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MO Touring: Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

Maybe I’ve been hanging out with Managing Editor Ryan Adams too much. After more than 30 years of riding almost exclusively on the street, I’ve been bitten by the off-road bug. (Having a 14 year-old daughter who asked me to teach her to ride dirt bikes played a big part, too.) However, I don’t want to just drive to the desert, do daylong dirt rides, load the bikes in the truck, and drive home. I want to travel, too. Adventure touring has tickled my fancy.

I started backpacking when I was a kid, spending time on the Appalachian Trail, the Sierra Crest, and even a trip horse packing in Montana. In my 20s, I took an Outward Bound course in North Carolina and, a few years later, packed my belongings on my first motorcycle for a three-month, 11,000 mile trip across the country. Except for the occasional car-camping weekend, most of that stuff stopped during the childrearing years. And now, I find myself up late at night looking at maps of Backcountry Discovery Routes, thinking that maybe I’m not too old to pursue solitude in the mountains even though my knees, after decades of running, are dropping hints that my dreams of hiking portions of the Pacific Crest Trail after I retire may be out of reach.

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

With me riding in the dirt, gravity frequently wins. Adventure touring gear needs to be tough.

All of which brings me to the fact that a couple of weeks ago I found myself in the local Kawasaki dealership signing the paperwork to buy MO’s long-term KLX300. You see, I’ve got this crazy idea that I want to build a lightweight adventure touring bike. As an adventure touring motorcycle, the little KLX has a lot going against it: small tank, low top speed, and no creature comforts. On the other hand, it’s light, easy to pick up (I fall down a lot in the dirt), and it’s dead simple to ride in the dirt (something I need given my relative lack of experience off-roading). Also, there’s something really charming about the bike’s pluckiness. It took the abuse meted out on it as a test bike and came back for more.

Showdown: 2021 Honda CRF300L Vs 2021 Kawasaki KLX300

So, it seems like a good choice for me.

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

This Emperor Racing Heavy Duty Skidplate should protect the KLX from hazards out on the trail. I’ve already had a rock step stop me dead in my tracks when it hit the skid plate with no apparent damage.

Protection

The first things I bought for the KLX were to protect it from the abuse associated with trail riding. Since I’d watched Sean Alexander hole a Super Ténéré’s case on rocks a few years back while we were many miles from the nearest paved road, I knew I wanted a skid plate. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options for the 2021+ KLX300. Of the basically two options I found, I went with the $178 Emperor Racing Heavy Duty Skid Plate KLX-1655, mainly because it looked beefy as hell, had countersunk bolts, and unlike the other option, had slots to allow a smidge of airflow. Yes, I know the KLX is liquid cooled, but that was my reasoning nonetheless. Mounting the skid plate took about a half hour, and I smile to myself every time I hear a rock ricochet off of it.

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

These Acerbis handguards have already saved my bacon multiple times and are worth every penny.

After experiencing a few broken levers on both the KLX300 and the CRF125F my daughter was riding, I knew the next item installed would be a set of handguards. Of the wide variety of options available, I chose Acerbis Rally Pro Handguards ($100) because I’d read on forums that they fit fairly easily to the KLX stock bar. However, it did require that I remove the internal bar weights to accommodate the mounting hardware. My rotary tool made quick work of the spot welds, and a bolt extractor pulled the weight from its lair. After about an hour’s work, the job was finished.

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

I tip over a lot off road. These Doubletake Mirrors will make sure that I can see behind me on the way home from the dirt.

The next piece of equipment was not quite an impulse buy, but it was prompted by Ryan’s review of Doubletake Mirrors in which he described them as “a simple solution to off-road and adventure riders looking for robust mirrors that can be easily tucked out of the way when the pavement falls into the rearview.” Since I use my mirrors quite a bit to check on my daughter when we are riding, I knew I wanted mirrors that could withstand hitting the ground (repeatedly). Get the same Doubletake setup that I bought here for $138

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

The IMS Super Stock footpegs are significantly wider than the OEM ones and give me a much more comfortable platform to stand on while riding.

Travel Worthy

Kawasaki’s engineers didn’t design the KLX300 with long-distance travel in mind. In fact, what I’m attempting with this project is kind of crazy, but nevertheless, a few simple modifications go a long way towards increasing the bike’s utility over time.

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

From this angle, the 35% increase in tank volume the IMS 2.7 Gallon Fuel Tank provides is immediately apparent.

First and foremost, I needed more range out of a tank of gasoline. Even at the low speeds I’ll be traveling when riding off road, a mere two gallons of gas isn’t going to cut it with the average mpg being about 58, resulting in a calculated range of 116 miles. At the current stage of the aftermarket’s development cycle for the little KLX, there is only one option for a larger tank that I could find. The $392 IMS 2.7 Gallon Fuel Tank is pretty spendy, but I had no choice. While 0.7 gallons doesn’t sound like much of a change, it translates into 35% more capacity, which feels like a much better use of funds.

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

Although the black version of the tank matches the bike better, I chose the natural color to allow the fuel level to be seen. The black Sharpie marks at the front edge of the seat indicate the 1- and 2-gallon levels.

The biggest chore of installing the tank was getting all the gas out of the OEM one. Really. Otherwise, the only real challenge was the fact that the stock bodywork strained to get the bolt holes to line up, a feeling similar to that of trying to button my jeans before I lost 40 pounds last year. Ultimately, everything fit – if snugly – in place.

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

Holding an extra gallon of fuel, the Armadillo Bag mounts easily when full and compresses down to almost nothing when empty. So far, I’ve gotten 189 miles out of 3.1 gallons of gas, which is well below the 3.7 gallons the combination with the larger fuel tank affords me. Easy to mount and extremely functional, the Precision Motorcycle Rack is a must have.

Since I’m fairly certain that, occasionally, even the increased tank capacity won’t deliver enough range, I purchased a 1 gallon Giant Loop Armadillo Bag to temporarily transport additional fuel for longer stretches of backcountry. As a result, I also needed a place to mount it. A Precision Motorcycle Racks KLX300 Enduro Series was the hot ticket at a reasonable $94. The installation was dead simple, and the only thing I would change is swapping the plastic spacers included with the kit for some sturdier aluminum tubing (if I can find it) since the plastic distorted a little when I accidentally over torqued one bolt.

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

This little piece of steel provides a platform for mounting a USB socket and any other accessory switches you might need. The USB-C socket both powers my accessories and gives feedback on the state of my charging system.

Finally, I needed to set up a way to power my phone for the long haul. Using a Tusk Accessory Dash Panel ($30) as the base, I mounted a $14 USB-C Charger Socket. While it’s directly plugged into the battery for now, I plan to install a relay to make it switchable when I have time. I followed up with an SP Connect Mirror Mount Pro ($50) (to mount on the handlebar’s crossbar) and stole the $30 SP Connect Anti Vibration Module and $60 SP Connect Wireless Charging Module from my 790 Duke. Ultimately, I plan on replacing the phone with a dedicated GPS, but the money’s not there at the moment.

Motorcycle GPS: Why Your Phone Isn’t Good Enough

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

This SP Connect mount allows me to power my iPhone for navigation until I get a dedicated GPS unit.

Luggage

The ideal luggage system for my project would be easy to install and remove – after all, I’ll want to strip down the bike for dirt riding with my daughter. The luggage also needs to be modular, allowing for different sized bags on different length trips. Of the brands I looked at, Wolfman Motorcycle Luggage appealed to me the most. Although I liked the previous generation of Wolfman Luggage (see my review of the Blackhawk Tank Bag), I’m impressed with the step up in quality with the 2020 revamp of the entire model line that incorporated radio frequency welding in all of the seams, making every bag 100% waterproof without the need for liners or covers.

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

For those looking to convert their dual sport into an adventure bike, Wolfman offers a wide variety of bags. The E-Base and the Rollies fit well with my desire for minimalist travel.

The Wolfman E-Base ($160) mounts to the bike via four webbing straps and provides multiple mounting points for just about everything I could imagine carrying. To that, a pair of 6-liter Small Rollie Bags ($80 ea.) were mounted. These easily held my tent (over the exhaust) and my sleeping bag and pad (on the left side) along with a few small items to fill up the space. In the center between the bags and covering the rack, a 12-liter Medium Rollie Bag ($95) held pretty much everything else (clothes, first aid kit, tools, stove, etc.). Wolfman also offers 20-liter Rollies for more carrying capacity. Rounding out my Wolfman gear is a Water Bottle Holster ($45) with an added 48 oz. Nalgene bottle mounted on top of the Medium Rollie.

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

Holding only 6 liters, this Small Rollie Bag still manages to carry my lightweight sleeping bag and most of my clothing. Wolfman’s matching stuff sacks make loading and unloading gear from the bike much easier.

I’m not going to go into too much detail here because I’m planning on a full review of this versatile luggage system in a couple of weeks, but I want to leave two important bits of information. First, I’ll reiterate, all Wolfman bags are 100% waterproof. This new material is extremely tough, withstanding several crashes my first weekend out and even protecting my KLX’s bodywork as I dragged it off of rocks to move it to a better location for picking up. Second, Wolfman Motorcycle Luggage is an enthusiast-run company that designs all of its gear in its Colorado headquarters. The level of versatility along with the quality of the construction shows that the gear is created by – and for – enthusiasts.

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

Ready for travel. I’m considering grafting a windshield onto the KLX to make long-distance travel a little more comfortable. (Ignore the cluster of wires hanging from the handlebar, the plate arrived the night before I left on my test ride, and I chose expedience over looks.)

A Test Run

A couple weekends ago, I took the Lightweight ADV Project out for a 500-mile two-day shakedown run to Kennedy Meadows for some camping and off-road fun, and though not without some teething pains, it was an unqualified success. To simulate adventure travel, most of my dirt riding was done with the bike fully loaded with gear. Much fun was had and several lessons were learned. As a result, I have both trimmed and added to what I will carry with me on upcoming adventures. Additionally, I learned that in the future, I should try to cover long distances on as many two-lane highways as possible. While the little KLX can maintain 70-75mph on the freeway as long as there isn’t a significant headwind, having obese SUVs constantly blowing past at over 85mph gets to be a drag after a while. I think I’d rather go a little slower, ride a little further, and take the route with less traffic so that I don’t have to constantly watch my mirrors.

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike

On my Kennedy Meadows trial run. I have since replaced the bulky air mattress (hanging off the back under the Armadillo Bag and my Helinox chair).

What’s next for my Kawasaki KLX300 ADV? I’m not sure, but I know it will be fun. Ryan and I are tossing around some ideas for places to go for a proper adventure tour. You can be sure that we’ll write about it – maybe even shoot a video – when we firm up the plans.

Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike
Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike
Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike
Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike
Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike
Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike
Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike
Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike
Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike
Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike
Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike



Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike
Building A Lightweight Adventure Bike


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