Sunday, November 29, 2015

First Ride

For our first ride on the 2016 Kawasaki KLR650, my son and I took turns switching between the KLR and my Versys 1000 on the famous Central Florida Green Swamp Loop. The loop is 172 miles/4 hours. This loop was all paved, but it includes some of the roughest roads in Florida.

I wrote the above loop on Tyre-to-Travel which was a free service that came with my TomTom Rider GPS. Unfortunately, the Rider mount isn't well suited for sustained rough roads or trails. I'll need another GPS for the KLR. I have an old Garmin Nuvi 550 to use until I get the SatNav situation figured out.

Initial impressions and observations on the first ride are as follows:

Wobble: There's a minor but distinct wobble in the front at speeds north of 65mph. It might be due to the Continental TKC80s that I had installed. First thing will be to check the steering play based on the procedure outlined in the Service Manual.

Gearing: The gearing might be a little too tall. It seemed that I had to drop it down to 2nd for the most minor maneuvering. I'm not sure that's going to be very effective when we start putting the KLR into the sandy, off-road conditions.

Shifting: The shifting seemed heavy. It could be that I'm used to the Versys, but it was definitely noticeable. Let's let the running in play out and see what we think at 1,000 miles. Also a switch from mineral oil to synthetic may be helpful.

Temp Gauge: The temperature gauge seemed a little wonky. See gauge at the right below. Essentially, when riding the motorcycle, the pin would drop to just above the C line, then when stopped and idling, it would slowly work its way up to mid-range between C and H.

As you can see, the gauge doesn't show the actual temps. However, the Service Manual indicates that the temp at mid-position of the gauge is 100C/212F. It doesn't provide any other information about the temps along the range of the temp gauge. However, I found a vendor that offers an overlay that includes the actual temps. For $20, I'm not sure it's worth it, but here's a look at it below.

Note that (i) while the values are in increments of 30 degrees, the range between temps is smaller below 180 and (ii) the temp range doesn't go to zero; it goes as low as 120 degrees.

Using the overlay above, I believe I can make a good guess on the temps I was experiencing. So, running at ambient temps of 67-72 degrees and at speed of 50-65 mph, I'd estimate that the temp was down to about 165 degrees. That seemed very low until I read that the thermostat opens at 157-163 degrees. So the air cooling and coolant combination literately might put the normal engine temperature at 165-170 degrees when riding at speed. Once the bike was stopped and idling, the temp pin rises slowly to around mid-range which is 210-220 degrees.

While wonky looking, it actually looks okay. Hope my dealer agrees when I discuss it with them. :)

Suspension/Seating: On a couple other common points, I thought the suspension and seating were both better than expected. As mentioned in Dirt, these were two areas of improvement for the 2016 model KLR. Naturally both take some time to get dialed in, but I was pleasantly surprised not to be diving into hard stops or having to stand to relieve pressure on the rear.

So far, so good!

Let the good times ROLL!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Continental TKC80 Fitment

As mentioned in a previous post "Tire Considerations," I made a decision to replace the original equipment Dunlop K750s on my new 2016 Kawasaki KLR650 with Continental Twinduro TKC80 tires. I did quite a little research on this, and didn't run into any issues with fitment. However, I ran into a bit of an issue with the rear  tire rubbing the muffler. The rear size is 130/80-17, same as the OE tire.

Oh yes, I took delivery with the Contis installed so I don't know how much space there was between the muffler and OE tire.

Upon delivery I took the bike straight home (about 10 miles) and went over it with a fine tooth comb. I found the rub, as shown in the photo, fairly quickly.

Very tight fit, indeed.

Some quick and good advice from a forum member was to place some washers in the two muffler bolts to act as spacers.

Here's a look with the washers installed.

And now there's some room to prevent further rubbing.

So, if it comes up again, the Continental Twinduro TKC80 require a minor bit of modification for fitment of the rear on the 2016 Kawasaki KLR 650.

Friday, November 27, 2015

KLR650 Arrival

I was contacted by my dealer salesman this morning to let me know that my 2016 Kawasaki KLR650 had arrived (in the crate)...

I got my son to run down with me to do paperwork and take delivery. Here it is being assembled and having the tires replaced with the Continental TKC80s that I'd ordered in advance.

Ready to roll....

So, Jr. decides he wants to ride it home, shorts, sneaks and all. He knows that he's riding the KLR on out outings. But, then he takes off and I don't see him or the bike until early evening.

Well, there's always tomorrow to ride the new motorcycle.

Smart Technologies on the KLR650?

"The Kawasaki KLR650 is one of the most wanted dual sport models from the market. The bike has all it needs to be able to feel similarly comfortable both on the dirt and paved roads, and is fitted with a wide range of smart technologies designed to make it reliable and agile as possible."

Having a 2016 KLR650 on order with my dealer at the moment, you can correctly assume that I've been through more than a few reviews and articles, such as the article above (actually a 2015 Review). What's clear from the brief, professional reviews is that the KLR650 is currently one of the most popular adventure-class dual sports. Obviously I want one. It's been around since 1987! It's cheap!

I also have some experience in the saddle of the KLR650 that was helpful in my purchase decisions and I have ridden side-by-side with them in adventure challenges throughout the US and western Canada. (I was riding the blue Super10 in the photos below taken during the inaugural Texas Adventure Challenge in 2012. Another source of good info is the real-life experience you get on blogs and forums, such as Adventure Rider. Anyway, point is, I'm not all that unfamiliar with the KLR650 ...

... and it's LACK of Smart (or any) Technologies!

It's indeed off-road capable, yet devoid of any fork adjustment, it aspirates through a circa-1960s constant velocity (CV) carburetor and it doesn't even have a fucking gas gauge! LOL! Seriously, I'd like to ask that article's author what Smart Technologies he's referring to.

Let me go through the upgrades and accessories that I think are necessary after my research and have planned for my 2016 KLR650, then I'll comment on why I still want the stupid thing.

The Infamous Doohickey:

Foremost on the list of goofy things about the Kawasaki KLR650 is its doohickey. At this point, it would be virtually impossible to have a conversation with a knowledgeable KLR650 owner that didn't include a discussion about how one's doohickey modification went or, God forbid, why one hadn't done the modification to their doohickey.

The doohickey problemo dates back to the origins of the KLR650 and I was naturally curious whether, after all the years of production, Kawasaki had taken corrective actions to fix the problem when they introduced the 2nd Generation KLR650 in 2008 or if they, perhaps, corrected it in a later year. At first I was led to a FALSE conclusion that the doohickey problem had been cured and that I wouldn't have to worry about it. Well, after digging a little deeper it became clear that, while Kawasaki apparently made some effort to correct the problem, the doohickey is as fucked up in the 2016 model Kawasaki KLR650 as it is/was in the first year KLR650 in 1987.

So what is the doohickey?

Well, most motorcycles have an mechanical counterbalancing function ("counterbalancer") designed to offset the force imposed from of rotation of the piston/crank as the engine operates under normal conditions. In the absence of counterbalancers, engines would produce an unacceptable level of vibration that would certainly create for a great degree of riding discomfort, but also damage. The KLR650 has a chain-driven counterbalancer that is designed to offset the force of the piston/crank. (See Dan's Description of Counterbalancer).

Since the counterbalancing function is chain driven, there is a requirement for a chain-tensioning system that keeps the chain tightly situated on the associated gears and/or pullies. The tensioner lever and the tensioner spring that make up this chain tensioning system are the doohickey. Here's a peek at it. The doohickey lever rocks to the right and left under the tension of the tensioning spring that is directly behind it.

The problem with the doohickey is that the tension lever has been prone to fracturing on GEN 1 KLR650s and to a lesser extent on GEN 2s (see photo below). As I understand it, at some point, Kawasaki finally conceded that there was a problem and manufactured the lever in a heavier grade steel. All fixed, right? Not quite, and this is where I got a little confused thinking that, perhaps, I wouldn't have a problem on my soon to arrive 2016.

First, it turns out that the factory spring, which was not modified, has a propensity to fracture just like the lever does (see photo below). Second, if the spring doesn't fracture, it becomes sprung (i.e. stretched beyond its functional limit) and completely ineffective in as little as 5,000 miles use. Third, even when the spring is functional, it allows the lever to move only about 1/3 of the range of its arced groove; that's an ineffective range.

Bottom line, the damn doohickey still isn't right. As a result, the owners of KLR650s and the mechanics who understand this issue continue to recommend that the doohickey be replaced. The doohickey modification includes a new "aftermarket" lever and replacement of the stock spring with a more effective torsion-type spring as shown in the photo below to get more range out of the lever. Add to that special tools and other parts necessary to fix this glitch and it's a $138 fix ... if you do it yourself. Link to the EagleMike Kit.

Here's a look at the corrected Doo with a torsion spring. Some drilling required :).

Inadequate Front Forks:

The KLR650 is equipped with 41mm KYB damping-rod front forks on springs rated 0.40kg/mm. The pre-load, which is not adjustable, is fixed at 6mm. There are no compression or rebound adjustments, either. The pre-load and dampening you get is as they decided it should be set at the factory. I guess that they don't know that us peeps come in many different sizes.

Pre-load is probably one of the most important adjustments that is necessary to dial in the overall suspension. Pre-load adjustments don't affect spring rates; rather, they are necessary to establish the proper static sag. Sag is the distance the bike settles on its suspension is subjected to load. Although, pre-load can also be used to change ride height, it's generally more appropriate to move the forks up or down in the triple trees. Without the ability to "properly" adjust pre-load, the ability of the suspension to operate under the specific load each of us put it under is literally hit-or-miss.

I may be able to play around with spacers, but I am likely to have a number of different riding configurations. That is, myself, myself+luggage, 2-up, 2-up + luggage. There are a lot of variants and I don't want to be taking my forks about to change spacers. So my plan to compensate for this shortfall is to install a set of Cogent Adjustable Fork Caps. Not an inexpensive fix at $169, but indications are that Cogent has the best product in this class.

On another front suspension matter, one of the 2016 improvements to the KLR650 that Kawasaki is claiming is the installation of stiffer fork springs (currently 0.40kg/mm). Complaints have abound about weak springs causing diving during braking and bounce off rebound. I note that many owners have installed spacers to compensate for this problem. However, installing spacers does not change the spring rate; all it does is advance the compression stage by the length of the spacer.

Finally, there is no compression or rebound adjustment. There's not too much we can do about that, but if I feel some improvement is necessary, I'll probably look to the Ricor Intiminator Fork Valves for help. Intiminators are billed to provide faster wheel and suspension response making for a more comfortable and safer ride. They run about $180.

Cooling System Flaw:

There isn't much to the KLR650 liquid cooling system, but apparently what there is of it doesn't work very well. The problems are twofold. First, the stock thermostat doesn't allow the engine to reach temperatures high enough to promote proper operation. Second, the stock configuration does not allow even circulation of coolant throughout the cylinder head. In other words, the top of the cylinder head runs hotter than the bottom of the cylinder head. This issue promotes a number of problems from problems warming up the engine (important for CV Carbed aspiration) to lowering the life expectancy of the engine.

For this issue, the aftermarket has created a solution called Thermo-Bob. Thermo-Bob requires removal of the factory thermostat for a much larger integrated thermostat that provides hotter temperatures.

Then, the assembly provides a bypass to reroute and recirculate coolant to the lower end of the cylinder head. A great diagram comparing the stock flow to the Thermo-Bob is provided below.

I found it interesting on some forums, youtube vids and other sources that the decision whether to install a Thermo-Bob might be based on how long you plan to keep your KLR650. If that's to be a long time, the Thermo-Bob would be appropriate; if a short time, go ahead and skip it. Well, hmmm. I would have thought that the decision tree would have been grounded more in whether you want your bike to run and operate properly ... or not. The Thermo-Bob runs $125.

A Carburetor ... in 2016 ... Really?

At a time when just about every motorsports manufacturer is leaning the air/fuel mixtures under federal mandates with electronic fuel injection, the KLR650 continues to operate under the same constraints with a Constant Velocity (CV) Carburetor (a Keihin CVK40). However, if you had to get lean in a carb'd situation, in my experience, the CV is probably the way to go.

Personally, I don't take issue with the CV, except for the fact it did get screwed down a little too tight on the fuel/air mix and, in it's present form, it really doesn't accommodate throttle response very well. The remedy ... well, the 22 Cent Mod. First we have doohickeys and then we have 22 cent mods. WTF!

The 22 Cent Mod is actually three modifications to the Keihin CVK40 Carburetor.

First, is the installation of 2, #4 washers at the top of the needle jet to shim it higher and produce a richer air/fuel mix. Apparently the washers cost 11 cents each.

Second, is digging the cover/plug off the idle jet port and turning it out a little further.

Third, is increasing the size of the vacuum hole on the slide itself by drilling it out. One of the unique aspects of the constant velocity carb is that the throttle cable doesn't attach to the slide. Rather, the slide relies on the creation of a vacuum in the carb body to raise and lower the slide. The hole expanded is the vacuum port.

Well, at least this is a cheap modification!

Low-Profile Oil Drain Plug:

Believe it or not, but the oil drain plug on the KLR650 is so big, it protrudes dangerously below the factory skid plate. A solid rock or tree stump out on the trail and ...

Wow! That's amazing. On a recent trip to my dealer for parts I crawled under the KLR650 they have on the floor to see this for myself. Sure enough, the bolt issue really needs to be addressed.

Hey, no big deal as long as you know about it. I've ordered a Tusk Low Profile drain bolt for $11. It's a magnetic plug as well. This will definitely be the first little mod I install!

     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    *

Smart Rider Technologies, heck no. Doohickeys, Thermo-Bobs, 22 Cent Mods, yup.

There are quite a few things that need to be addressed on the stock KLR650, and that's just the shortlist. I actually have a number of other planned mods including an exhaust and some protection mods and, of course, I need to work on some luggage. Quite a few dollars to do all this.

The good news is that I'm starting at so low a price to begin with, as in less than one-half of what my Yamaha Super Tenere cost. I put thousands on top of the OTD in that bike, so the couple hundreds in the KLR aren't going to break the bank.

In addition, I look at the KLR650 like a blank canvas with lots of opportunities for a wrencher like myself to improve and modify to the way I want the bike. Yes, a bike that doesn't do anything particularly well. But that's the beauty of the KLR along with the fact that it's an out right blast to own and ride.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

KLR650 Tire Considerations

Now that I have an idea of when my 2016 Digital Camo Kawasaki KLR650 is showing up, I can start finalizing a few accessory and modification plans. I have a long list of accessory and modification ideas, but first and foremost I really need to take a close look at the tire situation.

The KLR650 comes equipped with a set of Dunlop K750; an original equipment tire dual sport tire only available from Kawasaki. The front size is 90/90-21 and the rear is 13/80-17. Both tires are tube-type and they're rated 70/30 by some suppliers.

Generally, dual sport tires are described as a relationship between on-road use and off-road use in terms of a percent. It took some research, but I found that the OE Dunlops are 70/30 dual sport tires; or, 70% on-road and 30% off-road. Does that mean that you can use the Dunlops 70% on the road and 30% off the trails? Well, no. Of course, not. For example, in the most gnarly of off-road conditions, the Dunlops probably can't/shouldn't be used any percent. On the other hand, the flip side of the Dunlop ratio, or 30/70, may indicate an overly aggressive tread pattern that isn't particularly road friendly in terms of comfort and durability. The ratio is simply a helpful gauge.

What's important is understanding the conditions and types of surfaces that one is likely to encounter in their riding plans.

In Florida I have two very significant considerations that I need to weigh in tire selection. The first is sand; Florida is a big sand bar after all. The second is mud; once off the pavement, what's not covered in sand is covered in soupy swampy mud. If I go off the highways, even on loose-surface unpaved roads, I'm most likely to run into one or the other ... or both! Ever try and dig a 600 lb motorcycle out of sand?

Back on the ratio, how much I plan to be off-pavement is mostly irrelevant. If I want to be off-pavement ever, which I do, I need a somewhat aggressive tire here in Florida. On the other hand, I don't want a tire that's so aggressive that they ruin the paved experiences. Here are a couple things I look for:

Channeling Ability: The way effective sand and mud tires work is that their tread is designed to channel those materials off to the sides. That essentially means large, side-to-side gaps in the tread design. The larger the gap the better, as what material doesn't get channeled to the side gets kicked out the rear (aka rooster tail).

The extreme example of that is a paddle tire, as shown in the photo below. Those tires channel surface materials pretty well ... but it sure doesn't make for a smooth ride on the pavement.

Aggressive Edges: A good off road tire for loose surface conditions has aggressive edges, particularly on the front tire. Aggressive means knobs or some other sticky tread pattern that runs around the tire "all the way" up the right and left sides. Aggressive edges help keeping the front wheel tracking along top the softness and also helps with turning and maneuvering. Now, bear in mind that you do not turn in the dirt/sand/mud like you do on the pavement; rather, it's less turn/lean and more distribution of weight and kicking the rear around. The tires do angle down though and that's where we need that aggressive edge.

A good example of a tread with an aggressive edge is a motocross tire, as in the photo below. Note how the knobby pattern wraps around the edges, almost on the side. As you can see, those tires also have good channeling ability, which is not the case for all motocross tires.

So, back on the Dunlop K750 (below) that come stock on the KLR650...

I suspect that the OE Dunlop K750s are roadworthy, but from an off-road perspective, imo they seriously lack even a minimal ability to channel the common Florida surface materials that I will encounter and they have tread pattern that won't grab and hold loose surfaces to avoid sliding and washing out. I'm going to need a better tire.

There are so many options, but I reviewed several brands and then I narrowed the choices down to a short list of three. I added a note as to the lowest price I could find for each brand at the time of my review. Of course prices change and also some vendors (like Revzilla) have free shipping in some instances over $100 which is very helpful. Here is a list of tires/ratings/price that I included in my search for tires:
  • Continental TKC80 Twinduro 40/60 ($181)
  • Shinko Big Block E804/E805 40/60 ($158)
  • Dunlop D606 10/90 ($188)
  • Michellin T63 50/50 ($152)
  • Kenda K784 60/40 ($151)
  • Pirelli MT21 10/90 ($178)
  • Heidenau K60 50/50 ($243)
  • Kenda K760 10/90 ($65 rear only)
The short list is the Heidi's, Conti's and the D606...

Heidenau K60 Scouts: Heidi's are an extremely popular 50/50 adventure tire suitable for larger (450+ lb) motorcycles. Out of my three choices for the KLR650, I've only used the Heidenaus and am very familiar with the capabilities and weaknesses. In fact, I went through three sets of Heidenaus on a Yamaha Super Tenere.

The Heidenau's were amazing in terms of durability; many owners including myself were getting 10,000 on a rear and it seemed like infinity on the front. They were also very smooth for the road work. I had the set on the Tenere above installed in Whitehorse, Yukon, went on to ride Alaska, British Columbia and Moab, Utah. Great tires for that experience. Yes, more expensive, but 10K miles is a heck of a lot more value over a tire that's beat at 3K.

Continental TKC80: If there were a Gold Standard in adventure and dual sport tires, it would have to be the Conti TKC80s. The TKC80s are 40/60 dual sport tires with a dispersion on the rear tread design looking like it would channel pretty nicely. The front looks a little on the gnarly side, but I'm liking it over the Heidi's front tire above; the Heidi front is better on road, the Conti front is better off road.

The downside of the Conti is durability. From reviews that I've read, the more road work, the faster the TKC80s are going to wear. I read where some guys got as low as 2,500 miles, but there were others in the 5,000--8,000 mile life. I do eventually want to ride out of Florida to some adventure riding venues in Georgia and North Carolina...and I don't want to be changing tires on trips, say nothing of lugging them.

Dunlop D606: The Dunlop D606 is the most aggressive of the three choices. In fact, given that gnarly front tire that looks more like a motocross pattern, the D606s rise to a 10/90 tire! Out on the sand bar, that D606 front would be da'bomb! However, I think I'd need to be dropping below 30 mph to navigate about any curve over 10% on the highway.

The rear tire looks pretty good, but I note that many of those preferred gaps and grooves that I'm looking for are blocked by an outer knob. Going back to the Conti, those gaps are wide open.

And the winner is...

I think that they're all great tires, but the choice is fairly easy. I'm going with the Continental TKC80s and have my dealer deliver with the tires installed.

The Conti's are situated in a zone that provides more aggressive tread than the Heidenaus that I'm very familiar with but not as much as the Dunlops. The Heidi's were perfect back when I had the Tenere, because most of the off-roading I did was in places with more solid surfaces. I don't intend to ride the KLR650 across the country and Canada. Rather, its to take advantage of the Florida dual sporting opportunities.

The Dunlop D606 are a very, very close second. As mentioned, the tires don't look like they'd channel as well as the Conti's but I really like the aggressiveness in the tread pattern. I know I would feel more confident on the Dunlops out on the sandy and muddy trails than the other two. The only thing that keeps the Dunlops out of play here is they're not roadworthy enough. I'm worried about that front tire in tight cornering and I don't think I would like to ride hundreds of miles up to Georgia and North Carolina on something that aggressive.

As previously mentioned, the Continental TKC80 are the Gold Standard in adventure and dual sport tires for larger models. We may encounter a durability issue, but I think they're worth a try to get my Fall and Winter dual sporting off the ground.

UPDATE (5/2016):

The rear Continental TKC80 got just about 3,000 miles before it had to be replaced. The front is still going strong at 4,000. I replaced the rear with another Conti. Next rear tire, though, I think I'm going to go with something with a little better wear, even if it's not as good in sand as the Conti. The front is a different story; wear has been good, but I may want to go to a 10/90 there given the conditions I'm riding.

A few points:

The Conti turns out to be an outstanding dry road tire! I was ripping up the Tail of the Dragon in West North Carolina on the bike in early April. Not a slip, not a hop, not a bump.

Block knobbies are not known to be good wet pavement tires and the Conti's are no exception. While they hold enough to get you around without too much trouble, the problem starts when you need to brake. On wet surface braking, the rear tire is virtually worthless. The front will get you stopped but your stopping distance is so extended on wet surfaces that you need to be prepared to start braking much earlier. In fact, to be on your game if the road is wet, I'd recommend taking a rainy day and going out to practice once in awhile.

The Conti's have been a fairly good KLR sand, mud and water crossing tire. I've done a couple rallys on the KLR and have had no tire issues at all. Deep water crossings, mud and, of course, lots of sand. On the forest roads and trails, its most important to keep the KLR in its sweet spot and let the Conti's take care of you. If you take the KLR into highly technical areas more suited for a 250 pound, lower geared, 250 cc KTM, it's the KLR that's going to let you down, not the Contis.

I recently purchased a Suzuki DR650 (below) and installed a set of the Shinko 804/805 Big Block tires. They're not better than the Conti's but real close. I did not have them on the short list because I didn't think the rear tire would channel well. However, they were so popular with the DR owners that I gave them a shot and am very happy with them. They definitely belong on the short list of tire considerations for Florida trail riding.

Two Weeks Out

My dealer has advised that they have one on the way with my name on it. Two weeks out!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Released November 14

I've determined that the Digital Camo Kawasaki KLR650 was released as recently as November 14. In fact, unbeknownst to me, it was on the showroom floor of a local dealer (not my normal dealer) for a couple days and I missed seeing it in person. I probably would have purchased it from the other dealer. Unfortunately, I was asleep at the wheel.