Air Race Champion, Mexican Rally Car Champion and long time expert multisurface
motorcyclist Bruce Redding simply called Elden Carl the best rider and builder of dual
Former Pro-Motocrosser Garry Wright called Elden the best motorcycle set-up man he
ever knew. Garry described a ride in Baja with Elden and wife Pauline Read two-up as
an “incredible experience”, especially the part where they followed truck tracks across a
1 1/2 mile wide open field topped out in 4th gear (70 mph).
As Elden and Pauline’s most constant riding companion for over 30 years I could write a
book about what I have witnessed while riding with this “dynamic duo”, but my job is to
concentrate on Elden’s 20 years of experience in developing and improving the KLR650.
There is a reason beyond riding ability why Elden Carl has over 230,000 multisurface
crash free miles on KLRs (except for a collision with a wreckless, backward-driving
teenager in 2007). That reason has to do with motorcycle development, preparation
and set-up for the job at hand.
Elden has been studying and developing KLR650s since 1990. He has been writing
about them constantly since the late 1990s in “KLR650 Kawasaki Dual Sport News”,
“Dual Sport News”, “multisurfacemotorcycling.com” and now on “topgunmotorcycles.com”.
History of the “Doohickey”, by Elden Carl
Following is a short history on the troublesome KLR650 balancer adjustment lever,
sometimes known as the “doohickey”. Kawasaki engine balancer systems have been a
dangerous problem for owners of KLR600s and KLR650s for over 25 years.
Even today’s KLR balancer systems are flawed despite the fact that the E-models
(08/09) came equipped with the toughest and best “doohickey” available. The problems
are twofold; the lack of a monitoring inspection hole and a spring that’s too long. We
long ago solved the inspection problem and finally have found a custom factory spring
that has perfect tension and the ability to
pull for a long time without creating too much pre-load friction on the idler shaft needle
bearing which is not pressure lubricated.
Anyone who tells you their springs don’t break and you don’t need an inspection hole is
double wrong. We’ve found broken factory, Eagle, and MMP springs among other. MMP
(on topgunmotorcycles.com) appears to be the only company offering a reliable kit which
includes the factory 08/09 doohickey, easy inspection hole installation, instructions, tools
and a custom factory spring of the correct tension that has never been known to fail in
its original environment. Mike Henshaw had the first one of these kits installed about
6,000 miles ago. Two inspections later, everything looks perfect and the mechanism
runs quieter than it ever has.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The early KLRs had spring dampened balancer
sprockets up to 1996 when, due to cronic balancer sprocket failures, they went the solid
sprocket. Kurt Grife and I never suffered a doohickey or spring failure while the balancer
sprockets were spring loaded.
When I took my 1993 KLR engine apart at 54,500 miles it was noisy due to a sloppy
balancer chain , but the lever and spring were intact. It was obvious due to chain slop
and marks on the crankcase that the chain was about to come off and probably hadn’t
been adjusting for at least 30,000 miles.
After installing solid balancer sprockets in the late 1990s I began to find broken springs
and levers. I finally decided that the engine was too dangerous to operate without a
bullet proof lever and the ability to inspect the spring.
The inspection problem was solved by myself and Scott Wexman who found a perfect
easy place to install an inspection hole. About this time a rider named Bogdon informed
me that a tough machined lever was now being produced at Sagebrush Engineering by
the late Jake Jakeman who allegedly called it a doohickey. Bogdon sent me one of the
levers from Sagebrush but it didn’t fit properly.
At this point I decided to go to Eagle Manufacturing who I believed could make a good
copy of the factory lever. Eagle offered to make me a lever if I would pay several
hundred bucks for set-up. I was told that I would then own the rights to the lever. I
advised Eagle that I didn’t want to be in business. In the meantime I talked to Bill Russell
who was in town buying my Honda Hawk stuff. Bill decided to pay for the Eagle set-up
time. I’m told that later Eagle decided to market the lever and bought out Bill’s interest in
Now things get interesting. “Jake” gets word that I’m helping Eagle produce a lever and
he phoned me and was hopping mad. I explained to Jake that since he was having a
fitment problem it was easier for me to work locally, thereby having some direct input. In
retrospect, I regret that since Jake had the first good aftermarket doohickey, I didn’t help
him. After all, he was only a small radius away from having it right. Kurt Grife purchased
an early Jake lever and he still has it in his bike. It still looks and works perfectly after
tens of thousands of miles (Kurt has over 100,000 miles on KLRs).
A short time after my problems with Jake ended, Eagle called me and asked if I would
check fitment on their new copy of the factory lever. Since I had an engine on my
crankcase/balancer building table I agreed. I installed the Eagle lever and then
attempted to install the rotor which contacted the lever.
After checking fitment carefully, I suggested that:
- The lever be radiused slightly in the area that I had marked on the lever.
Unfortunately, the radius was overdone on the production model creating a sharp
edge in the corner that “could” invite cracks ( a problem the new factory lever
- Make the adjustment bolt slot a little longer (a recommendation I now realize
wasn’t necessary when the system is serviced at correct intervals). NOTE: The
1996 KLR650 formerly owned by original owner Joe Carpenter and now owned by
Rod Morris needed no new balancer parts at over 50,000 miles. We installed the
new 08 factory doohickey and MMPs new spring kit (already had the inspection
hole). At 100,000 miles we’ll probably have to change the idler sprocket and rear
balancer sprocket to bring it back to specifications.
I would like to say in closing that I have never had a financial interest in the Eagle or any
other aftermarket copy of the factory doohickey. I simply wanted to finally have a safe
and reliable KLR650 balancer system which I finally have with:
- The new tougher, thicker bladed factory doohickey (backed by Kawasaki).
- The Wexman/Carl inspection port through which I once found (my bike) and
replaced a broken spring before it could cause a slack chain and resultant blown
engine (Kurt Grife and Jim Bellach can tell you what that’s like).
Nearly a quarter million KLR miles and more than three dozen engine teardowns have
taught me what it takes to build and maintain a safe and durable KLR650 engine. Once
the top end of any oil burning KLR650 is upgraded, you are only a factory 08/09
doohickey, Wexman/Carl inspection port, and MMP spring kit away from safety and
By the way, anyone who tells you his aftermarket doohickey is better than the new
factory 08/09 lever “ain’t” telling the truth. Even worse is the guy who tells you to replace
the stock doohickey found in your 08/09 E-model KLR650. Furthermore, he doesn’t care
about your warranty or your ability to recover from Kawasaki’s deep pockets should you
be injured or worse.
Recently there has been a lot of controversy, speculation and confusion relating to what
Jake first coined as a doohickey. I hope the above un-biased history (sincerely given
from one who was there from the beginning) will help in the overall understanding of the
most dangerous engineering screw-up ever to come out of Japan.