The No-Ride Report

Well, I almost went for a ride this weekend. Didn't make it, again. This time I was thwarted by a broken slave piston on my hydraulic clutch. While I've managed a few road-rides this year, I've still not made it out to the bush. Every once in a while, I go through a phase where I don't get out on the bike much; life is just tugging me in another direction. But, I don't think I've ever before made it to September without at least a few good rides. This has been a strange year.

Sunday was suppose to be the day. I had finally finished all my winter maintenance (yeah, I know, summer's over), put aside the honey-do list, and installed a new clutch pack and springs. I had gone for a quick road test ride a few days before to make sure everything was good, and it was. So, I suited up: knee pads, riding pants, boots, kidney belt, the works; then, I hop on the bike and take off. Not 12 blocks later, before I even made it out of town, I'm pulling up to a stoplight and hear this weird pop. Next thing I know, I'm still moving forward and I shouldn't be. The clutch won't disengage. Not good.

Anyway, I manage to stall the bike out, wrangle it into neutral, and push it into a gas-station parking lot. Now, I had just replaced the clutch pack, so I'm thinking I did something seriously wrong. But, a quick inspection showed that the output shaft of the slave cylinder had snapped right at the mount where it connects to the clutch release arm. I guess it was weak and the new springs I put in just pushed it over the edge. That's the last time I write a review and brag about how low-maintenance a part is.

So, I'm 12 blocks from home, with a bike that runs but has no clutch. I've also bragged that I can ride a bike without a clutch, but that's in the trails. I know traffic without a clutch can be interesting, as I've done it with a car once (the clutch cable snapped). So, I hum and haw a little before deciding to try my luck on getting home. I start the bike up in neutral, standing beside it, and give a good push to get a running start, Grand Prix style.

And I'm off, and not stopping. Well, that lasted about a block - damn traffic lights. You know, you can't ride that slow if you don't have a clutch. So I pull over, flip the key off, and lurch to a stop. The light finally turns green, I wait for the traffic to clear, and did another running start. So far, so good, other than the odd stares I'm getting from the cagers. Anyway, I repeat this a couple of more times, each time with a little bit less of a running start because, hey, it's a 650 and it's damn hard to push. So, I'm jabbing it down into first and wheeling off as the engine coughs and sputters. This was not my finest riding performance. On the last intersection before home, a 4-way stop, I stall out again because I'm going too slow. This time, I just jabbed the starter and let it fire up in first gear. Yes, I've long-since bypassed all those pesky safeties.

I made it home, in relative safety, though I'm sure the bike hates me for it. Riding in the trails without a clutch would be way easier than in a city. I don't particularly recommend it. After another look-see over the broken parts, I realized that, no, I was not going for a ride today. So, I peeled off all my gear and tore down the clutch slave cylinder.

The shaft that broke is about 1.5mm in diameter. It is, or rather was, threaded on both ends. My plan is to re-thread the shaft at the broken end and make a new end-piece that fits into the clutch release arm, this one being a little longer to compensate for the missing shaft. I should be able to do it, as I do have a lathe, but I've never made anything that small before. Well, I did make my own pilot screw, but that was pretty big compared to this project. I have a 4-40 tap and die set but they might be too big. Yeah, it's tiny. I'll be updating this entry as the repair goes along.

Wish me luck,


Update 1:

So, the shaft is actually 2mm in diameter and I go to my local tool store, Aklands to be precise, for a tap and die. Now, for those that don't know Victoria, Aklands is the place you go when you can't find something someplace else. They're the people that do industrial orders, they carry a lot of useful but uncommon stuff, and they charge through the nose for it. Anyway, the guy says "forget metric." So, I ask for a #1 screw tap and die, being the closest standard size. He hums and haws while thumbing through a catalog and finally says "2 days, $29 for the tap, no die." Ouch. Well, if I have to cut the outside thread on my lathe, rather than using a die, then I'll do the metric thread and, while I'm at it, make my own tap. There's no way I'm paying $29 bucks for tap so small that it would break if I sneezed on it.

I've also belatedly realised that I still have my old cable clutch sitting in a box. So, yeah, I could have gone for a ride last weekend after all. Now I have to decide between fixing the hydraulic this weekend or just going for a ride... not sure which yet.


BikeBandit.Com - A Canadian Shopper Review

Well, I just received my first parts order from BikeBandit.Com and, I have to say, I'm impressed. Normally, as a Canadian, ordering from US companies and dealing with the whole shipping/border issue is a huge hassle. This time, it was seamless.

I needed some clutch parts for my KLR-650 and, after a little research, I found that you can get the actual Kawasaki OEM parts diagrams right on the web, right in an order form. No dealers required. There are a few sites out there, all of them seem to point to the same Kawasaki parts pages, but the prices are different. These sites typically just take orders and drop-ship from the main supppliers. So, they don't even need to carry an inventory; the actual parts all come from the same place, regardless of the site you order from.

On further investigation, I found that a couple of sites that were interesting: BikeBandit and CyclePartsNation. CycleParts was cheaper accross the board; it seems like every BikeBandit part was about 10% higher. However, there's more than price to consider. There's shipping and customer service too.

With International shipping, at least to Canada, BikeBandit is the clear winner. CycleParts will ship to Canada via USPS (United States Postal Service). Their standard shipping charge is $35. Shipping USPS means that it only costs an additional $5 for the Canada Post GST collection service, plus the duty and GST. Typically, any orders shipped via couriers, like UPS or FedEx, gets dinged with a customs brokerage fee, usually $35 or higher, and of course, GST and duty. Yes, we have a free trade agreement with the US, but parts originally from Japan still get duty added. With BikeBandits, they charge a flat $25 for international shipping via FedEx. However, they include the customs brokerage fee in this; even better, their ordering system also calculates and bills for GST and duty. So, the net effect is that with BikeBandit, you only have to pay once, and you get the parts damn fast. I put an order in on Sunday and it arrived Thursday. I was impressed.

So, shipping via BikeBandit is $25 for FedEx, CycleParts is $35 for USPS, plus whatever they ding you once it hits Canada Post. Also, there is the customs delays that can happen with Canada Post. Sometimes it only takes a week or so, but I've heard horror stories about 6-week delays. Clearly, on the shipping side, BikeBandits is the winner. You could probably save some money on a large order if you went with CycleParts, but you will wait longer too. Oh, one side point to this...BikeBandits won't ship tires or presumably any other large items internationally. In the shopping cart, this shows up as a "Shipping Restriction." I don't know if CycleParts will ship tires or not.

On the customer side, I can't say too much about CycleParts because I didn't order from them. One note in their favour, however, is that their OEM order system shows the quantity required, where BikeBandits does not. Thus, I knew that I needed 7 friction plates for my clutch. The BikeBandit order process was reasonable; actually, I was quite impressed by their system. I've done a lot of web-ordering over the years, and while I won't say the BikeBandit site is one of the best, it's certainly not frustrating, as most seem to be. One particularly nice feature is the ability to chat with a service representative. As I mentioned before, I placed my order on Sunday, yet there was someone there to answer my shipping question about the tires right away. Anyway, after considerable bouncing around, checking this and that out, I placed my order without a hitch. The emailed status reports were clear and timely, while not being too frequent. It always annoys me when I get email after email, all from automated systems before anyone has actually done anything. A simple, "Here's the order we got from you, it's waiting to be filled" is just fine. BikeBandit notifications were about right, though I did seem to sign myself up for spam. I've already got 2 "this week's specials" emails; I might see about getting myself off that list.

So, if you need OEM or even after-market parts for your bike, then I highly recommend BikeBandit.Com. Typically, I go way, way out of my way to avoid ordering anything across the border, but that's just not reasonable with stuff like parts. Even car tires are dirt-cheap in the US compared to anything you can get in Canada. I don't know why, but that's the way it seems to be. So, with some things, it's worth the border hassle. However, with BikeBandit, I finally feel like a US company has properly figured out how to deal with Canadian customers. My one experience with them was good enough for me to write this review. They're just doing it right.

Recommendations for Canadian Bike Shops:

Okay, well, you're screwed, at least parts-wise. Your customers can now order from Kawasaki USA for less than you can order from Kawasaki Canada. So, what are you going to do? Well, if I were you, I'd roll with it and change the way I do things. First, I'd only stock the high-demand parts. Second, I'd be straight with my customers and tell them that they can get the parts cheaper by ordering them direct. Third, I'd set my business up to cater to the people that don't want to wait, only want a small item, or are too dumb to order for themselves.

I'd say, our price is $X, you can get it for less than half that from HERE, but it will cost $Y for shipping. If you want to go riding tomorrow, then you can pay our price, which pays us to stock the part for you. If you only want one little part, then pay our price, which covers our shipping costs. If you're too afraid to use a computer, well then pay us to do it for you. We're offering a service, the price for it is rolled into the parts we sell. Don't like our price? Well, here's where you can go for a better do-it-yourself deal.

My recommendation is that you straight-talk your way out of a bad PR issue. The parts you stock are expensive for a reason, be straight with that and you'll do okay. You're probably not going to be making as much money on parts as in the past, but that's a given. At least, by being honest about it, you can keep your customer's respect.


KLR-650 Hydraulic Clutch Review

Short answer: Awesome but expensive upgrade. I think it's worth it, but if you just ride on the road or open terrain, it's a luxury that's probably not worth the money.

I mail-ordered my hydraulic clutch kit from Dual Star and it arrived, through customs and all the rest, in reasonable time. This was quite a while ago, so I have nothing to say about the current customer support levels that Dual Star is offering. I also have no idea if the current model they offer is the same quality as the original. Please consider this to be a long-service review.

Mounting was easy, though I did have to cut quite a bit away from the mounting area of the stock brush guard. After the trimming, I simply zip-tied the brush guard straight to the the clutch reservoir. That mounting system worked great until I ripped both brush guards off during a particularly nasty race. After that, I replaced the brush guards with some aluminium lever guards, which cleared the clutch lever just fine.

One issue is that with the width of the signal switch mount, the lever is not quite as far down the bar as it should be. I find that my little finger doesn't rest on the clutch lever. However, the pull is so much less that I don't find this to be an problem. I actually two-finger clutch at times. Another minor point is that there is a bump on the signal switch/mirror mount that can interfere with the lever pull when the mirror mount is rotated too far away from the rider. I keep my mirror mounts a bit loose so they can shuffle around, rather than breaking, so sometimes I have to pull them back so the clutch works again. Mildly annoying but mostly insignificant issues, really.

The slave cylinder was very easy to mount with no clearance or routing issues at all. It's easier to take off than the stock cable system, except you don't have to take the hydraulic off for lubing, ever.

In riding, the clutch pull is much less than stock; this makes tight-woods riding much more practical. With the stock clutch cable, I was always lubing it to keep the pull as light as possible. Even then, during difficult rides, I'd start to power-shift when I could get away with it, just to give my left hand a break. The stock pull is just too hard to finesse the bike over obstacles for any length of time. My hand would just give out and the clutch became a switch, a switch that I would avoid using if I could. That problem disappears with the hydraulic clutch and this opened up whole new riding possibilities.

For maintenance, well, what maintenance? I haven't touched it since I put it on; I've not even checked the fluid level in years. There's no more pre-ride ritual cable lubing, no adjusting, it's just there and it just works. The hydraulic clutch has worked flawlessly for about a decade of riding with zero maintenance. You can't get any better. If you don't like lubing cables, then the hydraulic clutch might be worth it just for that.

Conclusion: Well, if you're a long-distance tourer, then I suppose the hydraulic clutch is kind of pointless. But, if you're into technical riding, then I'd say it's a necessity. I wouldn't be riding my bike where I do without that clutch. Of course, if you're not concerned about the cost, you don't mind modifying or changing your brush guards, and you don't particularly enjoy lubing cables, then the hydraulic clutch is a very nice luxury, one I highly recommend.


Well, it just goes to show that you should never upset the maintenance gods by saying "The hydraulic clutch has worked flawlessly for about a decade of riding with zero maintenance." Yup, it broke today. The end of the slave cylinder shaft broke off, right where it fits into the clutch arm. It would appear that, over the years, it had fatigued and changing the clutch springs put it over the edge.

Anyway, I managed to ride home without a clutch, which is an interesting experience in city traffic, and will be repairing it shortly. I'll write about that process as a separate entry.


KLR-650 Progressive Fork Spring Review

Short answer, buy them, they're worth every penny. If you don't know what progressive springs are, read THIS for more information.

Here's a slightly longer answer...

I find that progressive springs make my '90 KLR650 much more controllable in tight-woods riding. I picked up a set and, after tuning them a little, was very impressed with the improvement in handling. They feel softer than stock, as you would expect, but they still resist bottoming, again much better than stock.

Here's a little story that might give you some insight into the benefits of progressive springs. It happened about a year after first installing them, so they were well tuned to my riding style, which had also adapted to the springs.

I was running the 2003 Mystery Creek Dual Sport event and having a great time. The bike was running great and I was really in the grove, just flying along. Anyway, there was this particular stretch of road, in bright sun, that dropped into a tree-covered area. So, as my eyes adapted to the shade, the first thing I saw was this truck, coming from the other direction, parked behind a big washout; the guy was out front, staring down, looking for a way through. By this time, I had probably slowed to about, oh, 60-70km/h. Then, I noticed that there were, in fact, two washouts, one in front of the truck, up the road a ways, and the other right in front of me. Oh Shit! I had no time to stop, turn, slow, or even scream. This was a metre (3-4 foot) drop to jumbled rocks on the bottom and squared off banks about 2 metres apart. I had time to shift a bit to the right, just enough to aim for one of the larger rocks in the bottom and where the far bank was a little bit worn down, probably from other bikers going through. So, I hit this at speed, with the gas on, bounced off the rock, and slammed into the far side. I hammered the suspension down, front and back, and drove the skid plate into the far bank before bouncing off, up, and over. I'll always remember the sound that plate made as it smashed into the far bank.

Anyway, somehow, I managed to stay on the bike, which bounced back to the ground, and in control enough to casually scoot through the second washout at a more reasonable speed. I waved to the truck driver and carried on. He must have thought I was crazy; I thought I was damn lucky to still be alive, let alone still riding.

In hitting the far bank, I had completely bottomed the front suspension, which somehow still managed to roll over the edge rather than just tossing me over the bars. I credit this to those progressive springs, so, yeah, they probably saved my life that day. I'm pretty sure the stock springs would have bottomed sooner, and harder, and just tossed me off the bike. The rear suspension bottomed and then bounced off in true stock fashion, thankfully not enough to toss me at that point. In between, the skid plate took the brunt of the hit. It's an after-market 2mm (about 3/16") aluminium pan. This once flat plate is now form-fitted to the bottom of the bike, you can see where the frame rails are. Yeah, it was a hard hit.

So, if you're thinking about progressive springs, do it. Even if you don't ride in tight woods for fun, the one time you really, really need good suspension, when you least expect it, you'll be happy you did the upgrade. I know I sure am.


KLR650 Long-Service Review

Short Review
  • Cons: It's cheap.
  • Pros: It's cheap.
I love my KLR, it's the best bike I've ever owned.

The Really, Really Long Review

I've been riding Killer, my KLR, from the spring of 1991. He's a '90 A4 model and, yes, I refer to my bikes in the masculine form. I beat on them way too much to think of them as ladies. Anyway, this review is intended to show how my KLR has performed over a long period of time. Rather than making it a dry list of specifications and mechanical issues, I'm going to do it as the story of Killer and I.

One day, back in '91, I got a new job. That, of course, meant I could get a new motorcycle. Now, at the time, I was a big Honda fan. Actually, I had 4 Hondas in my garage: an XR-250 for the dirt, an XL-350 for the street, an XR-100 for my little brother to ride, and an XR-200 that I was helping him move up to. I was having overheating issues with both the XL-350 and XR-250 (both had the '84 radial 4-valve air-cooled engine). Prior to that, I had an XR-185 and a CB-750. The 185 was my first real motorcycle and, when I turned 16, I had insured it for the road. The CB-750 was an object lesson in bike dynamics - I sold it to the insurance company after some cager turned left in front of me. It was his fault but I should have been able to ride out of it. Instead, the CB's weight worked against my dirt-biker instincts and I somersaulted over the car. I learned my lesson: born and raised dirt-bikers don't belong on street-bikes. Thus, my preference for dualsports even while owning full-on dirt bikes. Anyway, I never really liked the XL-350 so, with a new job, it was time for a new bike.

My first choice was based on a review in a biker magazine - the Honda XLV-750. I drooled over that little black and white photo like it came from Playboy. Reality set in when I realised that they weren't shipping them to North America, and there was no way I was going to get one, new job or not. I hated the looks of the Honda Transalp and, with the over-heating issues I was having, I swore I'd never buy another air-cooled motor, so the newer XLs and XRs were out. Thus, I decided to break away from my Honda loyalties.

I shopped around but there weren't a lot of water-cooled 750cc dualsport bikes around, at least ones that looked like they were dirt bikes. Like I said, I didn't like the look of the Transalp and the other ones around were pretty much the same - street bikes with tall legs and winter tires. Then I found the KLR. It was a single, where I wanted a twin, and it was 650 instead of 750, but it was half the price of everything else out there. It was unbelievably cheap compared to the Hondas. Really, really cheap.

The bike shop wouldn't let me take one for a test ride and, honestly, I'm not sure if I would have bought one if I had the opportunity to ride it first, so I guess I was lucky there. After relatively little debate, I bought the previous-year's KLR model for $4500 out the door. I figured, it was almost identical to the new model, so why pay more. At the time, I had no idea the bike line would stay almost identical all the way through 2007.

On my first ride, I learned that the Kawasaki KLR-650 was not a Honda. Compared the the Hondas I was used to, it was rattly, clunky, awkward, notchy, and generally rough. It just didn't have the ergonomics or fit and finish that I was used to. It's not a good feeling to be riding home on a brand new bike going, ewww - this is kinda crappy. But, you pays your money and you takes your chances. This was in the days when the Internet was just for us geeks - no KLR650 FAQs or reviews to browse. So, I owned a new bike, number 5 in my garage, and I wasn't very impressed.

The KLR, despite being awkward, rattly, and all the rest, was still fun to ride. So, I rode it a lot. And, even with the fit and finish problems, it was still a better bike than the XL-350, so, as planned, that one got sold pretty quick. One overheating problem solved, at least for me. Of course, before I sold it, I traded the much better rectangular XL mirrors for the stupid-looking round Mickey Mouse mirrors on the KLR. Improvement number one.

I loved the water-cooling on the KLR. After having so many problems with overheating the air-cooled Honda engines, it was a real treat. I still remember the first time the KLR fan came on, while I was trying to turn around on a trail that was getting too tight. It scared the hell out of me; I thought something was broken. Around town, even in traffic, the bike never got hot enough for the fan to come one. Of course, I was still breaking it in.

After the break-in period, I really started to have fun with the KLR. It wasn't as good at wheeling or climbing stairs as the XL was, but the extra power made it really nice in traffic or twisty roads. On the highway, the fairing helped but it dumped rough air right on my helmet face shield, making it rattle. That was really annoying so I came up with a solution, I weather-stripped the bottom edge of my face shield, which stopped the rattling. Worked great and I still do it. Improvement number two.

I bought the KLR as my street bike; I already had a real dirt bike. So, I wasn't expecting much in the way of off-road performance. And, yes, I wasn't entirely surprised on my first trips off the blacktop. In the tight stuff, the weight of the KLR is formidable and you can't ride it like a dirt bike. On the other hand, it's way, way better on gravel roads than any other bike I've ridden. It just tracks unbelievably well and put my XR-250 to shame. I could ride way faster on gravel with the KLR than I could with the XR. Another thing that surprised me is that the KLR would tractor up hills really well. With the XR on loose rocky hills, it was important to keep momentum because, if I slowed down too much, it would just dig in and that was that. The KLR will just keep pulling and pulling and pulling, and pulling, with the engine chugging away slower than I would set the idle. It just doesn't dig in like a dirt bike would. Somehow, the extra weight helps it keep going. Even to this day, after learning how to make the most of the beast, it still surprises me with its tenacity on these types of hills.

Another thing that I fell in love with on the KLR was the huge gas tank. With my XL or XR, I could get 150Km before hitting reserve. That meant that my rides got interesting at 75Km. When the odometer hit that point, I had to stop and think: can I ride through or do I have to turn back now? Just how many side-trips did I make? With the KLR, I would hit reserve at 330Km, more than double the XR or XL. That makes a huge difference out in logging country; a much bigger difference than you would think at first. It means that I just don't really worry about gas. I just go for a ride. Only once, in 17 years, have I really gotten concerned about my remaining fuel - and it got me home. Those concerns used to be a regular thing with the Hondas. Well, once, I did run out of gas on the KLR, while riding to Vancouver. I had completely forgotten that I had hit reserve on the way to the ferry, and, once off the boat, rode past all the gas stations. I sputtered to a halt in some industrial area, no one around, just a bunch of barking guard dogs. After the initial "oh-crap, I'm an idiot" moment had passed, I remembered an old trick, I laid the bike down on its left side, letting the last drops of fuel from the bottom of the right side of the tank spill over the frame hump, and rode to the nearest gas station. Killer has never stranded me, not yet anyway, even when I've been stupid. And, believe me, I've done plenty of stupid things on that bike.

I bought the KLR so I could go motorcycle camping, camping well away from where I live. So, in short order, I strapped on all my camping gear and headed for the interior of BC. The bike handled it well, very well actually, with the only whimper coming from my butt. Dang, that seat gets annoying after a while. I managed to ride through snow in the passes, bake in the desert, dodge cows in the pastures, scream down some highways, ride the Kettle Creek rail line before it became part of the Trans-Canada trail, and generally have a really good time. I did lose my license plate (the first of 3) somewhere along the way, but that was the only mechanical issue. The KLR comes stock with a really stupid plate mounting system. The only limiting factor was my endurance, which was less than I expected.

I learned a few things on that trip: 1) The KLR is an awesome machine, 2) my butt really hurts after a couple of days of riding, and 3) when motorcycle camping, the only thing you can do is motorcycle camping. I love road trips, that's the ideal holiday for me; just get a vehicle and drive, anywhere. But, when you're camping on a bike, you can't stop and do something else because all your gear is just sitting there on the bike. Even stopping somewhere for lunch is cause for concern, always trying to find a window seat with a view of the bike. I guess this is why long-distance riders prefer hard-luggage they can lock up. I learned that I last about 3 days while travelling on a bike. After that, the joy of free discovery is buried under a sore butt and a craving for something different. Maybe it's better in a group, where people can take turns on watch, I don't know. It seems to me that the bigger the group, the less freedom to follow a whim. For me, travelling is mostly about getting away from people, so groups are kind of counter-productive. That first trip did, however, teach me a lot of respect for the people that ride solo on long distance trips. It takes a special kind of person, one with an iron butt, and I'm not one of them. I guess that's learned point number 4.

After that trip, I settled down to shorter jaunts, mostly on the island. During them, I learned that the KLR can carry way more camping gear than I need, that this extra weight can catch you off-guard and dump you over in the dirt if you're not careful, and that saddlebags suck in tight trails. I've tried, over the years, several different systems for carrying my camping gear. Too much on the rear deck makes for interesting handling; saddlebags will snag your feet when you dab down for balance in a tight trail. I also learned that the best solution for carrying gear is to carry less gear. Just because the bag is really big, you really don't need to fill it up with things you might possibly need. Good gear, packed well, and a minimalist attitude make for the most pleasant riding experience. Oh, I also learned that the stock mounting system for the license plate sucks, again.

Yes, I lost another license plate. Then, not more than two weeks later, I was bopping around in the trails and noticed the third plate swinging by one mounting bolt. The other bolt was still there, holding the broken-off corner of the plate. It seems that if you happen to bang the plate inwards, which happens a lot in tight trails, the plate will snag the tire on a big hit. Once that happens, it just rips off. So, out on the trail, I just crammed the plate up under the fender, rolling the top over in the process, and then used the bottom mounting holes, instead of the top ones. On the way home, I, of course, ended up riding through a roadside motorcycle inspection campaign. You know, the ones they have every year. Anyway, the cop checked my drivers license, stared at my plate for a while, humming and hawing, but decided to let me go without saying anything. Once home, I drilled my own holes in the plate about a third of the way up and remounted it from there. That plates been on the bike like that for over a decade. Cops keep doing that double-take when they see it, but so far I've been lucky. Maybe it's just because I'm older now. I don't really recommend my plate mounting system but I do recommend changing from the rather stupid stock system. Improvement number 4.

On another trip to Vancouver, a few years after owning Killer, I had my first big mechanical problem. It was my fault, really. Rather than re-reading the manual like a good owner should, I went from memory. Of course, my maintenance was all wrong. Instead of adjusting the balancer chain every 5000km, I was doing it every 500km or so. And, instead of barely turning out the bolt, I was cranking it out and in a few turns. I did this in Vancouver. When I went to start the bike, it made a horrible grinding noise and seized up. Mortified, I immediately double-checked that the balancer adjuster was tight, and it was. I managed to get the motor loose by rocking it back and forth in high gear and then dared to hit the starter again. This time, after a nasty clunking noise, it started and sounded normal. So, I took the chance and road home.

Killer got me home without incident and I immediately pulled off the engine cover to see what was wrong. The engine balancer chain adjuster, the 'doohicky', had come partially off the shaft that it rides on and bent when I re-tightened the adjustment bolt. Further, the side of the large gear the starter turns had ground off the edge of the now out-of-place doohicky. I pulled it apart, after making some custom tools to get the job done, and went off the bike shop for a replacement. There, I had one of the biggest shocks in my life. That stupid little part cost, get this, $4.95. That was the first sub-$5 bike part I had ever, in my entire life, had the privilege of buying. Nothing on a Honda costs under $5. I had to ask twice to confirm the price, I though he was wrong. Anyway, after securing the part, I went back to install it. I stared at that part for a long time when putting it back on. It seemed like there was another part missing, or the bike was put together wrong, because I couldn't see anything that kept the adjuster from falling off when the adjustment bolt is loosened off. There isn't anything. In my opinion, this is a design flaw on the bike, but I just live with it. I make sure the bike is leaning to the right when I do my adjustment and I make sure to not loosen the bolt very much, just a quarter turn and then I tap the head to make sure things can slide as necessary. Anyway, despite all the metal filing that drained out with the oil during the repair, the bike has been fine ever since.

The only other mechanical "design" issue I've found with the bike is the stupid stock-skid plate. If you're planning on doing any significant off-road excursions, you really need to replace it with something better. The oil drain plug is just way too exposed otherwise. My drain plug has a large chunk tore out of it's head, and now I've got a thick aluminium skid-plate. Improvement number 5.

At that point, my bike was still entirely stock, except for the skid plate. It was also still dent and mostly scratch free. I thought that big steel tank would get dented up pretty fast, but it's actually quite well protected. Besides that, I still hadn't had any incidents "at speed." In fact, the fasted get-off I had was when I didn't make it up a hill and was sliding back down, backwards. I dumped the bike over and tore off a radiator shroud. I managed to glue some tabs back on and, other than a couple of scratches, it's still there. For the most part, dumping the bike over causes surprisingly little damage. Things are tucked in well and those that aren't generally can bend or push out of the way.

One day, I realised that I hadn't gone for a ride on my XR-250 for most of the year. It was just so much easier to hop on Killer and go for a ride, way easier than trailering out the XR. I didn't have to worry about my car, trailer, gas, where I was going to ride. I'd just hop on Killer and go. By that point, after having my primary riding buddies move away or give up riding, I was mostly riding alone anyway. With Killer, I could make the most of dualsport riding that was close to town, hopping from one little off-road area to another. By that point, I had reduced my bike stable to 2: the XR-250 and Killer. The XR was still overheating, despite everything I tried to do to fix it, and it didn't take too much more to push me over the edge. I sold that XR and I was now a one-bike kind a guy, a Kawasaki guy at that.

Then, that fateful day arrived when I discovered DOT approved (street legal) knobby tires. The full story of that is HERE, so I won't bother repeating it. I will mention that I was also due for a new chain and sprockets at that point, so I went a tooth down in the front. Oh, what a difference that made in the tight woods. It completely changed Killer and we started having some serious fun. That bike constantly amazes me at the stuff it can tractor through. It doesn't ride like a "real" dirt bike, there's no dancing over the rough at speed, but it just keeps going, and going, and going. The only thing that makes me cringe now are big log crossings. I just can't keep up enough speed to clear them. As soon as the skid-plate hits, the bike just stops dead. Then, suddenly, I'm aware that the KLR really is a huge, heavy beast. But, other than that, with decent tires and lower gearing, not much can stop Killer and I. I guess that's improvements number 6 and 7.

By this time, I was having way too much fun so I thought I'd spend a little bit to make Killer even more of a dirt machine. I forked out for progressive springs (pun intended), a K&N air filter, a jet kit, and a hydraulic clutch. The springs are awesome, I can't praise them enough. On one ride, the 2003 Mystery Creek Dual Sport, I swear those springs saved my life. The K&N filter is, well, not so good. Sure, it works, but it's more of a nuisance than it's worth. I had to clean it in a gas station bathroom on one trip; I was not impressed. The jet kit does add a nice kick to the bike but it kills my gas range. I went from 330km before reserve down to 220km. That is really annoying. I'm still debating on taking out the kit. The hydraulic clutch, like the springs, is fantastic. I love that clutch and it's worth every penny. It really makes tight woods riding a joy, rather than a pain. So, improvements 8, 9, 10, and 11. On a side note, I loaned my bike to a friend for a bike trip he was doing with his father. With street-biased tires and the stock gearing, he was getting 350km per tank. I have never gotten that kind of range, jet kit or not. So, I guess mileage depends on the rider too.

So, I was feeling pretty good about Killer at that point and, what with being in the bike shops waiting for these after-market parts to come in, I notice that the Victoria Motorcycle Club was putting on a Dual Sport Enduro. I hadn't raced in years, and that was a hare scramble on my XR-250. I used to be a member of the VMC, but I had long since given that up. I had no idea they were doing dual-sport enduros. So, I had to try it out, and it was a blast. I had so much fun. The course was typically-challenging VMC stuff and, after riding alone for so much, it was fantastic to be able to really cut loose and ride as hard and fast as I wanted. And yes, I rode hard and fast, not really even worrying about the enduro timing, but somehow managed to come in second anyway. Well, that was it, I was hooked on racing again and I rejoined the VMC. The next year, I actually tried to win, so I obviously failed miserably and came in way back in the pack. That year, I also did the Mystery Creek Dual Sport.

Killer really shone at Mystery Creek. This was, as I found out, and "event" and not a race. So much for redeeming my miserable VMC dual-sport performance that year. I also learned that it was the last one, which is sad because it was a lot of fun. Anyway, it was a route-charted A/B loop affair. I rode to the event, carrying my full camping gear, and tented the night before the race started. People there were surprised that someone would actually ride to the event and camp. Isn't that what dual-sports are all about? Besides that, everyone was telling me that people on KLRs should stick to the B loop, the A loop was way too hard. Once I started riding, I gave up on the boring B stuff, way too easy for Killer and I. We bounced through the A loop sections without any issues. On the ride home, the bike started making a weird squeaky noise. It turned out that my air filter had vibrated loose and was bouncing around my air-box. One more strike against the K&N filter. Now, when I mount it, I really torque it up.

Being a member of the VMC, it wasn't long before I was called in to help put an event on. So, I volunteered to run a check on the Equaliser Enduro. This is a full-on dirt-bike enduro but all I had to do was ride up the road and man a check where people came out of the bush. Yeah, it was boring. So, after the race was over, I tried my luck with riding the course. Now, having run VMC enduros before, on my XR, I had an idea of what to expect, but it wasn't like that at all. I rode the first section without any problems, so I kept following the course, and then I ended up at the finish going, hey, that was too easy. I asked around and was told that this was what junior-level events are like. So, the next year, I entered the March Hare Enduro, and won first in the juniors. Then, I entered the Equaliser Enduro, and did, well, not so good. But, somehow, between those races, and maybe one other (I can't remember), I managed to win that year's Junior Series Championship, on a KLR-650. Everything on the bike was going fine, other than it was running a little warmer than it used to, and I was having a blast racing. Well, I did finally bust off one of the rear signal lights. The only other thing to report at this point was my very first dent in the tank. I was working on the bike and had a wrench in my hand while I turned around. Yup, ding. First one. Man, was I pissed off. All those years of riding and the first dent is in my shop.

The next year, when the March Hare rolled around, I entered again. This time, the event was much, much harder. The full report is HERE for those interested. I had my first at-speed wipe-out during this race, my first real dent in the tank, and I ripped off both of my brush guards. At least it wasn't my first dent. So, I put some aluminium lever guards in place, and that's improvement number 12. Honestly, I preferred the stock brush guards, so it's not really an improvement. I still hadn't fixed the signal light - they wanted $39 for a stock replacement and I don't use them anyway. I learned to signal with my arm while riding my old XR-185 and still do to this day. Honestly, the real reason is that I feel like an idiot when I look down and realise I've been riding for the last 20km with the signal flashing. It's really hard to forget your arm is sticking out.

By this time, my old nemesis - overheating - came back to haunt me. I don't know what it is about me and engines that run hot. I thought I'd be done with that by going to water-cooling, but no, it's happening again with Killer. It has not actually overheated yet, maybe 3/4 on the temperature gauge at most. However, each year it runs a little hotter, and I can't figure out why. The re-jetting didn't help, I checked the water pump, and radiator, everything seems fine. So, I started running water-wetter instead of antifreeze, and that helps quite a bit. But, still, I've not solved the problem. I'm starting another round now, going back to basics. I have a thermostat ready to go in. But, yeah, it's frustrating.

Another year and another Dualsport Enduro passed by without any trophy again. I'm really going to have to stop trying at these races if I want to get a decent finish. This year, after the race, I blew some extra air in the tires, strapped on the camping gear, and took my girlfriend on an Island trip. Now, there are other bikes out there that would be way better for a dualsport enduro than a KLR650; there are better bikes out there for going motorcycle camping 2-up. But, how many bikes out there are capable of doing both reasonably well? Now, that's what makes the KLR so great.

At this point, Killer is looking not quite so new and a little bit more like a dirt bike. I have long since given up washing it. I wipe off the parts I'm fixing and that's about it. My maintenance plan is basically, if it has lots and lots of dirt on it, then it's probably due for an inspection soon, well, someday, when I get around to it. I've finally fixed the rear signal lights. I was too cheap to buy the proper unit and picked up a couple of rectangular clearance lights from Princess Auto, $1.99 each. Did I mention that I was cheap? Anyway, these lights are too small to work with the flash relay so I paralleled some resistors to increase the load (I'm an electronics technologist by trade, so this is pretty simple for me). I might change to an electronic flash relay at some point. Then again, signal lights are just legal baggage as far as I'm concerned.

The speedometer cable broke during the trip my friend was on, and he replaced it before giving the bike back. I've gone through a few sets of brake pads, a few batteries, lots of tires, and a set of fork seals over the years. And, at present, I'm in the process of replacing the clutch pack - all those single-track trails with the hydraulic clutch have taken their toll. Other than that, I keep checking the valve clearance but, even after 17 years, still don't need to adjust them. The bike is starting to burn a little oil, but I'm not sure if it's just because it's running hotter. There's not much more to report, maintenance wise.

Overall, Killer has been the best bike I've ever owned. It's not beautiful, but if you throw a little mud on it, it kind of has a tough look. Not a KTM/Chuch Noris kind of tough, mind you, more like a coal-miner respectable working-man tough. I've heard there are quality-control issues but I've, thankfully, not experienced any. I have noticed a few design flaws but they are manageable and/or solvable with after-market parts. Overall, it's a hell of a lot more bike than I expected for the price. What more could a biker want?


Setup for Tight Woods Riding

Here are a few suggestions for setting up a dirtbike or dualsport for tight-woods trail riding. Note that this kind of trail riding is not motocross racing, nor is it like riding in the desert. Those types of riding require a different setup, and I'm not the person to ask about it. I know tight-woods trail riding; that's my thing.

In a typical trail ride or enduro race there are several types of terrain: gravel roads, fire roads (two-track), and tight woods (single-track). Each are handled differently, so you're riding, and thus setup, has to be a compromise between them. For example, in single-track, you want low tire pressure for traction. But, if it's too low then you'll risk pinch-flats in the faster two-track or gravel roads. You need to consider the needs of all three when making setup decisions.

So, first things first:

  1. Get your suspension set up as best you can. Read here for more information on that while understanding that you want to keep things on the soft side for single-track. Stiff suspension may make it easier to take big hits in the fast stuff but it will kill traction when things get tight, when you really need it. You'll lose more time bouncing off a rock and into a tree on a single-track section than you will slowing down for some cross-ditch on a fast section of two-track.

  2. Adjust your fork hight in the triple-clamps. Some people like to raise the forks up an inch, or whatever they can get away with, in the triple-clamps. This means loosening off the triple-clamp bolts that grip the fork tubs and sliding the tubs up so they project above the top of the triple-clamps. Raising the forks this way will effectively lower the bike slightly, but it will also change the handling. Personally, I prefer to keep the forks flush with the triple-clamps, but then I'm tall and I like a light front-end. This really depends on the bike and rider; there's no right way for everyone.

  3. Adjust your handlebars. It amazes me how many people just ride their bikes with the handlebars set to where the dealer assembled them. Dealers just stick them on; they're not setup for you. So, put the bike on a crate, with the wheels about level, loosen the bars and sit on the bike. Adjust the bars so they're comfortable, then stand up on the pegs. Adjust the bars so they're comfortable. Now you know the range, low to high, where the bars should be. From there, it's just a matter of finding the best compromise between comfort sitting and comfort standing. If you do most of your riding on gravel roads, while just sitting like a lump on the seat, then adjust the bars towards the sitting-comfort zone, while making sure you can still stand up well enough to ride if you need to. If you're always standing up on the pegs while off single-tracking, then adjust the bars to the high side of things. So many people have told me they have trouble riding while up on the pegs when it's obvious that their bars are too low to ride that way. You can't ride properly if you're not comfortable. Don't forget to tighten the bar clamps when you're done.

  4. Adjust your hand levers. Loosen them off and adjust them so they are pointing a little bit downwards. The idea is that they should be neutral to your hand angle while you are in the "attack position." The attack position is when you are standing up on the pegs in a crouch with your head a little forward, somewhat over the bars. Your legs are bent, along with you're arms, so they can absorb any impacts that come along and your weight is balanced over the bike's centre of balance. This is the way you should ride when you're going fast on two-track. With single-track, try to stay in the attack position as much as possible, but reality might say otherwise. Usually, you're just trying to stay on the bike. Anyway, your levers, both hand and feet, should be the most comfortable in the attack position, so that you tend to stay there as much as possible. Now, tighten up you hand levers until you can just move them around by hand. That's right, don't torque them down so that they'll never move. When you fall over and your levers bite into mother-earth, something will have to give. It's much better for your levers to just move out of the way rather than bend out of the way. You can always move them back. Keep them a little loose and you'll save a lot of money on replacements.

  5. Adjust your rear brake lever. There should be a bolt the adjusts the high-point, where the lever normally sits waiting for you to use it. It should be accessible when you are in the attack position. Most people like it to be about level with the footpeg. Depending on your bike, you may have to re-adjust your rear brake after doing this.

  6. Adjust your shift lever. Sometimes, it's about right from stock just by adjusting it up or down on the shaft splines. Other times, you have to get more creative. This is where a shop with a welder gets handy. I've beat and bent my shifter all over the place to get it at the right hight for me, while still clearing everything on both up and down shifts. Some people lengthen their shift levers. I've used a torch to heat it up to make it more bendable (after removing the rubber tip), and I've welded up the cracks that inevitably appear. Don't start this unless you're prepared to deal with the consequences. However, getting the shift lever right can make a big difference while riding. Oh, and don't hammer or torque your lever when it's mounted on the bike; you really don't want to bend the shaft that goes into your transmission. Take the lever off, make your adjustment, and then fit it back on the bike for testing. When you're done, make sure you tighten up the mounting bolt as a loose shifter is hard on the splines.

  7. Adjust your tire pressure. Now, this one really depends on a lot of factors: how fast you ride, how heavy is the bike with you on it, what terrain you ride on, do you have wheel locks, what kind of tires... Lots of variability here. On my old XR250 dirtbike, with wheel locks, I used to run 12-15 psi in the rear and about 16-18 psi in the front. On my KLR650, I usually run about 18 psi in the rear and 19 psi in the front, unless I'm doing a highway run; these kinds of pressures will tear off knobbies with too much road riding. I'll also bump up the pressure significantly if I'm riding two-up. Also, these pressures are what I run with MT-21s, I ran higher with the Kendas. More on that here. Anyway, pressure is a very personal thing; everyone will give you a different answer. Basically, unless you run wheel locks, don't go below about 16 psi unless you have a really solid bead or you might spin the wheel in the tire. That will tear off the tire stem and give you an instant irreparable flat. Other than that, the lower the pressure, the better your single-track traction will be. The lower the pressure, the more likely you'll get a pinch-flat at higher speeds. And, the lower the pressure, the more likely things will get squirrelly at high speeds on pavement. So, like most things, it's a compromise.
Really, this isn't rocket science. It's just a matter of making sure the bike is comfortable to ride when you're in the best riding position, and that you've maximised traction for the conditions you're riding in. If you get these right, then you'll be able to handle more difficult terrain, for longer periods of time, at faster speeds, and have more fun while doing it.


Homemade Steel Footpegs for the KLR

I made my own steel pegs for my KLR650. Why? Because I'd rather spend money on tools than parts.

Why steel pegs instead of the stock rubber-covered pegs? Well, the stock pegs are fine, until you're on some technical trail, dab your foot down for balance, and then try to get back up on the pegs. Just about then, when you probably need the most control, your now muddy boot will slide off the peg... and then bad things happen.

Steel pegs allow all that mud, stuck to the bottom of your boots, to squeeze through the holes. This allows your actual boot sole to make contact with the steel. Instead of having a layer of slippery mud under your boot, you get steel teeth holding your boot where it belongs. That's a good thing. After all, being up on the pegs (standing on the foot pegs) give you a lot more control over the bike than sitting like a lump on the seat does. Steel pegs makes it a lot easier to do this.

There are lots of different versions you can buy. But, if you're the least bit handy, you can make your own for next to nothing.

The basic how-to is HERE

Honestly, it's not that hard. Also, it doesn't take much skill, and I should know :) It doesn't even require much in the way of tools: welder, hacksaw, drill, files...