Bruce Redding Mexican Rally Car champion, Air Race Champion and long time master
motorcyclist has owned and ridden more two wheelers than most people (including me)
have ever seen. He’s been observed traversing Baja and mainland Mexican roads with
everything from a Harley Road King to an Elden prepped DR350 and various pre-2008,
Ohlins-equipped, KLR650s, including his most recent KLR prepped by MMP.
Just when Bruce thinks he’s seen it all he gets a shock like the time he purchased a new
BMW twin which stopped running two blocks from the dealer who then had to unwind the
Bruce called me the other day to report that a friend of his recently attempted to purchase
a 2009 KLR650. When it came time to start the engine it ran, but noisily. When they
attempted to get the wheels rolling it blew up. Turns out the factory had tightened only two
of the four bolts that fasten the head and cylinder to the crank cases.
Over the past 18 years I’ve disassembled and studied more than three dozen KLR650
engines and I’m convinced it is the most poorly constructed engine in “motorcycledom”.
When one compares the quality of Suzuki’s components and assembly procedures, it
becomes easy to understand why it’s difficult to find a failed DR650 engine. I’ve only had
my hands on two (both 1999s) that were bit by the bad starter bug of 1998/1999 (fixed by
Suzuki in late 1999)
The saddest aspect of this assembly quality gap between DR and KLR engines is that a
properly built KLR650 engine with some upgraded internal components including the ’08
balancer lever and a balancer adjustment spring monitored with an inspection port can
outlast a DR650 engine.
Mel Clark and Conall O’Brien each reached 90,000 miles on stock, pre-’08 KLR650s.
They were lucky.
Top Gun may build a few bullet proof KLR650s like the ones we run. Our skipper Todd
Vosper is negotiating with a gentleman in England who plans on world travel in 2010. It
won’t be cheap but his KLR650 will finish the course, and not by accident.
An alarming aspect of the blown new engine problem reported by Bruce Redding is that
the two loose head bolts were both on one side which indicates that not only did they fail
to tighten them but they did not tighten them in stages in a criss-cross pattern – which
would probably have resulted in head warpage even if all had been torqued.
Ironically, the liquid cooled KLR650 engine is heavier and in some ways more rugged than
the DR650 power plant, but the inferior balancer system (even with the ’08 lever) and
poor assembly procedures renders the KLR650 engine more likely to fail prematurely.
If I were going around the world, I would choose a pre-08 KLR650 over all other
motorcycles, but only if I could build it myself. In more than 225,000 KLR miles my only
engine failures have been two Thailand-built engines caused by poor valve jobs and
defective valve seals.