World Travel, the KLR650 and Being a Girl

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True Nomads Need No Maps / Motorcycle Travel / World Travel, the KLR650 and Being a Girl

Are there more advantages or disadvantages to being a girl and riding a KLR 650? It took me years and several thousand miles to finally decide.

Filed Under: Motorcycle Travel by Weifarer November 25, 2010, 12:00

The KLR650 sputtered under me. The engine lost power, then surged forward only to hesitate once again. My speed barely reached 45 mph and Raven was quickly pulling ahead, not realizing something was wrong. I gritted my teeth. After everything I had been through with my bike, the obstacles and frustration I had overcome to finally feel comfortable on it, I could not believe it was going to die on me during an 8 hour torrential downpour on the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec.

Ahead, Raven pulled over to wait. I quickly explained what was happening and he shook his head. “Not good.” I agreed. He had me go first and we continued around the northeastern curve of the peninsula. The bike stuttered a few more times. But as the rain slowed and the road dried, the KLR’s power returned. By the time we stopped for the evening, the verdict did not seem too dire. Perhaps our first stop the next morning did not have to be a motorcycle mechanic.

At 5 foot 7 inches, I’m tall for the female gender. Still, the first time I convinced my husband to let me try out his brand new KLR650, the results were almost disastrous. The best connection to the ground I could manage was with my tiptoes. That was on a flat surface. Worse, I was a novice and my first test ride was on an old gravel path, which was hardly smooth or regular. I was fine for the initial drive down. But slowing for the turn to come back, one foot went to snag the ground and found only the hollow of a dried mud puddle. Over I went for the first of many times.

In an effort to adapt the bike to me, we installed lowering links which gained us 3 inches. I could at least put the balls of my feet on the ground. A Corbin seat was next, which gained us another inch and a half. That was almost enough for both feet flat. Adding up the inches I had needed to remove to ride the KLR, I determined you’d need to be over 6 feet tall to ride it unmodified. A slight oversight by the engineering department? It is certainly a strong bias against women riding this bike!

All the modifications and numbers of slow speed tumbles paid a toll, and not just in having to replace a tail light after an unfortunate drop at a stop sign. My riding confidence remained low. I felt like a determined albatross at low speeds, awkward and wary about uneven dips or hills when I rolled to a stop. Top heavy, the bike would go over quickly with very little warning if the ground was too off kilter.

With all the adjustments, the KLR became fully my bike and no longer shared with my husband. Yet I looked at it like a gift horse. Surely, it shouldn’t be this hard to ride a motorcycle, I often found myself thinking as I suited up. In my dreams I had imagined feeling one with the bike, dancing through ‘S’ curves, and not worrying about every stop sign. Through a lack of other options and sheer stubbornness, I persisted through a very long and tedious courtship with my motorcycle.

As my abilities grew, I overcame some of the other non-height biased quirks of the KLR650.The hand numbing constant vibrations of the single cylinder engine running flat-out over 60 was reduced by purchasing gauntlets with gel grips.

We also installed anti-vibration devices on the mirrors. After reading blog posts, Raven decided to take care of a modification on the “do-hickey” just to be safe. I helped adjust the valves one summer afternoon, becoming intimately familiar with the ‘pit of death’ that lurked below the casing. I was really trying to love my motorcycle.

The first comfortable connection came when I swallowed trepidation, packed the bike with tank and rear panniers, and then took off after Raven’s shadow on our first trip to Canada. The loaded suspension of the bike lost its top heavy feel. I could fully touch the ground for the first time. The advantage of the 6 gallon tank which gave me a range of over 220 miles before I started to feel the lightness of low fuel quickly became apparent. Averaging 60 miles per gallon, I could have reached over 300 miles a tank, but never really tested the limit.

Persistence paid off and I adapted to the KLR’s quirks. By the time we crossed into Canada a second time, I had learned to put the bike where I wanted it, instead of gingerly steering it there. I had found my groove on and off-road, loving the fact I had a bike that could take me wherever I had the confidence to ride it. Ideas of sneaking away and trying out a BMW 650 slowly faded.

And now, the engine was suddenly acting quirky. After warming ourselves up in a hotel and spreading rain ravaged gear across the heaters, Adam realized the most likely culprit: my KLR had sucked water into the carbs. A clean start the next day, which was sunny and clear, only confirmed our suspicions. Raven, who was now riding a KLR650 as well, had completed a simple modification to prevent such a thing on his bike. We hadn’t done it on mine yet. A simple fix, It would be accomplished as soon as we completed the 3000 plus mile trip. It was a reminder too of one of the things I love about the KLR. You don’t have to be a licensed mechanic with years of training to work on this bike. Parts are simple and cheap, always a good thing on the road.

The more I learn or hear about the KLR650, and certainly the more I experience riding it, I believe I will find I started my riding career on one of the best dual sport bikes around. It might have taken years and miles to get here, but I finally have a strong sense of familiarity and ability when I swing my leg over my bike. Currently, my biggest worry is that the bright red fenders will fade to a far too girlish pink for a motorcycle!

Check Out These other sites for KLR650 Specific Info:

KLR650.net—-a Forum dedicated to the KLR650, it’s abilities and other random KLR stuff

Kawasaki of course. The New KLR650…we prefer the old style….less to go wrong

BigCee’s KLR650 FAQ–A bible for us in deciding on the bike in the first place

I PROUDLY PRESENT

YOUR COMMENTS! I LOVE 'EM

A Long Courtship | Weifarer's Wanderings says November 27, 2010,09:17

[...] Before I get busy with a morning of cutting 1×12 inch boards with a 5 inch chop saw blade (slight oversight), I just thought I’d mention a new post up on No Map Nomads. Adam gave me an assignment to write about my experiences with the KLR 650 motorcycle. It was a long process to finally feel at home on what is now my motorcycle. You can find the story here. [...]

It Could Have Been Worse: A Jeep Saga | True Nomads Need No Maps says November 23, 2011,17:44

[...] posts about my KLR 650 motorcycle (Canadian Maritimes on Two Wheels, The Cabot Trail Windershins, World Travel, the KLR650 and Being a Girl, A Girl on a Motorcycle – Gender Perspectives) but the only mention we’ve given to the Jeep [...]

MarciaT says September 11, 2012,17:44

This is really encouraging to me today – thank you so much for writing. I am new to riding and learned on a cruiser style motorcycle. My husband has a KLR 650, I knew I wanted to be able to do the kinds of rides he does with it, and we live in Alaska – the perfect place to have an adventure. A week ago we found a great deal on a used 2011 so we went for it, getting them to install the lowering links right off the bat. After riding for a week I am certain I also need the lower seat. Your description of your experience sounds like you have been watching over my shoulder…I’m 5’8″, 135 and have been having the same problems. I’ve dumped it over twice at a stop (not to mention the many other almost dumps that I barely controlled!) because it’s top heavy and had one slow-speed minor crash on a turn because I was uncertain and all of the good habits I’ve learned disappeared in an instant. That never even came close to happening on the cruiser and I am really discouraged. I don’t want to give up and get a different bike, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t wondered if I’ve made a huge mistake. You have inspired me to keep trying and I am grateful.

    Weifarer says September 12, 2012,19:26

    Hi Marcia,

    Good luck to you and your KLR. :) A 2011, so you have the slick looking newer version – I really like the look of the new model and am slightly envious. I hate to admit it, but there are days when I wonder if it should be so hard to become accustom to a bike as well – still. Perhaps we need to encourage each other, so please let me know how things progress for you! Some days I wish I could try out a BMW 650, but then I get on my KLR and it finally does feel so right. I haven’t ridden as much as usual this summer. After the Trip of Trials last year on the bikes and building a cottage this summer, I haven’t had or taken much time for rides. But when I do get on, it feels good and I wonder why I’m nervous when not riding – I honestly thing it was the years of adjusting the KLR for me. I remember the difficulties easier than the many and frequent good days.

    And the worst part is that Raven LOVES my bike! He may be 6’2″ and fit an unmodified KLR, but my lower one with race tech gold emulators in the front suspension, dampening beads in both tires . . . well he just thinks it is one big toy. He can race it around and flip it like it is a 250. I get a little annoyed that it is so easy for him and still a bit of a monster for me. SIGH. Yet with all that, I wouldn’t trade my KLR . . . I just sometimes wish I had a lighter “fun” bike that didn’t vibrate so much for long rides on roadways. I don’t know about you, but I find 200 miles on a KLR a good and tiring day. Raven can make over 500 miles in one day on his BMW R80 G/S. Hmmm . . . two bikes . . . do you still have your cruiser?

MarciaT says September 14, 2012,22:12

Hi Weifarer,
Thanks again for your encouragement and willingness to respond. It helps so much to know I’m not a) alone or b) pursuing something impossible in learning to ride a KLR. Yes, my husband and I both have the newer version, mostly because that was what was available used at a good price. I like the look of it too, but what I like most so far is the protection from the wind that the fairing gives. :) My beginner bike is a Suzuki GZ250 with not even a windshield and I have been pleasantly surprised with how much warmer I stay on the KLR. Compared to the Suzuki the KLR is a really comfortable ride on the highway, but then I don’t have anything truly cushy to compare it to which is probably a good thing. :)

We are pretty much at the end of our riding season so I’m not sure how much or even if I’ll get out again before we store the bikes for the winter. I do want to practice picking it up by myself (something Raven said you learned to do which is impressive!) I can totally relate to feeling nervous when not even riding, and I think it’s because the feeling of instability and falling produces such a strong fear/adrenaline reaction for me that those memories override the many more good and solid experiences on the KLR. I’m still a new rider so even on the Suzuki I’m very aware of how vulnerable I am on a bike and the top heavy feeling of the KLR just intensifies that.

I’m definitely going to get a lower seat – probably sometime over the winter – and Raven mentioned something about shocks also so we’ll look into that. I think I’ll spend some of the winter learning to work on it.

If there is anything specific that you can think of that helped you or sort of made things ‘click’ I would love to hear it. Much as I hate falling, reading your story made me realize that it isn’t the end of the world and that it’s okay, even expected, if it continues to happen as I learn. One thing is for sure: I will wear full-on protective gear at all times even on hot days. The fall I took last weekend gave me a set of socking bruises and a very sore knee because I had decided against wearing the armored pants…
Marcia

    Weifarer says September 19, 2012,06:26

    The end of our main riding season is wrapping up in Maine too. But I think I have a better chance of a nice Indian Summer and some afternoon rides than you do. :)

    There are a few things that helped me get more comfortable besides all the bike improvements. I spent some time at a gravel pit near our house and also an old parking lot going over all the MSF drills until I felt comfortable with them on MY bike on an uneven surface. I’m not sure how you got your lisence (course or individual testing) but I took a weekend course and they flew through everything and on these little 250 cruisers (they sound like yours). It in no way prepared me for riding a KLR. Weaving around rocks on gravel will help a lot more (and may provide opportunity for practicing picking up the bike too – don’t sweat that. It happens. But wear your gear! That last spill sounded bad!).

    And one last thing that helped, even though it sounds silly, is load rear and tank panniers on your bike, fill them and go for a ride. It will not only lower the bike a few inches, it changes the center of gravity (just make sure you do front AND rear, or you will also move it back several inches and have a light front end – not good for a novice!). I even found running with the tank Only half full a relief. A full tank may weigh more, but the weight is all high, so it is awkward. The 16 day trip we took around the Canadian Maritimes really helped me with the KLR and not just for the miles or the Cabot Trail. Having a loaded bike was easier, and when I unloaded, I was a better rider.

    As I said, I still don’t have the confidence to ride a goat path on a KLR, but I do feel comfortable on it! Good luck and happy riding!

cinciti12561 says June 8, 2013,23:41

Why did you take down your story ..

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