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.
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.
THE BIG IDEA
So what is this Big Idea?
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).
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).
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
GOING OVER 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.
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.
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.
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.