The KLR 650 from Kawasaki is commonly referred to as the “Zombie Apocalypse” motorcycle due to its power-weight ratio, simplicity, and durability. This motorcycle can take nearly anything thrown at it and doesn’t hurt one’s wallet for other “Z-Day” purchases. However to make this motorcycle truly ready for the apocalypse, or more likely a round the world trip, there are a few upgrades that need to take place. In 2009 the “doohickey” was fixed, and midway through 2014 the suspension was upgraded. Aim for 2014+ models, then gear your KLR for every possible situation and ensure success on any long trip.
Unfortunately, from stock, the KLR is missing a few key items that make an adventure bike successful across states, countries, and continents. If possible, and time permits, attempt to buy these items through eBay or locally. You can make your own, but it is highly recommended you use aluminum or other lightweight durable materials. The following items are essential:
- Upgraded Skid Plate: The stock skid plate is only a strong piece of plastic. This will save you from a few hard hits, but ultimately it will break apart and leave your engine exposed. There are multiple options to choose from, which many of these skid plates are designed to be indestructible.
- Center Stand: A fully loaded bike can struggle to rest on a side stand if there is any slight angle or strong winds, which will require resting on a center stand. Additionally this makes tire changes and other maintenance easier. A great center stand will mount easily behind the foot pegs and have adjustable heights. Just be cautious as it is possible for it to drag as you bend around some intense corners.
- Engine / Fuel Tank Guards: The bike will fall at one point and have rocks kicked up towards the engine. Having an engine / fuel tank guard will prevent potential expensive and catastrophic damage to your motorcycle.
- Master Cylinder Guard: Unfortunately the KLR does not come with any protection for the rear master cylinder. By purchasing a cylinder guard you will prevent damage to your rear brake from rocks, branches, and quite possibly your foot.
- Pannier system: There will always be an argument between hard or soft panniers, regardless you will need a set to bring all of your gear. Personally I find the hard panniers to be a more reliable and secure choice if you bring anything that can break. However, depending on your pannier choice you will need a set of frame racks to mount them. A compatible top case is helpful, but this is an area that a soft case can become more practical.
- Upgraded Hand Guards: The stock guards are simply for aesthetics rather than practicality as they are pretty weak and would break from a drop, along with a lever. For a long trip, where multiple drops are likely, you will want to install some reinforced hand guards that will not break and help protect your levers.
The Extra Mile
With the essential upgrades in place you will be ready for the world, but what about being ready for the true unknown? There are a few more items that would greatly improve your safety and longevity with the KLR. If it is in your budget, these upgrades will pay for themselves quickly.
- 10 gal Tank Upgrade: The stock gas tank is 6.1 gallons, which with a high MPG is efficient. However you will be gearing your bike up and tackling some rough terrain that will quickly reduce your overall range and require spare fuel. There are a few companies that make safari tanks that can upgrade your overall gas capacity to 10 gallons. While there is extra weight added, stability is not compromised.
- Pod Lights: Typically considered for lighting up the night, a strong pair of pod lights will keep you safe during the daytime. These lights give you a larger presence on the road to allow oncoming traffic to see you sooner. The last thing you want is for oncoming traffic to attempt to pass and not see you.
- Foot Peg Upgrade: The stock foot pegs are small and you can slip off of them on slick terrain. Upgrade the foot pegs to a larger platform with teeth to ensure you don’t lose your grip into mud and water and provide a stronger stance when shifting your weight.
- Headlight Guard: While aesthetically this makes the KLR look aggressive, a good headlight guard will protect from rocks and birds (yes, odds are likely that you will hit a bird).
- Fork Brace: The KLR does not have fork brace from stock. While it isn’t required, having a fork brace will increase your stability with all the added weight and reduce the possibility of damage to your forks.
- Heated Grips: A pair of strong heated grips make for a comfortable ride in the cold, regardless of your gloves. Good heaters combined with a strong hand guard can allow you to use summer gloves all year round with only mild discomfort in the coldest of places.