Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tall Guy Flying on Two Wheels

OK, not that kind of flying. I'm old, slow, and like to keep 2 wheels on the ground. I'm talking about riding standing up, which is something us tall guys don't usually know much about. You see, the proper way to ride a motorcycle on soft surfaces like dirt or sand is to be standing up and use your feet to help to steer. I know its sounds crazy, but it really works. At 6' 5”, my attempts to stand and ride in the proper dual sport position have been frustrating on my stock KLR. When I stand, I'm bent over too far, my butt is hanging out the back, and my fore-aft balance does not give confidence. So I got some help from John Chamberlin to measure how much higher the handlebars should be for the correct riding position. What we came up with was 3.5 to 4 inches.

So, after months of procrastinating, off I went to the internet searching for handlebar risers and came across RoxSpeedFX and their innovative isolated handlebar risers. Wow! What a great idea. I truly wanted to get rid of some of the buzz in the handlebars on long rides and these riser not only raised the handlebars, but have rubber in them to reduce vibration. I would have bought them in a heartbeat, but the tallest isolated risers for the KLR were 2”, a little short of the 4” it looked like I needed.

Being cheap and somewhat resourceful, I found an old chunk of aluminum in my basement, came up with some rubber bushings that I thought might work, and figured out a design for taller heights. First, I wanted to be able to easily modify the riser height, since I wasn't sure that I would like the 4” riser. Next, I decided that the taller riser needed the bushing to be close to the handlebar so that the bushing wouldn't flex too much when I pulled back on the bars. After a little time in the machine shop, here is what I came up with.

Like the RoxSpeed design, I have a short section of round aluminum to go into the KLR's handlebar clamps. The rectangular part of the riser is easy to cut shorter if 4” proved too tall. The rubber bushing has a steel tube molded into the inside of the rubber and a bolt with washers to capture it attach to the end of the lower riser. The new handlebar clamp grabs the handlebar and has a split clamp that grabs the outside of the bushing. I made the handlebar clamp big enough that I could bore it out for 1 1/8” bars in the future, but I doubt I'll ever need that. Overall, its not very pretty, but it fits and gives me the adjustment I wanted. Not counting the aluminum and my time, I had about $8 of hardware into this project at this point.

Before I could ride the bike, I needed to “stretch” the clutch and throttle cables. There is room for a little taller handlebar on the KLR, but not a lot. Naturally, that was its own adventure, but I'll come back to that later.

Once I had the controls working again, it was time to check it out. What a feeling! Standing as natural as you please with the wind ripping by your body as you fly through the air standing up. As the Brits say, Brilliant! I had excellent control of the bike, steering easily with my feet, and comfortably using the shifter, throttle, and brakes. The little bit of soft road close to home showed an amazing increase in confidence and control on soft surfaces and I could stand up comfortably for as long as I wanted.

But unfortunately, the seated ride was another story. Its really hard to believe, but 4 little inches of handlebar height is amazingly different. I felt like I was riding with ape hangers. My arms weren't relaxed and were too bent to get a good feeling of control. As much fun as standing riding was with the 4” risers, the seated riding was worse. I needed to find a compromise.

So back to the machine shop and out comes a new, lower riser. The new part is 2 3/4” rise and its a much better compromise. I can still stand pretty well, just a little more bend at the knees. I'm reaching a bit more for brakes and clutch while standing, but its a ton better than stock. Seated riding took a little getting used to but is nothing like the ape hanger 4” rise. And I have my rubber handlebar isolation.

After that, it was just a little experimentation with rubber stiffness. I milled little holes in the rubber to soften it up and ended up with something that works quite well. The high frequency buzz at highway speeds is just plain gone. The mirrors are much clearer, although not perfect. At least I can finally distinguish a cop from other cars behind me. Steering hasn't suffered at all. I can't feel the flex that I know must be happening. The strange thing is that the lower frequency vibrations are a little more noticeable. I'm not sure if I've unmasked the low frequency because the high frequency buzz is gone or because the softer mounting lets the bar vibrate at lower frequencies. Which ever reason, I don't care, because the overall result is sweet. No more numb hands for me.

OK. Here I am with only about $8 into this project and I need to “stretch” my clutch and throttle. I was able to buy the parts to make new, longer throttle cables for about $30 and could have managed a clutch cable, but I got caught by a case of the “Might as Wells”. I've been frustrated by the KLR clutch efforts, especially when caught in traffic on a hot day when the exhaust heat soaks into the cable and doubles the efforts. Dual Star and their wonderful Magura hydraulic clutch was calling to me. I couldn't resist. So with Dual Star's help with a longer clutch hose, I managed to turn a $40 project into a $340 project. By the way, totally worth it.

Of course, the KLR handguard wouldn't mount to the Magura clutch perch, so I need to come up with new handguards. Happily, the Magura has an optional mirror mount available and I took advantage of that to make a handguard mount for the new Powermadd handguards. One thing leads to another.

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