Thursday, March 31, 2016

Firestone Coil-Rite Air Springs (F4174)

I recently purchased a hitch carrier for my 2016 Kawasaki KLR650 and determined that the weight of the carrier and the motorcycle (521 pounds combined) was a little much for my 2007 Toyota Rav4. After doing some research I landed on a fairly cheap air spring package, the Firestone Coil-Rite Air Springs Part Number F4174; about $105 at

The product is essentially comprised of airbags that are installed inside the coil springs; the Rav4 has coil-over suspension (i.e. no leafs). The installation process was simple although very difficult to accomplish. The two air bags had to be deflated and then worked inside each coil while it was still installed. It was quite a fight to get them in there, but I did it.

Running the air tubing was easy and I went ahead and made a little bracket so that I could mount the air valves on the hitch receiver.

I summarized the measurements before and after installation in the table below. It should be noted that the suspension enhancement isn't designed to give lift; rather, it's designed to level the vehicle and provide for load distribution. However, the only way to measure progress is to review the height of various points before and after installation.

Overall, I got 1 1/4 inches of additional height at the receiver and wheel well, bringing the balance . The carrier itself is still hovering a little too close to the ground at 7 1/2 inches, but there is another couple inches lost in the downward angle of the carrier hitch (the difference between the carrier hitch height at receiver and furthest back point). The car itself has leveled close enough to stock to justify carrying the motorcycle on the hitch receiver. If I can level the hitch with shims or other devices it'll probably give me all the room I need to feel totally comfortable with hauling it.


Some reviews indicated that the instructions are poorly written and insufficient. That can't be further from the truth. The instructions are articulate and simple. Also diagrams are included to help with the installation. The only items I'd add are:

  • I removed the wheels on the vehicle and was able to address the installation from the wheel wells. Bear in mind that the weight of the wheels as they hang down are helping extend the coil, so there may be a little bit of a trade off in taking them off. However, I got the bags installed with the wheels off. 
  • When one finally gets the air bag inside the coil spring and removes the air line plug, the air bag does not just pop into shape like the instructions seem to imply. I still needed to work it into proper shape and, in this respect, spraying the same soapy water I used to check for leaks all over the bag really helped get that air bag in proper position/shape. Spinning and twisting it was the motion needed to work it into shape.
  • There are two holes in the blue bottom block. One in the center and one just off center. Obviously the center hole is for the air fitting in the air bag. There is no mention of the purpose of the other hole; however, the install video linked in the eTrailer Listing seems to indicate that the off-center hole is a conduit to start routing the air hose. In other words, the air hose goes down through the center hole and then back up through the off-center hole.

For purposes of vehicle preparation, I used a 3-Ton Hydraulic Jack, two 2-Ton Jack Stands and two proper wheel chocks on an absolute flat surface. I do not like Jack Stands. While I don't know of one snapping, they sure look like that could happen. More important, if the car is not properly chocked it can roll right off the jack stands. Personally, I think they're very dangerous. However, they're all most DIY guys like me have for this sort of project so precautions are in order. With the Jack Stands in place, I wasn't under my vehicle at anytime without the the Hydraulic Jack positioned to hold up the car if one of the Jack Stands snapped or the car rolled. I did use correct rubber-based chocks that I know won't allow the vehicle to roll.

The actual blue air bags are 5 7/8 inches, the upper block is 1 1/2 inches and the lower block is 1/2 inch, so the total height of the bag inside the coil is 7 7/8 inches.

Lastly, I ran the air pressure up to 50 psi and it lost 10 pounds in about six hours. Then I ran it back up to 50 to check again and it's now holding steady at 50 psi for the last 24 hours. Fifty pounds is a hyper inflate, so the initial loss may have simply been attributable to the connections working themselves together, much like you'd hyper inflate a tire to make sure it beads properly and then back it down to load spec, which is 35 psi in the case of the Coil-Rite.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Roads & Trails 2016

My first trip out of state with my 2016 Kawasaki KLR650 will be in three weeks as I head up to Stecoah, North Carolina for the second leg of the 2016 Roads & Trails Rally Series sponsored by the Christian Motorcycle Association ("CMA") (April 8-10). This particular leg of the rally used to be called Slaying the Dragon as it covers the area around the Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap in Robbinsville, North Carolina. I've always heard that the dual sporting trails were excellent in that area; now I'll get to see first hand.

Headquarters for the event will be the Ironhorse Motorcycle Lodge in Stecoah, North Carolina. Although Ironhorse is a popular resort, I've never been or stayed there. I've reserved a camping plot with an electrical outlet so I can run a space heater in my tent. Early April in North Carolina is going to be cold. In fact, I probably shouldn't be surprised to see snow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Hitch Carrier

After having the highways take my Conti TKC80s down to about 30% I decided that it may be more advantageous to have a motorcycle carrier to lug my 2016 Kawasaki KLR650 around with. In addition, I truly enjoyed my camping experience up at the Devil's Creek Rally, although I could never carry all the gear that made the camping fun on the motorcycle. Fortunately, the Devil's Creek Rally was so close I could run my camping gear up in my Rav4 and then go back and trade the car for the motorcycle.

I estimate that my KLR650 tips the scale at a max of 454 pounds. That reflects the curb weight (including all fluids topped off) of 432 pounds, the Nomad Bars 15 pounds, the DirtRack Bars 4 pounds and the net increase from the Ricochet Bash Plate of 3 pounds. If I transport with an empty tank I can knock 36 pounds off that number.

So I needed a carrier rated at well above that and I didn't want to have to pay a lot of money. I found a decent looking carrier on Amazon for $178.95 with free shipping. It's a TMS T-MC-M800C 600 Pound Rated Carrier bill for sport bikes, but it looked like it would handle my KLR pretty well. It requires a Class III receiver. The construction is steel and it has a loading ramp, four tie down points and a front wheel lock.

Assembly was as simple as it looks. After I assembled it, I set it up on some blocks and ran the KLR up on the rack to see how it fit and start planning my tie down arrangement.

The motorcycle was a little difficult to get into the wheel lock and I suspect that it's going to be harder when it gets up in a the receiver. However, pulling it back out of the wheel lock was much easier for some reason.

I have a couple handle bar straps that always worked well hauling my dirt bikes around, but I ran into an issue with the KLR. As you can see the bar straps aren't strapped down because the fairing is so fat the straps would rub on the panels. So for now, strapped it down using the front crash bars. I can easily use the rear Dirt Racks bars to strap the bike to the rear latch points. As for the front, I think I'll double up with the crash bar and I'll work something out to get the handle bars strapped down; prolly just some padding.

One of the nice features of this carrier was that it came with an anti-tilt bracket. Tilting and wobbling is always a problem with these carriers, so I'm hopping that this little bracket will help. In addition, Curt makes an Anti-Tilt Bolt Kit for under 20 bucks that I may also get to prevent wobbles.

The next thing I'm waiting on is a new Class III receiver for my Rav4. I currently have a Class II, but all these carriers required the 2 inch receivers. Tracking has that showing up late tomorrow. Photos with the loaded bike later in the week. Stay tuned....


Well, the hitch receiver came today via UPS. It was a Hidden Hitch Model 87697 that has a significant 675 pound tongue weight rating. That's important as many of those hitch receivers have low tongue weight; more focused on pull weight weighting relative to trailers. Anyway, it showed up damaged. The box was trashed and I think it may have fallen out of the plane and caused the left side mount bracket to bend. So we'll be having a little delay as I wait for the replacement to show up.


Although damaged, my son and I got the new Class III trailer hitch installed on my 2007 Rav4. The hitch receiver still needs to be replaced and the replacement is coming this Tuesday via UPS. However, I wanted to test the overall weight on the rear suspension. I first note that it was relatively easy for me alone to get the KLR650 rolled up onto the ramp, although it took some work to get it in the chock. It was much easier to roll the motorcycle out of the chock and bring it down off the ramp. The anti-wobble clamp seems to be a little questionable. I can't really gauge yet how effective that is until I can get the whole thing out on the road.

The most important observation is that the additional 550 pounds on the rear suspension is too much. I tow a large, enclosed utility trailer with the Rav4 and it's been borderline relative to the rear suspension, but naturally the tongue weight is higher with this set up. In order to use the carrier, I'm going to need to shore up the suspension a little with some variable air suspension that I can add perhaps another 5-6 inches of lift. That's probably a good idea anyway with the trailer towing. These air kits aren't real expensive, but they are an absolute pain in the rear to install...or else, believe me, I'd have done it already. Most require a coil compression tool. I think the Firestone Air Bag will do the trick. I'm still looking over options, though.

As to how the width of the setup looks, the right side clearly hangs out more than the left, but not enough to be a big concern. Definitely something to be very aware of. Some colorful flags are certainly in order, too. Also, the tail lights are going to be blocked out, but I already have a set of auxiliary tail lights with a 4-pin trailer hookup to the car. Those can be mounted on top of the car such as in the above photo.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Air Filter Cleaning

Ah, cleaning and oiling foam air filters takes me back to my dirt bike days. I haven't had a motorcycle with a foam air filter in many years now. However, my new 2016 Kawasaki KLR650 has one and, given the environment that I've been riding recently, I suspect that it may need some servicing.

The factory interval for cleaning and re-oiling the foam air filter is 7,500 miles. Although I only have 3,000 miles on the motorcycle I thought I should get a look at the air filter after last weekend's Devils Creek Rally. I was also in a rally in South Florida several weeks ago which was pretty dusty, but it seemed like I was in a dust and sand cloud for three straight days at Devil's Creek.

The air box is located under the seat and requires removal of the seat and right side panel to access the air box cover and the filter. I also removed the left cover to get access to the left side of the air box and snorkel for purposes of inspecting the air box. Removal of the cover is one bolt and the cover pops off.

The KLR650 air filter is a single-stage, reusable, foam-type air filter. The filter is not an expensive part; only $21 for the factory filter at BikeBandit and there are some aftermarket types. However, if cared for, the filter will last a good long time.

NOTE: It should be understood that it's not the foam that filters the air entering the carb/engine; rather, it's the oil that filters the air. The foam simply suspends the oil in place to do its job. Dust and dirt particles attach to the oil as they work their way through the foam. Not oiling the filter is the worst thing you can do to this system.

Although the maintenance spec on air filter cleaning/oiling is 7,500 miles, the proper interval should be consistent with the environment that the motorcycle has been used. As you can see in the next two photos, my air filter is very much due for cleaning and re-oiling after a total of only 3,000 miles.

In my case, the inside of the air box was such a mess that it required cleaning also. It was full of sand and the drain tube had water in it. I got after the box with a small brush and my shop vac and got it cleaned out...

...then I drained the water through the drain hose (see next photo). Having water in the drain hose is an issue because it means that water got into the air box. It could have come through the snorkel as we had a lot of deep water crossings in the last rally. I think it may be best to remove the drain plug in the drain hose going forward when I'm planning to do water work.

For purposes of cleaning, the Service Manual says that the filter should be soaked in a high flash-point solvent like kerosene. However, I'm not going to keep kerosene around just to clean my foam filter when there are popular foam filter cleaners, such as the UNI cleaner included in the UNI Air Filter Service Kit. In addition, I personally think a good "specific-purpose" cleaner over harsh solvents improves the overall life of the foam filter.

I always wear disposable shop gloves when performing this maintenance. I have found that both of the UNI fluids are very nasty on hands.

The UNI Cleaner is sprayed onto the filter while in a container like my pail (sometimes I use my oil drain pan) and I carefully work the cleaner into the foam with my fingers. It takes some time to get the filter clean. See my note above; I'm working all the old dirt/oil out of the foam, it doesn't just dissolve by spraying the cleaner on the foam. It's not unusual for me to have to repeat the process. It's not a process to be rushed. After the cleaner has penetrated the entire foam filter I let it sit for 5 minutes in accordance with the product's instructions and then thoroughly wash it in plain warm tap soap.

Viola! That looks a lot better.

The filter needs to thoroughly dry out before it can be oiled. I do not use a hair dry, heat gun, high pressure air hose or anything similar on the filter. I don't put it in the oven or microwave, or even out in the sun. All of those actions may damage and/or shrink the material cutting its life and making it less effective as a filter. I just let it set at room temperature and go do other things until dry. My workbench fan blowing on the filter is okay. It has to be thoroughly dry before oiling!

To oil the filter, I also used a specific purpose oil. The UNI Oil in my kit was sprayed on and worked into the foam with my fingers. The foam needs to be completely and evenly saturated with the oil, but not so thick that its dripping or gobbing. I look carefully to make sure I didn't miss any spots. It's the oil that's doing the filtering so missing a spot would be a big problemo!

Once the filter was completely oiled, it could be returned to the air box with no drying time. In the case of the KLR650, the filter mounts on a cage and is one wingnut into the box. Then I do reassembly. Overall, a simple process.

KLR650 Fender Elimination

The rear fender on my 2016 Kawasaki KLR650 is in three main pieces. There are front and rear fender pieces and a fender flap (as its called) that acts as a mud guard out the rear of the bike. The fender flap also has the license plate bracket and license plate lighting assembly. The next photo is what the stock assembly looks like.

I decided that I wanted to eliminate the Rear Fender Flap. I was not encountering any contact with the tire. Rather, I just think the motorcycle looks better without the flap. Below is a photo with the flap removed and the license plate bracket affixed to the Rear Fender Rear. I think it looks a ton better!

Removal of the Rear Fender Flap was simple. First, the two side covers and seat were removed. Then the luggage rack was removed.

Then there are four 10mm bolts that hold the Flap to the Rear Fender Rear. I pulled those and the Flap dropped right out, although the license plate light connector (white connector, under seat, left side) needed to be disconnected. Here's what came off. Flap, license plate light harness and license plate light cover.

I removed the license plate bracket from the Flap and installed it on the rear fender.

I think it looks a lot better. I'm very happy with this mod!

The one item that I'm currently missing to make this a "legal" modification is a license plate light (required in my state). The stock light doesn't work and, out of all the piles of little electronics I have stockpiled, I couldn't find a little LED or something that I could mount in an inconspicuous way. So I'll look around and then update this post when I find and install something for a license plate light.


Okay, I promised to get back to you when I found a solution for the license plate light. What I came across was a couple LED License Plate Bolts on eBay for $4.77 (including shipping); I see they're now $5.02.

I wired them into the license plate lead in the harness and they seemed to throw off enough light to be legal, but not distort the brake or running lights.

There you go!!!!

Makeshift Jack KLR650

I have some motorcycle stands, none of which work with the KLR, and I really didn't feel like going out and spending money on a jack stand that would work when I've got all kinds of other things I'd rather have. So I improvised a jack stand using my automotive 3-ton hydraulic jack.

Essentially what I have here is a simple 2 x 4 out of which I sliced a groove such that the two side blocks aligned with the frame on either side. Then I covered the stand block with some thick drawer liner pad to help prevent slipping.

On the bottom are a couple carved out pieces of wood sized to fit tightly over the circular jack point on the hydraulic jack.

The stand block is held in place by the weight of the motorcycle. Depending on what I'm doing, I may include tie downs. It's mostly stable, but a good bump and it would fall over on me.

At the moment, it only works to lift the rear of the KLR650. The main thing I wanted it for is to clean and lube the chain, which without a stand is a pain in the rear. I'm getting the job done with this simple makeshift jack stand block and my hydraulic jack.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Devils Creek (AMA Dual Sport Series)

The AMA launched its 2016 Beta Dual Sport Series at the Devils Creek Rally held in the Brooksville, Florida area last weekend. This was a two day event, with an optional Friday ride for those arriving early. In the words of the AMA, "the Dual Sport Series is intended for serious off-road oriented dual sport motorcycles." However, when we got right down to it, the rally provided for three challenge levels to match one's motorcycle and one's riding skills to and opening up the event to many more riders.

The three levels were Dual Sport, Discovery, and Adventure. The Dual Sport Challenge befitted smaller, more nimble and lighter dual sport motorcycles in the 250cc to 500cc range. The Discovery Challenge substantially tracked the Dual Sport route, but by-passed eight extreme technical areas, allowing middle size dual-sports such as a well equipped KLR650 or Husky 650 Terra with a skilled rider to manage. Lastly, the Adventure Challenge substantially avoided the forests, but provided a good deal of gravel, sand and dirt for large bikes like BMW GS and Yamaha Super Tenere.

The event was planned and managed by Dixie Dual Sports, one of the premier dual sport clubs in the southeast. Having experienced the event, I can't even think of a thing that would have made the event better. Major props to those guys.

I opted for the Discovery Route on Saturday. On a difficulty scale of 1 to 10 (10 being most difficult) and considering my motorcycle (heavy, low torque) I was riding and my skill level (highly experienced but old + losing stamina), I would put the Discovery track at a 9. There was a lot of sand, mud, and flood. One long stretch of sand was four-six inches deep. My KLR650 was equipped with a set of Conti TKC80s that were barely sufficient to manage this track. By the time I was done on Saturday, I'd fallen to both sides and I got stuck twice...which is to say, I had a great time! However, it beat me up enough that I opted the Adventure Track on Sunday.

There were three other riders in my team riding another Gen2 KLR650 and two Husky Terra 650s. Everybody got stuck and fell; everybody had a great time; like me, everybody opted for the Adventure on Sunday.

So, lets get on to some pictures...

HQ for the event was Sertoma Youth Ranch in Brooksville, Florida. As mentioned a few posts back, I camped there from Thursday to Sunday. They have a great facility. However, the camp is a little too close to the Interstate and it was quite noisy, particularly in the evening. I wore my ear plugs at night.

Every bike had to go through tech inspection. The main points were licenses, registered bikes and decibel levels on pipes.

It was difficult to find the time to stop and take photos out on the dual sport track, but I grabbed my camera whenever we stopped to check out a hazard or rest. Did I mention there was a lot of sand?

Wonder what the hold up is?

Well, it was the first water crossing...and an opportunity for me (grey jacket/yellow cap) to get some pictures. There were many, many more water crossings to come.

Jim on his Terra650 making it look easy.

My teammates Jim (Husky), Timo (Husky) and Dale (KLR):

Did I mention we encountered mud?

Glad we didn't get routed through there. One of my falls was a slip on a log.

Timo did an epic swan dive into a slippery mud pit when his front end washed. He was okay and will laugh about that one for a long time to come. :)

So, there's an old rule about off-road riding: "Momentum is your friend." Well, I seem to have forgotten that rule when I got here. Oh, and this is why you ride in groups. They bail you out; you bail them out.

More water...there was so much water and it was all muddy at the bottom.

And finally there was lunch in Groveland...

...and that provided a good opportunity to drain the quart of water out of each of my boots and wring out my socks. Another rule I forgot: Carry dry socks.

Dale had the same problemo. It wasn't that our boots weren't waterproof. It's that the water was so damn high!

Didn't see this until lunch but someone rode an early 70s RT360. Very, very kewl!

I used to have a 1972 Yamaha DT250MX. Then I had a 1974 Honda CR250M which ran circles around the DT. Onward...

Oh look, a vintage Honda Transalp rigged for dirt.

In fact, part of the evening festivities was a vintage motorcycle show. Not a lot of bikes but some nice ones.


Back on the trails. Some really were quite hardpan, but not many.

On Sunday, we were joined by Howard on his WR250.

Here's a photo of Howard from Saturday he shared with me.

This was not part of the track. However, being that the rally was in my backyard I shared some side tracks with my riding partners.

Super Sherpa! I used to have one of these; 2009 model. these are kick ass motorcycles. Wish I still had it.

Here's a  pic of that Yamaha XT500 with the chrome tank, the RT360 is behind it. Very kewl!

I counted five KLR650s at the rally. All but one opted the Discovery Track.

I'm going to try and work in a couple more rounds of the AMA Dual Sport Series but I'll certainly be back for Devil's Creek in 2017.