2012 Kawasaki KLR650 Project Part 3

October 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 performance upgrades from LeoVince and Progressive Suspension in the Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike Part 3 video.

The first installations to our KLR650 project have improved rider comfort and bolstered its adventure-touring capabilities. This time around performance upgrades are on the docket, as we bolt on some aftermarket kit from LeoVince and Progressive Suspension.

LeoVince X3 Slip-on Exhaust

LeoVince sent its X3 Slip-on exhaust for evaluation, and the Italian-designed pipe shows its advantage straight out of the package. The brushed aluminum silencer and stainless steel connector pipe look the part of high-performance gear, while the clunky stock canister sports all the refinement of a cast iron skillet. The heft of the bulky stock exhaust feels like cast iron too, with the the seven pound 11.8 ounce LeoVince unit a four-pound weight reduction compared to the 11-pound 9.2 ounce stock pipe.

The LeoVince X3 exhaust delivers a 10  boost in horsepower  with a the top-end benefiting the most from the Italian aftermarket kit.
The LeoVince X3 exhaust delivers a 10% power boost with the top-end benefiting the most from the Italian pipe.

Installation requires simple tools and takes only a few minutes. The KLR’s seat, side panel and rear brake reservoir must first be removed to access the exhaust parts. Once the exhaust coupling is loosened (behind the brake reservoir), and the mounting bolts are removed, the stock canister slides off easily. In turn the X3 slip-on connector pipe slides, excuse us, slips onto the header without issue. New mounting brackets and bolts ratchet down the shiny new can in style to complete the install.

The front half of the silencer fits snugly beneath the rear underseat bodywork. And despite its close proximity to the bodywork, the silencer has yet to melt the nearby plastics. This is even more surprising considering the stock exhaust sources a shield to buffer the radiant heat, while the LeoVince does not. However, the stainless steel connector pipe did melt a nearby part, in our case a small section of the rear mudguard – without serious damage.

Fire up the KLR and the X3 personality change asserts itself. Hey, what was that? Sounds like a big thumping Single now… The auditory improvement of the LeoVince is dramatic, with the pop-pop-pop cadence beefed up from the stocker’s demure sound signature. And while it’s loud, the X3 is not obnoxiously so. Our sound tests measured 87 dB at idle, with 93 at half-redline (3750 rpm) – compared to 75/88 in stock trim. Various sound inserts are offered, including a muted version.

The LeoVince X3 Slip-on adds more power throughout the KLR650 rev range  with the best advantage coming through mid to top.
The LeoVince X3 Slip-on exhibits its best advantage over the KLR650’s stock exhaust on the top-end.

The Italian pipe delivers sensory enhancements, visual and audio, but engine power benefits as well. The gains are noticeable from the seat of the pants dyno, where the boost makes an already user-friendly powerband more robust. The KLR tractors along with a little more grunt down low, but it’s mid- and top-end power that gains the biggest advantage.

Runs on the dyno confirm the riding impression, as the KLR enjoys an extra 2-3 ponies throughout the rev range. Peak horsepower is 37.88, compared with the stock bike’s 34.68. Three HP is a modest increase, to be sure, and more than a hundred bucks per pony, but it is a 10% increase from stock.

The extra HP is appreciated, but it’s the KLR’s livelier throttle that we like most with the addition of the X3. That the pipe makes the bike sound faster may contribute to our estimation… but the power delivery feels crisper and more immediate. The only hiccups from the new pipe are irregular barks on deceleration, and the carbureted KLR remains sluggish on cold starts.

The X3 earns its $349 asking price as much from its aesthetic appeal and exhaust tones, as it does from raw performance. The LeoVince pipe looks the part and sounds fantastic. Its greatest accomplishment is giving the bland KLR an immediately noticeable aftermarket accent.

Progressive Suspension Monotube Fork Kit & 465 Series Shock

We found the KLR’s stock suspension capable enough during our 650 ADV comparison, where it proved a fair compromise of street and dirt versatility. That said the Kawasaki can benefit from a stiffer setup. Thankfully, the KLR-obsessed folks at Progressive Suspension has developed the Monotube Fork Kit and 465 Series Shock with remote adjustable preload (RAP).

The Progressive Suspension Monotube Fork Kit gives the KLR a more stable and taut front end.
The $339.95 Progressive Suspension Monotube Fork Kit fits into the stock fork tubes and delivers a more stable front end.

We called in our standby wrenching pro, a certified suspension tech, for the Progressive install. He got the job done in a couple of hours, with a good portion of the job time spent fabricating a custom bracket for the shock’s remote preload adjuster, as the stock mounting point was blocked by the Givi engine guards we bolted on in a previous installation.

The Progressive Suspension fork inserts replace almost all of the OE fork internals. The stock damper rod assembly is swapped for a single monotube assembly, which slides into the fork tubes. The only internal parts that carry over from the stock unit are the top-out springs. The main benefit of the Progressive inserts come from the gas-charged cartridge that keeps fork oil under pressure for more consistent damping properties.

Out back the rear shock presented the aforementioned installation challenges, so our trusty mechanic relocated the RAP mount underneath the seat on the left side of the engine. The OE shock allows preload adjustment out back, but requires tools to fiddle with ramp-up settings. The RAP system, however, allows for fine-tuned hydraulic preload adjustment via easy twist of the hand knob. The Progressive 465 shock also offers five-position rebound damping.

Hopping onto the bike with Progressive Suspension components and the change is dramatic. Straight out of the garage we were ran up a familiar dirt road and down some curvy asphalt byways. Even without tinkering with the RAP settings, the change was eye-opening – and for the better. No, the KLR doesn’t magically transform into a canyon carver, per se, but it hustles along in a far more composed manner. The Progressive components are taut, without being overly stiff, delivering more precise damping.

The Progressive Suspension 465 Series
Shock with RAP gives the KLR a more
refined  feel and offers the convenience of
quick preload adjustment.

The front end, in particular, profits from the upgrades. The $339.95 Progressive Suspension fork inserts replace the spongy feedback of the OE fork with a more stable, planted feel. Fork preload can be stiffened up inside the cartridge assembly with a series of three spacers, for more aggressive riders. However, installation instructions suggested no spacers “should be optimum in most cases” and we were more than happy with the result. It is worth noting that the new fork also exhibits a significant reduction of front end dive.

The 465 Series Shock is not cheap at $749.95, but like the fork it delivers a more refined feel. The biggest convenience upgrade is, of course, the RAP adjuster, which proves quite handy when dialing in changes in the laden weight, like a passenger, or in our case touring luggage and camping gear. We are still fiddling with the suspension tuning out back, including the five-position rebound damping, as our project bike continues.

We have yet to challenge the suspension with truly rugged off-road terrain, but easy dirt and gravel roads exhibit the same improvement as those found on the street – the chassis more composed and better at transmitting road input to the rider.

These latest performance enhancements from LeoVince and Progressive Suspension for our Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike represent a sizable investment, but the bike greatly benefits from them. Now it’s back to the testing grounds to sample more touring amenities and bike controls. No backwoods byway is off-limits as we keep exploring KLR country.