by Elden Carl
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KLR Valve and Balancer Adjustments
Between 1990 and 1992 I hated my 1989 KL650 so much I almost sold it. I saw no
possible way I was going to overcome all the built in flaws mainly in suspension and
engine. Then I found former European pro motocrosser and Ohlins expert Stig
Pettersson (Pettersson Pro Suspension 714 323-5779) , who built me the world’s first
KLR650A remote reservoir Ohlin’s rear shock out of spare parts. It took some testing and
several hundred dollars to get from the wimpy 5.05kg stock spring to a 6.6kg Ohlins for
my solo riding.
With that first PPS Ohlins rear shock and correct spring came the realization that I was
now in possession of potentially the best heavy weight multisurface motorcycle I had ever
Thus years of development began in earnest. I badgered Mike Henderson at Progressive
Suspension to R&D and produce a better pair of front springs; I sent my air box to “UNI”
for air filter development and I sent a KLR head and piston to C.P. for forged piston
development. After breaking my second stock shift lever, I convinced Chuck MacDonald
of MacDonald Products to make an unbreakable replacement piece; I got Eagle to make
a better Doohickey (I now use the new forged factory E-Model (2008 – present) lever
complete with viewable/adjustable extension spring); I had better wheels built by Ken
Marohn at Santee Cycles (619 341-9276) using Buchanan’s stainless spokes and rims;
and on and on. Forgive me for reminiscing, the subject is valves and balancer
adjustment so I’d better get to it.
Back in the last century I wrote the first valve adjustment procedure for the KLR650. It
was accepted so well that a guy back east made a video based on my written article. I
was asked to be an unpaid participant in the project but declined. The purpose for this
article is not to refine my initial adjustment procedure which has changed over the years,
but to provide a few tips concerning clearances and adjustment frequency. They apply to
all models of 600/650KLR’s since 1984.
First, if you have a shop adjust your valves insist that they set your intake valves as
close to .008” as possible, and your exhaust valves as close to .010” as shims allow. Ask
them to record the settings they attain on the work order. In this way if they get lazy and
greedy (time is money) they may try to avoid pulling a cam or two resulting in a valve
being left at the minimum setting (.004” intake and .006 exhaust) they will have to lie to
you in writing. Why does it matter you ask? A valve set at minimum clearance obviously
can go out of spec quickly while a max setting can take you a long way.
The procedure I’ve followed for years is to do the first valve check at 1000 miles
(clean the oil screen). I set the valves as close to .008” intake and .010” exhaust as
possible. I then go 10,000 miles and do another valve check. In the case of my
2004 KLR the intakes didn’t move and both exhaust closed approximately .001”. I
move the exhausts back to .010” and left the intakes at .007”. Since the valves “stayed
put” so well I did not check them again for 11,500 miles. I have since moved to
approximately 15,000 mile intervals. I’ve been following the procedure for years without a
Another thing I do to simplify the valve adjustment procedure is I replace the post 1996
valve cover and its heavy slipper bracket with the pre-1996 cover which has a built in
slipper. It’s not only easier to remove and replace, but there are three fewer bolts to be
dropped into the engine at cam removal time. By the way, the factory has finally gone to
15,000 mile valve adjustment intervals on the new E model, but the key to success still
lies in setting the valve as close to the max as possible.
Other items on my maintenance schedule are as follows: NOTE: I always place the piston
at TDC on the compression stroke.
A. Every 7500 miles I install a new iridium spark plug.
B. Every 15,000 miles I replace the spark plug cap (factory doesn’t require this)
C. Approximately every 35,000 miles I replace the cam chain. Note: Cam timing and
performance degrade as the cam chain wears. Also at some point probably beyond
35,000 the automatic cam chain tensioner may cease to function. If I get to this point (fat
chance) I’d pull the tensioner cap, washer and spring at oil change time and gently pre-
load the tensioner with a small punch. A loose rattling cam chain is not a good thing.
D. Last but not least I constantly monitor the balancer chain tension.
The procedure again is as follows:
1. At oil change time drain the oil (every 3,500 miles in my case). Remove the
Wexman/Carl doohickey spring inspection bolt from it’s hole and blow some air into the
hole to clear any oil.
2. With an otoscope inspect the MMP adjustable extension spring for proper coil spacing.
If it’s close to coil bind, pull the outer cover and rotor. If you find the spring in its long
configuration adjust it to the short setting and replace rotor (yes, clean the crank end
and install a new bolt) finally, replace the cover. NOTE: If you are near coil bind in the
short configuration it’s probably time to replace the front and rear balancer sprockets so
as to regain their full circumference (compacted hard neoprene on the old sprockets can
give the impression of worn chain and sprockets). Thanks to top quality full synthetic
motorcycle oil we have not replaced a balancer chain.
It’s taken me more than 23 years and in excess of 285,000 KL-650A miles to become
completely comfortable with the KLR’s complex and dangerous balancer system. Jim
Bellach and Kurt Grife blew their engines a few weeks apart in the last century shortly
after my warnings. The remains of Bellach’s KLR are in my garage and Big Jim long ago
passed 6 figures on the clocks of his two V-Strom litre sport tourers shod with semi-
knobbies. We rebuilt Kurt’s engine and his bike is now into 6 figures.
Before closing I’d like to return to the subject of the KL650 balancer. I could not live a
worry free KLR life without:
A. A Wexman/Carl inspection port which is easily installed.
B. A high quality extension spring that can be monitored and adjusted when necessary in
order to maintain just the correct amount of tension on the balancer chain and idler
bearing (MMP has the spring adjustment rings, forged E model doohickey and otoscope
Finally and in closing. If you are one of those who has introduced a torsion spring into
the balancer adjustment system of your KLR keep in mind you (a) don’t have any reliable
way to monitor and to adjust tension as the drive system wears (b) you probably won’t
know if one of the sharp potentially brittle bends in the wire should break. (c) If the
torsion spring should break you better hope a piece of the “thickish” wire doesn’t get
between moving gears or spinning balancer parts. (d) If the spring breaks and you don’t
know it, you may inadvertently relax the balancer chain at a later adjustment time
followed by the chain jumping track. Ask Kurt Grife and Jim Bellach what that’s like.
As my fellow founding master of modern combat pistol shooting Jeff Cooper use to say –