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WHY DOESN’T KAWASAKI BUILD A MODERN ADVENTURE BIKE?

A Kawasaki KLR650 in camo finish riding on a dirt road.
The KLR650 is an aging legend

About two years ago, or maybe more – I hit my head a lot and sacrifice the remaining brain cells to beer so excuse the vague timeline – Kawasaki began teasing multiple new models.

This was an exciting moment and we let ourselves believe that a modern adventure bike could and indeed, should be a part of that incoming stable. It’s been a long time since Kawi threw a new true adventure model out the doors and this felt like the right time for a long travel and long travelling green machine.

If you’re wondering what woke Kawi from its apparent slumber, it moved out of the family home so to speak, in 2021 parent company, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, underwent a restructuring that allowed it to spin off its Motorcycle and Engine business which is Kawasaki’s only mass-production consumer-facing business.

The Motorcycle and Engine division was integrated into the Precision Machinery and Robot branch of the company and while it wasn’t completely cut off from the parent company, this move gifted the motorcycle division a greater autonomy.

You see, for KHI the motorcycle business is small potatoes. It’s something of a positive branding exercise direct to the public, but in the middle of a meeting about building a 300-metre long bulk carrier that may swing to the development of a minesweeping helicopter and then the fairings on a space station supply rocket, it’s hard to get attention to turn to the needs of the KLR650.

So, without overbearing oversite and a lowly position at the corporate table, Kawasaki Motorcycles were finally able to make timely decisions and look towards the future without scrapping for funding against much larger projects.

An interesting note is that in a November 2020 press release announcing the restructure Kawasaki noted of the motorcycle market that, “When taking a broad view of the industry as a whole, it faces significant issues such as an aging customer base and compliance with environmental regulations.”

The release went on to say that Kawasaki Motorcycles would cooperate with the “Precision Machinery & Robot Business, collaborating in the agricultural machinery and turf care markets in hydraulic systems and general-purpose engines, and promoting the development of near-future mobility such as by incorporating robotics and remote technologies.”

Being the simple man I am this didn’t sound like the motorcycle division was gearing up for a big resurgence. It sounded like the motorcycle market was looking less desirable but making robots was looking cool.

And I have to admit, robots are cool, but I doubt they’re talking about the one Rocky gifted Paulie on his birthday in Rocky IV.

And then the teasing started.

There is something missing from this announcement

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES

The Kawasaki moto-nerds had clearly been sitting on new and updated models for a while because the number of new bikes being promised was unprecedented. From memory, it was six models under wraps in one advertisement, four in another and two more later on.

In all of this there surely, definitely, certainly and undeniably had to be an updated adventure bike, right?
The final unveiling of the model range felt like a seagull had shit in our chips.


There was a new Ninja (the road bike, not the 15th-century assassin), a scrambler-type thingy, a 112cc motocross bike and a Mule side-by-side. A KX450X enduro bike that you can’t register was on the list as was a KLX300 with bodywork changes.

Notice anything missing?

Now, I’m sure each of these models made plenty of people excited and each is an outstanding product in its own right. But where’s the adventure bike?

To show it had its eyes on the future Kawi soon unveiled a hydrogen-powered H2 prototype which was conceived through a joint venture with Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki called the HySE (Hydrogen Small Mobility and Engine) coalition.

In an example of vertical integration, Kawasaki Heavy Industries is working on a 350-metre-long ship that will be able to, carry about 10,000 tons of Liquefied hydrogen around the globe.

Need to shift some hydrogen? Kawasaki has you covered.

To celebrate 40 years of the Ninja model line, Kawi also released an electric Ninja e-1 ABS which is one of the better-looking electric motorcycles on offer, although it seems it is unavailable in Australia.
But again…why wasn’t the KLR and the Versys left in a room until nature took its course and out popped a bouncing baby adventure bike?

Kawi has so many of the ingredients needed spread across different models that it would just need to take a little from this bike and a little from that bike to produce the baseline of a promising, offroad-ready adventure model.

Even by taking a leaf from the Yamaha playbook which saw the WR250R gain popularity as a small adventure option with a few mods, Kawaski could turn to its KLX250. It’s a great little trail bike that could find another role as a replacement for the WR250R, which Yamaha has stopped producing.

Kawi even has a KLX300R which is sadly not registerable but could be taking on Honda’s CRF300 Rally with just a few tweaks here and there.

The hydrogen-powered H2 prototype

WHY WON’T KAWASAKI PLAY WITH US?

Have you ever had a mate who wouldn’t show up to things no matter how many times you invited him? He’d seem keen in person but come the day he surprised nobody by not showing up.

I have had a couple of mates like this, and I eventually came to the conclusion that they just don’t want to do the same stuff me and some other mates do but they don’t want to say it.

It seems to me that Kawasaki just doesn’t want to build an adventure bike, but they don’t want to say it out loud. Kawi deeply loves its sports bikes. It loves its Mules. It’s happy with an excellent range of fun bikes and the adventure market just isn’t as cool as building robots.

Now, I’m not disparaging the KLR650 here. It’s a great bike. A solid offering that has nothing to prove thanks to decades of reliable service.

On a packed shelf of exotic pastries and fancy cupcakes, it’s the plain lamington.

It’s comfortable and simple which is just how many like it.

But this can’t be the best Kawasaki can do.

It can’t be hard for a nerd to start with a Versys 650 and finish with an adventure bike right?

This is the company that engineers the mind-blowing Ninja H2R, a striking beast so powerful and advanced that it should only be put in the hands of a madman with highly developed riding skills.

Japanese companies are notoriously conservative and seem to be becoming more so as the years roll on.

A strong risk aversion can stifle development and in a world burdened by the Euro 5 emissions standards, motorcycle manufacturers are trying hard enough to meet ludicrous demands to protect the Icelandic Puffin let alone find time to think about a completely new model line.

But, if you can build a hydrogen-powered superbike, it feels like you should be able to take the Versys 650 engine and find a bench seat, a set of 21/18” spoked wheels, upgraded suspension and new chassis. Watch the people flock to check that out.

We all know Kawis have a great reliability record, so the trust element is already there, we just want to play in the dirt on a bigger green bike that wasn’t born in the 1990s.

Inspire an adventure.
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