The stock KLR650 is ready for “long hard ride” modifications and outfitting for around-the-world durability.
A long hard ride. Images of crossing the Andes Mountains in South America, or reaching Deadhorse, Alaska came to mind when looking at the stock Kawasaki KLR650, well known as the best valued adventure-touring motorcycle. For 2008 Kawasaki introduced its updated KLR650 incorporating many of the suggestions KLR owners had offered over the previous 20 years. In 2009 additional refinements were made during a year of customer feedback.
While I had little doubt a stock KLR650 could be purchased off a showroom floor and ridden around the world, there were some modifications that could make the journey more comfortable and less worrisome.
Long recognized by avid motorcycle travelers as “adventure touring central” and Alaska motorcycle outfitters, the Happy Trails company of Boise, Idaho and I had worked together before prepping motorcycles for tough rides, ranging from BMW’s to the 1983 Honda GL650 Interstate that I rode two-up to the bottom of South America during The Ultimate Globe Ride. I gave them my new KLR650 and said I wanted to make it ready for a long tough ride, hypothetically around the globe. The team at Happy Trails had some ideas on what needed to be done and I had some of my own based on having taken a 2001 KLR650 over a similar route. I had also experimented with one of the early 2008 KLR650s.
Our plan was to make agreed upon modifications and then test what we had done over 10,000 miles of tough riding, making adjustments if needed along the way. As an additional test, the Happy Trails founder and Principal, Tim Bernard and I would make a totally subjective “shootout” between my ‘round the world “Globe Killer KLR” and another equally modified Happy Trails project bike, a BMW F800GS.
Happy Trails Rear Rack T-2 Plate and side SU Racks were easily installed but took some additional time to re-route the wiring for turn signal relocation.
In this first part of a two-part series are the initial changes and add-ons we made to the stock KLR650 to prepare it for 10,000 miles of hard testing.
The stock rear luggage rack was removed and replaced by a Happy Trails Rear Rack, their T-2 Plate. This gave a wider and deeper rear rack with additional base space for eventual strapped on luggage. The T-2 Plate had nicely located holes for tie downs or hooks.
For side carrying luggage the Happy Trails SU Racks were bolted on with their Teton 7.5-inch-wide aluminum panniers. There were wider and deeper aluminum panniers that could have been added, but I knew this would mean more gear could and would be carried inside, adding to the overall weight of the motorcycle. Wider panniers would also mean more width when going through tight spots.
A Wolfman Motorcycle Luggage tank bag was added, the “Enduro” model with the optional rain cover. This model was chosen because it fit the unique shape of the KLR650 gas tank as well as several other motorcycle gas tanks in my motorcycle stable so could be swapped from tank to tank. While we were in our testing period Wolfman came out with some tank bag models specific to the 2008 and newer KLR650 models which we may add at a later date.
For light luggage, like sleeping gear and clothing, mounted on the rear rack and motorcycle rear portion of the seat, Ortlieb Bags from Aerostich were my choice. These tough, waterproof and multi-sized bags had served me well on three previous rides around the world and I opted to use them again.
As weight was added to the KLR650 we were pushing the limits of the stock suspension system. To compensate for this, and to add to the stock suspension capabilities, we replaced to the front fork springs with Progressive ULE 11-1506 springs. While working on the front end a Happy Trails K 9 fork brace was bolted on to take out some of the potential front fork flex and wobble.
Galfer brake pads front and back were installed to improve braking and durability.
My favorite dual-sport tires, Avon Gripster AM 24’s, and heavy duty tubes from IRC, were installed for better mileage and off-pavement exploring.
At the other end of the motorcycle we changed the stock rear shock spring to an ERS 500 outer spring while keeping the original shock absorber. The spring size was based upon my weight with riding gear of 200 pounds and the estimated weight of the additional add-ons and luggage.
While the back-end of the bike was apart the dog bones were heavily greased after having found them to be close to bone dry. Additionally, the main sub-frame bolt was replaced with a grade 12.9 bolt from Happy Trails as a prevention of the original bolt breaking under the stress of the added weight and severe off-road use.
The stock brake pads, both front and back, were replaced with Galfer Black pads for heavier duty braking. Galfer steel braided brake lines were also added to reduce some of the softness or sponginess of the original rubber lines.
Avon Gripster AM 24 tires from Avon Tires replaced the stock tires for increased mileage and better off-road handling. I had experimented with several dual-purpose tires and found the AM 24 Gripsters to be my favorite for reasons such as price and durability. The original inner tubes on the KLR650 were replaced by IRC Heavy Duty 4mm thick ones to reduce the possibility of deflation from minor intrusions by foreign objects that the thinner original tubes may have allowed.
While there were several options available for upping the horsepower of the KLR650 engine, it was decided the power was enough to do anything I would be asking it to do in the next 10,000-20,000 miles. However, we did make a few modifications.
The first change was to replace the original spring and cam chain adjuster with the “Doohickey” and torsion-type spring. This was done because the original spring was found to be too long, not allowing for much adjustment, and the aftermarket adjuster was superior in design to the original. The torsion-type spring also prevented possible breakage and the broken parts finding their way into dark places in the engine and the subsequent nightmares of where the pieces might end up.
A fuel flow adjuster was installed to make flow adjustments for higher or lower altitudes without having to remove the carburetor. While the carburetor was out, a Happy Trails T-Vent Modification was made to prevent kinking and dirt from getting into the line.
A fuel line filter was added in the main fuel line to the carburetor to catch any flotsam and jetsam that might be found in less hygienic petrol like that sold from liter bottles on the side of the road in parts of South America, Asia and Africa.
The original oil filter was replaced by a steel mesh re-usable one. This was done for maintenance purposes, assuming a replacement might not be easily found on the road, like in Siberia. It also lessened the need to carry replacement filters. A 20-50 weight oil was used as the replacement oil, allowing for the wide range in temperatures from the scorching heat of the Sahara Desert to below freezing at Deadhorse, Alaska.
Heavy duty RD Nerf Bars and Highway Pegs from Happy Trails bolted right on to protect the engine and body work while adding an optional riding position for the rider.
The stock oil drain plug was replaced with a magnetic drain plug to collect any metal that might find itself in the bottom of the engine having not been caught by the oil filter, another prevention change.
Previous experiences, good and bad, had proved that sooner or later on a long hard adventure, on or off-road, the motorcycle would end up on one side or the other, or bang into a hard object. To add some protection to the bodywork and some exposed and delicate working parts the following were added from the Happy Trails manufactured products: PD Nerf Bars and Highway Pegs, Skid Plate, BBRK Rear Brake Protector, Rear Master Cylinder Guard and K 8 Shift Lever. From their catalog were added Acerbis hand guards to protect the handlebar levers and hands.
The stock KLR650 was fine for a short day of travel, but given our parameters of 10,000-20,000 miles some modifications were made for the body comfort of the pilot.
A taller windscreen, a Lominar-Lip, easily attached to the fairing to provide better wind, bug and rain deflection.
The first addition was a sheepskin Seat Pad from Aerostich. While Kawasaki had greatly improved the seat on their 2008 and newer models, the addition of the easily installed non-slip sheepskin seat pad added a few more degrees of comfort to the backside of the pilot on long days.
To provide for wind and rain protection a taller front windscreen was easily affixed to the fairing, a Lominar-Lip Windscreen from the Happy Trails catalog.
To soften the potential hammering from off-road riding or day-long handlebar gripping the Happy Trails catalog provided larger and softer Pro-Grip 737 handlebar grips.
Finally, to accommodate the use of warming clothing in cold weather, a fused connector was added for electric clothing.
The updated electrical system on the 2008 and newer KLR650s was deemed sufficient to support the electric clothing. However, a sealed battery replaced the original one because hard off-road riding had been known to shake plates loose on the original batteries. Additionally a sealed battery meant no maintenance on the road, especially in high temperatures when heat would evaporate cell water.
Because the KLR650 did not have a center stand, the final add-on was one of the first Happy Trails designed tough and easily installed adjustable center stands. The aftermarket center stand would ease chain lubing, adjustment, tire repairs if needed, and make up-right parking possible.
Ready to be tested for 10,000 miles, the ‘round the world “Globe Killer KLR” was off to see what worked and what did not, and any changes that might have to be made.
The lower tail piece of the rear fender was removed to prevent it from bouncing into the rear tire during serious off-road bouncing. The license plate holder easily mounted on the remaining portion of the rear fender below the tail light.
Ready for the world?
The next 10,000 miles would find the ‘round the world “Globe Killer KLR” taking on everything from 75 mph interstates to reaching the top of America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak (14,110 feet above sea level). In between would be the BIG DOG ADVENTURE RIDE, known as “the world’s highest, toughest, dirtiest, meanest” adventure ride and a “head-to-head” run-off against a highly modified BMW F800GS.