We just finished rebuilding the engine in my 1996 KLR650A and I wanted to share
some things with other KLR owners. I’m the second owner of the bike which had
29,000 miles on it when I purchased it from a friend and original owner, Joe
Carpenter. The bike had 55,610 mile on it when we started the rebuild. The bike has
always run exceptionally well and wasn’t using hardly any oil; in fact there wasn’t a
thing wrong with it, I just thought it was time.
The engine was split and the crank evaluated (good), transmission (good), 4
bearings replaced, balancer shaft replaced, our custom cylinder sleeve and
forged stock bore piston fitted, 2 new valves installed, our custom valve seals,
new valve springs and a minor port clean-up and numerous gaskets, “O”
rings and hoses. Not one part was found to be defective, only with normal wear for
55,000 miles. I was a happy guy.
The time finally came to fire the bike for the first time since the rebuild. I have to
admit, I’m always nervous on the first start up. Two cranks and nothing – let the carb
fill more dummy. Two more cranks and it came alive and sounded great. A few
trips around our compound and I realized the rear brake wasn’t working properly
and some of the controls needed more fine tuning, so I decided to trailer the bike
All the normal adjustments were made except for the rear brake. I figured some
air got into the system and I just needed to bleed it. I couldn’t get a drop of fluid to
come out the bleeder valve, even though I had topped the reservoir. I happened to
have an extra bleeder valve so I removed mine and installed the extra one to keep
oil from seeping out. There’s two holes at the bottom of the valve that were plugged
shut so I just left the extra one in and bang, bleeding the brake was done and
The first test ride was 50 miles and I was “tickled pink” at the way it ran and
performed (within break-in limits). You can run the RPMs up for short bursts
without harming anything and I did just that and was blown away at the power I
felt. The three most important things we changed was the the liner, piston and
cam chain. My cam chain was .020 off specs which meant the timing was off.
Our experts suggest that the cam chain should be changed about every 30,000
miles; I had let mine go to 55,000. Although my bike seemed to still run
strong at that mileage, the new cam chain made a very noticable difference in
performance. I also noticed that the engine had little to no vibration at most
rpms; must be the lighter forged piston (84 grams less than the stock piston).
I’m going out today to do about 40 miles of off roading since this bike is my Baja
bike and only sees pavement to get me to the dirt. I can hardly wait to get into the
engine on my 1999, 45,000 mile street only KLR650 to do some of the same
upgrades. We’re not going to split the cases on it; but will be installing some
parts that will allow me to run at higher RPMs for longer distances without any
damage (maybe 6,000 rpms). Being a street only bike means I tend to run a bit
harder than the dirt bike.
One thing for sure; I’ll never have to see the inside of my engine again.
When to Change Your Brake Fluid
Everyone seems to have one or two maintenance procedures that they just hate to
tackle. Mine seems to be bleeding the brakes. I had a bike once that no matter what
we did, we just couldn’t get the rear brake to bleed properly. Out of frustration I rode
50 miles to a shop without the rear brake hardly working and had them do it. Ever
since, I cringe a little whenever I think of bleeding brakes; yet it’s a fairly simple
The owners manual has a maintenance schedule listed and it’s a wise thing to follow it
closely to keep things in top shape. Most owners totally ignore the suggested mileages
to perform maintenance which sometimes costs time and money to correct later. If you
seemed to forget to look at the maintenance schedule on a regular basis then just
check the color of the fluid in the clear plastic reservoir for the rear brake. The front
reservoir has a glass window youcan look at. If the fluid is a dark color, it needs
changing. The brakes are a closed system but somehow moisture can form inside and
that’s what contaminates the fluid. If not changed, this contaminated fluid can corrode
vital parts inside and you end up buying (expensive) new parts or the whole unit.
When replacing the fluid, use the manufacturers recommendation (usually D.O.T. 3 or
4) for fluid. Don’t spill any fluid anywhere, this stuff eats thru anything. Do the rear first
as it’s the easiest to work on when alone.
Attach a hose (clear is best) to the bleeder valve on the caliper and run it into a glass
container so you can see the fluid coming out. Make sure the fluid reservoir has plenty
of fluid. Use a 10mm wrench to open the bleeder valve, push the brake pedal down
and hold it there and close the valve, let the pedal up and continue until clear fluid
comes out. Fill the reservoir to the full line and you’re done with the rear brake. The
procedure is the same for the front, but unless you have very long arms, it’s best to
have someone to pull and hold the brake lever while you do the valve. Don’t let up on
the lever/pedal until the valve is closed or air will get sucked into the system and you’ll
never get it bled.
It’s a good rule of thumb to change the brake fluid once a year regardless of mileage.
Bike Won’t Start
Ever get on your bike, turn on the key, hit the starter button and nothing happens? It
just happened to me twice in two days on two different KLRs. After we got my 1996
KLR back together and running, I was riding as much as possible to break-in the fresh
engine. One Saturday I put on 125 miles of dirt and pavement and getting close to
total break-in. When I returned home, opened the garage door and pushed the bike in
I felt great about how everything was going. I took time to install a fuel filter and
decided to fire the bike to make sure gas flowed properly. I turned the key on and
nothing lit up like normal. Everything was dead. All sorts of things went through my
feeble mind, like did a wire come loose, is a bare wire shorting the system, could it be
I removed the tank, seat and fairing to expose all the wiring that we had re-connected
and couldn’t find any loose or unplugged. By the way, while you’re this far down you
should always unplug any wires you can find and put “dialectic grease” on the
connections. This restricts corrosion and helps keep the electrics in good condition. I
put a trickle charger on the battery which always starts out “red” and then “green”
when the battery is up to full charge, which it did in about 15 minutes. Nothing
changed, so I let it sit.
Later that day I spoke with Ed, one of our cohorts that had worked on the1996. He was
just sure it had to be the battery (like one bad cell). I happened to have a new battery
handy and gave it the old charge, installed it, turned the key and had all the right lights
and started it. I found out later that when you put a trickle charger on a battery and it
takes more than about 5-10 minuted to show green – the battery may not be good.
Lesson #1 learned.
The next day Sunday I got all my gear on and was going to ride my 1999 KLR to clear
some of the frustration of the previous days events. I rolled it out of the garage,
climbed on, turned the key – you guessed it – nothing. I fiddled with it 4 or 5 times more
but with the same result, so, even more frustrated that both bikes were doing the same
thing, I rolled it back into the garage. For some reason I tried the key one more time
and bingo, all the lights came on and it fired immediately and I did 100 mile day, but
still concerned as to what caused the earlier failure.
I started thinking that maybe the battery in this bike was bad also. When I got into it the
next day I found the bolt on the positive pole was loose. A quick tighten and everything
was back to normal.
That was lesson #2 learned. Elden later reminded me of something a top motorcycle
(electric stuff) guy told him. Most of the electrical problems with a motorcycle are
related to the battery. A loose connection or just a worn out battery. Now you’ve just
learned two lessons too. (Todd’s Note – I make it a practice to check the battery
connections any time I have the seat off. Took me a couple “no starts” to finally
hammer that habit home.)