Author Topic: Touring on a 2009 Kawasaki KLR 650. How long will a KLR last?  (Read 3082 times)


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Dr. Gregory Frazier is an avid motorcyclist who is well known for touring the world on a Kawasaki KLR 650. He writes articles about his touring adventures, which are published in several different motorcycle publications. One of his current projects is documenting a 2009 Kawasaki KLR 650 over the course of many thousands of miles. If you are interested in knowing how a Gen2 KLR 650 holds up during its life time, than pay attention to this article. He just released part 6 a few months ago (at the time of this post), and the KLR 650 has rolled 40,000 miles. Here is the title and links to all 7 articles:

UPDATE 3/15/2021, All links are dead except for part 5. Articles disappeared and were hard to find, but I did eventually find them and copied the text below.

Dr. Frazier's Globe Killer KLR650
Dr. Frazier's Globe Killer KLR650 Part 2
Dr. Frazier's Globe Killer KLR650 Part 3
Dr. Frazier's Globe Killer KLR650 Part 4
Dr. Frazier's Globe Killer KLR650 Part 5
Dr. Frazier's Globe Killer KLR650 Part 6
Dr. Frazier's Globe Killer KLR650 Part 7

Part 1
Dr. Frazier's Globe Killer KLR

A long hard ride. Images of crossing the Andes Mountains in South America, or reaching Deadhorse, Alaska came to mind when looking at the stock Kawasaki KLR650, well known as the best valued adventure-touring motorcycle. For 2008 Kawasaki introduced its updated KLR650 incorporating many of the suggestions KLR owners had offered over the previous 20 years. In 2009 additional refinements were made during a year of customer feedback.

While I had little doubt a stock KLR650 could be purchased off a showroom floor and ridden around the world, there were some modifications that could make the journey more comfortable and less worrisome.

Long recognized by avid motorcycle travelers as “adventure touring central” and Alaska motorcycle outfitters, the Happy Trails company of Boise, Idaho and I had worked together before prepping motorcycles for tough rides, ranging from BMW’s to the 1983 Honda GL650 Interstate that I rode two-up to the bottom of South America during The Ultimate Globe Ride. I gave them my new KLR650 and said I wanted to make it ready for a long tough ride, hypothetically around the globe. The team at Happy Trails had some ideas on what needed to be done and I had some of my own based on having taken a 2001 KLR650 over a similar route. I had also experimented with one of the early 2008 KLR650s.

Our plan was to make agreed upon modifications and then test what we had done over 10,000 miles of tough riding, making adjustments if needed along the way. As an additional test, the Happy Trails founder and Principal, Tim Bernard and I would make a totally subjective “shootout” between my ‘round the world “Globe Killer KLR” and another equally modified Happy Trails project bike, a BMW F800GS.

In this first part of a two-part series are the initial changes and add-ons we made to the stock KLR650 to prepare it for 10,000 miles of hard testing.

Carrying Gear:
The stock rear luggage rack was removed and replaced by a Happy Trails Rear Rack, their T-2 Plate. This gave a wider and deeper rear rack with additional base space for eventual strapped on luggage. The T-2 Plate had nicely located holes for tie downs or hooks.

For side carrying luggage the Happy Trails SU Racks were bolted on with their Teton 7.5-inch-wide aluminum panniers. There were wider and deeper aluminum panniers that could have been added, but I knew this would mean more gear could and would be carried inside, adding to the overall weight of the motorcycle. Wider panniers would also mean more width when going through tight spots.

A Wolfman Motorcycle Luggage tank bag was added, the “Enduro” model with the optional rain cover. This model was chosen because it fit the unique shape of the KLR650 gas tank as well as several other motorcycle gas tanks in my motorcycle stable so could be swapped from tank to tank. While we were in our testing period Wolfman came out with some tank bag models specific to the 2008 and newer KLR650 models which we may add at a later date.

For light luggage, like sleeping gear and clothing, mounted on the rear rack and motorcycle rear portion of the seat, Ortlieb Bags from Aerostich were my choice. These tough, waterproof and multi-sized bags had served me well on three previous rides around the world and I opted to use them again.

As weight was added to the KLR650 we were pushing the limits of the stock suspension system. To compensate for this, and to add to the stock suspension capabilities, we replaced to the front fork springs with Progressive ULE 11-1506 springs. While working on the front end a Happy Trails K 9 fork brace was bolted on to take out some of the potential front fork flex and wobble.

At the other end of the motorcycle we changed the stock rear shock spring to an ERS 500 outer spring while keeping the original shock absorber. The spring size was based upon my weight with riding gear of 200 pounds and the estimated weight of the additional add-ons and luggage.

While the back-end of the bike was apart the dog bones were heavily greased after having found them to be close to bone dry. Additionally, the main sub-frame bolt was replaced with a grade 12.9 bolt from Happy Trails as a prevention of the original bolt breaking under the stress of the added weight and severe off-road use.

The stock brake pads, both front and back, were replaced with Galfer Black pads for heavier duty braking. Galfer steel braided brake lines were also added to reduce some of the softness or sponginess of the original rubber lines.

Avon Gripster AM 24 tires from Avon Tires replaced the stock tires for increased mileage and better off-road handling. I had experimented with several dual-purpose tires and found the AM 24 Gripsters to be my favorite for reasons such as price and durability. The original inner tubes on the KLR650 were replaced by IRC Heavy Duty 4mm thick ones to reduce the possibility of deflation from minor intrusions by foreign objects that the thinner original tubes may have allowed.

While there were several options available for upping the horsepower of the KLR650 engine, it was decided the power was enough to do anything I would be asking it to do in the next 10,000-20,000 miles. However, we did make a few modifications.

The first change was to replace the original spring and cam chain adjuster with the “Doohickey” and torsion-type spring. This was done because the original spring was found to be too long, not allowing for much adjustment, and the aftermarket adjuster was superior in design to the original. The torsion-type spring also prevented possible breakage and the broken parts finding their way into dark places in the engine and the subsequent nightmares of where the pieces might end up.

A fuel flow adjuster was installed to make flow adjustments for higher or lower altitudes without having to remove the carburetor. While the carburetor was out, a Happy Trails T-Vent Modification was made to prevent kinking and dirt from getting into the line.

A fuel line filter was added in the main fuel line to the carburetor to catch any flotsam and jetsam that might be found in less hygienic petrol like that sold from liter bottles on the side of the road in parts of South America, Asia and Africa.

The original oil filter was replaced by a steel mesh re-usable one. This was done for maintenance purposes, assuming a replacement might not be easily found on the road, like in Siberia. It also lessened the need to carry replacement filters. A 20-50 weight oil was used as the replacement oil, allowing for the wide range in temperatures from the scorching heat of the Sahara Desert to below freezing at Deadhorse, Alaska.

The stock oil drain plug was replaced with a magnetic drain plug to collect any metal that might find itself in the bottom of the engine having not been caught by the oil filter, another prevention change.

Previous experiences, good and bad, had proved that sooner or later on a long hard adventure, on or off-road, the motorcycle would end up on one side or the other, or bang into a hard object. To add some protection to the bodywork and some exposed and delicate working parts the following were added from the Happy Trails manufactured products: PD Nerf Bars and Highway Pegs, Skid Plate, BBRK Rear Brake Protector, Rear Master Cylinder Guard and K 8 Shift Lever. From their catalog were added Acerbis hand guards to protect the handlebar levers and hands.

The stock KLR650 was fine for a short day of travel, but given our parameters of 10,000-20,000 miles some modifications were made for the body comfort of the pilot.

The first addition was a sheepskin Seat Pad from Aerostich. While Kawasaki had greatly improved the seat on their 2008 and newer models, the addition of the easily installed non-slip sheepskin seat pad added a few more degrees of comfort to the backside of the pilot on long days.

To provide for wind and rain protection a taller front windscreen was easily affixed to the fairing, a Lominar-Lip Windscreen from the Happy Trails catalog.

To soften the potential hammering from off-road riding or day-long handlebar gripping the Happy Trails catalog provided larger and softer Pro-Grip 737 handlebar grips.

Finally, to accommodate the use of warming clothing in cold weather, a fused connector was added for electric clothing.

The updated electrical system on the 2008 and newer KLR650s was deemed sufficient to support the electric clothing. However, a sealed battery replaced the original one because hard off-road riding had been known to shake plates loose on the original batteries. Additionally a sealed battery meant no maintenance on the road, especially in high temperatures when heat would evaporate cell water.

Because the KLR650 did not have a center stand, the final add-on was one of the first Happy Trails designed tough and easily installed adjustable center stands. The aftermarket center stand would ease chain lubing, adjustment, tire repairs if needed, and make up-right parking possible.

The lower tail piece of the rear fender was removed to prevent it from bouncing into the rear tire during serious off-road bouncing. The license plate holder easily mounted on the remaining portion of the rear fender below the tail light.
Ready for the world?

The next 10,000 miles would find the ‘round the world “Globe Killer KLR” taking on everything from 75 mph interstates to reaching the top of America’s Mountain, Pikes Peak (14,110 feet above sea level). In between would be the BIG DOG ADVENTURE RIDE, known as “the world’s highest, toughest, dirtiest, meanest” adventure ride and a “head-to-head” run-off against a highly modified BMW F800GS.


Part 2
Dr. Frazier's Globe Killer KLR Part 2

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.


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.

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.
Head-to-head the Kawasaki KLR650 left and the BMW F800GS had many areas for comparison.
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.”

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

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 Best?
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.


Part 3
Dr. Gregory Frazier
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

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.

 “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

 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.

 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  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:

 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.

 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:

 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.


 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.


Part 4
Dr. Gregory Frazier
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

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.

 At the 20,000 mile mark I opined “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 Kawasaki KLR650 has taken me to this point and how it has done so, I see many miles over the horizon towards future adventures.”

Time and the overly expensive prospect of shipping the KLR650 off the continent to Asia, Africa, South America or Europe found me parking it for six months and using the money saved to bag another 10,000 miles on the North American continent upon my return. Those miles were hard miles, ranging from 75 mph on high-speed interstates, to serious off-road adventure riding in the 2012 Big Dog Adventure Ride. In between I crisscrossed the Continental Divide from Montana to Mexico numerous times, broke my leg performing a deep sugar-sand, slow-speed get-off in a remote area of the Navajo Indian Reservation, and later was nearly run over by Indians (the pre-1930 motorized cycle brand) in the 2012 Cannonball Endurance Run as they passed through Wyoming. I found another 10,000 KLR650 miles filled with adventure within the horizons of the western United States.

In an effort to remain true to the spirit of the original concept of The Globe Killer Project Bike, (that someday it might find itself in some remote third world country at the 30,000 mile mark with no qualified mechanics or Kawasaki spare parts), I did as much of a shade tree mechanical 30,000 mile check-up as I could self perform. Possibly, when I find some future adventure near the Happy Trails Motorcycle Products Company in Boise, Idaho, the birth place of the project, I will let principal Tim Bernard give me and the motorcycle another inspection for lack of proper and certified maintenance.

 More Bumps In The Road – Some Farkle and Bling

Reaching 30,000 miles was not without a few more bumps in the road, some softened by farkle and possible bling. An estimated 75% of the 10,000 miles were done on pavement, the remaining 25% off-pavement over ground that ranged from easy, high-speed gravel or hard pan roads to ugly single track sections better suited for horses or bicycle riders carrying their bikes. In the latter sections I often found myself and the KLR650 in horizontal positions, twice with the KLR650 being on top of the pilot. Some of the get-offs were the result of serious pilot error, like zigging with a fully loaded motorcycle when the decision should have been zagging. Other times could only be attributed to the pilot being an avid follower of St. Fermin, the Patron Saint of Fools, in pursuit of foolish motorcycle adventure.

Wind and Water Protection

An experimental combination of a Laminar-Lip windscreen had previously been attached to a product from Happy Trails, The Rally Windscreen. Another R & D product from Happy Trails, bat-wing side pieces, were also added.

After several thousand miles I was back to using the old motorcycle helmet face shield that bolted to the top of the Laminar-Lip with five easily installed or removed plastic nuts and bolts for high-speed pavement travel. At high speed the wind, water and bugs were vectored over or around my helmet. An inspection of the self-made combination after one 550-mile trip found the attached face shield covered with the smashed bugs and dirt that would have been on the front of my riding jacket, helmet face shield or in my teeth had I been smiling with my helmeted face shield up.

This previously described “field-fix” had become a more permanent fix. When I knowingly went off pavement and wanted to see more directly in front of the front wheel, or worried about my helmet or face bouncing into the taller screen, I simply removed the taller addition and stored it in the tank bag.

 The dashboard of the Rally Windscreen was a tempting place to mount anything, from a GPS to a five-dollar digital watch. I had not graduated to the GPS and the need to know the time of day was satisfied by looking at my wristwatch or the level of the sun, so the dashboard, although functionally needed for mounting The Rally Windscreen, qualified as quasi-bling.

One add-on, or farkle, was the Happy Trails KLR650 Lift Handle. This hand-grab bolted on to the mid-frame of the KLR650 and made rolling the motorcycle backwards onto the center stand measurably easier. While it could have been called farkle, I classified it as a strained-back-or-muscle-saver. If I purchased another KLR650, any year, and added a center stand, the Lift Handle would also be purchased.

Findings At 30,000 Miles


The Avon Gripster front tire had 15,000 miles on it. Many more miles would have been pushing the safety level. The rear Avon Distanzia had 10,000 miles on it and looked like it could go at least 5000 more miles. While the combination did well on pavement, once in mud, on slippery rocks or grass, or in soft sugar sand, the KLR650 would slip and slide as well as any street-oriented motorcycle with stock tires. Ideally these off-road situations would have been undertaken using knobby tires or a more aggressive dual-sport type. The trade-off came as a result of not wanting to carry and change tires while traveling and being budget conscious about tires and the good value of the Avon products.


While on the center stand the front and rear wheel were spun to check for trueness and were found to be straight. Two spokes on the rear wheel sounded dull when tapping them with a screwdriver. They were tightened until they sounded like the others on the wheel.

Chain and Sprockets:

At 20,000 miles the rear chain and both sprockets had been replaced. At 30,000 miles a slight amount of slack in the chain was taken up, less than one full turn of the adjusting bolts.

Air Cleaner:

I learned my lesson at Happy-Trails during the 20,000 mile check-up and maintenance session of the result of not attending to the air cleaner versus loss of performance and low gas mileage. Cleaning the re-usable air cleaner every 3000 miles has become part of the routine maintenance.

Spark Plug:

The spark plug gap looked fine, but the end was blackish. It was cleaned up, gapped and re-installed.


Not having any shims and noticing no appreciable decline in performance, the valves were left untouched at the 30,000 mile mark.

Balance Chain Tensioner:

At 30,000 miles the adjustment bolt was loosened, allowing the internal Happy Trails installed torsion-type spring to take up any slack in the chain. The adjustment bolt was then carefully retightened.

 Oil and Oil Filter:

These items continued to be changed and cleaned religiously at every 3000 mile point, and again at the 30,000 mile inspection. 20-50 weight non-synthetic oil was used based on the hypotheses that the motorcycle would be been taken on a long ride to some distant point where synthetic oil would not be available. A budgetary consideration was also a factor in choice of oil type, the non-synthetic type being more economical. No appreciable metal bits were noticed when cleaning the oil filter (a wire mesh re-usable model) or on the magnetic drain plug.

Swingarm and Dog Bone Bolts:

These bolts were not checked at the 30,000 mark, leaving that to a time when the motorcycle would be in a better equipped shop than my sparsely stocked shade tree garage.

Fuel Filter:

A new plastic fuel filter was installed as a matter of routine maintenance at 30,000 miles, last having been changed at 20,000 miles.

Brake and Water Fluids:

Brake fluid levels were checked and found to be at acceptable levels and the color appeared to be good. No change was made. The radiator coolant and overflow collector were inspected and seemed visually clean. No change was made to the coolant.


The battery was checked when cold and read 13.24 volts. When running it showed 14.3 volts. I noted that the battery was 30,000 miles and three years old and had needed no attention. Three times the motorcycle has been left standing over the 30,000 mile period without a trickle charger for six months at a time.

All other electrical parts were working.

Brake Pads:

A visual inspection of the brake pads, front and back, showed considerable pad material left on all four surfaces. No excessive wear could be seen or felt by finger feel on either front or rear discs.


The clutch, brake and throttle cables were given a good inside bath with WD 40, as was the throttle on the handlebar. Some slack was taken up in all three by the easily accessed adjusters.


After 30,000 miles the KLR650 seemed to have many more miles left of relative low-maintenance riding. Having pushed it to some rather extreme limits, following the suggestion of Happy Trails principal Tim Bernard, to “hammer it,” the KLR650 seems to have fared well other than acquiring some scratches and nicks, most attributed to pilot contributions.

After six months in another restive state it will have fresh gasoline injected, a new front tire and tube installed, the battery charged, and be used to pursue adventures over another six months. During that time it may find the way back to Happy Trails Central in Boise, Idaho for another check-up.

When asked my opinion of the 2009 KLR650 after 30,000 miles, I smile and answer, “Like a best value priced Timex watch, it just keeps on ticking.”


Part 5
Dr. Gregory Frazier, Contributing Editor
Adventure-touring across North America

After its 30,000 mile report, the Globe Killer Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike was pushed a bit harder than before. Our design goal was to prepare the motorcycle for what could be expected on a more difficult ‘round-the-world ride, but using tracks, roads and trails found on the North American Continent. Toward that end, the American adventure miles crossed through remote environments and over ground as nasty and dirty as that experienced in Africa, South America, Russia and The Tourist Triangle of Myanmar. While I originally planned to return the motorcycle to the Happy Trails Motorcycle Product Company for a 40,000 mile checkup, I only managed 5,000 miles traveled – but it was a tough 5,000 miles.

The following were a shade tree mechanic’s findings, with some professional consultation from the oldest Kawasaki motorcycle dealership in the United States, Lander Marine and Kawasaki. Owners Paul Westman and his brother Eric have long been avid KLR650 aficionados and shared some thoughts about the Globe Killer KLR650 as it passed through Lander, Wyoming.



In anticipation of the rough stuff, both the front and rear tires were changed at 32,000 miles to Avon Gripster AM24’s. While the Avon Distanzia was the preferred tire for the rear due to its high mileage capability, we opted for a Gripster out back for its more aggressive off-pavement tread design.

Talking tires with Paul Westman, he mentioned that one Avon Gripster rear tire had managed an incredible 15,000 plus miles on a KLR650. Meanwhile, our project KLR650 was averaging 6,000 miles between required rear tire swaps. Westman rolled out his collection of Gripster take-offs and pointed out the difference in core thickness between the older, high-mileage Gripster and newer Gripsters. The thickness he attributed to the high mileage, coupled with a lighter weight than our project KLR650 and the fact the owner had traveled at slower speeds over the life of the rear tire.


When the new tires were mounted, the spokes were again checked, with no adjustment necessary. However, after some tough off-pavement riding over the next 3,000 miles, two spokes on the front wheel and three on the back needed tweaking.

Chain and Sprockets:

As previously reported, at 20,000 miles the rear chain and both sprockets had been replaced. At 35,000 miles more slack in the chain was taken up, less than two full turns of the adjusting bolts. Each day after use, the chain had been given a bath with WD-40 and then sprayed with a silicon lubricant.

Air Cleaner and Oil Changes:

Cleaning the reusable air cleaner every 3,000 miles had become part of routine maintenance, as was changing the nonsynthetic engine oil and cleaning the wire mesh reusable oil filter. No metal bits were noticed when cleaning the oil filter or on the magnetic drain plug.

Balance Chain Tensioner:

At the 35,000 mile mark the adjustment bolt was loosened, allowing the internal Happy Trails installed torsion-type spring to take up any slack in the chain. The adjustment bolt was then carefully retightened.

Water Level:

Less than a cup of coolant was added to the radiator at 35,000 miles. At no time was any boiling or leakage seen over the previous 5,000 miles.


The Odyssey Battery Kit installed by Happy Trails had been living up to its touted service life of “3-10 years.” For the fourth winter, the battery sat unattended for six months. In the spring it still had enough juice to start the KLR650 without needing a charge.


The brake, clutch and throttle cables were given a good inside bath with WD-40 at 35,000 miles, as was the throttle on the handlebar. Grease was applied to the ends of the clutch cable before reinstalling.

Gas Consumption:

At highway speeds of 65-75 mph, the KLR650 was averaging 33 mpg. When the speed was decreased to 50 mph consumption rolled back to 40 mpg.


When we initially installed the adjustable centerstand, there was some hesitation due to concerns about reduced ground clearance, added weight and additional cost. After 35,000 miles those concerns were far outweighed by the numerous times the centerstand had been used for rear tire removal, washing and oiling the rear chain, checking and changing oil and routine maintenance.

The Happy Trails KLR650 Lift Handle, added at the 20,000 mile point, was a blessing when it came to muscling the motorcycle onto the centerstand. It was no longer classified as farkle.

At the 35,000 mile mark, all of the Happy Trails aftermarket gear had been tested, whether intentionally or by pilot error. None failed, leading to support the Happy Trails claim that their accessories truly qualified as “adventure-proven motorcycle gear.”


At 34,219 miles the master link failed or took a walkabout at 70 mph on a busy Interstate highway. The flailing chain took out Guide-Chain, Collar, Cover-Assembly-Chain Case, Bracket and RR Guide-Chain. Fortunately the chain did not ball up at the primary sprocket and crack the engine housing. Instead, the chain dropped to the highway while the KLR650 coasted to a stop.

After parking the motorcycle on the paved shoulder of the highway, the master link-less chain was retrieved. While trucks, travel trailers and cars whizzed by, some pushing wind strong enough to rock the motorcycle off the side stand, the luggage was off-loaded to dig out the shaving kit, where a spare master link had been stored and carried for 10 years. It was 10 years earlier when another master link on different motorcycle let go in Cambodia, giving rise to always carrying one or two different size master links.

45 minutes after dropping the chain on the roadway, the motorcycle was back moving again, albeit at a slower speed. The next day the proper size master link was purchased and chain adjustment checked.

The cause of the master link failure and disappearance is unknown and a popular topic for motorcycle maintenance speculation. What I do know is the only thing that could have made the roadside adventure more miserable is if it had been raining, or 110 degrees in Cairo, Egypt, and I had not bothered to pack that spare master link.


Part 6
The 35,000 mile KLR650 Globe Killer report was 5000 miles short of the planned 40,000 mile check-up, and some repairs were necessary during the intervening miles.



At 36,000 miles, the rest of the riding year to the 40,000-mile major service looked to be highway miles rather than off-pavement. In anticipation of needing a new rear Avon Gripster AM24 somewhere between Montana and Mexico in the next 4000 miles, we decided to switch from the Gripster to the preferred high mileage Avon Distanzia tire.


While the motorcycle was off the ground, having a new rear tire and tube installed, the wheels were checked for loose spokes and the brake pads were inspected. Nothing needed replacement or adjustment.

Skid Plate:
The motorcycle adventure gnomes in the Engineering Department at Happy Trails Motorcycle Product Company had re-designed their skid plate to incorporate an impact kit to fit between the skid plate and the motorcycle frame and engine. Additionally, the new skid plate was slightly lower than the earlier model, which had left a bit of the aftermarket magnetic oil drain plug exposed to possible direct impact. At the 36,000 mile mini-service the newer style skid plate was installed and then tested numerous times during off-road adventures as it made contact with rocks, both flying and fixed.

Chain, Sprockets and Guards:

As previously reported, at 34,219 miles the master link on the rear chain disappeared at 70 mph on a busy interstate and the flaying chain took out the Guide-Chain, Collar, Cover-Assembly-Chain Case, Bracket and RR Guide-Chain.

While replacement Kawasaki parts were collected, we tightened the chain at the 35,000 mile mark since it showed some wear. At 36,000 miles we decided to replace the chain and sprockets while bolting on the new parts and installing the new rear tire. There were miles left in the chain and sprockets, but how many were unknown. They had 16,000 miles on them. The unknown miles, like the life left on the Gripster rear tire, compelled the decision to swap for new parts while the motorcycle was being serviced at 36,000 miles rather than trying to squeeze the final miles out, only to find parts gone on some empty section of road.

Air Cleaner and Oil changes:

At the 36,000 mile point, and again at the 40,000 mile mark, the re-usable air cleaner was cleaned as was the re-usable wire mesh oil filter. At both points new oil replaced the old.

Balance Chain Tensioner:

During the same 36,000 mile mini-service, the torsion-type spring took up any slack in the cam chain by loosening the adjustment bolt and then carefully retightening it. Whether there was any slack in the chain needing to be taken up was unknown as the spring does its work unseen under the engine case cover.

Water Level:

No coolant was added at the 36,000 mile check-up.


Somewhere before the 37,689 mile point the low beam on the H7 headlight died, brought to my attention by a country sheriff passing in the opposite direction. Given a written warning after the high beam proved it was working, the sheriff let me drive to the next town where I was able to replace the lighting element in the parking lot at a local auto parts store. This marked the second time in 37,689 miles that the low beam had expired.



One of the endearing qualities of the Kawasaki KLR650 is its dual-purpose ability, being a solid pavement tourer as well as functional for off-road work, a highly desirable trait for adventuring with only one motorcycle.

Over the last 40,000 miles the compromise for wind protection has been a mix of windscreens.

The original KLR650 windscreen did little to protect the pilot from wind, rain or flying objects, whether at low speeds or high. A Happy Trails solution was a prototype that incorporated a newer dashboard and aftermarket windscreen. A newer “Rallye Windscreen” had been designed and was installed at the 40,000 mile service, which again incorporated the original Kawasaki windscreen, but at a steeper angle. This newer windscreen is better suited for off-pavement use than highway use, but is far superior to the stock windscreen at highway speeds.

A highway speed option has been designed by Clearview Shields. The company’s clear or gray windscreen is available in three heights, 16.5 inches to 19 inches. We selected the tallest of the three options based on a 6’ 3” rider height.

Both the Happy Trails and the Clearview Shields will be tested from the 40,000 mile mark forward.

Tank bag:

We originally installed a Wolfman Enduro tank bag and for the last 40,000 miles it did its job well. We’ve now gone with a newer design, the Blackhawk tank bag, for several reasons, including larger capacity. It also fit the KLR650 tank design more comfortably, therefore moving around less when bouncing over rocks and off-pavement.


The KLR650 was prepared for its sixth annual half-year hibernation and locked away. Before doing so, we called Happy Trails to ask if we should schedule a major service before taking it back out on the road in the spring. The answer was, “If it’s running OK, we’d push on into the summer, or as the old saying goes, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fuss with it.’”


Part 7

Dr. Frazier’s Globe Killer KLR650 Part 7
Dr. Gregory Frazier | October 15, 2015

(This is the seventh part in a series exclusively for Motorcycle USA of a long term test of a Kawasaki KLR650)

The 40,000 mile KLR650 Globe Killer report concluded with the 2009 KLR going into hibernation over the winter. When it was returned to service in the late spring, timing and location did not find it in a Kawasaki dealer for a check-up until the 45,000 mile mark.

Ninety-percent of the last 5000 miles were on pavement to and from adventure riding points in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. The remaining 10% was a mix of good quality gravel roads and mining roads, none requiring more than load lightening and tire pressure reduction to 20 pounds front and back. While the KLR650 project motorcycle was entered in the Big Dog Adventure Ride, it stayed on B and C class level routes.
Dr. Frazier's Globe Killer KLR650 Part 7

Back on the road after a winter of resting. Amazingly the KLR started easily after sitting for six months, with no battery tender attached. The Odyssey battery had again proved itself worth the investment, suggested by Happy Trails (; this having been the sixth winter the motorcycle and battery had sat unattended.


I maintained the combination of the Gripster AM 24 for the front and Distanzia for the rear. While the front Gripster was approaching replacement after 15,000 miles, the rear Distanzia had many miles left after 9000 miles. Both are slated for replacement with the new TrailRider tires from Avon when the KLR650 is brought back into service in 2016.

Air Cleaner and Oil changes:
At the 43,000 mile point, and again at the 45,000 mile mark, the re-usable air cleaner was cleaned as was the re-usable wire mesh oil filter and new oil replaced the old.

Balance Chain Tensioner:
During the same 43,000 mile and 45,000 mile points the torsion-type spring was again allowed to take up any slack in the cam chain by loosening the adjustment bolt and then carefully retightening it.

When the KLR was taken out of storage after sitting for six months, the Odyssey battery was strong enough to start the motorcycle and carry it throughout the next 5000 miles. Originally installed when the Happy Trails Motorcycle Product Company set up the project motorcycle in 2009, the battery has proved itself a wise investment over the last six years.
Dr. Frazier's Globe Killer KLR650 Part 7

Routine maintenance at 42,386 miles included an oil change, chain oiling and adjustment, and checking all fluids, only shade tree mechanic tools and skills being needed.

Brake Pads:
While doing routine maintenance at 43,000 miles, the rear brake pads were discovered to have reached their limits. The Galfer pads, installed by Happy Trails, had lasted over 42,000 miles.

The Clearview windscreen has been used exclusively over the last 5000 miles, except for those times doing off-road pursuits, like the Big Dog Adventure Ride. The Clearview windscreen is ideal for endless miles of highway driving, providing wide and tall wind and water protection. It is quickly and easily removed when wanting to do off-pavement riding. Once removed the original KLR650 small screen remains in place.

MAJOR CHECK-UP – 45,000 miles

It had been over 25,000 miles since the KLR project bike saw the inside of a Kawasaki dealership. Routine maintenance had been done, and as needed, shade tree mechanical skills kept the motorcycle seemingly in good form. However, those 25,000 miles had been hard ones, and it was time to let a professional look at the machine, especially the valves clearances, for which shade tree tools, skills and possible parts were lacking.

Lander Marine and Kawasaki, located in Lander, Wyoming, the oldest Kawasaki dealership in the USA, scheduled a time slot that coincided with an adventure through Wyoming and the KLR650 was turned over to their trained mechanic for a check-up and any required maintenance at the 45,000 mile mark.

The major work was to check valve clearances. Surprisingly, after 25,000 miles, all clearances were still within factory specifications. However, some shims were changed for the exhaust valves to fine tune those clearances. Interestingly, although the exhaust clearances were still within specifications of .006-.010, bringing them both to .009 increased compression from 68 PSI to 76 PSI.
Dr. Frazier's Globe Killer KLR650 Part 7

Far from the shade of trees, the KLR650 found itself in the hands of professional mechanic Paul Westman while it was being looked over and tested at Lander Marine and Kawasaki.

While the valve tappets were being checked and adjusted, the spark plug was changed to a new one. The older one, which had not been touched for the last 25,000 miles, still looked good and was performing well.

Some of the hoses for emissions circulation were re-routed to insure the smooth flow of dirty engine gases and one wire was found to have been crimped, but not broken, likely more the result of severe ground pounding or prior shade tree mechanical skills.


The 2009 KLR650 was prepared for its seventh annual half-year hibernation and locked away. With fresh oil, gas additive and some trepidation, the key was turned off, wondering if the Odyssey battery would be alive and strong six months later to bring it back to life.


The KLR650, a 2009 model, was set up by the Happy Trails company “for a long tough ride,” in part to test some new aftermarket accessories, and to prepare it for travel to places where Kawasaki parts and dealer pit stops would not be easily found. While some routine maintenance was expected over the projected miles, it was prepped to be able to be worked on by an owner with limited skills and tools.

Given the weight of the pilot and luggage over those miles, changes were made to both the front and rear suspension to accommodate that anticipated weight. Kawasaki, with their 2015 models, made similar factory changes. 2015 front springs were 40% stiffer with a reported increased rebound damping of 25%. On the back end the rear spring was firmed up by 60% and rebound upped by 80%.

An additional 2015 change was made to the seat to make it more comfortable for long highway miles. Although for those riders who are not the toughest in the world, additional butt buffers may still be an option for those 200-300 mile sections between gas stops possible on American interstate highways.
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