After reaching some of the highest points in America with a modified Kawasaki KLR650, the 10,000-mile journey finally came to an end.
Ten-thousand miles of tough roads were not as easy to bag as first thought. To reach the single-tracks and trails meant numerous miles were on high-speed macadam. The pursuit took the KLR650 from Idaho, through Oregon to Washington, then back through Idaho to Montana (Read about modifications to the stock KLR650 in Part 1 of Dr. Frazier’s Globe Killer KLR). A pit stop in Montana resulted in some changes made to the original Happy Trails set-up of the Kawasaki and then it was off through Wyoming to the Big Dog Adventure Ride. After tagging some of the highest peaks in America, the KLR650 was still on its first set of tires. A quick trip to New Mexico and Arizona added a few more pavement miles before the odometer clicked over to 10,001.
Happy Trails had set the KLR650 up for the mix of pavement and off-road riding we had projected. The changes that were made during the 10,000-mile test were mostly minor.
The original rear shock and spring allowed the motorcycle to sit-up too straight when parked, allowing wind to easily blow it over when parked on a flat surface. We thought the change to the Progressive ULE 11-1506 front fork springs and ERS 500 rear outer spring coupled with the added weight of the travel gear would correct the initial “tip-over” problem.
The first time the fully loaded motorcycle tipped over, it was parked in gravel and was quickly written off as pilot error. The second time, however, it tipped over while gas was being added at a mini-mart. While that spill entertained a collection of observers, it proved a design change needed to be made. The side stand was removed and one inch was cut out of the length, and then re-welded. This minor engineering feat solved the tip-over problem.
The Avon Gripster AM 24 tires manufactured by Avon Tyres proved again why they were my choice of all-around tire for the aggressive side of an adventure motorcycle. On the downside was having to re-shoe the horse after 7000 miles. At that point the front tire still had enough tread left to reach the 10,000-mile mark, but the rear was not going to see 8000. Had we known at the onset how many miles were to be driven under hot driving conditions with a heavy load at higher speeds, we likely would have opted for the Avon Distanzia model. The Distanzia model costs more than the Gripster model but significantly outlast them on extended highway use. One pair of Distanzias would have easily marched over the 10,000 miles. While not as off-road oriented as the Gripster, both do equally well in mild gravel like that found on forest service roads and each model slips and slides equally in soft, deep mud.
The original Kawasaki hand guard and lever protector (left) was much larger than the Acerbis wind and water deflector.
After an initial check of valve clearance and carburetor adjustment, the only other engine maintenance – other than oil and filter changes every 2000 to 3000 miles – was to let the Doohickey do its job by allowing it to take-up any slack the cam chain may have developed. After each cam chain adjustment no appreciable difference was noted in the engine performance, which seemed to indicate very little cam chain wear had taken place. No noticeable metal flakes were noted on the magnetic oil drain plug or in the oil filter when checked.
The Acerbis hand guards protecting the handlebar levers and my hands did their job when the motorcycle landed on its side. However, the wind deflectors did little to keep wind and water off the hands. To solve this problem the Acerbis deflectors were removed and the original Kawasaki KLR650 hand guards were cut and drilled to fit the Acerbis metal guards. This provided significantly more wind and water protection and cost nothing except for the time involved – less than an hour.
A 1960s Bell helmet face shield turned upside down and bolted on the top of the Lominar-Lip Windscreen deflected wind and water over my helmet.
The Lominar-Lip Windscreen from the Happy Trails needed two improvements, each done within minutes after parts were gathered.
The lower Velcro attachments came unglued from the fairing. This was likely due to the higher speeds on highways. Holes were drilled through the Velcro attachment points and sheet metal screws with washers underneath were used to securely fasten the lower sections of the windscreen.
The second problem was windscreen height. While significantly higher than the stock Kawasaki KLR650 windscreen the Lominar-Lip Windscreen still was not high enough to deflect wind and water over the helmet of this driver, and irritatingly caused helmet buffeting at speeds below 75 mph. To improve on the wind and rain deflection of the windscreen a trip was made to the used parts bin where a five-holed face shield from a 1960s Bell helmet was given another life. Five holes were drilled in the top of the Lominar-Lip Windscreen to match the five former snap holes of the face shield after the snaps were removed. Plastic bolts and nuts from a local hardware store secured the face shield. This change resulted in helmet buffeting being removed at all speeds and water at speed only hit the top of my helmet, not directly onto my face shield.
No changes were made to the electrical system. After extended use of a full Kanetsu electric liner from Aerostich during a day of cold weather the battery still had plenty of juice to start the motorcycle in near zero-degree weather the next morning.
KLR650 or BMW F800GS?
Tim Bernard, founder and Principal of the Happy Trails company, is no newbie to the world of adventure motorcycling. Long known as the center for adventure-oriented motorcyclists seeking modifications and parts for their motorcycles, Happy Trails has been the go-to adventure place for thousands of customers around the world. Bernard had just finished overseeing similar modifications to a BMW F800GS that had also been done to my KLR650.
In the parking lot in front of the Happy Trails store I was packing the KLR650 to leave on the 10,000-mile test. Bernard came out from his office to wish me well on my journey, and we began looking at my modified motorcycle next to the recently finished BMW F800GS. Both were fresh motorcycles, and each fell into the category of advanced adventure models. Bernard asked, “Which do you think is the best?” I answered, “Let’s take ‘em out, pound some ground with them, and see which is best at the end of the day.”
This was a tough challenge for Bernard, who was buried in office duties and paperwork at the height of the company sales season. He said after a moment of reflection, “I’ve got serious work here right now. A new pannier mounting system needs my attention today, three to four hours worth.
Bernard and I would swap motorcycles and drive each over the same sections, and then making our comparisons within a matter of minutes.
Payroll is due and I’m supposed to deal with a problem concerning the building. My next eight hours is under serious economic demand. I don’t think I can get away for some field testing under quantifiable conditions.”
“OK,” I replied. “I know what it means to have to run a business, keep it afloat especially during these lean economic times. I was just thinking about doing a day of playing with these two motorcycles, doing a 100% subjective analysis of five or ten points, things like Dropability, Flipability, Wallet-Hit and the Cool and Fun Factors. You’d better stay in the office, keep the bank, suppliers and employees happy.”
“What’s the Fun Factor?” Bernard asked.
“That’s what we’ll be having if you spend the day with me swapping motorcycles and being a motor-head versus being a successful businessman with happy employees.” Hooked like a fish on a barbed treble hook, Bernard immediately responded: “I’ve got to call the wife and get my riding gear. We can leave in 10 minutes.”
Tim Bernard rolled out another of his modified Kawasaki KLR 650s to run against my Globe Killer KLR in the annual Big Dog Adventure Ride.
Bernard and I both participate in the annual high-altitude off-road carnage known as the Big Dog Adventure Ride, so we know each other’s riding style quite well. Over the next few hours we raced, wallowed, dabbed, and slid the Kawasaki KLR650 and BMW F800GS, each with a heavy bag on the back. We did some interstate driving, paved twisties, gravel roads, jeep trails and even a couple of no-track field crossings. We would drive over a section, then swap motorcycles and try it again. When worn out we would park the motorcycles head-to-head, sit on a log or rock and trade comments.
At the end of the day Bernard returned home with a smile on his face while I continued westward on 400 miles of brain-numbing interstate. As we parted Bernard commented, “I wish I could join all of our customers on a day ride like this. We were blessed with a perfect day thanks to your cajoling me into being irresponsible.”
The Totally Subjective Shootout Factors and Ratings
Driving where there were no trails and plenty of holes and rocks tested pilot skill as well as handling, equating to the Dropability Factor, and at speed, the Flipability Factor.
Both the BMW F800GS and the Kawasaki KLR650 had nearly the same amount of add-ons and modifications in terms of cost, roughly $3000. The factors we ranked the two motorcycles on and their “best” rating were based upon areas we felt were applicable to a motorcycle we would want to take on a long and hard ride, like to Cape Agulhaus through Africa or across Europe or Asia to Vladivostok, Russia.
Factor 1 – Wind Protection: KLR650 scored the best
Factor 2 – Mileage: Best was the BMW at 55 mpg versus the Kawasaki at 35 mpg.
Factor 3 – Seat Comfort: KLR650 scored the best.
Factor 4 – Ergonomics: KLR650 was the best, but only slightly.
Factor 5 – Flipability, loaded with travel gear: F800GS and KLR650 tied.
Factor 6 – 1st gear off-road: KLR650 was the best.
Factor 7 – Dropability: Best was the F800GS because it was easier to pick-up when dropped.
Factor 8 – Cool “adventure” look: F800GS was the best.
Factor 9 – Wallet-Hit: Biggest hit to a wallet was the F800GS from its purchase price to repairs and parts, so the best was the KLR650.
Factor 10 – Fun: KLR650 and F800GS tied
The Kawasaki KLR650 was the best.
Before a follower of this two-part series keystrokes their opinion, remember Bernard and I quantified our findings as being totally subjective. Bernard, as the founder and Principal of Happy Trails, works on and pilots both models as well as a myriad of other adventure motorcycles, whereas I merely drive them to the ends of the earth, oftentimes repairing them along the way. The factors by which we judged either
the BMW F800GS or the Kawasaki KLR650 were as far as we could get from the often seen published shoot-outs with graphs, charts and testing machine results. We both believe the niche of adventure motorcycling has a cornerstone based in part on fun and a degree of risk, and because we were both born before Indian Motocycle was spelled without the “r,” we also have had a number of years to recognize that comfort does not denigrate an adventure touring motorcycle.
If I were an irked reader Bernard should be the recipient of my opinion, because he is the one who oversaw the modifications to both motorcycles, and more importantly, he is the one who took off a day of work to explore the Fun Factor.
While Bernard is answering e-mail and dealing with adventure rider cyber-flames, I hope to be bagging another 10,000 miles on the Globe Killer KLR.