Back in January of 2013, we personalized a 2011 Kawasaki KLR650 and set off on a variety of adventure rides. During the next 4000 miles or so, we grew to understand the nuances of the machine, both good and bad. So we decided to address some of the key flaws, because we truly believe this bike has the potential to be one of the best deals in the adventure world.
THE DERRIÈRE DILEMMA
The first issue was a real pain in the caboose, literally. The stock seat on the KLR is pretty comfortable for about two hours. After that, the smarting starts. The stock foam breaks down and the seat becomes too soft. If you slide to the back of the saddle, you’ll end up back in the low spot. Not good. We have used Seat Concepts saddles in the past and loved them, so this upgrade was a no-brainer. The Seat Concepts seat is wider in the main seating area and narrow in the front, like the stock seat, to allow an easy reach to the ground and a more normal leg position while standing. The wider seat allows for more even weight distribution, which reduces pressure points. Also, the foam doesn’t break down like the OEM seat does. Seat Concepts offers a variety of cover materials, styles and kit options. We went with stock-height, embossed cover. At first, the Seat Concepts seat felt a little strange compared to the well-worn stocker. We could feel the additional support for the posterior, which was exactly what we were looking for. Standing and putting our feet down when stopped felt normal. Since a large part of any ADV ride includes pavement stints, a good seat is a must. This seat would be our choice for any ride that lasts more than a couple of hours. The Seat Concepts seat provides long-haul comfort without compromising off-road maneuverability and control. It’s the difference between an epic ride and a grueling march.
FROM LOOSEY-GOOSEY TO SUSPENSION MAGIC
There is no doubt that the single biggest weakness of the KLR off-road is the suspension. It is wimpy, and the fork action can be compared to a high-tech pogo stick. Race Tech took our under-sprung, under-damped forks and shock and turned them into trail art. The difference in ride quality was amazing. We had already installed a set of heavier fork springs and upped the weight on the fork oil in an attempt to make the front end work on the trail. This helped marginally, giving a firmer ride but without much improvement in damping control. Race Tech installed its Gold Valve cartridge emulator kit and a set of high-performance fork springs. Now the forks ride up in the stroke and resist bottoming and rebound in a smooth, controlled manner. The steering on trail sections is much more precise. The front end goes where it’s pointed and tracks straight. It is truly amazing.
On the back of the bike, Race Tech hooked us up with its shock-shaft assembly, which includes the Gold Valve. This kit uses your stock shock body and replaces all of the internal parts. On its online product description page, Race Tech claims that the kit “is an impressive performance upgrade.” After riding with the new shock, we agree. Like the stock fork, the stock shock had a serious case of pogo-stick envy. It was marginal at best on the pavement and scary in the dirt. With a set of stuffed saddlebags, things just got more wallowy and grim. The Race Tech shaft assembly keeps the OEM spring preload adjuster and adds a very functional rebound adjuster. After installing the rebuilt suspension, we immediately took the KLR out on the trail. On the first pass on a hilly, whooped-out trail, we experienced speed and control that belied the bike’s 350-pound mass. Playing with the preload and rebound adjusters allowed the rear to keep its composure, even with a set of loaded saddlebags. Our verdict on the Race Tech suspension upgrade: awesome!
The stock skid plate on the KLR is plastic and looks great on the showroom floor. It does a good enough job of keeping debris off the lower end of the motor while riding on pavement. Unfortunately, the plastic is so soft and malleable that even a small rock can punch a hole through it when off-roading. A solid hit by a large boulder will leave you stranded with black gold oozing out of the low-hanging engine cases. A Ricochet off-road skid plate from Rocky Mountain ATV was bolted to the frame for a much-needed improvement in engine/frame protection. The Ricochet skid plate is made from 3/16-inch, aircraft-grade aluminum and has “ears” on the sides of the plate to help protect the side cases.
There is a hole in the bottom of the plate, which provides access to the drain plug without removing the plate. This hole is large enough to easily get a socket on the nut, and it is centered so oil drains without pooling on the plate. The mounting hardware includes four steel clamps for the bottom of the frame, two steel motor-mount plates, and a U-bolt for the front. We haven’t kissed any large rocks with the new skid plate yet, but looking at the garfs in the plastic one proves it’s just a matter of time. Having used Ricochet skid plates on other bikes, we trust the added protection this product affords.
MOOSED-UP WOLFMAN DRY DUFFEL AND SNAP!
A set of Cortec soft bags worked fine for those shorter overnight trips, but lacked the capacity and security needed for longer adventures. Moose Racing’s Expedition luggage-rack system and a set of Expedition side cases by Pelican were logical replacements. The rack system replaces the stock rear rack with a complete frame that holds two side cases using a universal mounting bracket and a new top rack. The frame is constructed from steel that is powdercoated black. The Pelican side cases are constructed of ultra high-strength polypropylene copolymer resin and feature heavy-duty, watertight, O-ring lid seals with two lockable throw latches. Unlike plastic or aluminum cases, which can crack or crush and deform, the Pelican cases are almost indestructible. In fact, they are guaranteed for life. Our large cases have a 32-liter volume, which is enough for any multi-day excursion. With the universal bracket attached, the cases are easily removed from the motorcycle by pulling a spring-loaded pin and then lifting them off.
To hold all the larger items that wouldn’t fit inside the Pelican side cases, we added a 47-liter Wolfman Expedition dry duffel bag from Rocky Mountain ATV. This bag is made from 100-percent-waterproof, vinyl-coated fabric and radio-frequency-welded seams. The Wolfman bag easily straps to the Expedition top rack without interfering with access to the side cases. If this combination of luggage doesn’t offer enough storage for you, you need a trailer. The Cortec bags will easily mount on the Expedition luggage rack when you are not using the Pelican cases.
With all the added girth mounted on the mild-mannered KLR, we needed to clean up the less than stellar throttle response. We slid an FMF Snap into the air boot, which produced crisper throttle response and increased torque. The motor pulled better at low rpm and didn’t cough or hesitate when the throttle was snapped open. This is one of those simple little mods that sounds too good to be true. But, bottom line, it works.
You’ll need a full set of Kenda Big Block tires if dirt is included in the trek. The OEM tires are okay on pavement and packed dirt roads, but throw in loose soil or sand and things get scary. The knobs on the Kenda really open up the off-road side of adventure riding and complement the Race Tech suspension. Tire wear is proving to be equal to that of the OEM tires, plus the noise level is about the same. No negatives for the ADV rider here—unless your life is dirt-free, then a street tire will work just fine.
LIFE IN KLR LANE
This bike gets a huge amount of abuse simply because it is capable of doing things on the street and off-road that stretch the abilities of a superbike adventure machine. The KLR is quick enough, feels light and, with our ongoing mods, is becoming a favorite for exploring all facets of our environment. It is dirt-friendly, road-worthy and, courtesy of the folks listed below, has evolved into an adventure animal.
Race Tech suspension: www.racetech.com
Seat Concepts seats: www.seat concepts.com
Moose Racing luggage: www.moose racing.com
FMF Racing Snap: www.fmfracing .com
Kenda Big Block tires: www.kenda tire.com
Rocky Mountain ATV/Wolfman dry bag: www.rockymountainatvmc.com