In my 17 year, 209,000 mile career with the KLR650 I’ve been a very lucky guy; no lost
engines due to balancer failure. Kurt Grife is not so lucky; he’s down two that he and I
rebuilt. Most of the 30+ blown engines I’ve torn down and studied died from the same
malady (the others died primarily of restricted oil flow due to junk like case sealant, spring
coils, electrical tape, and rubber from balancer sprockets etc.) plugging the oil filter
The KLR600 engine was probably the worst engineered and assembled motorcycle
power plant I’ve ever seen since I began riding in 1955. The balancer lever (“doohickey”
thanks to Jake) was a pressed piece that often failed as did its spring. Rubber came off
the balancer drive sprockets and along with coils of clutch basket springs and other
debris, often clogged the oil screen. If the balancer chain didn’t jump track and destroy
your engine, the restricted oil flow would get you.
In 1987 the KLR650 was released with some improvements. Today, the KLR650 still has
the same two-piece welded balancer lever that it has had for a very long time. The
balancer system, due to the better lever and spring-loaded front and rear balancer
sprockets, was less troublesome, but spring failures and lack of inspection hole still
resulted in chains jumping track too often.
I made it to 54.500 miles on my 1993 engine without lever or spring failure and Kurt
Grife did about the same. Kurt felt the spring loaded balancer sprockets were taking lots
of impact stress away from the lever and I believe he was correct.
Now enter the aftermarket with the late Jake Jakeman producing the first one-piece copy
of the stock balancer adjustment lever which he called a doohickey. Jake had fitment
problems so along came Eagle with a push from Bill Rose and me. Bill financially
backed production of the first levers and I checked fitment on an engine I was building. I
reported the lever fit well but needed careful radiusing to prevent contact with the back of
There are two problems with some aftermarket levers.
The first relates to radiusing. Unfortunately the radius is being overdone creating a sharp
edge in the corner of the balancer idler shaft hole (which I had warned against).
The second problem is related to the first. Due to Kawasaki’s inability to maintain
perfect machine tolerances for the balancer idler shaft some levers don’t fit tightly. This
creates even more stress in the corners during abrupt (throttle on and off) engine RPM
The aftermarket spring is better than stock but is still made the same way, as far as I
know, which means the coil in each end is bent out – causing brittleness. If you think the
aftermarket spring can’t break – good luck (I’ve had one and have heard of another).
With such a problematical balancer adjustment system an inspection port like Honda had
in my CB400 and CB450s is extremely important (that’s how I found my broken spring).
Scott Wexman and I gave KLR650 riders this inspection hole free in hopes we could
prevent a major problem before it occurred. I provided simple instructions for an equally
simple installation procedure which takes about ten minutes. I informed the aftermarket
people and even had them do a couple on my covers for practice.
For some baffling, unknown reason the aftermarket doesn’t want to be bothered with this
very important safety addition to the KLR650 engine. Fortunately, riding to the rescue
comes Rod Morris of MMP who has an inexpensive kit with instructions that make
Remember, you don’t need a broken lever to have a balancer failure and a resulting
blown engine. A relaxed lever due to a broken spring that you can’t see prior to
adjustment will do the job just as well.
If Kawasaki doesn’t fix the balancer adjustment mechanism on the 2008 KLR650,
Top Gun will probably, among other things, develop custom fit levers, improved springs,
and an inspection hole on bikes we upgrade.
By the way, the other problem we didn’t address in this article is the rubberized balancer
sprockets. The chain cannot fully engage the sprocket teeth when new due to the rubber
around the sprocket. Over time, the rubber continually compresses/wears, creating slack
in the chain. Before you buy a new chain, measure it to see if it’s still in spec. You may
need new balancer sprockets.
A properly set up KLR650 balancer system can live a long, happy life if you maintain it
carefully and don’t run the engine too hard – which brings us to the 2008 KLR650.
Looking at the clutch cover on the new model one can see that a significant change has
taken place. Up front where the water pump and right balancer weight are housed, the
casting is much different. We hope this has something to do with the balancer and water
pump like maybe a gear where the weight was housed.
If Kawasaki does nothing else but make the balancer chain fit its rubber free sprockets,
install an improved adjustment lever and properly tensioned custom spring with an
inspection hole for monitoring the spring, we will be very happy.
We are so sure that improvements will be made that we’ll patiently wait before having
improved parts produced for our new super trick KLR650 dream engine.
By the way, it appears others are waiting for the new 2008 KLR650. Kawasaki has
backed up introduction of the 2008 two more months to May according to my sources at
San Diego House of Motorcycles. Could it be folks have had enough of exploding
balancer systems and are going to wait and see?
Suzuki is probably benefiting from KLR650 problems. The DR650 is finally an absolute
gem of a motorcycle in comparison. The most common phone call I get is “which do I
buy, KLR or DR?” Most choose the DR after they know all the facts.
Jay Bass’ Broken KLR650 Subframe.
In all the 17 plus years of riding with other KLR650 MSMers, I’ve never seen a broken
subframe, that is until now.
Jay Bass, who lives in San Diego County approximately 10 miles from me, called the
other day saying his frame was broken (no crash involved). I jumped on my bike and
headed for Jay’s house to see if I could help. Sure enough the right-hand, upper
subframe bolt had broken off. The aftermarket rusty blue bolt had sheered off at the joint
and the head was gone.
Jay and I removed the broken subframe and stripped it so it could be repaired and
welded. The broken bolt had to be drilled out and the hole in the subframe heli-coiled. I
recommended upgraded fasteners, loc-titing and proper torque specs. For the lower
bolts, I suggested Jay go back to a high quality flange bolt on the right that matches the
one that comes with our “Chain Master” to secure it’s bracket on the left. Using socket
bolts with washers is never a good idea when a flange bolt is available.
In addition to a broken upper-right subframe bolt, the subframe was broken a couple of
inches back from the fastener hole. I suggested that Jay have a short piece of chrome-
moly tubing fitted and driven into the holes at the break point followed by welding. Jay
reports the fix worked like a charm and he’s back on the road.
If you crash your KLR650 and give the rear of the subframe a good whack, it would be
best to at least replace the upper two fasteners.
The subframe on our two-up, 125,000 mile, 1993 KLR650 carries approximately 385lbs
and has never broken. All four bolts are cad-plated, 10.9 rated, and intermediate loc-tited
at correct torque. Even the approximately 15,000 off-road miles have not caused a
problem. I suspect rust, crashes, and inadequate torque to be the main culprits of
subframe failure on KLR650s. Brittle, rusty, aftermarket blue bolts don’t help either.