Eagle Mike’s Brake Upgrade for the Kawasaki KLR650R (87-07)
If there is one machine that seems to be ever-present in enthusiasts’ garages it is the venerable Kawasaki KLR 650R.
The machine had its origins back in 1984 when Kawasaki released the KLR600. Three years later the liquid-cooled single engine got puffed out to a 651cc and had a few minor upgrades, and for years the only thing Kawasaki did to the KLR650R was sell them – thousands of them.
I had my first experience with the KLR while doing a long loop through Alaska. If not love, it was certainly understanding at first ride.
The KLR was never meant to be a serious off-roader, but rather a great all-around motorcycle. Commuting, light off-road capabilities with adequate horsepower and an upright all-day comfort riding position.
To keep the price point low Kawasaki went to the “We Gotta Lot of These” parts bin and gave the KLR a single-piston caliper that was first designed back when Jimmy Carter was president.
Although it did work it was never a confidence-inspiring caliper and there were times when I thought some sort of drag chute may be appropriate. At the beginning of the winter, we began upgrading Shira's 20-year-old Honda 919 – changing pads, cleaning dirty calipers, and swapping the old hard rubber brake lines for new and modern steel braided lines from Galfer.
Years back I had added Galfer’s larger 320mm wave rotor to this machine but, even with the larger circumference rotor, the bike still had the anemic stock caliper.
There had to be an easy solution to this conundrum.
While having dinner with off-road editor Tony Lisanti and motorcycle adventurer extraordinaire Mike Mosca this subject came up. Mike urged me to check some of the KLR Owners' websites.
I am always dubious of web forums as, time and again, I see riders posting the most ludicrous things and voicing opinions that have far less than a stable foundation. But still, thankfully, there are some who really know their stuff.
On one of these, I came across a company from El Cajon, California called Eagle Mike that specializes in aftermarket upgrades for the KLR650R. One such after-market product was a bracket that would allow me to swap out the prehistoric single-piston caliper for a far more modern dual-piston caliper sourced from a Suzuki SV650. Eagle Mike’s bracket ran just $50, and a set of useable calipers off an SV650 ran me about $80 for the pair – although I only needed the left caliper.
Within a week I had all I would need and on a warmish late autumn day I went to work. First, I laid out all the parts in front of me. Eagle Mike makes sure that you have directions and images to go along with his bracket to swap the old caliper for the more modern one from Suzuki.
I cleaned the new (used) caliper with brake cleaner and some light cloth work to get rid of any black gunk around the pistons. The pads looked to be in great shape so I kept them.
Once cleaned and ready, I mounted the SV caliper to the Eagle Mike bracket and then, after removing the old caliper, mounted the new one to the KLR, making sure all was in line, not rubbing, and using blue Loctite to keep the correctly torqued bolts in place.
I then drained the old (blackish) brake fluid from the master cylinder using a vacuum bleeder I bought at Harbor Freight and went about cleaning out some moisture that had congealed inside the unit.
A paper towel, flathead screwdriver, fresh brake fluid, and a hit or two of compressed air made this easy.
With the master cylinder spotless I removed the old stock brake line and installed a Galfer steel braided line. Why, you ask? Steel is stronger than rubber and so this increases the durability of the brake hose, in addition to adding a surer feel and control – although this, in turn, increases the cost.
Stronger, no expanding, and almost immortal – this is the only way to go and well worth the investment.
With the brakes bled well enough to make sure all was ship-shape and operating as it should, I did a few runs around the driveway.
Unbeknownst to me, Shira was keeping a steady eye from the home - cell phone and 911 at the ready if it all failed dramatically. Ahh, love and faith.
On the road and picking up speed heading down the long hill that leads to and from Backroads Central, I checked my 6 in the mirrors and gently applied the front brake.
The KLR always would slow and stop, but it always seemed as if I was tasking the brake to do something intrusive and annoying. Like the front brake would rather be doing something else. Not anymore.
We all have been spoiled by the excellent brakes found on modern machines. But if you have a motorcycle whose brakes are severely lacking, then now having far superior binders is a blessing.
If you have an older machine there just might be an upgrade waiting to be done.
Riding is so important. Stopping is too.