The Contact Patch
by Todd Vosper
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2008 Balancer Adjustment Lever
One of my tasks at Top Gun is to monitor the different websites and groups and see
“what’s new.” Since we are a vendor, I try to avoid commenting since it’s too hard to
appear impartial. However, I recently waded into a discussion about the 2008 balancer
lever and realized that it would be a good idea to review the reasons we recommend it
as a replacement for 87-07 KLR650s.
First, some very quick background. Jake Jakeman produced the first aftermarket
replacement for the stock balancer adjustment lever (he called it a Doohickey). Elden
received one of the early copies from Bogdon Swyder but decided there were
improvements still to be made. Since Elden was tired of his KLR650 being parked, he
went to Bill Rose who in turn, financed the R&D and production of an improved lever
design. The rest, as they say, is history. Eagle MFG is now the sole manufacturer of an
Let me make one thing clear. We have never heard of a broken Eagle lever. Elden and
I, as well as Rod Morris of MMP and other KLR riders we personally know, have had
Eagle levers inside our KLRs. Top Gun’s decision to recommend the 2008 lever was
never an indictment of the Eagle lever, but rather a decision based on the following
First and foremost, we like to use OEM parts whenever possible – especially inside the
engine. The 2008 lever is a tough, forged piece that resolves the structural weak points
of the pre-2008 design. Based on our own experience, and after consulting with several
experts and engineers, we feel this lever will withstand the test of time. Therefore, we
now have a durable OEM part to go inside the engine of our customers’ bikes. In our
litigation-happy society, putting the liability on Kawasaki makes much more sense to us
from a business perspective, especially when Kawasaki has finally made a part worth
installing. Now, this does not mean we think an Eagle lever will break. But we do think,
and our customers have agreed, that it’s better to have the liability resting on Kawasaki
rather than Top Gun and Eagle MFG.
It is worth mentioning that although we use and recommend the 2008 lever, we do not
recommend Kawasaki adjustment springs. So that raises the question “Why are you
recommending a non-OEM part inside the engine?” In this case, the answer is two-fold.
First, Kawasaki does not supply springs in varying lengths which allow appropriate
preload (for example, the 2008 spring has almost no preload) as the balancer chain
and sprockets wear over time. Unlike the 2008 lever, there IS NO GOOD OEM spring
alternative. But most importantly – we adamantly recommend a Wexman/Carl
inspection port and constant monitoring of the spring! With the ability to monitor the
system, we have the ability to manage the risk involved with installing an aftermarket
spring. Additionally, now that MMP has developed the best extension spring for this
application that we’ve ever seen, we feel even more confident that the combination of
excellent spring design and quality, combined with the ability to easily monitor the
spring, provides the safest installation alternative available.
The second reason we like the 2008 lever is that the blade is 2mm thicker than other
levers, including Eagle’s. This beefs up one of the historic weak points of the balancer
lever. It also eliminates the need for the washer underneath the balancer adjustment
bolt. Although this has been touted in certain Internet forums as a disadvantage of the
2008 lever, we disagree.
The critics of the 08 lever claim that the washer helps spread the load of the adjustment
bolt against the lever blade. While this is technically true, the amount would likely be
insignificant. The only surface of the washer that would “help spread the load” beyond
what the flange of the adjustment bolt already does, would be the distance from the
edge of the flange of the adjustment bolt to the edge of the washer. Since the washer
diameter is 11.83mm and the adjustment bolt flange is 10.88mm, the washer only
extends .475mm further than the flange. And this “help” is not available where the
washer bridges the adjustment slot on both sides.
By eliminating the washer, we get rid of an extra sliding surface, prone to vibration and
possible loosening of the bolt. If you take a look at your bike, you’ll see most of the
fasteners are flange bolts, not conventional bolts and washers. This is because flange
bolts eliminate a possible sliding surface – the washer – and they are not susceptible to
distortion which can lead to damage of the material underneath and further exacerbate
vibration and loosening. In any event, the extra 2mm thickness of the blade further
helps eliminate any concerns about the load of the adjustment bolt on the blade when
By using a forged (as opposed to machined) lever, the side of the 2008 lever nearest
the rotor could be pre-formed with sufficient rotor clearance. On the aftermarket levers,
this clearance must be machined or ground, and on some levers (not all) this machined
radius comes right to the corner of the idler shaft slot. This could possibly lead to crack
propagation from that corner. Again, we’ve seen aftermarket levers that do not have
this potential weak point, but the forged 2008 lever completely eliminates the possibility.
The main criticism against the 2008 lever is that it is too loose and will lead to rounding
of the idler shaft and subsequent loosening of the balancer system. This criticism stems
from the very real fact that idler shafts are not the same size; some shafts will be slightly
larger or smaller than others. We measured the flats on four idler shafts from our
inventory and came up with: 9.97mm, 9.83mm, 9.86mm, and 9.85mm. When Elden first
worked with Eagle to develop the aftermarket levers, his desire was to custom-fit each
lever to the particular shaft to eliminate any play. This wasn’t economically feasible, and
the aftermarket levers, like the 2008 lever, have to be made to some chosen dimension
that can hopefully encompass idler shaft variation.
This means that when either lever is matched to a particular shaft, there is a chance
that it will be slightly tight, slightly loose, or fit like a glove. The anecdotal conclusion on
some Internet sites is that the Eagle lever has a smaller opening than the OEM lever,
and “fits” better. If Elden had been a proponent of custom-fit levers, how could we
recommend the 2008 lever?
First, Kawasaki is going to manufacture a lever that will encompass the known
variations of the idler shaft. This does not mean that every lever is going to be loose.
We recently found an idler shaft in Rod Morris’ 1996 KLR650 (with 49,000 miles) that
had .005” play in both the Eagle lever that was installed and the 2008 lever that
replaced it. Again, the problem is that idler shafts vary in size, and each installation will
Second, we’ve never seen an idler shaft rounded at the lever due to a poor fit. But we
have seen balancer systems with 50-60,000 miles that needed to have the balancer
sprockets and an occasional chain replaced due to normal wear. My point is that there
are multiple balancer system components that are going to wear out long before you
round off the idler shaft due to lever play.
Third, our 2008 has a nice fitting lever. In fact, we would not have been able to install
the Eagle lever we had on hand without filing it first – the fit was too tight. Any rider who
unwittingly files the lever unevenly will create uneven surfaces and pressure points
inside the lever and on the idler shaft.
Fourth, we are running a business, and we are responsible for our customers. To my
knowledge, there is no statistical analysis of both types of levers and idler shafts
available with which to make a proper assessment regarding fit. Added to that, there is
no acceptable tolerance limit published by the manufacturer to determine how much is
“too much” play. If the 2008 lever mentioned above with .005” play were to damage the
idler shaft, it would be Kawasaki’s problem to fix. Not so if the Eagle lever (with the same
.005” play) damages the shaft. In the absence of any hard evidence or factory
specifications to the contrary, and based on the previous three reasons discussed, we
are not concerned about the fit of the 2008 lever to a degree that would outweigh the
other advantages we see in the new OEM lever. The only real solution to guarantee
perfect fit, all the time, is to custom-fit each lever to a particular shaft.
Before I finish, let me just add that our recommendation of the 2008 lever does not
mean that we think the Eagle lever is a bad product. It’s ok to have an Eagle lever in
your bike without having to believe the 08 lever is bad, and vice versa. I won’t steal a
future story from Elden, but we have a good friend who is a long-time KLR rider and is
still using one of Jake’s Sagebrush levers! Each rider needs to make the decision
based on what is important to him or her. Maybe the longer history of the Eagle lever is
important to some, while others may simply want a factory part in their bike. Choosing
one does not imply the other is “bad.”
To summarize, we recommend the 2008 balancer lever for the following reasons:
- It’s an OEM part that is finally designed properly.
- The lever blade is 2mm thicker, increasing blade strength and eliminating the
need for a washer.
- The design provides problem-free rotor clearance.
- The lever is designed to fit the known range of idler shafts without modification.
Ideally, the shaft and lever should be splined. Of course, this whole discussion would be
moot if Kawasaki installed a proper gear-driven balancer system, but that’s another
discussion for another time! And remember, no matter which lever is installed in your
bike, do yourself a favor and install an inspection port. Adjusting your balancer system
without confirming the condition of the spring could lead to a loose balancer chain, and
neither balancer lever will help you if the chain manages to jump a sprocket. Even if you
don’t lose your engine, a loose chain can increase wear dramatically. Don’t forget the
smallest of the four sprockets in the balancer system is on the end of the crankshaft.
Replacement of this sprocket means a complete engine tear-down, and replacement of
the left crank half (you can’t buy the sprocket separately for post 1995 models).