So, about that 685…

When my friend Charles first told me what improvements his new 685cc piston brought to the table, I was skeptical. It can’t be that good can it? My KLR was burning oil and was due for a refresh so it was purchased and installed early this spring.

Well, I can now say without a doubt that this is the best thing I’ve ever done to my KLR! It pulls like a stallion in heat in any gear and wheelies like a demon. Also, considering it’s considerably lighter than the stock piston, it has the added benefit of reducing vibrations in the old thumper.

I’ve put several hundred kilometers on it so far over a mix of tarmac and trails. It’s equally impressive over both types of terrain.

If I bought a brand new from the dealer KLR today, I’d install the 685 tomorrow, without a doubt.

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.

The Swiss Cheese Defense and why Depression is Dangerous.

2016 went out with an unexpected yet expected crash that has left me shaking my head at my actions and lack of awareness in myself as well as my selfishness to those around me. I started writing this post as a quick rundown of my winter maintenance and repairs but has morphed into another beast entirely. Maybe I should just select all and hit delete, but maybe it’s good if I get it out there and off my chest. The first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem after all.

2016 saw me pushing the bike harder and harder with an equal and opposite reduction in my fear of bodily harm and self preservation. I was riding as if I had something to prove, or someone to prove it to. Subconsciously, I was completely aware that what I was doing was irresponsible and dangerous. Ever increasing speed on singletrack, harder lines over rough terrain and following the old adage, ‘when in doubt, throttle out’ above all else.

I spoke at length about this to my good friend and riding partner, Adam, with whom I have covered thousands of kilometres. There’s something intimate about riding with the same person at length that allows you to envision a relatively predictable riding style throughout a season. When you break free from that mold it’s as visible as if you had suddenly decided to get off the bike and start running instead. He knew something was up. My typically casual riding pace moved into recklessness. He called me on it as any good friend should but I couldn’t see past the mental roadblocks that were put up against me. He told me he was afraid I was going to crash at some point. While I agreed subconsciously and admitted as much to him, I also didn’t much care. Uh, oh.

Have you heard of the Swiss cheese effect? The premise is simple:

Consider the holes in slices of Swiss cheese to be opportunities for a process to fail, and each of the slices as “defensive layers” in the process. An error may allow a problem to pass through a hole in one layer, but in the next layer the holes are in different places, and the problem should be caught. Each layer is a defense against potential error impacting the outcome.

For a catastrophic error to occur, the holes need to align for each step in the process allowing all defenses to be defeated which resulting in an accident.

The holes in my cheese lined up to failure.

First, I was riding a trail I’ve ridden a hundred times in the past which I expected to be the same as it always was. I didn’t anticipate the trail conditions would change. Second, I wasn’t wearing my MX gear. I was wearing my work uniform and didn’t want to store my riding gear as I was working out of a building I don’t normally work in. Lastly, what I now recognize to be the biggest failure of them all and one that took a long time to admit to myself. I was, and still am, dealing with depression. Because of this I was riding without care of injuring myself, or what its impact would be on those around me.

I remember vividly my thought process leading up to the crash. As I watched the speedometer needle climb, the voice in my head was telling me to slow down but against instinct I rolled on the throttle and went even faster. As I came into a corner, the turn was no longer as expected due to ATV traffic earlier in the day. I mashed on the rear binders but it wasn’t enough to stop me going into the trees so I pulled the front as well. Wet, disturbed soil and too much speed into a turn is a recipe for disaster when you couple it with riding beyond your ability. I kept it out of the trees but still put the bike down. Hard and fast.

While laying next to the bike contemplating the pain in my leg, life and all things in between I realized I was alone. I was in an area nobody knew I was in, without cell service,  the victim of my own undoing. After some time I managed to right myself. The blinding white in my head subsided and the immense pain in my leg became much more apparent. My helmet had a nice new scrape down the side and my jacket was torn.

The bike was mostly okay. After some strategic lifting to right the KLR and some limited hobbling to tweak the front tire back into line with the rest of the bike I hit the starter and the old girl roared back to life despite my best attempts to sabotage our relationship. I very gingerly rode the remaining 6 km out to the main road, leg dangling all the way.

I ended up fracturing my ankle and have spent the last 6 months recovering from my poor decisions. It’s likely I will never regain the full range of motion I once had in my foot. My highland dancing career took a tragic turn before it ever began.

Depression is no joke. It takes what reasonable faculties you once had and twists them into this dark, uncaring monster that has only your demise as its one interest. Depression can twist you up so much that you risk everything you love. Your family, friends, career, hobbies and mobility. It robs you of independence.

I’m now working on fixing myself the same way I fix my KLR, one piece at a time.


This is a test of the public emergency broadcast system. You are required to immediately go hug your motorcycle. Disregard all weather conditions, personal obligations or children.

This is not a drill.