ImNoSaint's KLR650 Build


There's been a motorcycle shaped hole in my life ever since I sold the Blackbird three years ago. It was the last of a string of Hondas, starting with a CL 175, a Nighthawk 450, a CB 750 Custom, a Valkyrie Interstate and the CBR1100XX Super Blackbird.

I gave up the Blackbird after I snapped off my right biceps tendon, which happened about a year after I snapped off the left one. The Bird was spending more time in the garage than on the road while I was recovering, and somehow I came under the spell of some crazy notion that I was done with motorcycles.

So I turned my attention to overlanding. Built a Montero and an H3 and have been enjoying the adventure ever since. But at 16mpg in the little Hummer, adventuring on my own was overkill and having it as my daily driver is gouging the budget, so about six months ago I started my research on ADVenture motorcycles.

The search was narrowed by a low budget and availability. I got to a point of considering the BMW R1150/1100GS and the post-2008 Kawasaki KLR. They're in similar price points on the used market, but the KLR is much more ubiquitous. I've wanted a BMW GS for ever, but the KLR's simplicity was more attractive to my pragmatic side. I like to do all my own wrenching and if I'm far from home in the middle of the Parashant, I want to be able to fix what breaks, at least on my ADV bike.

So, this 2008 KLR 650 was added to our adventure vehicle fleet this week. The deal-clincher on this ride was the Caribou (Pelican) panniers (it's a film production geek thing). A cursory inspection with the seller looked like everything was still in the right place, and at just under 7600 miles, it couldn't be too worse for wear. It's initial tear down this afternoon revealed a bit more scar tissue than the plastic cladding had revealed - it's been down hard a number of times - one of which shifted a fairing mount by the radiator reservoir tank frame a little to the port side about a quarter inch. And the Pelican panniars' mounting system has been ripped off a few times too many, requiring some new hardware to better adjust their fitment.

It's previous owner was a bit shorter than I, by five or six inches, and included in the sale was a pair of lowering dog bones that never got mounted. So I can imagine there were some issues for him, especially since he must have had a hard time stabilizing the bike.

And that's alright. The frame's okay, it tracks straight, the engine's torquey and eager, the suspension is, well, stock, and I love it. If you're looking for dog bones for your KLR, you're welcome to them.
The State of the Bike

The initial tear down showed the good, bad and ugly. The good being the integrity of the main wiring harness and electrical in general, a new(ish) battery, a well-tended and stored fuel system and carb, good rubber - Shinko Trail Masters, and it runs perfectly. All fluids are fresh and level. The bad is the shift of a fairing mount on the radiator reserve tank frame from a side hit of a fall - nothing serious, just a bit out of whack where the RH side fairing doesn't mate up to its mounts in a factory fit. The frame is fine. The left front turn signal has been supplemented with electrical tape. The ugly is the air filter which I doubt has ever been changed, along with the cosmetic scar-tissue of a previous rider too short for this bike.

The KLR has a Caribou (Pelican Case) pannier system that is lockable. The system is design to have the cases breakaway in the event of a spill since the construction of the cases is more durable than the frame to which they're mounted.

The engineering of the mounts needs some new hardware and a smack or two with a rubber mallet, but it won't take much to restore the ride and vibration integrity back to this luggage system. The case pictured above took the worst hit but it's still viable and waterproof.

The rack works with a replacement for the KLR stock luggage rack aft of the seat.

I'll be mounting a third Pelican case on this rack, moving the small tool box within it.

The front forks have been fitted with an Eagle Stabilizer. Bonus.

The stock front fender has been replaced as well with A Polysport UFX free flow fender.

I'm planning on adding an AE Motorsports dash with a Ram mount for an iPhone, along with a spot for a USB port, a 12V charging socket and a switch for the fog lamps I'll be adding.

Mastech Crashbars will be the first addition, though, throwing a little more protection around the front of the engine and radiator, along with a center stand.

The suspension will be upgraded front and rear - still deciding on components. Feel free to chime in if you have recommendations.

I'll be changing the color scheme as well, tone down the factory color to something more khaki, black and grey.
Pannier Repair

The pannier system is from Caribou with 35 liter Pelican cases that straddle a steel, powder-coated frame. This is an older design compared to Caribou's latest offerings, but still features lockable cases and lockable quick-release systems for case removal. The system is expensive, and factored heavily into my decision to purchase this particular KLR.

I've been working with Pelican cases sine they came on to the market. They're a mainstay in film production and photography and I've had at least dozen in various sizes to contain delicate and expensive film gear, handled by the world's worst airline baggage tossers, bellmen, shipping companies and failed tie-down straps at freeway speeds. Despite all the abuse, the cases never failed and their contents were never compromised.

The Caribou system has been engineered to have the cases break away in the event of a collision since they're more stout than the frame upon which they're mounted. This system has been beaten up considerably, with bent cleats and a locking mechanism that barely engages on both sides. I was lucky to get everything home on my initial ride back from buying the bike.

On further inspection, I found the cleats to be sprung out and the quick-release mechanism barely engaging. The fix included bending the steel cleats back into round and modifying the adjustable quarter-inch bolt that engages the levered quick-release.

Seen above, disengaged, the locking mechanism pulls up away from the frame, lowering a compression arm below, attached to which is the adjustable bolt. The existing bolts were at their thread's extent and couldn't be adjusted any farther. I replaced both sides with longer bolts and fastened a large fender washer with a locking nut to the top of the bolt that screws into the level and locks with a second bolt. I bent the washer to hug the frame when it's engaged.

Now there's ample compression against the frame with no more rattling around.

Forrest Gump would have something to say about buying a used motorcycle, much like a box of chocolates. Unless you're kicking tires with an 8mm socket in your pocket and the the owner's permission to disrobe the bike, you never know what you've got until you've got it home and have it unclad.

I posted earlier about an initial teardown, leaving the headlight/instrument cluster faring still in tact along with the LH radiator shroud. It all came off this past weekend to prep and paint all the plastics.

A couple of notes: Large wood screws are no substitute for proper, specified and engineered hardware. There's one instance of these beasts force-threaded into the embedded nuts on the rear frame crossmember to which the rack is attached. This kind of quick and dirty fixing gives me the shivers. And it pisses me off. A trip to the hardware store would have taken care of the problem, even if it were a roadside repair (which, I can't imagine it was).

Always a good idea not to mix SAE and metric. Standards are used to keep everything accessible with a minimal amount of tools to do so. Also, before taking on a task like this, it's not a bad idea to have new OEM replacement hardware, especially rubber wellnuts to replace all the disintegrating rubber isolating mounts, not to mention the windscreen, as well as all the slipshod hardware used by PO's, like wood screws.

If you're thinking about adding a switch or a 12V socket to the dash, it's good to know what's behind it.

There are three dimples that make up little triangles on each side of the instruments that might suggest factory points for switches to be mounted. They're not. They've just been put there to break up the space a bit since the backside of both areas butts against the cluster frame.

Just above the dimples is a flat space that's not obstructed with enough space to mount an accessory switch on either side.

I'm going to add a Blue Sea Blade six circuit fuse box with a negative bus to handle the accessories. Since there's no space beneath the seat I'm considering a location high on the coolant reservoir brace, the highest point I can find on the bike without mounting it to a faring.

Bleeding red (as in Honda) it was a switch to ride something green. That's not to say that Kawasaki is inferior to Honda, but we all know how we are when it comes to brand loyalties, and that's whack. And that's not the only reason I decided to change the paint scheme on the KLR. I saw one featured on the KLR650 forum page painted khaki and I really liked it. I also like the factory paint on the new KLRs, not so much the digi camo, but the blacked-out bikes with simplified graphics, not to mention the few older camo-rattle-canned KLRs I've seen on the interweb. I played around a bit on Photoshop to see what a khaki scheme might look like on the KLR's lines.

I decided to make some changes, going simplest form first. I didn't want to change the tank color so I reversed the black and gray motif, going black on the headlight cowl fairings, and gray over the silver radiator fairings.

All factory graphics were removed using a heat gun and Goof-Off to clean up residual glue. The cladding was then removed, cleaned and degreased, buffed with steel wool, washed and tacked and suspended on a line. Three colors were shot; flat khaki on the tail-light shroud and side panels under the seat, gray on the radiator covers, and flat black on the headlight shroud fairings.

The Krylon products worked well, applied in ideal conditions. They advise that the coating becomes chip-resistant in seven days. Not being that patient, I rode three days later and got caught in a hail storm. I thought for sure I'd reshooting everything, but it came out without a scratch.


Bike looks great. I have always liked the KLR's. I am curious as to what paint you used on the plastics? I have a set of unpainted abs plastics for a project Honda F4i Im re building that need to get covered with something. What was the Krylon product you used? Thanks!
Bike looks great. I have always liked the KLR's. I am curious as to what paint you used on the plastics? I have a set of unpainted abs plastics for a project Honda F4i Im re building that need to get covered with something. What was the Krylon product you used? Thanks!
The Op most likely used Krylon fusion, It holds up great on pretty much anything you spray it on. I tend to use both Duplicolor and Krylon fusion when i repaint stuff. Usually a combination of both in the form of Duplicolor primer then the fusion on top of it even though the Krylon does not require primer, I just add the extra step so if it does get scuffed up it doesn't show up as bad since the primer is usually the same color. Great looking bike so far, Kind of interested in how the cases are mounted as i am working on ideas as to how to add similar cases to my Interceptor as it gets rebuilt into more of an all terrain friendly bike.
Bike looks great. I have always liked the KLR's. I am curious as to what paint you used on the plastics? I have a set of unpainted abs plastics for a project Honda F4i Im re building that need to get covered with something. What was the Krylon product you used? Thanks!
Thanks. Darkrider is right, I used Krylon Fusion Camoflage for the flats and Krylon Dual Superbond for the gloss smoke gray.
Rider Interface

This post begins a list of small upgrades, stuff that makes the going a little easier, the bike a little more livable and the rider a bit more satisfied in having spent whatever discretionary income to make his ride that much more unique while all the other riders on whatever forum they're subscribing to are doing the same thing. Tribal behavior at its best.

To start, a KLR handle bar bag was added providing a great spot for glasses and gloves and anything else you find yourself constantly putting on and taking off. Great design, though not quite waterproof.

To the left of the bag is a Tigra waterproof and shock-protected iPhone case and mount that I borrowed from my mountain bike. The case is a clam shell that seals with an o-ring with waterproof ports for power and headphones. The screen retains its touch sensitivity, even with my gloved hand. The device rotates 90 degrees and has a stout quick release feature. In my haste of sorting out my interface with the KLR, I ordered a RAM mount system for the iPhone without even considering what I had on hand. So the RAM system will be dedicated to the DeLorme inReach Explorer.

Charging the device and powering other 12V accessories is this RioRand 12V/5V socket and power port between the clamps underneath the handlebar bag.

I'm not crazy about its quality, but it seems to do the job so far. Both ports are sealed with rubber caps, but they feel like they'd disintegrate with a little bit of sunshine and where I live there's a lot.

The last addition for this post is a Pelican 1520 top case. This was on the Montero and the H3 and held a breakaway cooking and mess kit.

This is now mounted on the top rack of the Caribou Case system adding a valuable go-to compartment to the panniers.


Transitioning on and off the bike is enough to make any rider stay on a little bit longer or ride past that vista without taking a shot. Jacket, earplugs or phones, brain bucket, glasses, gloves - then stow it away anytime you step away from your ride.

I thought I'd add a couple of details to make transitions a bit easier and handy.

I added a strap system on the RH Pelican pannier to secure my camera bag and yet keep my device at the ready for a stop and shoot. Four black nylon Footmans loops were added to the top of the case through which are two one-inch straps sized to the circumference of the camera bag. The straps have quick release buckles and a couple of web dominators to mind the slack when they're not in use.

The camera bag (seen here inside a dry bag) lashes to the top of the case for a quick and secure mount, while having the camera easily accessible without having to dismount.

One more simple detail is the relocation of the helmet lock. Putting it on the Pelican top case to the side makes it easier to use, securing my helmet and jacket.



nomadic man
How is the hardware quality on the newer KLR's?
The older ones had very cheap hardware that would break and leave you stranded.
Sub frame bolts were prone to break and there was an upgrade kit to change almost all of the hardware over
to better quality stuff. Don't know if the newer ones need that or not. But worth checking into.

Nice redo of the bike with good upgrades and nicer paint.

Safe travels.

The most vulnerable bits on the KLR are the radiator and engine case. There's no factory protection for the cooling system and the plastic skid plate that ships with the bike is more cosmetic than anything armored.

And while the factory hand guards do well to deflect air, there's little more protection offered since they're open at the bar ends.

There are a number of aftermarket alternatives out there to remedy these issues and after considerable research I decided to go with SW-Motech products.

Much was said about their fit and finish, and the installations required no last-minute alterations or engineering to get everything to match up. And they were right.

The crash bars are powder coated 26.9 mm mild steel tubing engineered to mount at the top frame/subframe junction, the front engine mount aft of the skid plate and then on the bottom of the main frame forward the foot pegs. The accompanying hardware insulates the cage very well at the buzziest point of the engine mount. The precision of these mounting points speaks to SW-Motech's German engineering.

The SW-Motech skid plate is constructed from 4mm aluminum alloy, laser cut and bent to install with no wiggle room whatsoever. It looks much better than the black hockey mask from Kawasaki and appears to offer a bit more clearance. I haven't measured, it just looks higher.

I was considering Barkbusters for the hand guards but found an SW-Motech Kobra alternative (so I thought) that allowed me to relocate my turn indicators to the handlebars freeing up the stock space for a pair of Trail Tech Equinox lamps.

I ordered the kit and received a stout pair of wind deflectors upon which mount SW-Motech's LED indicators that mount on Barkbusters' hardware.

Gone are the bar-end weights, but these ballasts are supplemented by the combined weight of the guards, though they're lighter. The Barkbusters come with an array of spacers and mounts to adequately clear levers. I found at freeways speeds the same stability I had previously, and on the dirt to have lighter, less lethargic steering response.

The LED indicators need a 10ohm resister installed inline (parallel to positive and negative feeds on both sides) to manage the extra wattage not consumed by the lamps. The blink rate is much faster without the resistors. I wired the indicator harnesses into the factory loom using off-the-shelf hardware that fit the SW-Motech connectors.

Kudos to Rocky Mountain ATV/MC for their service, prices and shipping. I don't live at the end of the world, but you can see it from there, and they managed to get everything to me in two days, free shipping.

Progressive Springs

The KLR's first long ride made it painfully evident that the suspension would need some work. After researching tested alternatives I decided to go with Progressive springs on the front.

The installation is straight forward, just take care to not strip the aluminum threads on the caps. I'll spare the process details - you can find ample YouTube help, some good, some questionable.

Diving is minimized dramatically, sudden stops no longer induce more panic, return is solid. Great improvement.

Installation of a Top Gun 8kg spring is next for the rear axle.
How is the hardware quality on the newer KLR's?
The older ones had very cheap hardware that would break and leave you stranded.
Sub frame bolts were prone to break and there was an upgrade kit to change almost all of the hardware over
to better quality stuff. Don't know if the newer ones need that or not. But worth checking into.

Nice redo of the bike with good upgrades and nicer paint.

Safe travels.
Thanks. Sub-frame hardware is still an issue on later KLRs from what I've read, but as you point out, the aftermarket has stepped up, like Eagle Mike who offer a drill-through upgrade and SW-Motech who has beefed up hardware on their crash bar attachments at the frame/sub-frame.

I changed the paint scheme. Lost the gray and went flat black on the fairings and khaki on the tank, tying everything together a bit better.