Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 1

Kawi's Most Popular Streetbike Ready for Tweaks


Places where snow falls from the sky, most motorcyclists trade in their two-wheeled transportation for safer and more climate-controlled rides. The most stable folks will prepare the ol’ girl for cold storage and wait for spring. During this downtime, we occasionally tinker around in the garage, poking at the bike with tools and parts making necessary repairs. ‘Tis the season for installs and overhauls.

While down in California we don’t have to stop riding, upgrades are often desirable regardless the season. Many of you ‘Rounders’ will stand up at this point and make yourself known. You’re cool and lucky to have the cojonés to “keep it real” while the rest of us take the wimpy way to the office.

One project that I suspect some of you might be working on this year is upgrading your stock 2008 Kawasaki KLR650E. This humble, all-roads servant that was thoroughly revised for the ‘08 model year tops the sales charts among Kawi streetbikes - despite a dearth of marketing and promotion. Its modest price and do-it-all nature obviously has real appeal among today’s practical riders.

So we decided to join the KLR club and ordered up a KLR650 for a long-term evaluation. We were immediately impressed with the bike’s versatility in a wide range of uses. It first served as a pack mule during a 900-mile round trip to the USGP in Monterey, performing amazingly well at keeping up with a VFR800 and F800ST while doing our Middleweight Sport-Touring Shootout. Since then, it’s been put through the gamut of urban commuter missions, highway slogging and nearly every other type of riding, proving time after time its multipurpose nature.

But now, after about 2000 miles, we’re itching to make some tweaks to make this two-wheeled SUV even better.

With more than 20 years of aftermarket products on the shelf for the pre-08 model (which differs little mechanically from the new KLR), there’s no shortage of accessories for the big dual-sport Single. And there’s a whole new world of items popping up for the 2008 and later model. Some items cross over and work for both models, but not all. Thankfully aftermarket parts manufacturers are hot on the trail to keep us adventure junkies up to our hips in new-fangled goodies.

We’ve become aware of many of these new components, such as the Kawasaki accessory luggage and windscreen we’re already testing. But we’re also interested in hearing from you about what items you’d like to see tested on our project bike.

Kawasaki made more than 50 upgrades to the 2008 KLR’s handling, power, comfort and styling. Suspension travel was reduced but beefier shocks and stiffer springs filled the gap. And while the new KLR is many times better than the previous model, there’s always room for improvement!

The ‘08 got bigger brake discs, but we can always add braided lines for even better braking. A new alternator boosts electrical output from 14.5 to 17 amps to power a new dual-bulb headlight and any electrical accessories. We look forward to testing that to its limits as well.

Over the next few months, we plan to bring you a series of product reviews and performance upgrades for the KLR, but we’d like your help. No, I’m not looking to borrow your torque wrench (although I do need one). I need your help deciding which projects interest you the most. Think of this as a democratic build, via the MO forums.

I can pick up a catalog the same as you, but I’d like us to work together to get the best for our favorite get-away ride. We do have a few projects already in motion, but your input will make this a better story. Are you trying to decide which rack mounts to buy? Perhaps you need to know which tires are better on or off road? Maybe you’re interested in seeing how smoothly the installation of a larger tank might go?

We want to bring you those answers. So we’re asking our faithful readers out there to post in the forums and let us know what stuff we should get strapped to the updated Kawasaki classic next.

If you’ve already got a product report to share, let’s hear it. I read the phenomenal ADVRIDER.com forum when I get the extra week’s worth of downtime necessary to read 200-page threads, but those opportunities are rare.

As a dual-purpose machine to begin with, I’m going to keep us pointed in that direction for a while. Sure, the KLR might make a fine supermotard in a pinch, but for most owners the KLR is the Land Rover of motorcycling - willing and able to take on the world. In its stock form, the 650 Single might be able to go around the globe, but no one is ever happy with a completely stock bike, are they?

Let’s collaborate virtually to make the world’s most capable “Killer” with bolstered touring and off-road kits combined.

Related Reading:
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 2
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 3
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 4
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 5
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 6
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 7
Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike: Part 8
2007 Kawasaki KLR650 Review
2005 Adventure Touring Comparo
2008 Lightweight Dual-Purpose Shootout
2009 BMW F650GS Review
2009 Kawasaki KLX250S Review
2007 BMW G 650 X Series

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