Ringleader: Jamie Elvidge
MSRP (2008): $5349
Average Fuel Mileage: 42 mpg
Accessories & Modifications: California Scientific windshield, Dunlop tires, Race Tech suspension
Taking on a long-term testbike is like getting married, so it's a good thing the Kawasaki KLR650 is a worthy partner. It's not sexy, but it knows how to iron clothes and do the dishes.
All good things must come to an end, however, so this is the final tale of my trusty 2008 model. The bike rolled off the front half of its 10,000 miles on our Northern California ranch, so the first order of business was a set of Pirelli MT21 knobby tires, which worked brilliantly and lasted almost 3000 miles, even with a fair amount of highway use. I applied a slick-looking crash bar ($239.99) and engine-guard set ($114.99) because I know how I ride off-road, as well as a set of handlebar risers ($52.50), all from Twisted Throttle (www.twistedthrottle.com). Next was an FMF Q4 pipe ($359.99; www.fmfracing.com) for a bit more power and a throatier (though still not loud) exhaust note. The best early mod was a set of Galfer braided-steel brake lines ($112.30; www.galferusa.com), which really sharpened the KLR's stopping power.
After its time as a working dirtbike, where it was used to wrangle cattle and run fence lines, the bike went back to Los Angeles and a life on the street. We replaced the knobbies with another set of the stock Dunlop K750s, and added a windshield from California Scientific ($160; www.calsci.com). The windshield isn't pretty, but if you spend a lot of time humming on the freeway, its shape and venting system do a good job of reducing back strain without creating undue turbulence. The shield comes in medium and tall heights, is easy to install, and you can order replacement well nuts ($4), which you'll need because the rubber disintegrates after exposure to sunshine.
FMF Q4 slip-on muffler shaved weight and made more power yet was whisper-quiet.
Race Tech fork internals and Galfer braided-steel brake line transformed the front end.
California Scientific windshield deflects air well, but only Yetis need the tall version.
There was a time when my long-term bike got away from me and the boys at the office had their way with it. When I got it back it was much, much friskier after an oil change, valve inspection, removal of the airbox snorkel and a very effective re-jet (+1 on the main jet, +1 on the pilot and a two-washer shim under the stock needle clip). Unfortunately, one of the guys' race-tuner friends gutted the FMF pipe, which made it way too loud. The Q stands for quiet, fellas!
The '08 KLR's suspension isn't sloppy, even when it's being slapped around in the twisties, but my bike's brash new persona made it cry out for fortification. Since the stock fork isn't rebuildable, we asked Race Tech (www.racetech.com) for a solution. When the bike was returned to me the last time, its Winnie-the-Pooh personality had been completely extinguished by the addition of Race Tech's aggressive Fork Kit (Emulator Gold Valve plus HP springs; $279.98) and G3-S shock ($749.99). My KLR was now a true troublemaker.
Problem was, I lost a bunch of what the KLR is really good at: doing a little bit of everything. Like me, most people interested in this affordable, easy-to-live-with machine are looking for a bike that will cover all the bases, whether it's sprinting to work or dawdling around the world.
There are plenty of bikes with bad-ass attitudes, but only one mild-mannered, mid-size dual-sport. If the KLR were mine, I'd want to go back 5000 miles to the Pirelli MT21s and sneak-up-on-the-cows Q-pipe. Call me Christopher Robin, but I miss my Pooh.