Reader’s stories: Recommissioning a KLR250

INTRO – Editor ‘arris

Oh dear. I’m sure a lot of you out there who have ever experienced a nightmare with what they thought was a good used bike, will get a chuckle from this one. Many thanks to CMG reader Colin Jones for sharing (and admitting to) this one.

If you have a story that you’d like to share with the rest of Canada, please contact us and we’ll let you know what we need in order to get it published. Hey, we might be cheap bastards here, but at least we’ll send you a free (yes, we even pay the postage) CMG Online T-shirt!



By Colin Jones

It seemed like a good idea at the time. There they were, staring back at me from my computer screen. Some guy was selling a few military spec 1995 KLR250s – and the ad showed a local number. I decided to call him.

With hindsight I wish the telephone had never been invented.

This story needs a little background first. About six years ago, I was flipping through a Harley Davidson book when I saw Harley’s answer to the dirt bike. It was an olive green enduro with a Rotax motor and ammo boxes for saddlebags. The caption said that it was a military bike from the mid 80’s. Now, I’ve never really outgrown my childhood fascination with army machinery, so I resolved then and there that some day I would make a bike like the one in the picture, but out of a Japanese enduro.

When I phoned the guy about the KLRs in the ad, he told me he’d bought them at a government auction and they were still for sale. Then he told me I’d better hurry, giving me some line like, “I just had a guy in from Albuquerque looking at them this morning.”

This was me, riding through the woods, oblivious to the fact I had no oil pressure. Yes, that’s a DR750 beside the KLR250.

So, I decided to go and “just have a look at them.” (It should be noted at this point that my garage is littered with motionless vehicles that I thought I’d “just have a look at.”) I guess the only reason I’m not dead yet is that I’m not married, so there is less post-purchase explaining to do.

When I got there I picked out the best looker of the three and asked the owner to kick start it (no electric leg for G.I. Joe, I guess). After a little coaxing, it fired up and the owner proceeded to do a couple of laps around the parking lot to show me everything worked. Everything seemed to be fine, so I wrote down the VIN and gave him a deposit. A week later I returned with the balance, a pick up truck and left with my war trophy.

It took about a month, but I safetied the bike for only a few hundred dollars worth of electrical parts. I changed the oil, the coolant, drained the carb, oiled the chain and topped up the tire pressure. The bike started fairly easily, but wasn’t very fast. I chalked this up to the fact that it was only a 250 (and I weighed damn near 250)! With a call to my insurance company, I was on the road and also off the road when I wanted to be.

Intake camshaft (red dashes show missing metal).

After about a month of riding the KLR everywhere, a friend of mine told me the valves sounded a little noisy and that maybe I should try adjusting them. This is where it all went very, very wrong.

Taking the valve cover off I discovered to my horror that both camshafts were sacked. To put it another way, the cam lobes….. weren’t. I have no idea to this day how the valves were opening, or indeed how the bike ran at all.

I noticed at this point that there was no oil pressure and/or oil level monitoring system on the KLR250. So even though I had the engine full to the sight glass, there was no way of knowing if the oil was actually circulating. I was further confused because there were no metal shavings in the oil when I changed it. I decided it was time to take the oil pump apart.

Exhaust camshaft (screwed).

In amongst the chunks of what used to be the oil pump were what must have been the camshaft lobes and bits from elsewhere in the engine. At this point, my tummy started churning. It had been about three months since I bought the bike (as is’ ) from the previous owner. I was alone in this canoe and I didn’t have a paddle. I took a deep breath, warmed up my Visa card and set about getting the parts and machining to fix it.

First things first, I yanked the motor out of the frame and began stripping it down. Aside from the smoked cams, rockers and the destroyed oil pump, everything seemed to be pretty good. To be on the safe side I decided to have the bore checked by the boys at Cycle Improvements in Waterloo (shameless plug in hopes of free stuff)!

I should take a moment here to mention that when I say “I”, I actually mean “us”. The person doing all the hard stuff was my brother. He’s a certified auto mechanic, so I let him do most of the mechanical work. I was in charge with holding the light, saying things like “that looks really expensive,” and making cash deliveries to my local Kawasaki dealer.

Exhaust rocker/ intake rocker

Jim at Cycle Improvements determined that the bore was out of shape and the rod bearing was shot as well. In addition, one of the exhaust valves was fried. Things with this motor were not as they had first seemed. However, I was able to save the side cases and the valve cover… yeah!

At this point, a lesser (or smarter) person than me may have decided to cut their losses and sell what was left of the bike for parts. I figured “in for a penny, in for £500″… so I might as well fix it. So I ordered a factory service manual and parts microfiche from Kawasaki which would prove to be invaluable!

After machining the bore and valve seats it was time to install the new bits. The bearings were sourced from a local bearing wholesaler, thereby bypassing the need to ship new Kawi units from Japan at dealer mark-up. With the exception of an aftermarket gasket set, all the other parts were Kawasaki originals, since no one else makes replacement parts for this bike. The whole assembly process went quite well with the help of the microfiche, and it was basically a “tab A into slot B” affair.

This isn’t me. It’s just some guy riding a KLR250. I wonder if his oil pump is working???

With the motor reinstalled, fresh coolant and oil added, it was time to fire up the Blitz-Bike. Kick starting proved futile, as well as exhausting, so it was decided to push-start the beast.

After running up and down the street a couple of times the bike finally burst to life. However, once warm, it would also run lean with the choke off. I remember the guy who sold me the “Attack Bike” had said it was used in Bosnia. Maybe the altitude there is different from that of southern Ontario, so it was back to the Kawasaki dealer for a richer carb jet, which in turn seems to have solved the problem.

When the engine is running, I take the liberty of loosening one of the external oil lines from time to time to ensure there is still oil pressure, before retightening it. This helps me sleep at night. I am, however, planning to install a permanent oil pressure gauge this summer.

All in all it took us about five months and $2000 to rebuild the engine. Fortunately, my brother worked for free, so there weren’t any labour costs.

Christmas Eve ride

However, with the $2,500 I put into the bike before the motor died, I now own a $4,500 1995 Kawasaki KLR250 D12. And yes, I am painfully aware that this same bike sold for $4,799 brand new. The good news is that the bike runs great now and I take it out for a snowy spin around the block once every two weeks, much to the amusement of my neighbours (such are the curiosities of twelve-month bike insurance).

The morals of this story are many. First – never, ever, ever buy a bike from the Canadian military. Two – just because a bike runs when you buy it, doesn’t mean it will continue to do so. And lastly, if you haven’t learned by now, motorcycle repair is not for the faint of heart (and weak of wallet).

Cheers Everyone!

This story is a tribute to Sonic and every other CMG Online member who ever got in way over their heads trying to fix a used bike.

Colin Jones has been a CMG-RC Member since 1999

Join the conversation!