Dr. Gregory Frazier, Contributing Editor

Adventure-touring across North America

After its 30,000 mile report, the Globe Killer Kawasaki KLR650 Project Bike was pushed a bit harder than before. Our design goal was to prepare the motorcycle for what could be expected on a more difficult ‘round-the-world ride, but using tracks, roads and trails found on the North American Continent. Toward that end, the American adventure miles crossed through remote environments and over ground as nasty and dirty as that experienced in Africa, South America, Russia and The Tourist Triangle of Myanmar. While I originally planned to return the motorcycle to the Happy Trails Motorcycle Product Company for a 40,000 mile checkup, I only managed 5,000 miles traveled – but it was a tough 5,000 miles.

The following were a shade tree mechanic’s findings, with some professional consultation from the oldest Kawasaki motorcycle dealership in the United States, Lander Marine and Kawasaki. Owners Paul Westman and his brother Eric have long been avid KLR650 aficionados and shared some thoughts about the Globe Killer KLR650 as it passed through Lander, Wyoming.



In anticipation of the rough stuff, both the front and rear tires were changed at 32,000 miles to Avon Gripster AM24’s. While the Avon Distanzia was the preferred tire for the rear due to its high mileage capability, we opted for a Gripster out back for its more aggressive off-pavement tread design.

Talking tires with Paul Westman, he mentioned that one Avon Gripster rear tire had managed an incredible 15,000 plus miles on a KLR650. Meanwhile, our project KLR650 was averaging 6,000 miles between required rear tire swaps. Westman rolled out his collection of Gripster take-offs and pointed out the difference in core thickness between the older, high-mileage Gripster and newer Gripsters. The thickness he attributed to the high mileage, coupled with a lighter weight than our project KLR650 and the fact the owner had traveled at slower speeds over the life of the rear tire.


When the new tires were mounted, the spokes were again checked, with no adjustment necessary. However, after some tough off-pavement riding over the next 3,000 miles, two spokes on the front wheel and three on the back needed tweaking.

Chain and Sprockets:

As previously reported, at 20,000 miles the rear chain and both sprockets had been replaced. At 35,000 miles more slack in the chain was taken up, less than two full turns of the adjusting bolts. Each day after use, the chain had been given a bath with WD-40 and then sprayed with a silicon lubricant.

Air Cleaner and Oil Changes:

Cleaning the reusable air cleaner every 3,000 miles had become part of routine maintenance, as was changing the nonsynthetic engine oil and cleaning the wire mesh reusable oil filter. No metal bits were noticed when cleaning the oil filter or on the magnetic drain plug.

Balance Chain Tensioner:

At the 35,000 mile mark the adjustment bolt was loosened, allowing the internal Happy Trails installed torsion-type spring to take up any slack in the chain. The adjustment bolt was then carefully retightened.

Water Level:

Less than a cup of coolant was added to the radiator at 35,000 miles. At no time was any boiling or leakage seen over the previous 5,000 miles.


The Odyssey Battery Kit installed by Happy Trails had been living up to its touted service life of “3-10 years.” For the fourth winter, the battery sat unattended for six months. In the spring it still had enough juice to start the KLR650 without needing a charge.


The brake, clutch and throttle cables were given a good inside bath with WD-40 at 35,000 miles, as was the throttle on the handlebar. Grease was applied to the ends of the clutch cable before reinstalling.

Gas Consumption:

At highway speeds of 65-75 mph, the KLR650 was averaging 33 mpg. When the speed was decreased to 50 mph consumption rolled back to 40 mpg.


When we initially installed the adjustable centerstand, there was some hesitation due to concerns about reduced ground clearance, added weight and additional cost. After 35,000 miles those concerns were far outweighed by the numerous times the centerstand had been used for rear tire removal, washing and oiling the rear chain, checking and changing oil and routine maintenance.

The Happy Trails KLR650 Lift Handle, added at the 20,000 mile point, was a blessing when it came to muscling the motorcycle onto the centerstand. It was no longer classified as farkle.

At the 35,000 mile mark, all of the Happy Trails aftermarket gear had been tested, whether intentionally or by pilot error. None failed, leading to support the Happy Trails claim that their accessories truly qualified as “adventure-proven motorcycle gear.”


At 34,219 miles the master link failed or took a walkabout at 70 mph on a busy Interstate highway. The flailing chain took out Guide-Chain, Collar, Cover-Assembly-Chain Case, Bracket and RR Guide-Chain. Fortunately the chain did not ball up at the primary sprocket and crack the engine housing. Instead, the chain dropped to the highway while the KLR650 coasted to a stop.

After parking the motorcycle on the paved shoulder of the highway, the master link-less chain was retrieved. While trucks, travel trailers and cars whizzed by, some pushing wind strong enough to rock the motorcycle off the side stand, the luggage was off-loaded to dig out the shaving kit, where a spare master link had been stored and carried for 10 years. It was 10 years earlier when another master link on different motorcycle let go in Cambodia, giving rise to always carrying one or two different size master links.

45 minutes after dropping the chain on the roadway, the motorcycle was back moving again, albeit at a slower speed. The next day the proper size master link was purchased and chain adjustment checked.

The cause of the master link failure and disappearance is unknown and a popular topic for motorcycle maintenance speculation. What I do know is the only thing that could have made the roadside adventure more miserable is if it had been raining, or 110 degrees in Cairo, Egypt, and I had not bothered to pack that spare master link.