KLR650 Alaska/Dalton Highway Mods: The Complete List

Posted on June 12, 2010


Stainless steel brake line helps stoppers. New disc brake pads for the KLR also add stopping power.

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The entire KLR mod list is below, complete with some photos. Hang in there, KLR fans. Remember to click on any photograph to enlarge it for better viewing.

Jesse's 2006 KLR650 arrives at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel, July 8, 2010. We'll tell you how the bike was prepared for the trip in this post.

Rudi was feeling pretty good about his mechanical abilities in early spring as he worked through the list of things to upgrade on the Kawasaki (the BMW had a two-year head start in this department). The brake pads he put on first are great, but wear out faster than you’d want on a long trip, so he had to change them again later. OK.

Jesse in His Missoula, Montana, Garage, Preps the Mighty KLR650 for the Run to Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse

But  up in in Montana, after Rudi shipped the bike to him, Jesse revealed Rudi’s inexperience today as he went through a series of checks to track down an electrical gremlin that Rudi assured him was not due to  the battery he put in last summer. So after removing the starter soelinoid (sp?) and having it checked, he put in a new battery and two weeks of head scratching came to an end.

The old man was wrong! Jesse was gracious, given he spent 12 hours tracking down a non-existent problem. By the way, if you can’t spell the parts you are adding to your motorcycle (solenoid), you should probably let a mechanic do it for you. This trip is going to be very interesting for any Dad’s, or sons and daughters, out there. Rudi is 66 and Jesse just turned 27 so generational issues will be an ongoing exploration.

Buffalo Burgers & Home Fries Make Jesse Smile. Dad Doesn't Always. Lochsa Creek, Idaho, 2009.

So Rudi thought he’d try to buy Jesse off with a picture from our 2009 KLR650 ride over Lolo Pass on the trail of Lewis and Clark, and a shot of Jesse burning through the Dragon in 2008. We’ll let you know  if it works.

Jesse on the Tail of the Dragon in Summer 2008

This next list is for the gearheads out there, the KLR cult people like Jesse and Rudi. Here are most, though not all, of the modifications we made to our motorcycle over the past two years. Rudi has the itemized costs, but if  he told you he would have to kill you … before his wife killed him!


Used 2006 KLR650 — 1,600 miles   Paid $4,200.00  June 2008 Knoxville, TN

  1. 22-cent carburetor mod: Jesse did this immediately. Mid-range improved immediately.
  2. Cycra hand protectors: Aluminum guards covered with plastic. No broken/bent levers now.

    Parking lot drops are not unusual with a heavily laden KLR on gravel roads and parking lots. Those control levers are grateful for the extra protection offered by metal guards. This one was at Liard Hot Springs, British Columbia, Canada.

  3. Corbin dish seat (it came with a Corbin Bench seat, too tall for Rudi, but Jesse rode the bench seat to Alaska)
  4. Caribou luggage racks: Steel and heavy: Might go with lighter stuff for soft bags next time, but the steel protects the rear of the bike in a tip over or crash.
  5. Pelican boxes (2) with hardware (these are the Caribou boxes, water & shock proof): With mounting hardware they weigh 11 lbs empty each. Great protection but lighter would be better. Jesse probably had 15 pounds in each one plus some waterproof duffel bags and tank panniers (Wolfman) as well as a small tank bag.

    Both bikes ready to go to Alaska: Note the Pelican boxes and waterproof duffel bags. Both worked great for over 8,200 miles of smiles.

  6. Pelican box liners (2): Lets you take your stuff into the tent/room, leaving boxes on bike.
  7. LED Tail light kit  (Studebaker): Great for city traffic.
  8. Heated hand grips (velcro): Rudi likes them, Jesse took them off.
  9. Rear brake master cylinder guard: Cheap insurance.

    This Alaskan rock pile tested the metal skid plate. It worked.

  10. Studebaker skid plate: Good value and lets you use the Studebaker center stand with no mods required.
  11. Moab rear shock (came off Jesse’s KLR): Great shock but pricey. You need it for the extra weight and rough roads.
  12. Progressive fork springs: Inexpensive upgrade that you notice right away.

    KLR strapped down for progressive fork springs insertion. Lower straps prevents moving off of centerstand while upper strap compresses forks for easier removal of old springs. Note rear brake protector, and the home mechanic's best friend the centerstand (except for the Clymer KLR manual).

  13. SAE power outlet (for heated clothing, battery charger. etc.) Just run it to the battery terminals.
  14. Sealed battery 8-18-09: Get a good one. This one from the dealer didn’t last long.
  15. Heavy duty folding shift lever (Happy Trails): Break a foot lever in a slow fall and your ride is over. Cheap insurance. Carried the stock lever as a spare.

    New skid plate, shift lever, wider foot pegs, and center stand. The T-mod is also in there somewhere.

  16. Happy Trails radiator guard (also flushed the radiator): Cheap insurance to a vulnerable part in a drop. Might want another screen to cover the grill too. Anyone make this? Clogged radiators on the Dalton Highway are common on KLR’s and V-Stroms. We saw them both.

    Happy Trails Radiator Guard with Mud-Catching Radiator

  17. Eagle sub-frame bolt upgrade kit (drill through kit gives 50% stronger frame results): You get 20% improvement without the drill through, using the two sub-frame bolts. The drill through is time-consuming and a nail biter.

    Iron Mike gives you everything you need in the drill through kit. You provide the drill and special oil, as well as the skill and patience. Blue tape keeps corrosive oil off the pretty motorcycle. Heavy loads and rough roads require this strengthening. The strap is holding the frame in alignment during the process.

  18. Eagle doohicky kit. (Jesse did this one in Montana as he has done it several times): He used the older spring upgrade and checked the timing chain regularly on the ride.
  19. Eagle choke and mirror relocation kit: Less chance of breakage and a clean look.
  20. Mirror anti-shake isolators
  21. Tool box (PCB pipe): 2-inch pipe with end piece and threaded cap. Cheap and cool.

    High Tech Tool Tube for KLR650. Raw Materials for Your Tool Tube: Can you say "Home Depot"?

  22. Tool tube parts, just add paint and clamps. About $25.00 total.

  23. Large foot pegs: The ones on everyone’s website: Serrated teeth. See the preceeding photos.
  24. Stainless steel front brake line ( Galfer): Helped some, but not much. Pre-2008 brakes are weak. Plan ahead if you can.
  25. EBC/Galfer front/rear brake pads: EBC’s give longer wear, but both stop you better than stock.

    New Brake Pads and Rear Shock Go On: Tank panniers hold the front wheel down in an elegant fashion.

  26. Speed bleeders (Aerostitch): No need for them as you can reach the bleed screws and the levers at the same time.
  27. Low profile magnetic drain plug (Eagle Mfg.): Cheap insurance.
  28. Carb T-mod: Jesse gave it the test in a deep stream in Valdez. Also prevents the tank vent from getting clogged with mud on the Dalton Highway.

    Jesse tests the T-mod in Mineral Creek north of Valdez, Alaska. It worked.

  29. Starting up from Happy Valley to the top of Antigun Pass on the Dalton Highway. This is why you want the headlight protector and 11" windshield.

  30. Headlight protector (Cee Bailey plexiglass): Simple, cheap and absolutely required on the Dalton.
  31. Clearview 11” windshield: Relatively inexpensive, solid, effective, and a necessity on the Dalton Highway. It has many rock scars on it now from the trucks throwing them up at Jesse.

    Heavy duty 3 mm real rubber tubes mean fewer flats on the KLR. We ran Metzler Tourrance tires until Fairbanks, then put on the Continental TKC 80's for the rest of the trip.

  32. Heavy duty tubes, two  (Moose 3mm) and Continental TKC 80’s: Cheap insurance. No problems with leaks or flats on the KLR. The BMW 1150GS had no problems either, but we both put on fresh Conti TKC80’s in Fairbanks for the Dalton part of the trip. Metzler Tourrance’s worked great on both bikes for the 500+ dirt/gravel miles before the Dalton through Canada, but we wanted the extra traction for the run to Deadhorse. We left them on for the two weeks touring Alaska and the 2,500 mile return to Montana. The KLR’s still had miles left on them. The GS’s front is still good, but the rear was worn out after 5,700 miles with 125 pounds of gear on the bike. Put a new rear on in Missoula.
  33. K & N air filter: Jesse serviced it after the Dalton run.

    The Caribou steel cargo plate is seen here at the Sign Post Forest in Watson's Lake, Yukon.

  34. Rear cargo plate (Caribou): Holds another Pelican box and has lots of slots for straps, but adds weight. Useful for extra tires etc.
  35. RAM mounts (for GPS & cameras)
  36. Center Stand (Studebaker) (Whitehorse Gear): This would be my first mod if doing it again. Makes everything easier for the solo home mechanic and the added weight is low down so you don’t notice it.

    Rudi has changed tires using a little piece of aluminum crutch to hold the KLR up, but a centerstand is much easier ... and safer.

    Continental TKC 80’s: Great tires for gravel and pavement. I have burned up a set on the twisties and Forest Service roads of North Georgia on the KLR so knew they would work on this trip. Good grip in the rain for dirt tires. Not a true off road knobby though.

    TKC 80's were tested on the Dalton and did fine. Jesse gases up at Coldfoot Camp with another 245 miles to go to Deadhorse. The KLR regularly got 300 miles to the tank on the trip. We changed oil twice on the trip.

  37. Tourance tires (2): 90/10 pavement but worked well on the Campbell Highway in the Yukon (about 325 miles is rough gravel and hard dirt) and the 160 miles of the Top of the World Highway and Taylor Highway from Dawson City through Chicken back to the All Alaskan Highway into Tok.
  38. Tourrance tires did just fine on the isolated Campbell Highway between Watson's Lake and Ross River, Yukon. This section is 245 miles long with 225 miles of that being dirt, mud, and gravel. No gas, no towns, no buildings. We saw five cars and one motorcycle in our 5 plus hour ride.

  39. Jesse says "Let's go! This is why we came up here, to ride hundreds of miles of isolated dirt roads. We can ride pavement anywhere." Welcome to the Campbell Highway.

    The first 20 miles were paved: The next 225 were not. This section right after the pavement gave out was deeply rutted and we were told it was a regular tow trucks heaven whenever it rained ... it was raining.

  40. When we arrived at Ross River it was 9 p.m. on Sunday, July 4th. The gas pump looked forlorn. The station was closed. We were pooped. But the bikes ... and tires ... had done great!

  41. Our tire testing program continued the next day on the Top of the World Highway across the Yukon River from Dawson City. Yes, that's rain, lots of rain. We did another day of dirt, gravel, and mud to get to Chicken, Alaska, after 504 miles and 13 hours in the saddle.

  42. Clymer KLR 650 manual: Don’t leave home without it.
  43. Tire Irons (Motion Pro spoons-axel wrenches)
  44. Handlebar risers (.7 inch Eagle Mfg.): Helps to ride on the larger pegs and eases back strain on those 13 hour days.

    The Dalton Highway, July 8, 2010. We rode standing up a lot. Standing, if you're comfortable on the bike, gives you better visibility in rough terrain, stabilizes the bike, and eases tired muscles (not just in your butt!) so we set the bikes up with bar backs and wide footpegs so we could do it a lot.

  45. Another new sealed battery
  46. Carb switch bypass mod (Jesse did this in Montana, shorts in kick stand effected too)
  47. Fork brace: Jesse put on his old one, don’t know what kind.
  48. Should have replaced the chain and both front and rear sprockets as they has 7,000 miles on them when we left Montana.  Jesse barely made it back to Montana as the stretched-to-the-limit the chain came off several times in the final 100 miles. Wore out at 12,300 miles.

    Jesse adjusts the chain at Whitehorse, Yukon, on our return trip. There was very little adjustment left in it at this point. Oops!

  49. We carried extra brake, throttle and clutch cables for the KLR. Also extra brake and clutch levers, as well as an assortment of nuts, washers, spark plugs etc. The usual fixit stuff too like zip ties, Gorilla duct tape, plastic steel, brake fluid, oil, brake bleeders etc.
  50. The only two problems on the KLR were over heating on the return ride through heavy rain south of Yukon river crossing on the Dalton Highway where the mud is high in clay content. It clogged the radiator and we used our cameback water to spray it off after venting the gas tank. Saw this problem on two Suzuki V-Stroms at Coldfoot Camp as well. The other was the wearing out of the sprockets and chain within a hundred miles of home in Montana. Should have changed them out before or during the trip.

    Jesse & Rudi with the Brooks Range behind them, returning on the Dalton Highway from Deadhorse, July 9, 2010. The bikes did great on this trip. All the preparation and planning paid off. It helps to be lucky too.

  51. The only problem with the BMW R1150GS was a leaky fork seal due to the grit of the Dalton caking the forks for a few hundred miles. You can prevent this with good fork covers, or with regular cleaning and a spray down of the fork legs with a silicon spray every time you stop. This is not a big problem on the GS as the fork legs don’t do any damping, they just act as a guide for the paralever suspension’s front shock.

    Jesse on his KLR650, Day One Of The Trip: Hitting the dirt already and feeling good!

    Jesse and his KLR650 on the final 1/4 mile of the 34-day, 8,200 mile journey to Deadhorse, Alaska. The chain stayed on for this last leg of the trip. A great ride on a great bike!

    That’s it for now KLR riders. There are a lot of posts on this blog you might enjoy, so shop around. A real ride report will also be forthcoming for those of you planning your own trips, or dreaming of them.

    If you want to read the complete ride report on ADV Rider, copy and paste this link into your browser: 


    Thanks for all those who contributed information on the forums that we so clearly drew from in preparing the bikes and in planning the trip. Without all of you, we’d still be just running to the grocery store and wondering why the dual sport bikes look so funny.

  52. For more KLR/GS riding videos with Jesse and Rudi go to this YouTube site:



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    But You Meet The Nicest People On A KLR650 ... Lochsa Creek, Idaho 2009

    Meeting curious and interesting people is a major reason we ride long distances on motorcycles. People are far more willing to come up and talk to you if you are riding a two-wheeled vehicle for some reason. A desire to speak to the insane, perhaps?


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