So why did I choose the KLR? After I decided to do the trip I started researching all of the various adventure bikes. I spent months trawling through countless forums and reviews and it came down (for me) to three bikes. The BMW F650GS, The updated Yamaha Tenere and the Kawasaki KLR650. I then set about pricing each bike up including all of the accessories I'd need.
I was really keen on the BMW but it was a lot more expensive than the other two bikes and then in late 2008 they changed the design of the 650 to be more street friendly. Yeah I really needed that for this trip. However they had also released the new F800GS. A real cool looking bike that was getting rave reviews. The thing that killed it for me was it only had a 12 litre tank, useless in outback WA!
The Yamaha looked awesome but the new design was just that, new. How reliable was it. I rang Yamaha Aus and asked when the Tenere was going to launched in OZ. To my disappointment they told me it would not be here for another year or two because of the high demand for the bike in Europe. They ended up realising it two months after I brought the KLR!
So I started seriously looking at the KLR. Kawasaki had brought out the "new" model the year before. Really though they had just tweaked the engine and updated the fairing. The overall design hadn't changed in 20 odd years. That really appealed to me because a) I realised it was a really reliable bike and b) someone with my very limited mechanical skills would stand at least half a chance of keeping it going. I booked in for test ride and fell in love with the bike. I brought a brand new Red 2009 model that day.
Now that I had the bike I started looking at the setup. The bike has two Achilles heals. The doohickey and the week upper sub-frame bolts. These were the two things I HAD to fix. The exciting thing though was the huge amount of other mods I could also do to the bike.
The first things I ordered were the doohickey, bash plate, engine guard (with highway pegs ye ha) and engine bars (to the protect radiator) from Happy Trail in the US. I had to talk my local mechanic into installing the doohickey. He thought I was mad until he heard the bike run with the doohickey installed. Purrs like a kitten now and I only had 6000km on the clock when I changed it out.
The bash plate and bar work are great. Easy to install and the highway pegs a fantastic when the legs and bum get a little tired.
The next mod was replacing the OEM foot pegs with a set of Pivot Pegs made here in Oz. I love these pegs, the bike feels much more responsive.
I wanted to find a 12 volt plug to power my gps unit and to be able to charge the sat phone (and Rod's Ipod). I found a great dash in the states that fits to the handlebar triple clamps. Thanks to John Archer for all his help and advice.
The next mod was replacing the OEM hand guards with a set of Barkbuster Ego hand guards. The OEM guards were great for protecting my hands from the wind and weather but that was about it. I wanted something that would not only protect my hands but also protect the levers when (no if) I have an off. Originally I was going to install a set of Barkbuster Storm guards but the bloke at my local Kawa dealer reminded me that most of time in Oz you want a bit of air travelling past your hands. The guards work well and took half an hour to install.
With four weeks to go I ordered my last lot of gear. First I ordered a SW-Motech center stand and Aluminium back rack (to replace the OEM plastic job) from Twisted Throttle. Both of these fitted on incredibly easily and they are very well made. I did'nt get the SW-Motech crash bars (see above) but I imagine they are just as good. The center stand took a few days to get used to but now I've got it down pat and the bike is so much more stable than on the side stand, especially when loaded.
Next I got a a set of 36 liter Caribou panniers. I was tyring to get away with not having them but the more we planned the more obvious it became that I would need to the extra carrying space. With the panniers I could ditch my topcase freeing up the back rack and still be able to carry my tail bag. I had a look at all the different pannier setups but the Caribou system just seemed top notch. No corrosion or dings after offs like the aluminium panniers and they are fully lockable. I also got the whole kit for one price unlike the other systems where you have to buy everything separately (read very expensive!). The pannier racks took a bit of tinkering to install and I had to do a work around with the SW-Motech back rack. Still I love em.
Next was the sub-frame upgrade kit, a new gear shifter (stronger and slightly longer), a master cylinder guard (for the rear brake) and a replacement (and stronger) rear brake bracket all from Dual Star in the States. OK so I'm starting to get a paranoid but I've worked in the outback for 14 odd years and I like to be very prepared! Good gear but I had to wait weeks for the stuff to arrive (and chase up Dual Star several times!). The sub-frame bolt upgrade is a little tricky but worth it. We are going to hitting some serious ruts off road and the thought of only two 8mm bolts (not high tensile!) holding the bike together scares me.
Finally Rod and I both did a swag of research on what tyres to fit. It was always going to be a compromise. The blogs offer a lot of great advice but we also contacted Dave from Bike Tyre City and The Bike Doctor. Dave has done numerous motorcycle adventure trips all over the world so his advice was SOUND. In the end it came down to either the Dunlop 606 or ths Pirelli M21. In the end we went with the M21's for two reasons 1) they are slightly less aggressive than the 606's and we have a lot of bitumen to cover and 2) we need to swap out the rear tyres in Kunuanurra and the one and only bike shop in town only stocks the M21's. I been riding on them for two weeks and while not perfect on the road they are not to bad. Keen to get them off road.