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.
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
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