KLR vs. DR

Happy 2007! As you might have noticed, we took a little time off in December to prepare for
the Christmas season. Additionally, we’ve been working hard on several new products that
we hope will be out early in 2007. I hope you all had a chance to enjoy friends and family
and we wish you the very best in the new year.

We receive quite a few email’s asking for our advice on whether to buy a DR or KLR. There
are advantages and disadvantages to each motorcycle. What it really boils down to is “what
do you want to do with your motorcycle?” Only if you answer that question honestly can you
select the right tool. And only by answering that question can you make intelligent decisions
about things like modifications, aftermarket equipment, etc.

This idea was really brought home to me on 30 January. I spent most of that day enjoyably
practicing my dirt riding techniques at Motoventures in Aguanga, CA (more about
Motoventures at the end). I was able to try both the Yamaha WR250 and WR450 for half a
day each. Now, realize that although my first bike was a Yamaha Seca II, I didn’t start riding
in earnest until a few years ago, and I was riding a 600+ lb BMW K1100LT. I started on my
two-wheel diet by slimming down to a KLR-650 and even further to a DR. However, the
WR250 is 100lbs lighter than my DR! Anyway, it dawned on me right then and there how
important bike selection really is. Both of these bikes had ample power for the tight
maneuvers and drills we were practicing. They were light, maneuverable, and the
suspensions were superb. It didn’t make any difference if we were ascending/descending
hills, practicing jumps, etc. These bikes were made for playing in the dirt. Why do I mention
this? It seems at times that there are a lot of KLR and DR riders who are trying to force the
bike into a role it isn’t necessarily designed for. Jetting and airbox modifications in search of
more horsepower, suspension modifications like airing up KLR forks, etc., are all indicators
that maybe there was a better tool for the job. Probably the best attribute of both the KLR
and the DR is that the multitude of compromises made to develop these bikes has resulted
in very versatile multisurface machines. They can both cover fairly long distances, over a
variety of terrain, with decent power, fuel economy, and handling. However, a 250lb dirt
bike is going to be a better single-track machine, just as a 1000cc sport-tourer is a better
choice for the rider who wants to cover a lot of miles at 80-90 mph with enough
gear/luggage for a weekend away. I do realize that minor things like, oh, say – money – can
make a big difference in what we end up purchasing. With the larger point in mind however,
we think the role of a multisurface motorcycle can be filled quite nicely with a properly set-
up DR or KLR. And with that role in mind, I’d like to re-emphasize our  priorities: proper
suspension set-up, long-term reliability, and a decent balance between power and fuel
economy. Our recommendations are developed based on those priorities and you should
evaluate for yourself whether or not our goals are similar to yours.

I’ve also seen a few discussions concerning the KLR in particular that have revolved
around suspension and overall motorcycle geometry. Inevitably, someone will comment to
the effect that you don’t need to be concerned with the details of geometry for a KLR as
opposed to a race bike. I suppose if you never ride off-road or never push the bike to the
limits of performance this may SEEM like it’s true. However, suspension geometry is both an
art and a science, and the science is based on physics and trigonometric relationships that
can’t be altered. If you load down the bike and your suspension is improperly set-up to
begin with, changes in rake and trail may be overwhelmed by what’s going on with the rest
of the bike. But even if you can’t feel it, those changes are having an effect on your ride
and handling. If you are an aggressive street rider, or more importantly, you ride off-road,
you need to be just as – if not more – concerned with handling/geometry than the CBR600
rider at the track. The sterile track environment may allow small changes to be readily felt,
but there’s no sand washes to cross or road hazards to contend with at Laguna Seca. Real
world riding conditions demand proper suspension set-up and good handling
characteristics to negotiate them successfully. If you start with a bike that’s spot-on, you
can make intelligent decisions on whether or not to make changes, and more importantly,
you’ll know which changes to make.

Finally, back to Motoventures. The company is owned by Gary LaPlante, a long-time
industry expert and pro rider. Gary and his instructors put on a very professional course on
a 300 acre private ranch near Aguana. The Motoventures crew teaches everything from
basic to advanced dirt riding, trials riding, and tours. Everyone involved was absolutely
outstanding and the level of personal attention was unexpected. I had spoken with Gary on
the phone prior to the course and told him that although I was comfortable on my DR in the
dirt, I wanted to try something lighter to really push myself and refine my techniques. To
that end, he started me out on the WR250 so I could better appreciate the difference
between it and my suddenly heavy DR650. After the included lunch, I found myself on the
WR450. It is definitely one fun machine, and if my wife knew just how big my smile was she
would probably be busy trying to fill up any free space in the garage. You can also bring
your own bike if you like, though Gary has a wide variety of machines (as well as riding
gear) for use. We had a wide variety of size and experience in our class, from middle-aged
dads like myself, to teenagers, and even one hard-charging 8 yr old. We  had a father and
two sons from Vancouver, and a father/daughter team from New York. Anyone who has
been an instructor of any subject can appreciate the task of trying to communicate
effectively with such a disparate group, and the Motoventures instructors did a fine job. I
can tell you now that I’ll be back again, maybe I’ll even have enough time for the two-day
course! As you might guess, I’d highly recommend a day at Motoventures. Find out more at
www.motoventures.com.

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