KLR Rear Suspension and Chain Control

As I sit here in my favorite Subway restaurant (#40249) at the corner of Avocado Ave. and Hwy 94, my mind harkens back to early 1990 when I purchased my first KLR650 ; a very clean and slightly used 1989 A model. Even before I took my new acquisition off-road I knew I had some serious “fixin” to do. Being an impatient type I decided to install some knobbies and go to Baja anyway.

By the time I had returned from my two day mostly dirt ride I was contemplating putting the bike up for sale. Among other things the front forks were “sticky”, the steering stem nut had come loose, the wimpy 5.05kg rear shock spring allowed the rear suspension to bottom constantly in the rough stuff and the rear shock dampening was too harsh. My after ride inspection also revealed that the air box drain on the left side had been damaged by the upper run of the chain.

Again, I seriously pondered selling the KLR, but instead I decided to install street rubber and keep it rolling on pavement. For Baja I purchased a new 1990 Suzuki DR-350, “ah” much better.

In 1992 I was again on the verge of selling my 1989 KL-A, but after hearing about Ohlins specialist and former pro-European motocrosser Stig Pettersson, I decided to attempt once more to fix the suspension problems.  I made an appointment with Stig and trailered my KL-A to Pettersson Pro-Suspension near Los Angeles. Once parked at PPS I jacked up the rear of the KLR as it sat on the trailer and removed the stock rear shock.

Stig took all the important measurements off the stock shock, and then went to work building the first known remote reservoir Ohlins gas shock for a KLR650. When we got to the spring I told Stig that the stock (5.05kg) spring had my ride height upside down, so he guessed at 5.9kg. Since I had to make a place for the compression bottle later we reinstalled the stock shock without checking the ride height.

Once back in my garage I properly installed the PPS/Ohlins shock and started testing.  From the outset and still today the dampening was and is wonderful. The spring on the other hand took some testing with me finally (3 springs later) settling on a 6.6kg spring for my solo riding and a 9.5kg when Pauline is on board (she still is at 86 yrs).

So what about chain control you ask? Well, even with a perfectly set-up rear-end the left side drain tube continued to show abuse until it disappeared.

The fix was simple:

  1. I drilled a strategically located hole in the left sub-frame down tube.
  2. I had a piece of drilled bar stock of the correct length, O.D. and I.D. welded by C&J into the hole in the sub-frame.
  3. Finally I installed the correct sized chain wheel held by an 8mm bolt, nut, washers and a spacer.

End of problem; well, not quite. My long time principal off-road companion Rod Morris and others wanted a similar fix for their bikes but wanted to avoid the complicated fabrication process that I had gone through.  I went to work and invented a bolt-on upper drive chain control unit with the help of Chuck MacDonald of MacDonald Products. It’s called a “Chain Master” and is available through MMP on this website.

We are so happy with the feedback on the KLR650 Chain Master from Kurt Grife and others that we will soon release one for the DR650SE Suzuki which has a different problem.

The DR650 stock upper chain wheel is too far forward and too low. It is also poorly mounted resulting in chain wheels TEARING OUT, LEAVING A HOLE IN THE FRAME (like mine). Our new DR650 Chain Master will solve the problem and improve the chain run just like it does for the KLR650.

By the way, Rod Morris at MMP on this website will be selling the DR Chain Master as he does the KLR Chain Master plus a range of KLR top quality rear shock springs and other products.