Elden Carl and I had been riding together on the black strip for almost 20 years when
he started back into off-roading on a Suzuki DR350 Dual Sport. His stories of the great
riding in Baja really got me fired up and somewhere in the mid 1990’s I was
re-introduced to off-road riding on a DR350. Elden also owned a KLR650 that he and
wife Pauline would ride two up on many Baja trails with me tagging along on the
DR350. I liked the idea of having the power of a 650 over the 350 but I had been
listening to Elden complain for a long time on all of the fixes required to keep the KLR
on the road so I stayed with the 350.
After a few years I moved on to a Honda XR650R that more than filled the horsepower
concern and it handled anything Baja threw at it, but it too had flaws. The XR had very
poor gas mileage, vibrated badly on pavement and required a lot of maintenance
often. A great race bike it was, a great dual sport it wasn’t.
At the same time I had the XR, a long time riding partner with Elden and I was Joe
Carpenter who had purchased a new KLR650 in 1996 and Elden had done about
every improvement to it that we knew of at the time. This included an Ohlins rear shock
which was one of several that Elden one of his many expert contacts make from spare
Joe had an on-the-job injury that looked like his riding days would be over; in fact, we
thought his walking days may be over. But Joe made a great recovery and still wanted
to ride, so Elden worked with the suspension so that Joe would have the smoothest
ride possible and don’t you know, Joe got back into the dirt and rode as well as ever.
He did decide that the KLR was a bit heavy for him to ride the way he wanted off-road
and made the decision to sell it. You guessed it; I couldn’t let this much improved KLR
leave our little group and bought it for myself. Although I loved the XR for Baja, it just
didn’t fit for an all around bike and I sold it.
I still have the KLR with just over 55,000 miles of mostly Baja riding and it still runs
great, barely uses any oil, it gets 50-55 mpg and the top end has never been off. This
didn’t happen by dumb luck, it took due diligence in the maintenance department and I
don’t mean hours and hours of tedious labor – just regular scheduled maintenance
using quality products.
There are a multitude of bikes on the market that are far superior in many areas over
the KLR650 but many lack the qualities that the KLR can offer. Ever wonder why most
people planning to tour the world or South America by motorcycle chose a KLR? Well
the answer is kinda simple. The KLR is certainly cheaper than many other bikes, can
carry large loads, gets good gas mileage, is easy to work on, and can be fixed with
baling wire and JB Weld. The KLR650 doesn’t do any one thing particularly well, it just
does everything well enough.
This is all leading up to “why buy a KLR650”. With all its faults you’d think it would take
a large amount of money to put into decent shape to be reliable, because after all,
what good is an unreliable anything that could strand you in the middle of no-where. I
plan to cover some of the known problems and how to fix them and some of the extra
things that can be done to generally improve life on a KLR650. By the time all the
improvements are covered, answer to why to buy a KLR650 will become clearer.
The most important stuff comes first and are things that must be fixed on every KLR in
existence. The order of things to do depends on whether it’s a new bike, a used bike
that’s been well cared for or a used bike that needs TLC. Your order of importance
may vary a little, but the top five things are all very close in “need to do”.
We can all thank Elden Carl (the true KLR650 expert) for suffering through all the bad
things that have happened to the KLR from the early years. Elden found out what
broke, why it broke, and most importantly, how to fix it so it didn’t break again. About
95% of the KLR650 improvements we all enjoy today came from Elden’s tenacious
drive to make it right.
Every KLR650 from the first one off the assembly line in 1987 to the most current one
needs a better rear shock spring. The stock spring seems to have been designed for a
5’6″ 150 pound rider that never plans to hit bumps and dips. Not many Americans fit
this physical description. Sag height is not correct right off the show room floor and
shock travel can be as low as 3″ with rider, passenger, gear or any added weight like
boxes, bags etc.
Elden worked long and hard with a number of suspension experts to solve the rear
shock problem. There was Charles Curnutt who invented the first long travel shock
back in the 1970’s and whose ideas are still used today. Stig Pettersson helped come
up with an Ohlins based shock made from spare parts. Bob Bell of “Precision
Concepts” worked with Elden on coming up with a proper shim stack and Elden spent a
lot of time and money testing different springs until the best combination was found with
the available springs at the time.
Around 2003 another KLR rider wanted to start a web site and have Elden write articles
about the improvements he came up with for his own KLRs. After some months of his
articles appearing on the site (multisurfacemotorcyling.com) the webmaster started
getting requests from readers on how they could get some of the custom parts that
Elden was using. It was then that we decided there may be a market to offer products
for the KLR650. Our webmaster had a regular job and no time to run an on-line
business and Elden had owned a number of businesses before and didn’t want
another one, so that left me. And that’s how our current on-line business (Multisurface
Motorcycle Products or MMP for short) got started. Our first and only product was a
6.6kg rear shock spring that was custom made to our specifications from high quality
wire and made by a company that did work for Progressive Springs and other
suspension companies. We tested the stock spring at about 5.1kg, so our 6.6kg was a
huge improvement and designed to carry a 200 pound rider. We now use the following
method to come up with the proper spring rate for any rider. We use total load weight
that is on the bike 95% of the time. That’s the rider with normal riding gear on and any
added weight on the bike like boxes, bags, bash plate, bars, racks etc. The key is to
set-up suspension for how the bike is ridden all the time. Don’t figure in the occasional
passenger or extra loads for camping or trips. This is with the pre-load setting on #1
and the dampening on #1. When changing pre-load always lift the weight off the rear
tire so you don’t lift the entire bike weight with the adjuster bolt and we suggest leaving
dampening on #1 setting where the most oil flow is. Be sure to put the adjuster on the
number and not between or you get no oil flow.
As time went by we found it necessary to include two more spring rates to handle
heavier rides and loads. We also have a 7.4kg and for the really beefy load an 8.0kg.
We would like to have an 8.5 or 9.0 spring but our experts warned that the pre-load
unit may not be able to take that much spring pressure without possible damage, so if
your load weight is over 315 pounds, you just have to live with the 8.0.
We priced all of our springs at $79.50 plus S&H, confirmation and insurance which
usually means it’s just under $100.00 unless out of country. Most other aftermarket
springs are a generic rate (one fits all) and cost over $100.00 just for the spring but
ours was specifically designed for the KLR650 shock only and it fits perfectly. We also
install the spring at no extra charge when you send us the shock, plus we inspect it,
clean and lube the pre-load unit. We now do servicing and rebuilding of shocks and
We hope that this type of information will be helpful when you get that KLR650 you’ve
been wanting. In upcoming articles I’ll continue to cover other items that “need”
changing, the next one being the infamous “doohickey”.