$3000 Streetbike Surgery: Kawasaki KLR650 Motorcycle

Making Your Pre-2008 Model Better Than New

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Joe Bonello

Intake side addressed, it was time for the exhaust. Again, owners' recommendations are all over the map, many claiming the stock pipe is best, if a bit heavy. We settled on a Jardine RT5 slip-on, which consists of an aluminum muffler can and stainless pipe that shed a few pounds compared to the stocker. You're not going to see massive gains on a bike that makes 37 horsepower stock, but we did pick up a couple of ponies and foot-pounds of torque. More significantly, throttle response was noticeably improved, and the engine seemed to run smoother.

With the motor sorted, we moved on to the chassis. The stock fork is pretty wimpy, and the stock shock is both flaccid and non-rebuildable, so we enlisted the help of Progressive Suspension. Their progressively wound (thus the name) fork springs and 465 shock worked wonders, giving the KLR the ride of a proper sport-tourer, with no more wallowing in fast sweepers nor diving under braking. The shock is adjustable for preload and rebound, and is also available in a 1-inch shorter length to lower the seat height for vertically challenged riders.

Speaking of braking, the KLR's front disc setup is probably its weakest point. We cured that by installing a full complement of Galfer components: an oversized wave rotor kit with a 270mm disc, caliper-relocating bracket and pads up front; a wave rotor and pads in the rear; and braided-steel brake lines at both ends.

While the wheels were off, we seized the opportunity to change tires. Again, there are as many opinions as there are, um, owners, and everyone has a different recommendation for brands, models, sizes and even alternate wheel setups. We stuck with the stock 21-inch front/17-inch rear rims and levered on a set of Michelin Anakees, which while more pavement-biased still work pretty well off-road.

Since we were going to be spending a lot more time sitting on our KLR, we went ahead and upgraded its seat, like on the '08 and later models. Kawasaki sells an accessory gel seat that offers greatly improved long-range comfort. Made by Saddlemen, the kit requires you to replace the stock seat cover and foam, so it helps to be handy with a staple gun. Fortunately, our testbike manager Michael Candreia used to do that for a living, so ours came out great.

Finally, to help with the bike's overnight capabilities, we installed a windscreen and luggage from TCI Products. The windscreen bolts on over the stock screen, on the theory that you can revert to the stocker for around-town and off-road riding. The luggage setup consists of a metal framework designed to hold a Cortech Tribag tail bag and saddlebags, making it an inexpensive yet durable alternative to hard bags. Both the windscreen and the rack install easily and work exceptionally well, though the screen would benefit from quick-release hardware so you could remove it easier.

When all was said and done, our '07 KLR650 not only worked better than an '08 and later model, it just plain worked! Yes, we spent more money than we'd hoped to, but we ended up with a truly excellent adventure-tourer-one on which we could easily ride across the state or across the country, on- or off-road.

By Brian Catterson
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