Selecting the Correct KLR650 Shock Spring

Ask any KLR650 owner what the number one thing is they don’t like about their bike and 99.99% will say, “the rear shock”. All 99.99% would be wrong with that answer. There’s nothing wrong with the KLR shock, but, there’s a number of things wrong with the spring. Every motorcycle shock spring has a certain amount of pre-load built into it that should meet industry standards. The stock spring is way out of that standard. First off, it’s made of poor quality spring steel. Second, it’s made too long to make up for the weakness of the material and this makes for a poor spring.

Here’s how we find the correct spring rate for you the rider.

  1. We need to know the year of a bike. There are two basic models of KLR in the U.S., an“A” model (1987 – 2007) and the “E” model (2008 – present). The “E” model shock is a little better than the “A” model because Kawasaki came up with a better piston and shim stack inside the body. Additionally, and the linkage system was revised allowing the “E” model to carry a heavier load with stock suspension.
  2. Mileage of the bike tells us whether a rebuild may be necessary. Riding on the weak stock shock spring will quickly beat the shock into submission; sometimes as low as 3000 miles. Getting the correct spring rate on the shock by 5000 or fewer miles will greatly extend the shock service life and/or rebuild time.
  3. The stock bump rubber is also made of a poor quality material that will fall apart or disappear at low mileage which lets the shock get beat-up even faster. The heavier the load, the faster it disappears. The “E” model has a plastic guard that covers the bump rubber and shock shaft to keep dirt away so it’s difficult to keep an eye on the bump rubber. If it’s starting to go or gone, it’s time for a rebuild.
  4. For the correct spring rate we use the total load weight that’s on the bike EVERY TIME YOU RIDE. That’s you with normal riding gear and any other added weight like boxes, bags, bars, guards, braces, tools etc. No OCCASIONAL passenger, camping or trip gear. Check out our sizing table here.
  5. We want to know if you have other than stock links (lowering links etc.) as that will change the effectiveness of the correct spring . Have you pushed the fork tubes up to compensate for lowering links?

We get many responses from customers that have installed the correct spring rate for their load weight and the usual comment is, “It’s the single best thing I ever did to my KLR”. So, before you start thinking about replacing your stock KLR shock with a very expensive aftermarket unit that often doesn’t fit well and may not have the correct spring rate – consider putting the correct spring on the stock shock which fits properly and works very well.

Do I need fork springs or fork brace?

First, let’s clear up a few misconceptions about the KLR650 forks. Unless you’re a hard charging, rock crashing, log smashing, wild rider (if so, you’re on the wrong bike), you don’t need to change much or nothing on the KLR forks, and only if they’re doing something you don’t like. Are they diving too much when you brake hard into corners? Are the forks bottoming going into hard dips and topping when you come out? Are they mushy for your liking? These are the most common reasons to consider better fork springs. And, you certainly don’t need a fork brace to fix sloppy steering.

All of us here at Top Gun are very aggressive riders off road in Baja, Mexico, often on the Baja 1000 race course which works the front and rear suspension to their limit sometimes, so, we know what works and what doesn’t. This didn’t happen overnight either. We have over 24 years experience with the KLR and have suffered every bad trait it exhibited and found the best fix for just about all of them.

If you experience some or all of the above front end problems then you may need better fork springs (we’ve tested and use Progressive) and they really work well.

Sloppy steering has been an on going problem on many KLR’s right from the factory or later after a number of miles. In the early KLR years someone decided that the cause came from the forks being too small which made them weak. Thus, the fork brace era began.

Some years ago our top expert Elden Carl thought his forks seemed loose, so as usual he delved into what might be causing the problem. He discovered that the bolts holding the fork tubes in the triple clamps were not torqued properly and promptly torqued them to factory specs in the manual. That helped a little but he still felt like the front was too loose. After some trial and error he found that the best torque was 18 lbs (slightly more than the manual said).

The only thing left to check was the steering adjustment. He was quite surprised to find that the adjustment was way too loose and he pulled the forks and triple clamps to inspect the bearings. The roller bearings and races were pitted enough to warrant replacing with new ones. A fairly easy job on all the other bikes he had owned, but not so with the KLR. On other bikes the edge of the race inside the neck was exposed enough to use an old blunt screwdriver or whatever fit and tap out the old race. Surprise, the KLR neck was straight thru with no way to catch the race edge, but there was space behind the race for the special tool from Kawasaki. It was a long threaded bolt with an attachment with a ridge that when spread apart as you turn the bolt would just fit the space behind the race; then you just tapped it out. Not only was the tool expensive but the whole job was a pain in the ass compared to the old days.

Once the new races (top and bottom) and bearings were installed it was just a matter of installing the lower and upper triple clamp and finding how tight to make the adjustment ring. That was trial and error also. There’s no a certain adjustment that works for every bike, so it’s just a feel you have to guess at.

Here’s the best way to check steering adjustment:

With the front wheel just off the ground, stand in front of the bike and gently push the wheel to the right as you face the bike (to the left has some cables in the way). At some point the weight of the wheel lets the wheel go all the way the steering stop. If it clunks hard against the stop, it’s too loose. If you have to keep pushing to the stop, it’s too tight. The wheel should move smoothly to the stop (a little clunk may be ok).

Adjusting the steering:

Not a hard job, just tedious. You don’t have to take all the stuff off the handle bar, just enough to loosen the large stem nut (turn the wheel to the left against the stop). Loosen only the four bolts holding the upper triple clamp to the forks. Use an old screwdriver or ? to tap the lower ring (top ring is for locking) clockwise until you feel medium pressure. Put everything back on and do the wheel test. This is the tedious part if it’s still too loose or tight – start all over. Adjustment can be a little on the snug side – better snug than loose. Loose will destroy the bearing and race very quickly.

This is why you don’t need a fork brace on or off road. A fork brace can’t fix a loose steering adjustment.