Enjoyable riding but self destruct nature from a big thumper

This blog is a bit of a cheat! Written by my brother and Visorcat inventor Alan Boulton, it was originally published in the Sept/Oct 1992 issue of Used Motorcycle Guide. And this green machine (pictured here with Alan circa 1989) had certainly been well used by the time he got hold of it … . 

I wasn’t prepared for the sense of disappointment that hit me the first time I saw it.

A green 1986 example, in three and a half years and a supposed 10,200 miles it had suffered a level of abuse and neglect more typically heaped upon learner 125s.

A right-hand side crash had broken the clocks and most of the plastic bodywork, dented the tank (bodged with filler) and melted the sidepanel where it had been forced against a hot silencer. The rear guard lower section/numberplate bracket was missing, and the remaining top section was heavily scuffed along its bottom edge – indicating some pretty extreme mono-wheeling. Among numerous other faults were front pads down to the metal against a scored disc and the neutral light and tacho, which only worked when they felt like it.

At least the tyres and chain were serviceable and the silencer a genuine new item (soon to rust). A quick blast proved the KLR to be very comfortable with good acceleration, at least to 60mph. However, I was more than a little distracted by the tacho needle, which danced around all over the place (due to a wiring fault) as did the broken clocks. A too high idle cancelled out the engine braking, which, together with the dead front brake, made slowing down rather difficult. At least the rear drum worked smoothly.

Not having been prepared for the state of the bike, I was unsure how much to offer but in the end I paid £700 for it.

I was suddenly feeling pretty pleased with myself, even if my mate had done the bargaining for me. The ride back through urban traffic showed the KLR to be very manoeuvrable thanks mainly to light weight, a commanding riding position and instant power delivery.

On the dual carriageway back home I was slowly accelerating, following my friend’s car, when at an indicated 95mph the bars started to flap about like mad. With no real acceleration left, shutting the throttle brought it back into line. It never happened again, so I can only imagine that I adapted to it.

Once home, I set about rectifying some of the more annoying faults. £11 for some Dunlopads and adjustment of the tickover restored the KLR’s stopping ability. A hacksaw proved useful for removal and reshaping of the right-hand side panel, and drilling of the back of the clock case enabled it to be secured with a couple of cable ties.

The intermittent neutral light and crazy tacho were due to a butchered wiring loom (suggesting attempted theft) and were cured with a couple of block connectors. Two litres of 10/40 and a new filter cost a tenner.

I began to use the KLR mainly for travel between York and Middlesbrough each weekend along the B1257 via Helmsley, which is one of the best biking roads I have come across, especially since it carries little traffic.

Despite its offroad appearance, the KLR is superb on this type of twisty, bumpy country road and can be ridden virtually flat out, especially with Avon Gripsters fitted.

The good low down torque and engine braking mean the gearbox and brakes can be all but forgotten, leaving the rider to concentrate on the road ahead.

Quick steering makes the KLR very flickable with long travel suspension keeping the desired line, although its softness can lead to a pitching sensation.

Unfortunately, the handling prowess was soon depleted by the rear shock’s decision to lose all its damping. £45 for a used replacement was rather more acceptable than the £315 I was quoted for a new one.

While replacing the rear shock I dismantled the rest of the alloy linkages which are an interference (and corrosion) fit around the chromed bushes. This was not an easy job although expanding the alloy with boiling water greatly helped matters.

A 230/80 – 17 Avon Gripster was fitted at the same time for around £50, which after 4000 miles was down from nearly 10mm to about 2mm.

While still priding myself on the KLR’s restored and improved chassis, a noticeable dimming of the usually good halogen headlight and utter lack of enthusiasm from the indicators suggested a charging fault. Assuming the worst – a burnt out generator – I settled for charging the battery for a couple of weekends until a check of the wiring revealed a connection on the rectifier that had disintegrated due to corrosion. A bit of solder and a spade connector sorted that.

The next couple of months and 2000 miles or so passed without incident apart from the frequent oil replenishment (a litre every 800 miles) and chain adjustment.

The only thing that detracted from my enjoyment of thrashing the KLR along the B1257 was the fact that above 6000rpm (around 90mph in top) the engine sounded like it wanted to self destruct.

I was surprised when I had managed about 4000 miles without mechanical incident, and concluded that the noise of the engine was mainly due to the basic concept of a big single four stroke – but I gave it an oil change and some Slick 50 just in case. I also had a matching front Avon fitted for a very reasonable £27.50.

Seventy miles later, I fired up the bike to leave a mate’s shop.

The engine started up and ticked over as normal, but was making the sort of noise which suggested attempting to ride home was not a good idea.

Turning over the piston by hand with the kick start produced a loud click every engine rotation, so I pushed it the five miles home and started to strip down the top end.

Everything seemed fine so, puzzled, I reassembled the motor and again turned it over by hand – the noise had gone. A possible explanation is that the starter motor had jammed (in the course of the strip I had removed it) and a friend said he had heard of a similar case with a Z250. I was therefore relieved that the rebuild costs had been limited to around £14 for the cylinder head and base gaskets, if a little exasperated that it seemed I needn’t had bothered in the first place.

I probably enjoyed the KLR the most over the next 1300 miles – with the soft compound Gripsters and improved weather I could explore the KLR’s handling still further, while foam earplugs dramatically reduced the intrusion of the engine and halted the pain of ringing ears for 20 minutes after journey’s end.

As a complete novice I tried riding the KLR off road. This was good fun on dry dirt tracks but nigh on impossible through mud with road tyres.

Trying to ride it along one particular muddy uphill section I fell off about ten times in 100 yards, each time stalling the motor. Unable to give the required hefty kick and hold the bike upright simultaneously I had to rely on the electric starter with its temperamental clutch. This would never start the motor cold but could start it warm, sometimes on the first attempt, but more usually after several tries accompanied by the noise of clashing and grinding gear teeth.

Either a can of STP or the Slick 50 had led to a misted oil window. Rather than bother to remove the crankcase cover to clean it, I simply added what it had generally previously required (about 200ml for the 100-mile ‘Boro to York thrash and return).

This worked fine until I decided to go to the Lakes in the company of a GPz550 and CBR600. I bunged in around 400ml of oil and then spent about 150 miles trying either to keep up on the straight stuff or lose my friends on the back roads.

The KLR took me to our chosen campsite but refused to take me home. Instead, it returned the next weekend, neatly packed (with front end and bodywork removed) into Dad’s Sierra.

The sum total of half a litre of oil in the sump explained the seized open intake valves, nicely bent by my efforts on the kickstart. In my haste to stick in two new valves (a little over £8 each) I neglected to fit new seals. The motor became rather smoky – at least until the camchain tensioner packed in 400 miles later, this time taking out the exhaust valves.

I left it five months and then purchased two new exhaust valves (£34) four new valve seals (£12) a tensioner (£31) and head gasket (£11). Having fitted that lot, I found a potential buyer, before I had the chance to drain out the stale petrol and recharge the battery, who was prepared to accept it as a non runner. However my pride and also desire to have a last go led to an evening trying to stir it into life. Despite repeated kicking over and bumping, I couldn’t get it to fire up so resigned myself to polishing it until the buyer’s arrival.

He turned up along with his father (an XL250 owner) who proceeded to start it third kick!

My immediate reaction was that I wanted to keep it after all, but an unhealthy knocking from the motor and an offer of £30 over what I had originally paid suggested otherwise, so I bade it a fond farewell.