tl;dr: I'm learning how to break and fix my bike while riding across Mexico. Wish me luck.
I've spent the past eight months riding my pig across the US and Mexico, and I want to share my maintenance notes. I'm hoping other riders will find it helpful if they're planning on doing something similar. I started this trip out thinking I knew a thing or two about motorcycle maintenance, and have discovered that I knew maybe literally a thing... or two. Now I know very slightly more. That's not false modesty, I'm straight-up retarded on a lot of this stuff, but it's an adventure and I enjoy the journey.
To start, a little about the bike: I purchased my 2007 Gen 1 in 2015 with about 14,000 miles on it from an owner who rejetted the carb, cut a big hole in the airbox, and installed a slightly obnoxious Two Brothers exhaust. Most of my work after buying the bike involved undoing his improvements and making my own: restoring the carb to stock, installing a stock exhaust from eBay, doing the doo, installing crash protection (barkbusters, skidplate, crash bars), and Tusk aluminum panniers. Other farkles include a cool 3D mesh seat cover (think "Vietnamese scooter"), relocating the fuses with a popularly available mini-blade fuse kit, a homemade USB outlet + voltage read-out, a rally windshield from Parabellum, an IMS shift lever, fake IMS SuperStock foot pegs, ODI Emig grips, and a Stead Engineering brass fuel enrichener nut.
In 2018 my bike died on the highway, barfed oil all over my license plate, and had me impotently fiddling with the carburetor non-stop in my coworker's basement until I took it to someone who knew what they were doing well enough to do a compression test. After a super expensive top-end rebuild, I decided riding my motorcycle through the Americas with my girlfriend along on my other bike (a kitted out 2017 Suzuki V-Strom 650) would be our next logical step. Joking aside, I had been planning on doing this trip for a pretty long time and intended to go with my V-Strom, but after my girlfriend and I started dating, we decided to go on the trip together -- putting her on the shorter and more comfortable bike was a no-brainer. I knew taking my KLR was a bit of a gamble, but I felt like riding across the country was as good a shakedown as any, and if I got to California and needed to buy a new bike: so be it.
I started the trip leaving Boston with 28,759 miles on my odometer and left Mexico (entering Belize) with 45,796. I started the trip weighing about 150 lbs, my gear weighs about 15 lbs, and last time I weighed it, my luggage tips the scales at 120 lbs. Yes, I know that is WAY too much weight. Most of it is from my laptop, toolbag, and camping gear. Since starting the trip, I've lost about 10 lbs mostly from bad nutrition and constant sweating. I really need to set aside some time to dump that kind of weight from my luggage.
On to the maintenance records. Experienced wrenches, prepare to be uncomfortable.
6/18/19 (29,569 mi): Oil + filter change, new rear tire, chain + sprockets
During my Skyline Dr/Blue Ridge Pkwy stretch, my chain had been making a heck of a rattle. I stopped in Waynesboro, VA to have the shop there take a look at it. I'm glad they did, because the previous chain I had installed was a non O-ring chain and was probably on the verge of catastrophic failure. I'm embarrassed to say I didn't know any better when I bought it. Shame on the shop that did the top-end rebuild for not warning me about it when I told them my trip plans. I replaced it with a "DID 520 VX3 G&B X 120" and the front sprocket (16T) and the rear sprocket (43T). My Heidenau K60 Scout had finally hit the wear bars, so I got a new tire (whatever the stock one is, I can't remember now), and an oil/filter change while I was at it. Rotella T6 in case anyone cares.
My maintenance log should include an entry here -- while riding in Georgia, my motorcycle sputtered and died as though it had just run out of fuel. I pulled over, switched to reserve, but couldn't start back up again. I switched back to on and tried again and my bike started up. The cut-out seemed like running out of gas, so I got some fuel. The bike continued running for an hour or so after that, but then it failed again just like the first time. I pulled over, started back up, and it didn't happen again. I took my bike to a shop in Orlando, FL and the tech claimed he put a rubber washer under the needle, adjusted the fuel-air mixture (I may have installed a thumbscrew from CV Performance for easy idle richness adjustment), and suggested that should help. I never experience the problem again.
8/11/19 (34,829 mi): Neutral switch test
After passing through some rain, my neutral light started flickering while in gear. Since I've long since been in the habit of putting my bike in neutral and starting it on the side stand, this makes for a lot of excitement when I forget I'm having neutral light issues and my bike jumps about a foot forward when I hit the starter. After going through the steps to test the neutral switch, I concluded with 100% certainty that I do not know how to test my neutral switch.
8/16/19 (35,441 mi): Clean & lubricate air filter
I know what I meant, but I'm not sure why I wrote it this way ("lubricate air filter"). I guess you should always keep your air filter lubricated so the air can slip through easily. I made an extra note to myself here that my airbox appears to have some holes in it from where an exhaust pipe burned through it.
8/17/19 (35,741 mi): Adjust rear brake light
8/18/19 (35,741 mi): Adjust balancer chain tensioner, adjust brake pedal adjustment & brake light, check throttle grip play & clutch lever play, inspect brake pads
I think around this time I had just started to more realistically appreciate the importance of performing regular maintenance.
8/22/19 (36,344 mi): Oil + filter change
8/23/19 (36,436 mi): New rear tire + tube
8/29/19 (37,151 mi): Adjust balancer chain tensioner
I included a note to myself here: "I'm hearing a rattling noise from the left lower side of the motor, and have been since adjusting it last. Concerned I've got something ugly going on behind the rotor behind the alternator cover. Maybe I loosened the bolt on the tensioner too much and lost the washer?" This rattling noise would continue to bother me in weeks and months ahead.
9/3/19 (37,701 mi): Inspect + adjust flywheel torque (tightened), loosen balancer chain tensioner bolt, tighten cam chain tensioner, clean + lube chain, wire master link, oil change
At this point, the rattling noise was bothering me enough that I went to a professional in Portland, OR who took the left cover off, told me the balancer chain tensioner was stupidly overtightened and was noisy because of it, and also noted that a rotor bolt that was part of the electrical system (I think that's what he said?) was extremely loose, almost falling off. This was consistent with a comment from a tech in the shop that changed my rear tire who noted my voltage reading was lower than it should've been and I might want to consider getting a new battery soon. He also said the cam chain tensioner was just about at the end of its range, and noted that my master link was missing its clip, but that he had secured it with safety wire. I looked at it and nodded thoughtfully.
9/11/19 (38,253 mi): Drain carburetor float chamber
9/27/19 (39,365 mi): Adjust valves (replace 240 shim w/245), perform leak-down test (result: 20%), replace spark plug, change oil and filter, replace exhaust pipe holder gasket, replace and rivet drive chain master link, replace broken right upper subframe bolt, repair right upper subframe threads, replace front brake pads & flush system, replace front tire
Now in Los Angeles, CA I went to a shop that specializes in adventure motorcycles. This seemed like a good idea since I was about to enter big bad Mexico. The shop owner said 20% is high for leak-down, but my bike should be OK, adding that he had seen bikes with worse fresh off the assembly line. He replaced the exhaust pipe holder gasket, which had been bothering me earlier in the trip -- I had a few instances where I'd be riding and would hear some backfiring and would have to pull over and tighten my flange acorn nuts. At one point I lost one and had to replace it with an odd size. The shop in LA also found a replacement master link and riveted it on (which looked a little spiffier than the safety wire setup), but I think they pressed it on too tight and it was binding as a result.
10/19/19 (40,493 mi): Perform routine maintenance (3k mile), test starter lockout switch (fail)
Using my trusted Clymer manual, I was able to test my starter lockout switch to see if my neutral light issues were coming from it. I confirmed that the starter lockout switch did not pass all tests, but considering that I didn't have a replacement easily available, and I didn't want to strand myself, I left it alone until further notice.
I should have added another maintenance log note here, but after a brutally long day of riding across a completely destroyed road connecting Loreto with Ciudad Constitucion, my rear brake caliper mounting bolts rattled themselves free, leaving my caliper to hang from the brake line. Do not neglect checking fastener tightness while performing your routine maintenance. I held the caliper onto my bike with zip ties until I could locate bolts that were close enough to the right size.
12/13/19 (43,394 mi): Oil and filter change, replace balancer chain and Eagle Mike spring tensioner
That noise coming from my left side case hadn't gone away, so I brought it to a dealership in Guadalajara for them to examine and measure my balancer chain to see if it was at the end of its life. After I left, the tech said he took the case off and yes, it was just barely at the end of its life. I had a friend visiting me from the US, so I had him bring a new balancer chain and starter lockout switch assembly. I had the dealership in Mexico City install the balancer chain -- and scrape off all the gasket-maker the previous tech in Guadalajara had used in absence of the appropriate gasket. The Mexico City tech put the left cover back on using brand new gaskets I was able to supply him with. The noise was gone.
12/28/19 (43,872 mi): Install USB charger, replace starter lockout switch assembly, adjust headlight aim
My homemade crappy USB + voltage reader had rattled itself apart, so I decided to run wires for an SAE plug under the gas tank straight to the battery, where I'd plug in a USB adapter. I understand this would be better/less likely to drain my battery if it were hooked up to the tail light circuit or something instead of directly to the battery. For now I just unplug the SAE connector every time I park. I also replaced the starter lockout switch, tested it, and confirmed it passed all four tests outlined by my Clymer manual, and hoped it would resolve my neutral light woes. I also adjusted my headlight aim which was way too high before and made it hard and dangerous to drive at night.
1/7/20 (44,354 mi): Replace rear suspension with Cogent Dynamics Moab shock, re-attach broken air filter drain hose
Up until this time, whenever I'd park while loaded up with luggage, my motorcycle would sit so low that it would almost fall over on its right side. The problem was getting progressively worse, so I would have to park very carefully and read the grade of the parking lot or whatever before I got off the bike. It sucked. I ordered a Moab Adventure shock, got it installed where I received it: in San Cristobal de las Casas. Shipment was kind of a disaster for reasons outside the control of Cogent Dynamics, but when I finally received it and got it installed, it felt great. Still does. Recommend!
During this visit I also had the tech replace a broken and brittle air filter hose that was no longer attached to the clean air side of my airbox, just hanging around loosely, just held up by the retainer wire thing that routes it away from the shock. While that tube has a hole in it, it's better than just giving all kinds of environmental/ambient dust a clear path to my carburetor.
1/13/20 (44,661 mi): Clean air filter (and re-oil), replace rear brake pads
1/20/20 (44,924 mi): Replace rear tire (Conti TKC70) 8,488 recorded miles on previous
1/21/20 (44,928 mi): Drain carb float, adjust balancer chain tensioner
1/29/20 (45,340 mi): Check compression (145 dry, 150 wet) 120 wet + 120 dry (no throttle), replace air filter drain tube (clean air side), plug drain tube (dirty side), repair turn signal (disassemble & clean, left had problems) switch, replace front brake pads (lasted 5,975 miles, wore uneven, still OK), bend headlight housing arms, disassemble and reassemble instrument panel to try to locate neutral light issue that started on Jan 25 during cleaning. No short found.
What a visit! My bike was feeling a little weird (my butt-dyno reading was low) and I was a little uneasy about the top-end rebuild, so I wanted to check in on how the compression was looking. Clymer says it should be 77-124 psi, so at 150 psi it seems like I must have a ton of carbon build-up? The shop that did this work was also able to fix me up with some new tubing for my airbox, plugging up the old holes that were making me nervous. They also disassembled and reassembled my left turn signal switch which mysteriously stopped working while they were doing unrelated stuff (?), and helped to bend some of the metal that holds the cowling around the headlight back into place as best they could. A drop back in Boston years back had misaligned it. My neutral light issue had come back, so they tried to locate the short unsuccessfully, disassembling everything to the bulb itself in the process, and without an obvious culprit suggested the connection to the neutral light switch had maybe come loose.
2/3/20 (45,537 mi): Adjust idle mixture screw from 2 5/8 to 3 1/4 turns out
With the changes to my airbox, I figured now was as good a time as any to check my carburetor idle speed and mixture adjustment as described in my Clymer manual -- which also recommends I do this every 3,000 miles. Since my idle fluctuates a bit, identifying when exactly the engine speed no longer climbs or begins to decrease is hard for me. After I set it to 3 1/4 turns out, it worked fine for about 3 miles, then my bike sputtered to a stop, so I pulled over and put it back down to about 2 1/4 turns out. It never cuts out entirely, but it idles a little lower than I'm used to sometimes, but it generally fluctuates between 1100-1400... which I guess is normal-ish?
2/6/20 (45,601 mi): Re-wire (badly) failing turn signal (rear) -- turned out to be dirty socket
My rear right turn signal wasn't working, so I spent an hour with my meter trying to test continuity, but I couldn't really do it methodically because when I installed my luggage rack, I had to toss the bullet connectors (for reasons I don't remember entirely, but I remember being very annoyed I had to do it since I wanted to keep them) and now had no easy way to isolate the wiring from under the rear fender that went to the turn signal housings. The next day I went to a neighborhood mechanic (he had a cardboard sign with his name and phone number out front, and not a lot else) and "Monkey" (that was his name, according to the sign) was able to quickly identify with a test light that my bulb's socket had some corrosion. He cleaned it with some sandpaper and didn't charge me anything.
2/17/20 (45,953 mi): Replace drive chain ("Riffel 520 O-Ring") 16,384 miles on prev.
Before I crossed into Belize, I picked up a drive chain from the last Kawasaki dealership on my route. My only options were a RK 520 non O-ring chain, and an o-ring chain made in China by "Riffel." Wish me luck. A shop down here installed it for $10 USD.
Oh, and my neutral light is back on.