48,000 Mile KLR650 Tune-up

I’d like to open by apologizing to our readers for goofing off on my lack of information 
production over these past several months. I’m not permitted to offer any excuses at this 
time, but I will attempt to do better from here on out.


Rod Morris recently brought his 1996 KLR650 to my garage for a 48,000 mile service.
The bike had been ridden hard, and very well, by Rod and previous owner Joe Carpenter.
Approximately half of the total miles were accumulated while traveling dirt roads, mostly in

Ken Meredith of K.B.M. Motoworks assisted me in replacing the cam chain, clutch plates,
mechanical seal (with its oil seal) and adjusting the valves. In addition, we inspected and
upgraded the balancer system.

We found the cam chain too worn to maintain proper cam timing or to allow the automatic
cam chain tensioner to function properly. This service should be done every 30 – 35,000
miles at valve adjustment time.

While the clutch cover was off for R&R of the mechanical/oil seal parts, we replaced all the
clutch plates (metal and fiber) and cleaned the oil screen.

The balancer system looked good for an engine that had been run hard but not over-
geared or abused for 48,000 miles (i.e. no long running periods over 5000rpm).  Although
the aftermarket balancer adjuster lever and spring were not broken, the spring was at the
end of its “pulling” life and the balancer chain was pretty loose.

After consulting with Rod, Kenny “M” and I installed a new 2008 factory beefy Gizmo
(doohickey is for pre-2008 levers) and an MMP spring of the proper length. Personally, I
would have replaced the front and rear balancer sprockets, but since the 2008 Gizmo had
enough slot left and the MMP spring would pull for at least another 25,000 miles, Rod
decided to go with the original sprockets.

What Rod’s KLR650 told us is that a post-1996 KLR650 balancer system, properly cared
for, with a constantly monitored and adjusted mechanism, can probably make 75,000
miles before a total rebuild is necessary. The only requirements are that you:


  • Install a Wexman/Carl inspection port.
  • Replace factory springs with a proper length MMP spring, and replace pre-2008
    factory levers (we recommend with a beefy factory 2008 Gizmo lever).
  • Always inspect the spring before attempting adjustment (never loosen the
    adjustment bolt if the spring is missing or at coil bind (too short).

Note:  The best time to adjust the balancer lever is at oil change time. You can not only
see the spring better but if it has reached coil bind, you can pull the cover and replace it
with a shorter MMP spring.

Rod’s KLR engine is the best I’ve seen in stock configuration, but if it were mine, I would
do a top-end job now due to excessive oil consumption (2900 miles per litre) and to
prevent possible compression failure due to excessive exhaust valve and seat carbon
build-up (common in KLRs). Now is a perfect time for installation of an MMP forged piston,
valve seals, and a Vey de la Cruz valve job.

By the way, the most shocking thing about Rod’s 1996 KLR balancer system was that the
idler shaft was in near perfect shape at 48,000 miles (post 1995 idler shafts and bearings
are slightly longer and more durable than previous models).

Jay Bass’ 1995 idler shaft was badly etched on the bearing surface at 12,000 miles
(previous owners fault) and yet my 1993 made it to 54,500 miles with less damage ( but
did need replacing).

Why the difference? Simple – quality of engine lubrication and frequency of oil (3,500
miles) and filter changes. The balancer idler shaft and bearing are the most overly worked
parts in the KLR650 engine and oil is not pressure fed. If you are one of those guys who
uses Rotella or some other cheap, non-motorcycle oil – good luck.

We believe that the reasons Rod’s 1996 idler shaft was found to be in near perfect
condition is because the bike from day one has had only synthetic oil in it with regular
oil/filter changes. The other is that the doohickey adjustment spring has never been set
with excessive pre-load. We don’t trust the torsion spring because:


1.  Even with our inspection port it can’t be seen, so condition can’t be assessed.
2.  You can easily assess balancer system health over time by observing and
adjusting an extension spring; you cannot do this as easily with the torsion spring.
2.  It may apply excessive pre-load on the lever, thereby creating too much
pressure on the idler shaft and its needle bearing.

We also don’t like that it requires drilling subsequent holes in the inner case to adjust the
tension. (Todd’s Note – to us, an extension spring combined with a method to monitor it  is
the most simple and reliable way to provide tension to the balancer system and is in
keeping with the KISS principle at the end of Elden’s article.)

I’ve been dealing with the goofy balancer system on KLR650s for 18 years and over
213,000 miles and only recently have I become completely comfortable with it.

The ingredients:


  • A Wexman/Carl inspection port.
  • A properly tensioned MMP custom extension super spring (preload of 1/3″ or 8.5
  • A factory 2008 beefy balancer adjustment lever(Gizmo).
  • Regular inspections followed by adjustments at every oil change.
  • Using only full synthetic motorcycle specific engine oil (15W-50 Spectro Platinum 4
    is our choice).

Despite the nuisance, I no longer expect to suffer a blown engine caused by a balancer
mechanism failure. Kurt Grife, Jim Bellach, Corby Hall and many others can tell you all
about balancer induced catastrophic KLR650 engine failure. It ain’t fun, it’s dangerous,
and it’s plenty expensive.

Better talk to Kenny “M” at KBM Motoworks (760 481-5341) after you get your parts from
MMP on multisurfacemotorcycling.com

Keep It Simple Stupid (the KISS Theory)

This is retired CHP Motor Officer Gregg Mullendore’s favorite saying and it appears to
apply to motorcycles. On our recent 1390 mile Baja ride while heading north, Rod, Jay
and I got flagged down by a couple of guys parked on the side of the road. A BMW
1200GS had been bitten by an electrical gremlin and had quit running. I asked the guy on
the KTM twin to follow us to Punta Prieta just a few miles north of the break-down.

I looked around until I found a guy with a pick-up truck, loading ramp, and motorcycle
straps who offered to haul the broken Beemer to his place for storage until the victim and
his friend could go to San Diego where they had parked a truck and trailer. I negotiated a
towing and storage deal in Spanish for $100.00 and I hope everything worked out well.
We would sure like to hear the details. If you read this guys, please contact us.

Paul Tomlinson of Cochise Motosports in Sierra Vista, Arizona is the best Suzuki parts
man I’ve ever known, and at the time I bought my first DR350 in 1991 he told me he’d
never sold a major electrical component for a DR. Fast forward to 2008 and I have
accumulated 80,000 miles on DR350s and 75,000 miles on DR650s without an electrical
failure except for bulbs. Come to think of it, 213,000 miles on several KLRs has also
resulted in no electrical component failures except bulbs. Additionally, in all of my 155,000
DR miles, the closest I came to a break-down was when I busted a ring in my 1993 DR350.
It got me home with some extra oil use, but needed a cylinder hone and piston rings. I
have never had a DR650 breakdown but came close when the weld broke separating the
header from its flange (fortunately I was a block from home).

My KLR650 experience would also be breakdown-free except for Kawasaki’s bad valve
seals and poor valve jobs. Two engines have stopped running due to carbon-induced lack
of compression. The last one was on my 2005 KLR at 11,000 miles. MMP can help you
with improved valve seals, pistons and rings.

There is something to be said for carburetors and simple electrical systems. Bruce
Redding, who had a brand new Beemer quit two blocks from his Cabo San Lucas dealer,
would probably subscribe to Mullendore’s favorite saying, “Keep It Simple Stupid”.