Since we just received a review copy of MO alumnus Alfonse Palaima’s beautiful new travel book, Journey to the End of the World, it seems like an excellent time to look back at the roots of Fonzie’s two-wheeled wanderlust. Seems like our old pal, a native Pennsylvanian who came to work at MO about the turn of the century, may have first been bitten by this Kawasaki KLR650 project – of which there are nine chapters.

Today’s reading, friends, is Part 5, in which Fonz and the KLR carry the word to Panama…


Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 5

Seven countries down, 188 to go

We did it. MO’s project KLR accepted the challenge to ride to the world’s largest shipping shortcut and performed like a champ.In Part 4, I suggested that the freshly-prepared KLR was ready for a fantastic voyage, and that it got! Joining a few other KLR riders, we packed our rides with passports, bribe money y regalos (& gifts) and fresh underwear, crossed our fingers and throttled our way down to the Panama Canal via mainland Mexico and five of the seven Central American countries. Interesting to say the least, the ride was a piece of cake thanks to our reliable Japanese steeds.

A drop in the bucket for the more seasoned riders of the group, but for me, a 2-week string of 12-hour ride days was not what I expected. Thanks to will power, ignorance, pen and paper for simple math and maps and the currency exchange app on my iPhone, we came away with an overwhelming positive experience. The scenery and people were terrific, and the roads much better than expected. Watch your newsstand for reports on the trip; you’ll surely be entertained!

With this month’s project installment, we’ll run down the last of the accessories added before the trip (and maybe a few newer items).

For those of you reading along and intently checking out the photos, you‘ve probably noticed the change in tires. With nearly 2,500 miles on the stock rubber, a fresh set of meat was a good idea for conditions yet unknown, especially when we didn’t plan to carry spares. However, we did have, and use, plug kits along the way. Journos get flat tires too; it’s not all champagne and beef jerky!

My shiny new toy, ready to rumble.My shiny new toy, ready to rumble.

New to Pirelli’s line of Scorpion dual-purpose tire lineup is the Scorpion S/T MT90. A stiff carcass, cornering stability and high mileage are part of the package, perfect for a fully loaded bike on the long haul.

As an on-off road tire, the Scorpion MT falls into the Pirelli’s ‘Green’ lineup. Pirelli is leading the way in producing a lesser footprint on the environment with its DOT-approved and soil/trail-kind tires. While the affect is more apparent with true off-road tires, the concept is noble: embracing soil and trail conservation with erosion-friendly products, combining both self-cleaning properties with durable performing compounds. Less erosion threat to the trails will equate to less legislation, we hope!

Six thousand miles later, the 130/90 17-inch rear and 90/90 21-inch front MT’s are hanging in there strong – see photo in the gallery for a peek at the tire after 6,000 miles.

Having not yet tweaked the KLR’s suspension set up, the last bit of cushioning for the rider is the saddle. Kawasaki offers an aftermarket gel seat for $154.95 and fits model years 1987 to present. Produced by Saddleman, it mounts to the stock seat pan so there’s no way to switch back and forth after installation.On the tail end of the saddle is some stitching of the ‘K’ logo for Kawasaki, a nice touch, although it’s rather unseen with the stock rear rack in place.

Intended to reduce vibrations on longer rides, the saddle takes some warming up before it ‘softens’ like you might expect a gel seat to feel.  But after 12 hours in the saddle, it’s nice to be able to get off the bike and feel no saddle sores or vibes. On daily commutes and errands however, I’ve found it a little too stiff for my liking.

All told, luggage and armor added about 100 pounds to the stock KLR, compressing the suspension enough that I can now flat-foot both feet at the traffic signals! There’s a Saddleman saddle in there somewhere too.All told, luggage and armor added about 100 pounds to the stock KLR, compressing the suspension enough that I can now flat-foot both feet at the traffic signals! There’s a Saddleman saddle in there somewhere too.

Outfitting the rider, Scorpion provided me with its aptly named all-season Xtreme Distance Rider (XDR) jacket and pant combination. Although, riding through the jungle, racing towards the equator, wasn’t the best-case scenario for such equipment. While ventilation was adequate for flowing air, the local humidly got the best of this setup, even after removing the liners. Mesh riding gear would have been better for a ride through Central America, but on our first night out, in the cold hills of Arizona, I was the happiest clam in the group. I’m more excited to get this gear on the road this fall. Look for a full review in the months to come.

Mexico looks like Arizona for the most part, and highway slogs are nothing new for this LA-resident motorcycle.Mexico looks like Arizona for the most part, and highway slogs are nothing new for this LA-resident motorcycle.

From Day One of planning I intended to take my Arai XD helmet. Despite its aging condition, the XD is lightweight, yet hefty with protection and comes with a windscreen and sun visor – perfect for riding into the sun for days on end. When the road opened up and speeds increased, the windshield protected my eyes from blowing sand and road debris. Passing though the million villages and winding back roads, I could open up the shield and let a ton of air flow through the helmet to expel the perspiration. I love this helmet and still thank our old pal SA for passing it on to me.

And finally, a user report on all the Happy Trails gear you’ve been reading about on MO. It’s still on there, even after four months in customs hold and shipment back to California. Traveling 4,700 miles south from Los Angeles, over hill, dale, skatepark-sized potholes and some unfinished highways, we had no crashes to report, so I’m unable to comment on durability, unfortunate as that may be. But I can comment on some details.

One item I plan to change to the PD Nerf bars we installed in Part 4 is to put longer footpegs on the crossing member. Manufacturers create highway pegs for a reason, and I found the kit ergos well placed and incredibly useful on our long ride. However, for some reason, my foot continued falling off the left-side footpeg, as if there was more bodywork for my leg to get around, but I can’t find it. The left and right pegs match in length, but I found myself toiling with the left side, so I hope to swap those out with something in the future. Maybe my left leg is shorter than the right one. I’ll keep you posted.

“Buen DIa” from Puerto Angel in southern Mexico, packed up and ready for another day in the saddle.“Buen DIa” from Puerto Angel in southern Mexico, packed up and ready for another day in the saddle.

The HT Teton Panniers (Part 3) provided premium security and weatherproofing as suspected. These are solidly mounted and secure even when bouncing around rutted jeep trails.

They’re so air-tight in fact that when after laundering some socks and stuffing them inside the can for transport — thinking the black cases would warm up in the sun and dry the clothing — instead they moistened everything else inside the can!

In action, the panniers get the job done in style, security and as a low-centered mass. We found, however, after padlocking the latches, the idea of quickly getting in and out of these boxes at armed checkpoints and borders nearly impossible. Eventually, we learned to lock up items we didn’t need until we parked for the night, migrating daily needs to tail and tank bags.

Otherwise, what else can you say about a bomb-proof aluminum box? It’s still square even after dropping the bike on its side in a hotel parking lot. The shape would have helped spare my ankle of being crushed if I hadn’t leaped away from the bike.

One more piece of aging-but-valuable gear (see photo) I brought along was the Pacsafe TailSafe as a locking repository for camera equipment and laptop computer. Since my camera bags don’t fit into the mouth of the saddlebags, I needed a place for keeping these larger items safe when I wasn’t near the bike. With it’s eXomesh sidewalls and security cable wrapped around the subframe and locking shut the mouth of the bag, I could safely wander about the villages without anything getting boosted. Although, in hindsight, we’ve learned how curious the locals are about such ‘big’ motorcycles and never once did we have any ill experiences along the way, except at a few of the border crossings. Some ‘helping’ locals help you lighten your wallet more than they help you cross the border. Next time we won’t be so ignorant!

While 95% of our tour was on pavement, 60% was all bent up. Some days gave the Pirellis a workout on twisties from morning to night.While 95% of our tour was on pavement, 60% was all bent up. Some days gave the Pirellis a workout on twisties from morning to night.

As for the KLR itself, day after day the dusty 650 sparked to life with anticipation of the next mile’s adventure. Being the only 2008 model year unit on the tour, I can verify the oil consumption issues some ’08 owners noted and Kawasaki’s change in design. My bike consumed about 2.5 quarts of oil while the others shared the last ½-quart over the 4,700 miles. Keep your eyes on those 2008 oil levels, even after break-in.

The Kawasaki accessory tank bag I wrote about in Part 2 is growing on me. At first I thought the way in which it opened was backwards, but after months of use, it’s unobtrusive design and combined tank protection has won me over. And it’s bigger than you think. After a full day in the saddle, I found myself stuffing not only a pair of gloves and a mapbook in there, but also a small camera bag, food and some other miscellaneous pocket items often buried beneath my riding overpants. The ‘backwards’ zipper makes more sense when accidentally left unzipped as well. Flowing wind pushes it shut instead of open this way!

So what’s next for the Fonzie and KLR? After a 5000-mile break in, how about we get to the suspension upgrades, perhaps an aftermarket pipe and some more creature comforts? Okay. A trip to Alaska? Why not! Stay tuned for more.

I still don’t know what that lost bolt pack from installation was… besides a good-luck charm!

Related Reading
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 1
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 2
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 3
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 4
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 6
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 7
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 8

  • Buzz

    I saw Fonz last about a year and a half ago at the LB motorcycle show. We had a good time chatting about some of our more adventurous MO tests and other stuff.

    He always had the toughest job. He had to chase us crackpots around while loaded up with camera gear.

    Cheers Fonz!

    • That makes you #3 in ever noticing that Buzz! Thanks 🙂 You headed to Sturgis this year or what?! 🙂

  • Old MOron

    Great to hear about Fonzie. I just bought his book. Thanks for the link.

  • Old MOron

    PS: I applaud Pirelli’s green tire efforts. Less trail erosion and less legislation are good things. Very cool that the OEM are involved.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      You have never ridden gnarly trails through mud, snow and slimy rocks in deep water crossings where your life depended on your tires? The thin sipes on 80/20 tires fill up with mud and they become just like bald tires with no traction sending you crashing. Continental’s TKC80 40/60 (street/dirt) knobby tires have saved my life several times. Off-road you are nothing without traction.

      • Old MOron

        Thank you for stating the obvious (in hyperbolic terms, as usual).
        If I find myself also stating the obvious, it’s because apparently you didn’t think of it: not every ride involves gnarly trails through mud, snow and slimy rocks in deep water crossings.

        • Sayyed Bashir

          I am not talking about every ride. I am talking about a KLR 650 dual sport bike that is designed to go off-road. When you go off-road you never know what the conditions are going to be like. You don’t want to risk your life with tires that are not up to the job.

      • Not everyone lives where it rains! But yes, just like riding itself, we all make compromises. Round tires last longer and do less damage, knobbies will get you through the muck on that 1% of your tour, but wear fast and cost you more. Fly there if you want easy goin! 🙂

        • Old MOron

          Hey Fonz, your book arrived a few days ago, and Wifey and I settled down to go through it today. Wow!

          Congratulations, Fonz. Your shots are fantastic. We enjoyed Mr Evans’ prose, and we’ll read more of it in the days to come. But those photos just compelled us to keep turning the pages to see more.

  • JMDGT

    Good to see he is still ticking. I wish him well.

    • Out there and getting it done! Just returned from the BMW MOA rally and I’ll see you in Sturgis! 🙂

      • JMDGT

        Good luck and ride safe.

  • DickRuble

    2.5 quarts of oil for 4700miles? No wonder the engines last forever, they have a hybrid lubrication system; part two-strokes, part four strokes. How did they pass CARB in the US?