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.