Project – KLR Adventure Tourer – 1


Words: Rob Harris. Photos: Rob Harris, unless otherwise specified.

A few years ago I bought a pretty much bog standard 1991 KLR650A. It was the bike that former Assistant Editor Lewis had and in typical Jon Lewis style, despite its age, it was pretty well in top nick.

The agreed price was a little over $2,000 and I hoped that he knew me well enough that it was not going to have such a pampered life once the cash had changed hands.

True to form after just a few short years the KLR is now scraped, scratched, bent, dented and bleeding various fluids. It also refuses to run without a little choke on at all times and makes some worrying noises and squeals when it does run.

To add to that, the anaemic front brake has now developed pronounced steps during its application (nothing, a little, some) and the rear suspension has pretty much given up the ghost whenever I show it some rough trails.


klr_ditch.jpgThe KLR has not had an easy life.

Yes, I confess, I am a bike molester of the highest order. But I can change. The trusty KLR is about to experience a new beginning. A transformation. This is the first step of the CMG $5K Adventurer Tourer project!

I’ve been wanting to do something like this ever since I bought the KLR, but the lack of a decent workshop and the fact that it used to be pretty good just as it was, all worked against me.

Now that I’ve set up CMG headquarters in Sackville and have a house with a large basement (with outside access) I now have the facilities I need. In fact, the KLR is down there right now, strapped down to a bench, naked, ready and waiting for me to implement my Big Idea.



Despite it’s inabilities to really tackle the off-road stuff, that did not deter me from trying.

So what is this Big Idea?


Lots of ‘A ‘model KLRs for under $2k!
picture: donkiz-moto.jpg

Well, it’s to lay out what you should do if you want to buy a used KLR650 (A model) and get it ready for that much pondered adventure tour, all without breaking the bank. It is, after all, Canada’s biggest-selling dual-sport, so there are plenty of them out there for you, and many in pretty good nick too.

And therein lies the beauty of owning a KLR650; thanks to its omnipotence and long production run there are simply masses upon masses of aftermarket parts available.

Of course, it’s also easy to drown your KLR with bling and create on obese, ill functioning heffalump of a bike as a result (and let’s face it, the KLR is hardly svelte to start with).


Load her up!

No, the Idea is to firstly repair the abuse and then adapt the bike into a budget adventure tourer that would be quite capable of riding down to Machu Picchu sans incident. Well, mechanical ones anyway.

Scour the classifieds and you’ll find KLRs out there in reasonable condition for as little as $2,000, sometimes less. Add another couple of grand in aftermarket parts and you should be able to build a good adventure-touring bike for under five large, while updating its aging carcass to more modern specs. That’s the thinking anyway.

This limited budget also helps to keep us focused on what we really need as there’s so much stuff out there it’s easy to go mad and defeat the point of the project – a cheap, reliable and very usable adventure tourer.

I also want to end up with a bike that is no heavier than stock (even lighter would be the bee’s knees) and can be easily converted to a more dirt-friendly format (as in luggage carriers and the like should be easily removable).



Mr Lewis once tried to take the KLR on the P2D rally, only to drop it and break the shift shaft in the process. Team CMG vultures used the opportunity to pick over the carcass before leaving.
Photo: Richard Seck

No Big Idea will go anywhere without a plan and since I’d want this project to be finished in time for the riding season we have about three or four months to get her done. I’ve spent the last couple of months scouring the internet for aftermarket parts and owners’ issues, and have spoken to a few retailers who have all expressed great interest in jumping on board.


I have done some maintenance during my tenure – though mostly at the side of the trail.
photo: Zaner

The result is a pretty extensive list of what I’d like to do, so with further ado:

1) Fix the abuse

If we’re suggesting that you can go out and buy a $2,000 KLR for this project then I think we need to at least bring our KLR up to spec. Doing this includes an oil and filter change, carb strip and clean, possible fork seal replacement, valve adjustment and some touching up with a can of paint.

2) Fix existing design issues

front-brake.jpgThe original front brake is poor to crap but thankfully there are options for improvement.

Any avid KLR owner will be aware that the bike comes from the factory with some weak spots.

These include the balancer chain adjuster (the infamous “Doohickey” that can fail and damage the motor), subframe bolts (prone to shearing when loaded), rear brake pedal mount (susceptible to breaking if dropped), gear shifter (susceptible to breaking if just looked at), rad protection (it’ll get mushed easily in a drop), plastic fan (burns off the shaft if the holder gets bent in a drop), headlight wiring (the original blows the fuse quite easily), soggy front suspension (shit springs and spindly forks) and of course, an anaemic front brake (it just is).

Oh and we’ll bypass the clutch and sidestand safety switches as they tend to fail and can eventually leave you stranded as a result.

3) Improve off-road ability


A big sod-off aluminum bashplate is a good start. It might be a good time to get a new one too.

It’s not an adventure tourer if it can’t go off-road, but we’re being realistic too. The KLR does not and never will a dirt bike make, but some simple adaptations can make it more dirt friendly.


Team CMG’s Jim does trail-side surgery on his KLR650C after a left-side dump squashed the rad fan housing.

These are all pretty obvious and include a metal bashplate (the plastic one is just silly), bark busters (again, original plastic jobbies keep some wind off, but that’s about it), a plastic fuel tank (the metal one is big and very dentable), low profile drain plug (so it doesn’t get whacked by rocks) and some metal serrated footpegs (the original rubber cushions offer no grip when they get muddy).

I’d like to add bar risers, and tapered aluminum handlebars as well (better for standing up and less prone to bending in a drop).

Resolving some of the design issues, such as the rear brake mount, rad protector and plastic fan mentioned above, will also make the bike more off-road worthy, as these parts are even more likely to get damaged when I take to the trails. Oh, and the soggy suspension really becomes noticeable in the dirt too (new springs, a fork brace and aftermarket shock can really help here).

4) Improve touring abilities

ride.jpgThe project is not just to improve off-road riding, but on-road too.Photo: Judy Crichton

A critical part of adventure touring is the touring and that means being able to cover lots of miles in comfort and with luggage.

Comfort additions include a better seat (the original is a wedgie inducer), heated grips (we do live in Canada after all) as well as more wind protection (buffeting is a big issue at ‘higher’ speeds on a KLR).

Luggage-wise I’d love to slap on a pair of aluminum panniers but those alone will likely kill the budget, so we’ll have to be creative here. The standard rear rack on my KLR is busted so I’ll take a look at replacing that with something better too.


We don’t think there’s many options to improving the bike for snow, sadly.
Photo: Jim Vernon

I’m going to include a centre stand in here too because it’s just damn useful on the road. I’d also like to see about lighting improvements (safety), though I’m going to have to be careful not to exceed the alternator’s capacity with the heated grips and an outlet for a heated vest. Of course there’s higher capacity stators available but again, we have to keep an eye on that budget!

5) Improve performance


Most gains will likely come from some tweaking with the carb.

Now this is certainly an area that can blow a budget in no time flat, but there are some very simple mods that can be done to give the engine a little more oomph. Aside from cost the other big issue with increasing power is to not adversely affect fuel consumption, as there’s little point in making a cheap Adventure Tourer that guzzles gas.

With that said, likely power mods will include rejetting/adjusting the carb, improving the airbox for better breathing and fitting a different pipe. The pipe must not be too much louder than stock though, and I’m confident it will save a few pounds to boot.



This fairing/fender combo made by Britannia Composites in Canada is very interesting, but at $595 it’ll likely blow the target budget.

Sticking to a $3,000 budget is going to be the toughest part of the project and to be honest, I do not actually intend to do so as the project progresses. That may sound a little odd, but in order to allow for some trial and error as well as offer options for those who may want to spend a little more, I’ll end up with significantly more than $3,000 worth of parts.

However, I will promise you this: at the end of the project you will be presented with a list of all the vital parts I feel best achieved my goal, while totalling not more than a penny over $3,000.

You’ll also be presented with a ‘B’ list of other things that we think may be useful if you’d like to do this too but can find a few more dollars. Or, you can substitute some expensive items you feel you could do without (maybe your ass has numbed over the years and you’d like to sub the seat for an exhaust), while keeping within the $3,000 range.

I’d also like to add that maintenance items might not be included in the $3,000 budget, as these are items that are replaced during regular maintenance and will vary depending on how much mileage you put on your machine. For example I may or may not include items like new brake pads, depending on if they were used just to replace worn pads or if they were chosen to improve braking performance.


The bike already comes with some mods but we’re going to pretend that it’s stock.

Some items like the air filter make it into the final tally because it will likely be considered a performance-enhancing component, again depending of the final choice. I’ll also add in the cost of gaskets and special tools required when installing the ‘doohickey’, which improves reliability.

Oh, and we should also mention how we plan to do the accounting. I’ll only be including retail prices in the final tally, as sales taxes and shipping vary too greatly depending on your location. Also, we’ll source from Canada whenever possible but if something is only available in the US then costing will be presumed at par to make the calculation easier.



The KLR (in all its naked glory) awaits patiently for Project Adventure Tourer to begin.

I’m going to make this project into a series of monthly features, but updates may be a little more frequent if there’s something significant to write about. Of course during the summer I’ll be riding the thing and likely doing some fine tuning so there will be the occasional update then too, with a final wrap up at the end of the season will let you know how it all worked out.

Okay then, with the Big Idea laid out it’s time to get to it.

Ratchet please.

Got a suggestion for what we should consider for this project? Either add it to the comments section below or please contact us directly. Cheers!

PART 2 has now been posted. Click here.


  1. Sorry for the delay, but finally, part 2:


    Should be more frequent from now on ….


  2. Good to hear from you Ian….your XS fairing the best thing since sliced bread! What an upgrade in so many ways. If you go the HID route….you will soon realize that extra lighting is a thing of the past!
    Thanks again Ian for designing such a fine product.

  3. Just a couple of things to add about fitting a BC Fairing. To help the budget, go for the Phoenix, not the XST which is $100 cheaper and does the same job. Remember that with a BC fairing, you also get a full wiring harness, which means you don’t have to fork out for an upgreaded light wiring for your OEM light. If you haven’t got one already, you will also save on a GPS mount, because the GPS goes on the dash out of harms way.

    Good luck with the project and if you have any other Q’s on the fairing, email me.


  4. Willys, I rode the new one last summer and really liked it, both for it’s visual and technical improvements.. There are some good deals to be had on non-current new units in the U.S. I may go that route. And I certainly do know what you mean about the adventure touring bug.

  5. I have an 08 KLR which I bought used for under $4800. 6500 kms later I have begun to do mods and have found a number or excellent sites. Paniers from Happy Trails and Corbin Dish seat. Garmin Nuvi 550 GPS, Givi Top case. SW motech crash bars, higher windshield for those days when you are on the highway. 12volt receptecle for heated vest or GPS power source. Heated grips. Battery monitor, battery tender. So far nothing on the suspension and I will do some research on what makes the most sense. Riding empty the stock springs seem fine but fully loaded I can see the need for a heavy duty adjustable mono shock.

    Looking forward to your explanation on the suspension upgrades you do.

  6. That was one of the reasons I bought it myself……it is a tractor or a bike, easily fixed, large tank for range, larger seat for supposedly comfort(wrong), and water cooled.
    I came from a Ninja which I totally didn’t respect, rode too fast, luckily never got caught, but did come off of…..done sold it and never happier once you get into the adventure touring frame of mind.
    The KLR is a perfect fit IMHO for this.

  7. “I’m trying to decide if I should sell my ’04 or put some new life into it.”

    Stagman: Sell it and by a real man’s motorcycle. No, no, not a Harley. We both know you’d get kicked out of the showroom.

    I’m thinking a nice used ZR-X11.

    If you need further advice you can contact me at the usual email address or at


  8. I too have an 04….never burned any oil but I still did the 685 kit…..well worth it IMHO. Keep her and treat her well….it will carry you for many years. All KLRs are the same when you think about it, except the new ones with oil issues etc….they all are 20 year old tech and can be fixed on the road with a hammer so to speak. How many other bikes can do that in the middle of nowhere? Riding is riding…it doesn’t matter what your are sitting on as long as it keeps moving…..enjoy her…fix the old girl up….she will make it worth your while…..

  9. Hey Rob, I’ll be following this project with much interest. I’m trying to decide if I should sell my ’04 or put some new life into it. Funny thing about KLR’s is how they grow on you.
    BTW, any issues with oil consumption on yours? I know it’s typical on these bikes, but at times mine seems excessive.

  10. Oh…no need for a centre stand either….too heavy and a waste of $$$,get and old alluminium crutch with the adjustable bottom on it, you know the one, with an indent ball to allow you to lock it into place at any height. Use roughly 12″ of it, cut it off, drill a hole through the top and insert a “U” bolt in it to allow you to hook it into the front nerf bar or around the rear swing arm when needing to change a tire, or something where you need to have either front or rear tire off the ground. Another near free mod.

  11. Another great source for information is and search out all of these mods…..yes some will direct you to the top dollar items first but with some persuation you will get the low buck info you are looking for. There is a huge wealth of knowledge there and is the largest KLR site on the net…..from what I know..? Yes I am a mod there but this isn’t a plug, it is just the best place to find out what it is you seek KLR wise..plain and simple.
    The seat is easy to make using high density carpet foam, some spray glue, a hand grinder and a stapler for well under $100 and it will result in a seat you can ride all day on…ask me how I know. The exhaust mod is a simple drill out the back baffle of the muffler using a 1/8th drill bit, a welder and a small piece of pipe, basically free. There is no need to chuck the stock can just to save 5lbs in weight when compared to an aftermarket can IMHO. The aftermarket can will need repacking and probably replacing well before the modded can will even rust! Save you $$$ and spend it on bigger valves, a much better bang for your buck or even a 685 kit even better bang for your buck….in fact it is the best bang for your buck performance wise IMHO. Sorry I can go on all day to what is possible to enhance the KLR…

  12. Search out Mermite military cans, they were used to carry the hot and cold meals to and from the field for our boys. They are extremely strong, large and light. All great properties when looking for rear boxes IMHO. Plus if you are lucky you will find them for under $50 a piece. Try Ecotrex in North Bay Ontario. That is where I got mine from…a few years ago now but I paid $38 each IIRC. They will need cleaning out of their thermal insolation to get them to usable condition plus a blast of white paint on the inside and whatever you want on the outside to pretty them up some. As I said it all can be done under your budget IMHO. I have them on my bike and they have served me well. Last summer I rode up the Dempster to Inuvik and did the D2D with them. I came off at 70 on the Dempster and they took just a few scratches no dents! I also towed my single wheeled trailer there too. I have most if not all of these mods on my bike so I know they work and work well. A great supplier for parts in Canada is ask for Eric. he has a Richochet skid plate all of the DOO kits, subframe drill through kits, UNI filters, SS oil filter, sprockets, chains, tires, $40 heated grips, nerf bars. OR Royal Distributing for $40 heated grips, handle bars. IIRC for the rear spring. Ebay sorry for the chinese foot pegs sorry, also the blade fuse blocks to convert the fuses all over. Johnsmotorcycleparts for thumb turn pilot screw $20, motorcycleparts2U for the CBR600RR master for a direct bolt on master cylinder upgrade…..need more??? ask….lol

  13. Hi Willys.

    I don’t suppose I could get you to breakdown that list with suppliers? I have a lot of those already but there are a few I’d be interested in finding out more (Aluminum bags for under $100???).

    Cheers, Rob

  14. Hmmmm….? What can I say? There is so much you can do to the KLR to make it a well versed adventure touring machine and possibly for your $3000 limit! That is if you are willing to do some of the work yourself…..? A good all day seat is easily obtainable for well under the $100, stiffer forks for almost free, carb mods for under $50, UNI air filter, respring the rear shock for roughly $100, Aluminium panniers for under $100, better front brake system for under $200, what else, lighting…LEDs spots 7Watts a piece $80, heated grips $40, heated vest with collar under $200, new skid plate $100, barkbusters under $200, Doo…IIRC $140, drill through subframe kit $30, no need for larger tank,nerf bars for tank protection that price excapes me, PacRat rear carrier or pannier carriers $250 IIRC. adjust the valves to loose end of scale. Low buck exhaust mod, my way….free better flow.16 tooth front sprocket $20, Odysey 545 battery $130?, change all fuses with fuse block and ATO blade fuses $30 Didn’t add it all up…but there is more if you have the $$$$…
    685/705 kit, bigger valves 1 mm over, stage II head work port and polish, cams, staintune exhaust, better fairing Britannia Composite XS fairing with twin HID headlights.
    That should keep you going for a few weeks or so… questions…just ask…

  15. You probably already found it but has a bunch of well priced adventure touring stuff. I’m using some of their mounting hardware on my 20mm ammo can pannier project for my wee.

  16. I bought a 95 KLR “Malibu Barbie” about four years back and have had lots of fun adding a few bits as well as doing stuff such as the doohicky, valve adjustments and fork springs. I was going to sell the old girl this year but I love her too much…

    So I want to make her more an adventure bike too. Your articles could not have come at a better time, I’m really looking forward to them 🙂

  17. I love this! it’s been a few years since i sold my 87 but have been looking again, this might push me over the edge. (note to self, get that Yamaha Maxim in the garage running first…)

    I had the carb jetted, but not as extensive as the guy above, foam air filter and the airbox mod done and a Supertrapp pipe installed *saved 18 very high pounds there alone* and a larger rear sprocket. that made a huge difference. Rear shock rebuilt by Pro-Tech in Quebec. Never did do the front forks before i sold it but wished i had just to see the difference.

    Good luck Mr. Harris, i really look forward to your updates!!


  18. whats wrong with you people, what do you mean you people. to do this thing right you have to raise the fuel cap and drive a KTM 690 adventure under the fuel cap then lower the cap and tighten said cap its the only way.

  19. there are several must do mods just to make a klr rideable .1 the carb mod drill the hole in the slide out to 5/32, replace the needle assy with one from the klx650r ,open the airbox,fit a uni foam filter,change the main jet to a 150(one up from stock)2 replace the stock front brake line with a braided steel line.3 now that you can bottom the forks using the brakes you need to replace the fork springs(progressive or cogent dynamics).if only i had stopped there .btw the 685 kit really wakes up the motor.

  20. First thing to consider is a fork brace, and a lowered front fender, I couldn’t believe the difference it made on the highway on my KLR.

  21. This looks like fun. A good idea for an article ‘arris

    I bought a DR650 last year and promptly installed a Sargeant seat and larger IMS tank and fitted an old BMW 1100S modified windscreen for a little extra shielding from the wind. I totally love it.

    Forgive my ignorance … but I wonder why the KLR is so much more popular then the DR. It seems to me that many of the short comings of the KLR are addressed on the DR with air cooling, weight, better brakes and forks. I’m sure I’m missing the point here but … of course many think the XL650 is the best choice.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to your articles.

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