Building the Adventure Motorcycle

Preparing your motorcycle for the long haul may involve quite a bit of work, but it’s also a lot of fun. As looking at others’ bikes for ideas is probably where we all start, deconstructed here is the recipe for my 2008 KLR 650 named Katırga, including the refinements applied along the way. In the two years we spent together on the road, I also learned a few lessons worth sharing.

KATIRGA - Kawasaki KLR 650 motorcycle






Shortened Side Stand

Once the bike is loaded, the side stand will prop the bike too upright for secure parking. If you are on the motorcycle, you may not even be able to extend it out. Shortening the stand by about 2cm makes your life much easier under all circumstances. Even if you reduce the suspension sag with firmer springs, or if the bike is unloaded, the increased lean angle remains your friend making it easier to park on inclined surfaces. Do not worry about the extra weight that will be exerted on the stand. It’s much stronger than you might think.

Once you cut off the foot and shorten the leg of the stand, lean the bike over it with the loose foot positioned appropriately underneath the leg, then weld them together. Done!

Removed CA Emissions Plumbing

It is really hypocritical to force a boat load of heavy emissions equipment on to a motorcycle in a state where you can see more single occupancy SUVs on the road than cars, and the governor himself drives a Hummer. As I had chosen the KLR for its simplicity, I wasn’t going to leave all that plumbing on even if it weren’t suspect of causing problems after laying the bike down. Luckily, the removal is fairly straight forward, and if your bike is not a CA model there’s nothing to remove anyway.

CA Emissions Equipment on KLR 650
CA Emissions Equipment spread around the KLR
Remove everything you see here except 11054A. Then, plug the freed tank spout and the hole on the airbox, marked in yellow. If you are not using a Scottoiler system, you will also need to replace the T-joint on the carburetor vacuum hose with a straight connector.
Now you have the perfect place to store your extra Scottoiler lubricant. It’ll be a very long time before you need that bottle, so secure it there really well!

Reinforced Rear Carrier

This is a must do especially if you plan to use a top case or carry anything close to the max load limit of 10kgs (22lbs). The required reinforcement involves two components: the metal frame underneath the luggage rack, and the mount points and hardware on the tail of the subframe.

The former involves welding metal strips to the bottom of the frame at right angles to add torsional strength. It is now also possible to buy stronger aftermarket replacements.

Reinforced Rear Carrier Plate
Reinforced rear carrier plate

The modification to the subframe is done to replace the flimsy 6mm bolts that fasten the rack plate to the frame’s tail with stronger ones. The thicker hardware is required to withstand the upward, pulling forces that come into play as you go over bumps etc. The challenge here is that you do not want to drill through the frame as the holes would weaken it, and you do not want to weld larger nuts in place of the originals as the heat would compromise the nuts’ thread strength. (Unless you’re equipped to point-weld as done at the factory)

The solution a friend devised for me was to knock out the captive nuts inside the tab on the frame’s tail, enlarge the holes on the tab and the rack plate to 8mm, insert a steel stick with matching dimensions into the tab, then drill and tap this stick to accommodate 8mm bolts.

The tab with two screw holes on the tail of the subframe.

Lowered Seat

Although Corbin had generously provided a low dished seat with a beautiful finish, the slippery fabric and the very hard foam didn’t work for me, and there was no time to wait for a replacement. So, I simply took the oem seat, and carefully cut down its foam by perhaps 2 inches, which gave me a wider, firmer, and lower seating surface. I left the passenger space high for a stepped look, and the result was both comfortable and good looking.

If this is something you’d like to do, all you’ll need is a hacksaw blade and coarse sand paper. First, sit on the bike and mark where you’d like the step to be. Then, remove the seat, remove the staples and fabric, and draw the cut line along both sides paying attention to symmetry. Remember, you can always remove more foam later, but not add any. Place the seat in front of you the way you’d see it from the back of the bike and start slicing front to back. Go slow, maximizing sideways motion, letting the hacksaw do the cutting. Pay attention to follow the lines on both sides until the cut is complete. Try it on the bike. Once you achieve the desired comfort and look, wrap the sandpaper on a spray can or similar object and sculpt the foam to a smooth finish. Take it to an upholstery shop to get the cover stapled back on, and you’re done.

Cutting seat foam
A hacksaw blade is all you need for cutting seat foam
KLR 650 lowered seat
Lower, wider, and way more comfortable

Marked Bolts

If you are heading out on a new bike, you are very likely to deal with some bolts loosening or falling off until dirt and rust locks them in. Once the bike is ready for the road, tighten all critical fasteners like sub-frame, exhaust, and footrest bolts to correct torque, then use a thin brush to apply a spot of red paint to the edge of each bolt or screw, marking both surfaces. This way you can visually inspect them later for any movement.

Deka ETX15L Battery

Unless Kawasaki have changed their ways, there is a good chance that the battery which came with your KLR is the cheapest money can buy. Mine failed in only 4 months, which has to be a record.

If you replace the oem unit with a top quality battery before heading out, you can save yourself a lot of inconvenience and money. I’d highly recommend a Deka AGM – SLA ETX15L. The extra Amp makes all the difference when you hit the starter button, and it may well be the only battery you’ll ever need on your trip.

Kawasaki Tall Windshield

The taller windscreen was the ticket for great ride comfort without interfering with my line of sight. It also fits the lines of the bike.

Magnetic Drain Plug

Keeping metal shavings etc. from circulating within the engine is a good idea, and so is having a spare drain plug. Use the magnetic, and put the original in your “bolts box”.

Secure Oil Filler Cap

Although I did not actually use one, I do believe that a secure cap deserves consideration. Granted, a malicious act like someone dropping a screw into your engine is highly unlikely. But the consequences would be so severe that not securing the cap is almost inexcusable.

On the other hand, having to add oil at every other fill-up, I probably would’ve hated to have this.

Scottoiler Chain Lubrication System

This is the one piece of kit I would have hated to be without. It’s a brilliant solution that makes you forget your bike has a chain drive. Fully loaded wheelies and all, I used the OEM chain for 24.300 miles barely touching it in that time.

Scottoiler Automatic Chain Lubrication System
Once you set the flow rate, you can forget about the chain

Installing the kit is fairly straight forward, but does need some improvisation. If you don’t mind ditching the tag light, or replacing it with LEDs, the lubricant reservoir fits perfectly under the rear fender.

The system is activated by the vacuum from the carburetor, so first you will need to route a tube from the unit to the vacuum hose. If you did remove emissions equipment, you will conveniently find a freshly freed up T-joint on the vacuum hose. If not, you’ll need to cut the hose, insert a T-joint, and hook up the tube to Scottoiler.

The next step is to route a second tube from the unit to the rear sprocket. Once the installation is done, all you have to do is charge the unit with lubricant, start the engine, and adjust the flow using the dial on the reservoir. Now you can pretty much forget about that chain. Just remember to check the flow rate after substantial temperature changes.

Update: The TK7 touring kit with behind-the-plate XL reservoir appears to be discontinued, but the set-up for Scottoiler systems remains the same.

Scottoiler TK7 Travel Kit
The TK7 kit lives behind the license plate and holds enough lubricant to reach Ecuador. I did remove the tag light to make space.

Low Center Stand with Foot Lever

The center stand was pretty much up there with the Scottoiler for usefulness. When you need one, a center stand is simply priceless if it’s the right kind. To make it easy (or even possible) to jack up a fully loaded bike without help, the center stand needs to have a foot lever and be shorter than normal. When on the stand, both wheels will be touching the ground but the bike will be stable. And to lift up a wheel, all you need to do is wedge a block of hard wood under each foot by rocking the bike to its sides. Remember to take the blocks with you!

You never regret the money spent on a good center stand.

Twisted Throttle Aluminum Skid Plate

No matter how careful you ride, you will need proper protection underneath the bike. I was really happy with the TT part. Ruggedly built, nicely designed, and properly packaged. The amount of beating it had to endure was not even funny.

Ruta 40, Patagonia
Where the bash plate got some its worst bashing.

SW-Motech Pannier Brackets

I knew SW-Motech was developing some good looking pannier brackets, but they wouldn’t start shipping till long after I left. So, I bought the popular Happy Trails brackets. But when I saw what was in the box, I picked up the phone and called Twisted Throttle. Once I convinced them to sell me their pre-production test unit, the HT brackets were on their way back.

Stressed by the frequently loosening rear carrier bolt it was attached to, one of the quick release joints eventually gave up, so I affixed it permanently. Turned out, I didn’t really need a quick release system, although it was convenient when removing the wheel etc. Towards the end of the trip just before reaching the Amazon, after the bike having fallen on them who knows how many times, one of the brackets finally required a weld. After the end of my journey in Colombia, the same kit went all the way back down to Ushuaia with the bike’s second owner, to complete 57.000 miles. I bet they are still on the bike, somewhere in Chile.

Fallen Motorcycle
With all the weight in the back, the panniers and brackets were getting the hardest beating at each quick get off. They proved to be indestructible.

Happy Trails Crash Bars

I don’t have much that is good to say about these. If I had not needed the bars as a base for the camera rig, I would have left without them because the crossover bracket that runs through the bike was a clear proven risk to the radiator. I noticed that later model bars shipped with a thicker crossbar, but the design, build, and finish was equally poor.

motorcycle crash bars
This gentle lay down on soft ground was all it took to break the HT crash bars. (Baja California, Mexico)

SW-Motech also makes crash bars for the KLR, but they became available only after I left. Another supplier of top-notch body protection for the KLR is Mastech in Colombia, which I’m sure would happily ship to USA.

Master Cylinder Guard

As per Murphy’s law, this inexpensive piece can prove indispensable if you do not install it, so just go ahead and do. Mine didn’t even get scratched.

Power Outlet

This, you just can’t do without. So get the best one you can find, which means forget motorcycle parts stores and start looking at marine equipment. Once you have a reliable power socket, distributing the power via extension cables, splitters, and even inverters is easy.

I had quite a few things to charge simultaneously, so in my setup, a spiral lighter socket extension cord went into the tank bag to power a small 110v AC inverter, which in turn powered a myriad of wall chargers on a regular AC extension cord. It was a crowd, but still more compact and flexible than also carrying a 12v charger for each gadget.

Sometime after I bought a GPS in Peru, I installed a second 12v socket in a less reachable, weather protected area in the fairing to power it separately.

Heated grips

The adhesive heated grips may well offer the best value for money, but installation itself is a bit of work. A better option may be heated gloves, as they should get around the “toasty inside, frosty outside” feel without even requiring installation. Either way, don’t underestimate the discomfort of cold hands, and be prepared.

Note: The Oxford heated grips were not available at the time, and they appear to be a better alternative to the adhesive heaters I had, with only a negligible price difference.

KLR 650 instrument panel
The on-dash switch provides toasted or grilled hands. The clock was very useful until I got a GPS.

Scorpio Alarm System

Although you can not trust your motorcycle’s security to an alarm completely, a good system can add a useful layer of protection. When you’re traveling alone, looking for a place to stay can mean having to leave the bike loaded and unattended for a few minutes. Or at times, you may find yourself with no options other than parking on the street overnight.

The great thing about the Scorpio is the unbelievable range of the pager, which can alert you of any tampering with the bike even when you’re on the 5th floor and opposite side of a block-long building. Equipped with both motion and proximity sensors, it can kindly warn those who are too close with a couple of chirps, and make a ruckus only if they don’t move away. Better yet, it can also stay quiet and make all warnings through the pager.

An alarm system is not a must-have for sure, and truth be told, they generally irritate me let alone prove useful. I bought it due to not knowing what to expect, just being over cautious. In the end though, I was glad to have the Scorpio because it never got in the way, and only offered extra comfort.

Scorpio Alarm KLR 650 installation
The Scorpio unit fits above the KLR’s battery like a glove. The proximity sensor seen on the right.

Speedrail Camera Rig

This, I wouldn’t normally expect anyone bothering with, but considering what photography has become, here’s the modular rig that we designed and built overnight at Safari, the Los Angeles based leader in action tracking technologies for still and motion pictures. Without their generous help, the key action shots in the book simply would not have been possible.

Kat at Safari Technologies
The rig would allow me to position the camera pretty much anywhere I desired... capture the action-shots featured in the iPad Book.

Storm Case Panniers

The first choice of most photographers for protecting their equipment, Pelican cases were what I was intending to use as panniers. But while researching dimensions, I came across Hardigg’s Storm Case line, and was sold due to a much lighter weight and the lid stays. To my delight, they agreed to sponsor the expedition and equipped me with two iM2600 cases. Later, Hardigg was acquired by Pelican.

KLR 650 with Pelican Storm Case Panniers
Using a Happy Trails mount kit and some rubber seals, I converted the cases to panniers without compromising their water tightness. The kit comprises of an L bracket and a couple of knobs, and can be put together at a hardware store as well.

Having to open the panniers to undo the two knobs is not an ideal solution for detaching them from the bike, but is stronger than most quick release setups. Not to mention, the matching GIVI E73 Case Inner Nylon Bags make it completely unnecessary to remove the cases.

Next, I installed the lid stays, slightly different in each case, so that the lids would open and stay level to ground when the bike is on the side stand.

The StormCases are as indestructible as the Pelicans, but I did discover a flow: When closed with luggage inside, the lids slightly flex on the sides, compromising water-tightness. Note, however, that the only time water managed to get in was during pressure washing. Nevertheless, the discovery was enough to make me nervous on water crossings with all the camera gear aboard.

Some aluminum cases look really nice and tough. Plus, you can bang aluminum back into shape, have it welded, etc. But when you need absolute strength and water proofness, I doubt you’ll find anything that even comes close to Pelican cases.

The cases also served me as safe boxes when I wasn’t too sure about room safety. Locking them to each other with a cable lock alone would make them pretty immobile with all the weight and volume.

Wolfman Tank Bag

Wolfman was another valuable sponsor that helped me travel with top quality gear. Their tank bag can literally out wear a KLR. A tank bag not only keeps frequently needed items accessible, but also helps keep your most valuables with you. As I’d never leave it alone on the bike, I did wish it could have been a magnetic model. Unfortunately, magnets are only useful for much smaller bags.

Wolfman Tank Bag

Givi Maxia Top Case

Although I wasn’t crazy about its city slicker looks or heavy weight, the Givi case proved its worth time and time again. The Monokey lock, the handle, and the capacity to carry two full face helmets are all very practical features. Better yet, it turned out to be way more rugged than suggested by its fragile appearance. I also had the brake light kit, which meant I’d have brake lights even if the tail light’s bulb filament burnt out (which routinely did).

Givi Maxia Top Case

Giant Duffel Bag

The plain Jane duffel bag mainly held the camping gear in their own dry bags, plus things that could get wet, or wouldn’t hurt too much if stolen. Although there’s not much to write about the bag itself, there was something very useful that came with it: comfort. Only in its absence did I realize how taxing a ride can be on one’s back without strong support. Whether you stuff a bag with bubble wrap or install a back rest is up to you, but I suggest that you remember this tip on your next solo journey.

Toolkit Storage Tube

The debate over the ownership of this simple and super useful idea is unlikely to end, and we should be so lucky that it’s not patented.

Go to your hardware store and have a PVC water pipe cut to desired size. Pair it with a couple of end caps, and attach it to the lower frame using hose clamps. There is your waterproof, easy-access toolkit storage! It’s so easy, cheap, and practical that you can not be seen without it. Be sure to check wheel clearance with compressed forks before riding off!

Toolkit Storage Tube on KLR 650
Cheap, practical, waterproof. The PVC toolbox also holds some spare clamps around it.


Contents of Toolkit Storage Tube:

  • Spark plug wrench (OEM toolkit)
  • Wheel spoke wrench (OEM toolkit)
  • Wrench handle extension (OEM toolkit)
  • 27mm wrench (OEM toolkit)
  • 19mm wrench (OEM toolkit)
  • 14-17mm wrench (OEM toolkit)
  • 10-12mm wrench (OEM toolkit)
  • 8mm wrench
  • Screwdriver (OEM toolkit)
  • Automatic screwdriver handle & bits
  • Small precision screwdriver set
  • Small rachet arm
  • 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 17, 22 mm sockets
  • Rachet extension
  • Socket adapter
  • Multi-tool with pliers
  • Metric allen wrench set
  • Telescoping Magnetic Pen
  • 3x small tyre irons
  • tyre valve tool
  • hacksaw
  • sandpaper
  • Toothbrush
  • Gaffer’s tape
  • Electrical tape
  • Spare fuses (in 35mm film box)
  • Steel wire
  • Box of nuts and bolts
Tools for motorcycle repair
Kat’s toolkit lives in a convenient storage tube. The rubber tube cap holds bits & bolts when working on the bike.

Other tools:

  • Pressure gauge (in tank bag)
  • Heavy duty compressor
  • C-clamp (for breaking tyre bead)
  • Tyre tube patching kit
  • Multi-meter
  • Locktite
  • Liquid Steel
  • Cable crimps
  • Cable ties
The electric air compressor’s carrying case was mounted behind the pannier bracket. For additional protection, the compressor was placed in a zip-lock bag with some padding.


  • Front countershaft sprocket
  • Brake pads
  • Tyre inner tubes
  • Brake & clutch levers
  • Bicycle derailleur cable
  • Misc. spare bolts, bits, and bulbs

Probably the best tip I have ever received on a forum was to replace the front sprocket when it’s at half of it’s life. The front sprocket is not only the cheapest, but also the first item to wear out among the final drive components; and once it’s worn, it starts wearing out the chain and the rear sprocket as well. Thus, replacing it early would significantly extend the life of the final drive.

If I had thought or heard of this before, I wouldn’t have waited till the chain started skipping at 18.000 miles. Nor would I have to settle for a low quality after-market replacement, as I would have a spare with me.

Worn out front countershaft sprocket next to new
Dead vs New. It’s cheap and small, what was my excuse for not having a spare?

Carrying spare brake pads is a no brainer, but carrying a worn-out set would occur to me later. I discovered that brake pads for a KLR are surprisingly easy to find, unless you look for pads for a KLR. Even if you do go out of spares, you should at least keep a set of old pads for presenting at the store when shopping for replacements. What is a KLR pad to you may be a Changchinua pad to others 😉

I remember considering aluminum hand guards mainly to protect the dog-leg levers, but I neither wanted to give up KLR’s oversized hand protection, nor the vibration reducing bar end weights. So instead, I packed a pair of spare levers. Turned out, no matter how many times it falls, a loaded KLR doesn’t hurt its levers. In any case, they are cheap, light, and small, so it doesn’t hurt to have them either.

A derailleur cable is the most flexible cure for a broken throttle or clutch cable. Ideally you would also have a matching clamp for it, but if not, breaking a common plastic electrical connector block can provide the bits you need.

Auxiliary Wiring

The powering of your auxiliaries should be done directly through the main power source, and ideally, using the same line so that they can be disconnected all at once when diagnosing electrical problems. The battery’s positive terminal is a good place, but I prefer connecting to the starter relay under the left side of the tank for easy access.

Routing of the cable is quite easy, simply following the main harness underneath the tank, then along the fairing bracket a part of which provides an accessible location for the required fuse.

Once behind the instrument panel, you will want to “switch” the auxiliary power using an automotive relay to ensure that your accessories may not drain your battery when the ignition is off. The small (fragile!) terminals behind the instruments conveniently provide the switching current, and a solid connection to the frame bracket gives you the ground line.

Now that it’s fused and switched, your main auxiliary power can be distributed to your accessories, which should also have their own fuses.

KLR 650 starter relay
The starter relay on the left side behind a black cover provides an easy access power terminal and keeps the battery compartment clear of extra wiring.
KLR 650 switched auxiliary power source
The relay and terminals for the switching current behind the instrument panel.

The Shopping & To-Do List

The following list is based on my actual purchases, with updated price and availability information. Re-branded or discontinued products have been replaced with equivalents, and some newer alternatives have been listed as options. Products that disappointed me have been replaced with recommended alternatives.

Kawasaki KLR 650 (incl. tax,tag,title) 5,390
Removed Emissions Plumbing (only if CA spec bike, DIY)
Shortened Side Stand (DIY, get a welder’s help, or buy new) 55
Reinforced Rear Carrier (DIY or get a mechanic’s help)
Lowered Seat (DIY or buy @ Corbin) 420
Marked Bolts (DIY)
Deka ETX15L Battery 65
Kawasaki Tall Windshield 60
Magnetic Drain Plug 15
Secure Oil Filler Cap 20
Scottoiler Lubrication System TK7 (dscnt’d), VSystem: Scottoiler 160
Low Center Stand w Foot Lever TPI 140
Twisted Throttle Skid Plate Twisted Throttle 105
SW-Motech Crash Bars 240
Master Cylinder Guard Dual Star 15
Power Outlet Marine Stores 25
Grip Heater Kit 50
Throttle Lock (Opt. A) CrampBuster 10
Throttle Lock (Opt. B) 125
Scorpio Alarm System Scorpio 290
SW-Motech Pannier Brackets 285
Pannier Mount Kit (Opt. A) Happy Trails 60
Pannier Mount Kit (Opt. B) Twisted Throttle 175
Pelican Storm iM2600 Cases (2x) 240
GIVI Liner Bags (2x) 60
Wolfman Rainier Tank Bag Wolfman 185
Givi 52 liter Top Case 320
Toolkit Storage Tube (DIY: materials at hardware stores ) 25
Compact Tool Wrap Dirtbike gear 25
Tie-down Straps Auto Parts Stores 10
Tool Set (as listed) 250
Slime 12V Tire Inflator Auto Parts Stores 35
Countershaft Sprocket (13144-1253) 45
Sprocket Washer (92200-0851) 5
Dog-leg Levers (46092-0050 & 46092-1175) 25
Oil Drain Plug (The removed OEM part) 0
Crush Washers for Drain Plug (10x) Auto/Hardware Stores 5
Motion Pro Mini Hardware Kit 10
Oil Filter for KLR650 (2x) 10
NGK Spark Plug DPR8EA-9 (2x) 10
F/R Brake Pads 70
F/R Inner Tubes 30
3M Reflective Tapes 40
World Flag Sticker Sets (2x)   Political Gifts 20
Lightweight XL Bike Cover 30
Misc. Hardware, Supplies, etc. 150
Approx. Total Shipping 300
TOTAL $8855


And before getting down and dirty, be sure to also read:
2008 KLR 650 (Very) Long-Term Test Report