2012 Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike Part 2

July 19, 2012
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

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Watch our Kawasaki KLR650 project get parts added from Givi, Saddlemen and SW-Motech in the 2012 Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike Part 2 video .

The first installment of Motorcycle USA’s 2012 Kawasaki KLR650 project bike included simple maintenance, installation of a Shorai battery and evaluation of the dirt-biased Dunlop 606 tires. Our big blue thumper has since racked up miles and we’ve bolted on more aftermarket goodies. Part II of our KLR project boosts touring capability and crash protection.

Givi 408D Windshield & D408KIT

As a touring platform, the bone stock KLR650 proves surprisingly competent for a $6299 dual-sport. The massive plastic handguards aren’t the sexiest accoutrements in the motorbike world, but they sure provide a lot of protection from the elements. The same can be said of the blocky half fairing and wide radiator shroud, not much to look at, but they get the job done. The stock windscreen works fine too, but we wondered how aftermarket units would fare. Italian firm Givi obliged our curiosity by sending its G408D windshield.

The second installment of our 2012 KLR650 Project Bike focused on improving its touring capabilities and adding some crash protection.
The Givi 408D windshield reroutes airflow up and offers improved rider protection from the wind and rain.

Where the stock KLR screen is short, Givi’s design has long, narrow contours that swoop up toward the rider, reshaping the KLR’s front end with a slimmer profile. At 30.2 ounces the new Givi parts, which includes a separate mounting kit, add nominal weight gain over the 9.6 ounce stock unit. Two metal brackets anchor the windscreen via bolts in the instrument cluster. Adhesive foam inserts are placed between layers to quell vibration and ensure a snug fit. The Givi screen feels sturdy, though it can’t dampen all the vibes rattling up from the 650 Single. (The screen also fits into the stock unit’s threaded rubber grommets, which handle the engine vibes better but feel flimsy and less secure at speed.)

Out on the road the Givi screen redirects airflow up toward the rider’s helmet, contrasting the stubby stocker which channels air into the chest and shoulders. Our tester’s 6’1” frame experienced moderate buffeting at higher speeds, but the screen is tall enough to spare shorter riders. This author favors a direct wind flow to even minimal buffeting, but that’s a matter of personal preference. There’s no debating that the Givi’s extra surface area equates to more rider protection from the elements, its performance in rain particularly laudable.

Givi 408D Windscreen
  • Improved rider protection from wind and rain
  • Easy installation requires only a screwdriver and T-Handle
  • Exhibits some buffeting at high speeds 
  • Better touring accessory than OHV addition

The increased wind protection comes with one disadvantage, however, as it restricts cooling airflow for ventilated jackets. The screen’s taller dimensions, positioned closer to the rider, also feel chancy at times while riding off-road. Our Adam’s apple winces at the potential effect of butting up with the screen on a gnarly OHV exchange, though the exterior is lined with a soft rubber border.

The Givi windshield improves the KLR’s long-distance touring performance. Riders who prefer increased protection from the elements to more direct airflow will benefit from the Givi 408D Windshield and D408KIT, which sell for a combined $140.00 MSRP. 

Saddlemen Adventure Track Seat

The Saddlemen Adventure Track Seat is covered by micro-fiber suede and vinyl.
The KLR650 Project’s Saddlemen Adventure Track Seat features to parallel raised seat humps, with the gel interior delivering better long-distance comfort.

Individual rider preference weighs heavy in evaluating seat comfort. And this author hasn’t had any trouble finding fault with OEM perches, which can sometimes be ball-breakingly bad – and, yes, that tasteless pun is intended. Stepping into this cranky editorial breach, Saddlemen offered its Adventure Track Seat for review, which fits the 2008-2012 model KLR.

Fit is a relative term, as installation of the Saddlemen seat requires some wiggling. At issue are two fuel tank mounting bolts located under the seat. The stock perch has cutouts for these bolts, which allow effortless installation, but the Saddlemen design does not. Thus the underside scrapes while the installer presses hard to slide the retainer clip under the mounting hook.

Once fastened in place, the Adventure Track Seat generates immediate attention. More than one passerby snickered at the odd seat layout, reminiscent of a bicycle seat with two raised seat humps running parallel to a steep groove in the middle. The KLR layout is even more exaggerated than Saddlemen’s other AT perches – the company offering seats for most street-legal motorcycles, as well as racing seats for sport and dirt competition). Underneath the vinyl and micro-fiber suede covering material is the other key to the Saddlemen comfort equation – the SaddleGel interior and progressive density foam.

Before evaluating the Saddlemen replacement, the stock KLR seat performance bears mention. Test riders from our recent 2012 650 Adventure Touring Shootout generally favored the KLR perch. But it does fall short in long-distance comfort. It’s by no means agonizing (unlike, say, the Triumph Bonneville SE) and overall the KLR seat is better than average, but there is room for improvement. Our testers noted that after about 50 miles or so, the rider sags down into the seat, creating pressure points on the bottom of the hip bones.

The Adventure Track Seat comfort reverses the effect of the stock unit. Its raised seat humps contact the bottom of the pelvic bones immediately, with the sensation of more initial pressure. But as the rider settles in, the weight feels evenly dispersed and long-distance comfort improves. As for the conspicuous empty void in the center of the seat, it helps alleviate direct pressure on the tailbone and, uh, nether regions – further succor for iron butt ADV riders. We also noted a slight reduction in vibration on the Saddlemen, perhaps a benefit from the gel interior.

The new seat isn’t without flaws. The suede covering isn’t easy to move around on and settles the rider into one fixed position (the stock seat allows easy movement). The suede also retains water – an irritating trait that ensures a wet seat after a quick rain or overnight dews. (Thankfully, rain doesn’t seem to pool in between the seat humps.) We also noticed the seat seems to retain more residual heat than normal on scorching summer days – which we’ll blame on the gel too, or maybe just that black suede again.

Saddlemen Adventure Track Seat
  • Improved long-distance comfort
  • Alleviates pressure on lower back and tailbone
  • Ease of installation and fitment less than ideal 
  • Suede seat material retains water

The American-made Saddlemen design exhibits durable, high quality construction. The heavy-duty fit and finish comes with a heavier weight too, its 8 pounds 3.4 ounces almost five heavier than stock (3 pounds 7.8 ounces). The Adventure Track Seat doesn’t come cheap either, with a $369.95 MSRP as tested (a heated version retails for $519.95).

The Saddlemen seat proves more inviting as the odometer racks up the miles. Our initial break-in evaluation has been limited to shorter rides and commuting duties, so a full long-distance trek is in order before making a final determination. A follow-up evaluation will be included in a future KLR project report. 

A centerstand is a no-brainer addition to our KLR650 project bike. German firm SW-MOTECH delivered its KLR stand via its US distributor Twisted Throttle.
A centerstand is a no-brainer addition to our KLR650 project bike. German firm SW-MOTECH delivered its KLR stand via its US distributor Twisted Throttle.

SW-Motech Centerstand

Drawing up the wish list of parts for our project KLR, a centerstand was high priority. Blame the KLR650’s impractically high sidestand, which makes parking a chore and one of our least favorite features on an otherwise practical mount. But even if the stock kickstand worked without flaw, adding a centerstand to an adventure-touring mount is a no-brainer. The KLR’s ambitious OHV capabilities and tubed tires doom at least a couple flats down its winding AT path… and we want to be prepared. Curiously, Kawasaki doesn’t offer a centerstand as an accessory option, so the German firm SW-MOTECH lent us a welcome hand by sending its version.

Total weight of the SW-MOTECH centerstand adds 7.5 pounds to the KLR. Setup was simple enough, anchoring to the frame behind the footpeg brackets. Grease must be affixed to the stand’s pivot point, with probably the hardest step of the installation pulling the taut retainer spring into place (which holds the stand in place, kind of, when retracted). Finally, a grab handle is positioned on the left side, mounted at the passenger footpeg bracket.

Hoisting the now 457-pound KLR onto the new centerstand requires liberal use of the grab handle, as much lifted onto the stand as it is levered by foot. An awkward dab from a riding boot is needed to coax the lever down to where enough force can be exerted. Once deployed, the centerstand raises the KLR’s back end off the ground, although in loose gravel or dirt the rear tire barely clears enough to roll.

SW-MOTECH Centerstand
  • Functionality of centerstand ups adventure factor
  • Great backup to KLR’s too-tall sidestand
  • Straightforward installation
  • Minimal wheel clearance when used in gravel or dirt surface 
  • Retainer spring is weak

The centerstand isn’t a panacea for the KLR’s bulky sidestand. The kickstand still has to be deployed to even reach the SW-MOTECH unit. Likewise it must be extended when rolling off the centerstand, or else it will not fully retract and hang underneath. This is precipitous, as the retainer spring doesn’t offer much resistance. The one occasion when we retracted with the kickstand up caused the centerstand to scrape as it bounced off the ground during bumps.

The centerstand’s most critical adventure-touring benefit will be for repair work in the field. As such we levered the KLR up and swapped tires in the shop, doing our best to simulate a flat tire. (We replaced the Dunlop 606 tires with its Dunlop K750 stock rubber – which we will follow-up on in a later installment.) The rear tire change was easy, as the centerstand pitches all the weight forward on the front. Swapping out the front tire proved trickier, and it took some tinkering (and one epic failure…) to get the front end braced up secure on the stand.

So while the SW-MOTECH Centerstand doesn’t work as well as our lofty (i.e. inflated) expectations, it does work. We’ll take back all of our gripes on functionality the second we spot a tire deflating out in the middle of nowhere… Peace of mind alone is worth the $179.99 MSRP. 

Givi TN421 Engine Guards offers extra crash protection for the KLR650.
Givi TN421 Engine Guards offers extra crash protection for the KLR650’s broad bodywork and extends to the rear frame.

Givi TN421 Engine Guard

Crash protection components are common upgrades for AT bikes and come standard on many models. The KLR650 sports a fairly resilient skid plate, albeit plastic, but sturdy enough to withstand standard wear and tear. Leaving the stock skid plate in place, we bolstered crash protection with engine guards from Givi. Not that we plan on taking a spill… but over the course of a bike’s lifetime, the $200 Givi TN421 Engine Guards could prove a shrewd investment.

Installation instructions aren’t the most intuitive, but we stumbled our way through well enough. The most difficult part is sorting out proper directions of the oddly shaped engine guards, which we accomplished only after a comic Tetris-like fumbling. The skid plate must be removed (temporarily) along with the engine supports (for good), with the guards then bolted down at the vacant engine support area and the rear frame junctions. The two sides fuse up front, as each tube slips over a nippled connector. The guards are further braced together with a metal bridge, mounted across the frame behind the engine, which bolts onto the top of each side. Once the skid plate is re-attached and critical elements are torqued down with Loctite, installation is complete.

Givi TN421 Engine Guard
  • Common upgrade that bolsters durability
  • High quality construction adds to Adventure-Touring aesthetics
  • Transmits engine vibration
  • Extra weight added with piece of gear that may never be utilized (we hope!)

The KLR’s Givi guards have yet to be deployed in a real-world crash, thankfully. That said, they seem stout enough to withstand a punishing fall and 0 mph tipover alike. The black metal tubing fabrication looks high-end – with the matching black frame bolts a subtle nod at aesthetics (something the utilitarian KLR can certainly benefit from!). Our only quibble is the crash bars transmit engine buzz, which the rider feels upon shin contact with the flanking sections underneath the seat.

The engine guards also pack on just shy of 10 pounds (subtracting the weight of the removed engine support brackets) – which makes a total of 23 pounds added to the KLR in this project bike update. There’s a point of diminishing returns with bolt on additions, where too much crap weighs down the bike. You’ve probably seen these AT behemoths parked outside the Starbucks, and we’ve got a lot of gear yet to test… That said, I reckon the Givi guards are worth their weight.

Future Plans

The KLR650 project continues with the addition of a LeoVince slip-on exhaust and more product testing.
The KLR650 project continues with the addition of a LeoVince slip-on exhaust and more product testing.

Now that our KLR project is enhanced for touring duty, we need to pack her up for a true long-distance excursion. Giant Loop donated luggage – Great Basin Saddlebags and tank bag – to facilitate our vagabond plans. The OEM Dunlop rubber is back in place, with already notable improvement in street handling to report. We’ve also affixed Moose Hybrid Footpegs with offset, and Barkbuster controls are on the testing docket too. A second windscreen from the good folks at Bajaworx is in the parts bin and Progressive Suspension shipped fork internals and a 465 Series shock. Last but not least, a LeoVince X3 slip-on exhaust will do its best to beef up the 650’s bark and bite.

Keep checking back for more KLR updates this summer.