Spring is coming!

Last year saw some pretty hard riding which always equates to post season maintenance to repair the damage done. I’ve ended up carrying out some of the heaviest maintenance performed on my KLR to date but as of this writing, the old thumper lives on. Her odometer stopped taking notes some two years and an estimated 20,000 + kms  ago. I’ve stopped counting as well. You’re only old if you think you are, right?

Late in 2015, the electrical blade connection broke off of the fan switch on my radiator and sourcing parts for replacement led me to discover the replacement cost for the switch was substantial, over $100 CAD. Considering a similar automotive replacement was under $10, I felt a bit gouged and decided not to replace the switch and instead opted to wire in a manual toggle switch for the fan. This was an acceptable alternative but the consequences of forgetting to flip this fan on are severe.

While riding some slow single-track in the mid-summer, I glanced down at my temp gauge only to see it pegged hard right, deep into the red. This is when I realized I had neglected to turn on my rad fan and warped the cylinder as well as damaging the valve seals. I mitigated this by simply carrying extra oil for the remaining season. I basically became an automatic oil feed system acting as life support.

When I rolled across the finish line at the 2016 Fundy Adventure Rally in September, my bike was burning a consistent litre per 100 kms or so. After the crash, I needed to strip and check the bike anwyay so the decision was made. This would be the last season on the stock 650cc piston. The Eagle Mike 685cc piston kit was ordered and arrived in short order. Open heart surgery was scheduled.

I started the teardown in earnest sometime in January, just after Christmas. As I  removed components, I cleaned,, inspected and stored them for future re-installation. This methodical task has a zen quality to it I find hard to find elsewhere. Everything has it’s place.

I’ve never been any farther into the engine than the valves so tearing into the cylinder was a new experience. I use the shop manual religiously and was able to get the cylinder and piston free of the bottom end with little to no difficulty.

Once removed, the cylinder went into a varsol bath first to remove any significant grunge and buildup, followed by a soak in the ultrasonic cleaner. Next, it was off to Nova Automotive for the machining. I’ve had head work done by Nova in the past and I was very happy with their services as well as their prices. When I called and priced out the ~2mm overbore on the KLR I was quoted roughly $200. However, when I picked up the jug I was pleasantly surprised to find the cost was a mere $80 for the work performed. I also replaced the valve seals, cleaned up the oil baked valves, lapped the seats and re-shimmed the cams during this phase.

On top of the 685cc piston replacement, I also slated several other maintenance items to be completed at the same time. Some items were clear upgrades, some were preventative maintenance to ensure future reliability and some were correctional repairs to things I had previously noticed were starting to wear out.

I’m definitely part of the cult of the KLR. It’s an incredibly capable machine and has built itself a legend that precedes it. However, from the factory it’s an underpowered and antiquated piece of equipment. It takes plenty of modifications for it to live up to its cult status as a do everything machine. That said, it takes far less financial commitment to build the bike ‘your way’. $300 improves it doubly. Another $300 and you’re as capable on a trail as anything else. From there it’s all just gravy.

First on the list was the addition of the Thermobob radiator bypass. This modification has several benefits as listed below, but the biggest advantage would be the increase in overall engine longevity.

The Thermo-Bob is an external thermostat with a coolant bypass. It allows coolant to flow at all times, bypassing the radiator during warm-up and eliminating the surges of cold coolant year-round. It
also raises the operating temperature at the top of the cylinder to 195°F from 160° F More importantly, it raises the operating temperature at the bottom of the cylinder to 185°F from downright cold, (i.e. as cold as 30°F).

Next on the list was to replace the stock carburetor needle and main jet with the KLX needle and an appropriately sized main jet. The stock KLR fuel air mixture is very lean from factory to improve emissions testing. The KLX kit will richen up the mixture and provide more consistent fuel delivery. This was a very simple mod to complete, the most difficult part being the removal of the carb itself.

At the end of the season I also found my steering had a bit of play which led me to believe my tapered bearings in the steering stem were worn. I’ve done steering bearings before and have dreaded doing them ever since. It’s an incredible pain removing the pressed on races from the stem and I was not looking forward to it this time around. Thankfully, I was happy to discover that all that was required was to tighten the adjustment bolt above the bearing, as it had backed off slightly. Once re-tightened and checked for play, I marked the nut with witness paint to give me a visual of its movement in the future.

The biggest pain in the ass maintenance came next and this is one thing that had I known would be this difficult, I’d have carried it out years ago. If you own a KLR and you haven’t done this, you need to. Yesterday preferably.

The rear swingarm had a considerable amount of play so I knew the swingarm
and linkage bearings were well beyond their expiration date. The bearings in both components employ a needle bearing in race design with a bearing spacer that the bolts go through. I’ve heard the factory KLR’s are hit or miss with suspension grease. Mine was a hard miss. Bone dry, nothing but rust. Damn, these bearings are not cheap. The seals themselves were intact but the innards were a horror story. The linkage bolt necessitated laying the bike down on the floor and wailing on the end of it with a two handed maul to get it to move, and then only millimeter by millimeter. The bearing spacer was so corroded to the bolt itself that it took everything Adam and I had to get it out. We were victorious only to find the linkage itself was cracked from a rock strike and was non-repairable. I sourced a used linkage from Arizona on ebay for a reasonable price to replace my old one. Going forward, greasing these bearings will become a mid season and season end maintenance item as I have no intentions of burning that money up with negligence.

I gave the wiring harness a good once over, reinforced any wear spots and reassembled the bike bit by bit. An hour here, a Saturday there. Before I knew it I was ready to hit the go button. And she purred like a kitten the first go around. We took an inaugural break in ride up and down my road. Everything fell into place as it should. The bike felt great but I felt greater!

One more break-in ride and she’s ready to be released back into the wild, but maybe not so aggressively this year. It’s time to get back into exploration mode and see the province as not many get to see her.

Oh, and I finally fixed my temp switch too!

Here’s to 2017.

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