The Right Gear to Wear and a Proper Motorcycle for Adventure Touring

2023 kawasaki klr s
Gear and a Motorcycle for Adventure Touring Mark Vaughn

According to the Federal Highway Administration there are 1.4 million miles of dirt roads in America that are all open to the public. If you live in the country, this is not a surprise. If you live in the city, you’re right now saying something like, “What??? 1.4 million miles????” Combine that statistic with the fact that almost every motorcycle manufacturer in the world makes off-road motorcycles, and that many motorcycle gear makers offer ADV Touring gear, and you have a recipe for about a million great weekends of adventure.

A couple weeks ago gearmaker Alpinestars hosted a few motorcycle media in the bucolic mountain paradise of Big Bear, California, just outside LA. In addition to its namesake lake, Big Bear is surrounded by beautiful pine-studded mountains interwoven with well-maintained trails, almost all of which are just sitting up there waiting for you to ride on them.

The mountains are calling and you must go.

2023 kawasaki klr s
Self portrait with Alpinestars Ardent 3N1 AdventureTouring jacket, with flaps rolled down and tucked in.Mark Vaughn

We were there on a Tuesday, which meant no crowds. The weather was perfect, with massive piles of cumulous clouds spray painted across a perfectly blue sky, and no dust because there was no wind. We were all stationed at a small, moto-friendly lakeside resort called The Outpost (which I recommend if you’re ever up there, which you should be), and off we set into the wilds.


I got to try out an Alpinestars Ardent 3N1 Adventure Jacket, which is not on the market yet but will be soon. I was impressed with the versatility offered by large panels in front that rolled down and tucked away for hot days then easily zipped back closed when the sun went down or the day got colder. There were angled vents on the biceps and forearms, something you won’t appreciate until the sun gets high in the sky and the heat cranks up. As Astars’ Heath Cofran was fitting me for my loaner jacket he said, diplomatically, that this suit has a “relaxed fit” made to accommodate a “wide variety of body types.” Hey, I’m gonna start working out next week, after dinner. Maybe.

2023 kawasaki klr s
LtoR: A mannequin in AStars gear, moto journo Adam Waheed, Alpinestars Dakar rider (who almost won this year) Toby Price, Nick from the US, and a guy from Oz, all decked out in Alpinestars Bogota Drystar Adventure Touring jackets and pants. Mark Vaughn

Alpinestars has a full line of Adventure Touring gear to wear on your next excursion. Consider the popular classic like the Bogota Pro, the entry-level jacket and pants you can buy for under $700. While the shell is water-resistant, the suit also comes with a fully waterproof Alpinestars Drystar liner you can put over or under the suit. It has roll-down ventilation panels front and back for hot days that zip shut when it gets cold or wet. It even has a warm thermal liner for colder days. And, of course, it has armor for the shoulders, knees and elbows.

A little more upmarket is the AMT-10R that stickers for $1400 for jacket and pantalones. It has a Drystar XF liner built in but the waterproof shell comes off around the arms, shoulders and chest for full ventilation. It’ll accommodate the Alpinestars Tech-Air 5 airbag for the utmost in rider protection—well worth the investment.

2023 kawasaki klr s
Alpinestars AMT-10 jacket. With pants it’s $1400.Alpinestars

I had a choice of bikes to ride and—because this was a mountain town and because all mountain towns across America have several Kawasaki KLRs as part of the populous—I picked a new Kawasaki KLR S.

The KLR is a terrific all-around dual-sport bike, as comfortable on pavement as it easy to ride off-road. And it’s much more affordable than full-on ADV bikes from BMW, Ducati, and Honda. Sticker price starts at $7634 without ABS and $7934 with. For comparison’s sake, up in the ADV segment the Ducati Multistrada V4 Pikes Peak adventure bike I happen to have this week stickers at more than four times that much. iAiy Chihuahua!

After disappearing in 2018, the KLR was back in 2022, with fuel injection and revised cams on both the intake and exhaust sides. That means its 652-cc upright DOHC single-cylinder makes 39.1 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm. No horsepower is given in the US but published figures in Europe list it at 40 hp at the crank and 35 at the rear wheel.

2023 kawasaki klr s
Kawasaki KLR 650 S (shot in South Africa, not at Big Bear).Kawasaki

Full-size adventure bikes offer four times that much horsepower. Of course, they weigh a little more, too, but not too much. The KLR weighs 452 pounds which is a little less than big bikes in the ADV class like the Ducati Multistrada and 50 pounds less than the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure.

The new KLR still has a five-speed transmission when many competitors offer six-speeds. Likewise, the gauges on almost every other motorcycle sold in America offer more information than the speedo you’ll see on the KLR. There’s no tach, for instance, but any rider should be able to know when to shift by sound and feel of the engine. You can trade off tachometers and radar cruise control for that low sticker and the KLR’s reputation for eternal durability.

The “S” in KLR S stands for short, with shorter suspension and a 2.2-inch lower seat height at 32.1 inches, which makes it easier for newer riders or those of a shorter stature, but may not offer as much knee-clamping bike-hugging as more advanced riders want. There are other KLR models that will surely fit your particular needs.

Likewise, some have said the KLR S’ ride height of 7.3 inches isn’t as a high as more dirt-and-rock-oriented bikes like the tried and true (i.e ancient) Honda XR650L dual sport, which offers 13 inches of ground clearance, 100 pounds less curb weight, and is priced close to the KLR but is not as comfortable. The Yamaha Tenere 700 has two more inches of ground clearance than the KLR, 73 hp and 50 lb-ft and weighs exactly the same but costs twice as much. You can compare specs all day on lots of bikes. Depending on how aggressively you ride, there are many, many choices out there.

For my part, I was perfectly happy tooling around on mostly flat dirt roads in the Big Bear woods on this KLR S. Most anyone can get the hang of shifting at appropriate places on the rev band just by sound and feel. The seating position was fine for me and likewise I didn’t find any faults with this rig while standing on the pegs. I’m 6-foot-1 but most of that is torso so I look like an Oompa Loompa. Normal-shaped people should be even more comfortable on this, especially shorter riders.

I found it much easier to ride off-road than a full-size ADV bike like the BMW GS 1200 Adventure or the Ducati Multistrada, but those two are much more comfortable for long pavement sections.

2023 kawasaki klr s
Poppin’ a wheelie (not me).Alpinestars

I haven’t ridden the Yamaha Tenere 700 yet so I can’t say how it compares to that, but I have ridden the Honda XR650L and found that bike to be more like a serious dirt bike. In the hands of a skilled dirt rider, that Honda would certainly be more competent than the KLR in the rocks and sand.

If you need—or can only afford—one bike for both on- and off-road riding, and if you have to get back and forth to work in all weather on sometimes muddy, rocky, or snowy roads, with pavement riding thrown in, too, the KLR is an obvious choice.

It made me want to get a job as a lift operator in Mammoth in the winter, then construction worker in Alaska every summer—if I had a nice set of Alpinestars gear to wear with it.

The main point here is that adventure awaits you, so go meet it.