheaper, but they will end up experiencing a bigger waste of their limited money because they will get a bike that probably doesn’t match their expectations.

Claim: You Give up Your Road Capabilities by Choosing a DR

This is one I see a lot. People saying, “Yeah the DR is better off-road, but you give up your highway capabilities”.

I have no idea how this started, but it’s not true. I’ve ridden both bikes on the Pan Americana on long stretches and also around its twisty cliff top bends in Peru. I’ve ridden the DR on many sealed roads and highways in Australia. We also have the world’s longest stretch of straight highway.

Just because the KLR has terrible steering that requires you to lean more and is shaped like a road bike, doesn’t make it better on road. The DR has more grunt to pull long gearing that can sit on 140km/h for days. The Suzuki also has that motard feel where you can lean the bike, get on top of it and wrestle the son of a bitch around the corners. Right when I’ve needed rear brake to help keep me alive and on top of the cliff, rather than at the bottom, the DR’s has always held up as the KLR’s boiled. Some say that’s because of my riding style, which is true because my style of riding is to expect the bike to keep up with what I’m doing.

I speculate that the only reason for this myth, is that DR owners will typically set their bikes up for off-road with lower gearing and softer suspension than they would have for road riding.

Claim: Only the KLR is Ready For Long Range From Stock

100% true. But, more than half of second hand DR’s come with a long range tank. For those that don’t a second hand Safari, IMS or Acerbis tank can be picked up for $200. If buying new, a dealer will throw in a long range tank and if they don’t, go to a different dealer.

 

Claim: The KLR is as Reliable as the DR

If you ride a stock DR650 100,000km, especially on-road, you may blow up 3rd gear. Maybe.

If you ride a stock KLR650 100,000km, it is likely that the engine will have self destructed when the stock balancer chain tensioner loses its spring or falls to bits. Go on to any KLR forum and see how many people have changed the “doohickey” to prevent this.

And particular pieces aside, the KLR engines are just not built the same as the DR’s. If you’ve done a reasonable amount of mechanical work on both bikes, you can feel that the DR has a level of robustness that the KLR does not.

Reliability goes beyond the engine. I’ve never broken a frame or subframe on either bike (yet) but if I had to place money on which would break first, it would be the KLR.

 

Having Said That…

Having said all of the above, the KLR650 is a fantastic bike for its price point and will do a lot of things. But, it does come with its limitations as does every bike.

If your budget is a limiting factor and you can only afford a low mileage KLR or a high mileage DR, you might be best going with the Kawasaki, but should adventure riding become a real passion, you may need to upgrade in the future.

I am so fond of the time I have spent overseas and home on a KLR650 but every time I have the choice between these two bikes, it will be the DR650 all the way.

 

If you disagree with me, I’d be happy to be torn to shreds in the comments.

 

Travel far. Travel safe,

 

Toby

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18 Responses

  1. Outstanding review! With no motorcycles killed in the making of this video. I am really torn right now! I am 63 years old. I had a 2011 Suzuki DR 650, which I really enjoyed. But sold. I like what I see with the KLR. Kind of homely, but always there when you need it! Like a dear friend. Then enter the Suzuki 650 V Strom. This will probably be my last bike. I will be riding two up, mostly on the road. Rides will be almost under 100 miles. I really like all 3 bikes! Help!

    1. Glad you liked it Michael.

      I haven’t done much with a V Strom so can’t really offer an opinion, but I would say there’s no need to be on one just because you’re 63. Check out the video linked below that I did with my old man last year who would have been 63 at the time. We used DR’s for the film and working on a new one where he’ll ride his WRF450 and I’ll be on my EXC500.

      They definitely wouldn’t be any good for two up, that’s for sure.

      Here’s the vid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QPsmeAQQyo

  2. Nice review Toby. I own and ride both the KLR and DR and I think you hit a lot of important points. Here’s my take…. I think they both have their pros and cons and are almost more different than they are the same. Engines have very different character. DR is more rev happy and I agree it has a bit more oomph overall, but KLR is more happy to lug at low RPM, making it almost stall-proof and more happy to tractor at low speeds. KLR feels bigger in almost every way and it has a roomier rider triangle. On the road this can be nice, and the wind protection is much appreciated at times. Both bikes are happy to cruise all day at 70mph and I think DR probably has a little more passing power, but comfort wise (especially for larger rider) the KLR wins. The DR can be modified to close the gap. Handling on the road is pretty good on either, but I agree that DR has a bit of a sporty super-moto feel, whereas the KLR feels like more of a true ADV-Touring bike. My inner hooligan likes the DR650 on the road, but my middle age dad body really appreciates the comfort and extra room on the KLR. Offroad, the DR feels like a motocross bike compared to KLR. The DR is just smaller, lighter, easier to pick up, and easier to handle. KLR will basically go anywhere the DR will go, but it is more work, and slower paced. If there is ever any trailering involved, the weight savings on the DR is much appreciated. Suspension on the 2015+ KLRs is pretty good for mixed use. Older KLRs were way too soft. The suspension on DR is more capable off-road, but only marginally so compared to newer KLRs. Both bikes can be improved A LOT with some new fork springs and rear shock upgrade. I bought the DR to replace my KLR because my KLR was so heavy off-road. I already had a Super Tenere for more road-biased adventures. I ended up keeping both because after riding the DR I found it and the KLR more different than the same. I think the KLR has almost as much similarity to my Super Tenere as it does the DR. I do think the KLR is a more comfortable bike out of the box to go ride around the world, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do so. The DR needs some help with fuel range for sure, and won’t coddle the rider as much, but it has a higher ceiling if you are a really aggressive rider, and it will offer an easier entry to off-road riding. The DR can be modified to be more like the KLR (bigger fuel tank, bar risers, seat upgrade, peg lowering brackets, windscreen, etc.), whereas the KLR can’t really be stripped down to be more like the DR.

      1. I always mention this point when I read about people “upgrading “ to lower pegs. The stock pegs on the DR are already on the low side for serious off road riding.

  3. The fact that the KLR comes stock with the correct size fuel tank as well as wind protection cant be ignored. When you add those to the fact that it costs about half a DR650 used, it makes a very compelling argument for someone on a budget that doesn’t see much dirt.

  4. I heard the KLR received major updates (finally!) in 2022 such as fuel injection and ABS. I also saw that a lowered seat height version is coming 2023. Do you think any of those updates would have a significant impact to the conclusions you reached?

    1. I don’t think it would make much difference. ABS and injection are likely just to reach newer on-road standards required by most countries. ABS is certainly something you would want off when off-road. If they’re making a lower seat version, then it seems like that’s to cater towards comfort, probably at the expense of capability.

  5. I had to get creative with EU authorities to “certify” a DR650 imported from the USA, as it is not EU-5 compliant. All in all, I ended up doubling the price of the bike, after shipping US -> EU administrative “incentives”.

    One may wonder why. It would mean they’ve never owned a proper bike. Allow me to explain: the build of the DR is just adequate, the brakes are shit, the seat is medieval torture… However, it’s a nimble and versatile beast – it will eat up potholes, speed bumps, and will shred your neighborhood dirt road.

    As a matter of fact, I love the DR so much, I got rid of my F 850 GS – too fat, not enough purpose in life… However, kept my WR250F for serious enduro ventures.

    1. That’s the same reason we were on KLRs. The guy who ran the bike rental place in Peru was saying that the DRs didn’t meet emissions standards but the KLRs did. His DR fleet was kept just for their tours and not rentals as they preferred the DRs but couldn’t get any new ones. I’m glad to hear you got it through eventually, it’s well worth it.

  6. Every KLR I saw touring had a destroyed front fairing.

    The DR’s have no such problems as they’ve barely got a fairing.

    After putting a 25 L tank on the bike, a Gearsack rack, air caps, brighter globe and a chain oiler it’s been left alone.

    It’s been very reliable and trouble-free over 45,000 km. Only the cam chain tensioner seal leaked… which cost a couple of bucks to replace… although it was remarkably hard to find where the leak was… as there was oil everywhere (despite losing very little). Yet to need any shim adjustment due to 1/2 normal wear in the engine.

    🙂

    1. Gotta stick to your guns.

      “Any bike that maketh a man content, belongeth in the realm of his collection”
      – Jesus

  7. I was considering the DR650 over the KLR, but just found out that it has been discontinued in Australia because of the emissions regulations. Do you think Suzuki will make some changes and try to re-introduce the bike to the Australian market?

    1. I haven’t heard any news that they will, and I think that if they were going to any time soon that they would have already.

      It’s a huge shame.

      Personally, I’d go for a second hand DR with low kilometres over a new KLR. If you could get something that’s been an occasional commuter, they’re often in pretty good condition. The cush drive rear hub will usually save the gearbox from too much stress from road use.

  8. I have owned and loved my DR650SE which I found could ride on just about any track I could find in the bush around Canberra and enroute excursions when taking the bike from Melbourne to Canberra. Main complaint was fuel range on the highway and the uncomfortable hard seat.
    My next Suzi was a VStrom DL650 which I rode around Australia for 35,000 + Kms over 3+ months in 42c heat almost the whole trip. The range on a tank full was exactly 400kms which I proved by running out of fuel coming back out from Monkey Ma in WA. Loaded up with a swag, and canvas panniers plus tank bag it remained a super comfortable easy to ride and totally predictable except in the bull dust at Broome, grin.
    Each bike had it’s unique strengths but for long haul 800km days the DL can’t be beaten IMO. Never ridden a KLR so cannot comment sadly. I now live in Thailand and the 2022 KLR 650 is now made here so maybe……

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