Dr. Frazier’s Globe Killer KLR650 Part 3

January 13, 2012
Dr. Gregory Frazier
Dr. Gregory Frazier
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Having made multiple runs across the globe, round-the-world adventurer Dr. Frazier imparts some of his motorcycle traveling wisdom in his monthly Dr. Frazier Rides column.

Lightened of its luggage for the BIG DOG Adventure Ride 2011  the KLR650 easily managed some of the Colorado Continental Divide passes while using the Avon Gripster tires.
During the final installment the Kawasaki Globe Killer KLR650 Project Bike covered more than 10,000 miles of the roughest terrain in North America.

“Go ahead, hammer it. See if what we did was right.”

These were the challenge words from Tim Bernard, principal of the Happy Trails Motorcycle Products Company as I departed Arizona. The test was the final 10,000 miles on our Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike.

Over the next months the KLR650 was ridden, pushed, pulled, and dragged through some of the toughest terrain found on the North American continent. From high Rocky Mountain passes to hot desert sands, with many paved miles of roadway in between to reach each, the tests were as tough as could be found on any part of the globe. The KLR650 was even entered in the annual Big Dog Adventure Ride known as the world’s highest, toughest, dirtiest off-road adventure ride.

When the Globe Killer was rolled into the workshop area at the Happy Trails home base in Boise, Idaho, it was overdue some routine maintenance, such as checking the valve clearances and taking up any slack in the balance chain tensioner. Sheepishly I took the well-deserved chiding from Bernard for having done little more than changing tires, oil and cleaning the oil filter over the previous thousands of miles.

Some Bumps In The Road

Reaching 20,000 miles was not without a few bumps in the road. While crossing Montana after spring floods near The Battle of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument (where Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, leading the 7th U.S. Calvary, made what was called “Custer’s Last Stand), a large snake attempted to make a last stand in the middle

The pictured snake zigged when the KLR650 zagged  unfortunate for the snake because they were coming at each other from opposite directions.
The pictured snake zigged when the KLR650 zagged, unfortunate for the snake because they were coming at each other from opposite directions.

of a paved highway. At speed I locked up the rear brake as I panicked to miss the serpent on the heavily loaded KLR650. The snake zigged as the KLR650 zagged, but both did so in opposite directions. The result was The Snake’s Last Stand. With the suspension bottomed out from the hard braking, rolling over the snake felt like driving over a speed bump. The motorcycle remained vertical while the snake died horizontally.

A week later, while approaching the Crazy Mountains in Montana, a deer attempted to take out the KLR650 from the left side. In the middle of the day the deer was lying hidden in the tall grass of a barrow ditch on the left side of the road. As I approached it stood up and started to run parallel to the motorcycle on the left side of the road. I immediately slowed to let the deer move ahead of the motorcycle. The deer made a sudden right turn and ran at a ninety-degree angle into the front of the motorcycle. Like a Scud missile it targeted the front of the engine, literally tried to push its head through the space between the top of the front fender, forks and engine.

Again the heavily loaded KLR650 stayed upright, more from luck than pilot skill. A last second decision to release the front brake before impact may have played a part, a lucky part, taking considerable braking weight off the front wheel.

The result of a near collision with an out-of-control SUV was a shattered left handlebar mirror.
The result of a near collision with
an out-of-control SUV was a
shattered left handlebar mirror.

Sadly the deer committed suicide. The Happy Trails E63 Engine Guard/Highway Pegs and PD Nerf Engine/Tank Protector and Skid Plate proved their worth and protected all the KLR650 plastic body work and radiator. A slight bend was noted on the PD Nerf Engine/Tank Protector but not enough to fold into the bodywork. Also noted was deer hair on the left Highway Peg.

The deer proved to be a bigger bump in the road than the snake, but both pushed the adventure meter well into the danger zone.

On another occasion the KLR650 nearly became a bump in the road for a Cadillac Escalade that came sliding wildly around a gravel curve on Owl Creek Pass in Colorado. Contact was made, the result being a broken left mirror from having made contact with the oncoming SUV. I had slowed and pulled to the far right to avoid contact. My being nearly stationary may have contributed in keeping the motorcycle upright. The handlebar/lever protectors installed by Happy Trails saved the clutch lever and my left hand as the SUV driver side mirror whacked the left handlebar. The downside to that near bump in the road was the SUV driver never slowed, leaving me shaken in a cloud of dust, my having to pay for a replacement mirror out of my own pocket.

Findings Up To 20,000 Miles


While the Avon Gripster was the initial choice, the two Gripster rear tires we used went away at about 6,000 miles, while the front was lasting twice as long. This wear was due in part to the

A new rear Avon Distanzia tire was installed knowing the next major miles were going to be on pavement.
A new rear Avon Distanzia tire was installed knowing the next major miles were going to be on pavement.

great number of miles done on pavement at high speed with a full load. At the 20,000 mile mark the rear was changed to an Avon Distanzia, a model that had survived nearly twice the miles on my other KLR650s, once across Europe, Russia and then 3,000 miles in Mexico and the USA. New tubes were installed each time the tires were changed.

KLR650 Chain and Sprockets:

At 20,000 miles the rear chain was beginning to kink. After inspecting the sprockets and chain, it was determined that although there was some life left in all, it would possibly be a fast function of time, before one or all needed to be replaced. All three were replaced.

KLR650 Air Filter:

When inspected, the air cleaner was found to be covered in hardened dust. It had not been cleaned in 10,000 miles, some of which was off-road in dusty conditions. While easily enough accessed and cleaned, it had been ignored by the pilot who was operating under the theory of “if it’s not broken, don’t mess with it,” also known as poor maintenance.

Spark Plug:

One of my mistakes was not having cleaned the air cleaner over the last 10 000 miles. It was clogged with dust  choking off the intake of clean air.
One of my mistakes was not having cleaned the air cleaner over the last 10,000 miles. It was clogged with dust, choking off the intake of clean air.

The spark plug looked surprisingly good, given that it had not been cleaned or looked at over the previous 20,000 miles. Since it was out, a new one was installed.


After 20,000 miles, with no prior adjustment other than that after break-in, the valves were all found to be within specifications. No adjustments were made at the 20,000 mile mark.

Balance Chain Tensioner:

Since the Doohickey had been installed with the torsion-type spring no adjustment had been made. At the 20,000 mile inspection the adjustment bolt was loosened and then retightened.

Oil and Oil Filter:

These items had been changed and cleaned religiously at every 3,000 mile mark, and again at the 20,000 mile inspection. 20-50 weight non-synthetic oil was used based on the assumption that had this motorcycle been taken around the world or on a long ride to some distant point, synthetic oil would not always be available. A budgetary consideration was also a factor in choice of oil type, the non-synthetic type being more economical.

A new chain was installed while installing the new sprockets  the old one starting to kink in places.
A new chain was installed while installing the new sprockets, the old one starting to kink in places.

Swing Arm and Dog Bone Bolts:

These bolts were all dry and water corrosion noted. They were cleaned, greased and re-installed.

Fuel Filter:

While this did not appear on visual inspection to be clogged or filled, a new one was installed as a matter of maintenance.

Brake and Water Fluids:

The brake fluid levels were checked, found to be at acceptable levels, but changed as a matter of maintenance. The coolant in the radiator and overflow collector were checked and found to be clean. No change was made to the coolant.


The KLR650 Battery was checked and found to be within specification, so no changes were made. All other electrical parts, such as turn signal bulbs and lights, were working. However, at 15,500 miles the low beam headlight bulb had died and was replaced. The replacement part was found at a local auto parts store for $15. While installation was tight, fairing and handlebar parts did not have to be removed, the repair being made while in a parking lot.

Wind and Water Protection:

A newly designed Rallye Windscreen  HPT4-8-17 was installed to replace the homemade system I had been using. An experimental wind side deflector was also installed.
A newly designed Rallye Windscreen, HPT4-8-17 was installed to replace the homemade system I had been using. An experimental wind side deflector was also installed.

The original Kawasaki wind screen did little to deflect wind of water. The initial Happy Trails installation of a Lominar-Lip windscreen needed more height, which was fashioned from a face shield off an old motorcycle helmet, a “field fix.” At the 20,000 mile mark a new Happy Trails product, the Rallye Windscreen, replaced the Lominar-Lip/face shield fix. Also added was an experimental bat wing deflection system to deflect water and wind away from the drivers hands and upper arms.

After several hundred miles and some rain, the used Laminar-Lip (less the helmet face shield) was attached to the Rallye Windscreen. This combination threw water and wind up and over the top of the helmet at speeds above 50 mph. The bat-wing experimental side pieces are still in the R&D phase.


Testing the off-road riding capability of the KLR650 at high altitudes found the need for more aggressive off-road tires in mud or snow.
Given the KLR650’s reliability and practically limitless range, there’s no shortage of travel ideas for the Globe Killer KLR. 

After leaving the Happy Trails workshop in Boise, Idaho, another 2,500 miles of hard driving were added to the KLR650. Immediately upon leaving a much smoother running engine was noticeable. Gas mileage had significantly increased from a previous 35-40 mpg to 42-45 mpg, depending on speed.

This project was designed to be a long-range field test, trying to liken the test to what one would find if traveling to places like South America or around the globe. It was not a “bolt-on-some-bling-and-farkle and then ride a few 100 miles for photo-ops project.” We wanted to test various products made for the Kawasaki KLR650 as well as the motorcycle itself.

The Globe Killer Project Bike is not going to be parked or sold. Plans are for future product testing and possibly a serious expedition off the continent. Given where the KLR650 has taken me to this point and how it has done so far, I see many miles over the horizon towards future adventures.

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