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Klr250 Wife's 2003 KLR250 saga of issues

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Hello, I'm new here, I typically don't post things but am rapidly approaching the end of my patience with a KLR250 I bought about 6 months ago. It was supposed to be a learner bike for my wife and an offroad toy for me, but its not reliable enough to be anything but a time vampire in my garage and occasional ride around the block when it starts.

This thing has been plagued with issues, but boy is it a blast when I get it running. I really don't want to give up on it, but I also don't want to load it up and drive up to the forest only to spend an hour trying to get it started and fail. I hope you all here can lend me a hand. I'll lay out the history of issues the past 6 months and then describe its current behavior in hopes that there's enough for you to chew on. I also hope this can be entertaining or help the next person down the line.

The bike is a 2003 KLR 250, has about 6,000 miles on the clock. Previous owner was young and learning (riding and mechanics) and says he rode it every day, though not for many miles. I think it was also kept out of the weather in a garage. I bought it back in April and rode it ~75 miles home, stopped and started it several times along the way just fine. About two weeks after buying it, it died in the middle of a ride and I had to get towed home. After a bunch of troubleshooting, I opened the cylinder head to find this scene: 

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Compare to the manual:

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A broken intake rocker arm took me about 2.5 months to discover, get parts for, and fix. One of the arms fell into the crankcase so I had to get into the left side of the engine too and remove the flywheel (fun) and disassemble the balancer to fish it out and make all new gaskets. The good news is this forced me to do an oil and filter change which was needed anyway. While I was in there I adjusted all the valve clearances, had to reset the timing, and torqued everything down properly, who knows what the previous owner may have done. I've also got a bunch of new tools that I needed for the job so I guess that's a plus?

I eventually managed to fire it up and it runs, but now it makes some clicking noise which I google to find is extremely common for KLR250's so I elect to ignore it. My clothes after a ride smell noticeably less like gas than before, so maybe it was running really rich before the failure. It has difficulty holding an idle, it backfires quite a bit while engine braking, and its not the easiest to start, but I'm able to run about one tank of gas through it before it can't hold even a high idle and I have extreme difficulty starting it. I filled the tank, patched up the air box, which was cut out to about twice the original opening, and clean the carb (though a bit lazily) and now it doesn't start at all. To add insult to injury, the fuel line springs a leak and I have to splice in some new tube. Meanwhile work and life are busy so sometimes the bike sits for up to a week before I get to do any troubleshooting on it. Most of this period is during southern California summer, for some context.

Okay, maybe I installed something wrong in the carb. I pulled it again and completely disassembled and cleaned it, carb cleaner and shop towels. Then I blew out every passage with an air compressor and put it back together, resetting the pilot and idle screw to their stock positions (2 turns out for the pilot, previous owner had it at 3 IIRC) and checking throttle cable and choke cable operation and slack. While I'm at it, I reset the valve clearances again, just in case they're settling in to the new rocker arm. By the way, if it matters, the weather has drastically shifted and its in the 60s and moist out. This was a week ago and its still like this now.

It won't kick start for shit, I try for a while and as a last-ditch effort I bump-start it and it fires up on the first try. Once the engine is warmed throughout, it runs better than I've ever seen it run before. It stalls once before its fully warm and again it won't kick but I bump it on the first attempt. I put about 30 miles on it to get it thoroughly warmed and to charge the battery which I'm now concerned about. Once I get back home it idles just fine and I get to kill the engine with the kill switch for what felt like the first time ever.

Feeling good, I install the passenger pegs and adjust some of the controls and call it a night, but I DON'T TOUCH THE ENGINE. Two days later I go out with my wife to take it for a doubles spin and it won't kick. Okay, we try bump starts, a few revolutions but nothing. Tried bumping it about 10 times before night fell and I was getting exhausted. That was last night, so now you're caught up. 

As you can imagine, the unpredictable nature is a bit demoralizing, but I'm not giving up yet, I was going to play a bit with the mixture next and see if that affects anything. Any suggestions?

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Let's review the current status of the bike: 

  • Fuel filter is good, gas is 91 with stabilizer, fuel line is solid and I've drained the float to prove its getting gas
  • I've also pulled the spark plug after a kicking session and its wet with gas
  • Visually confirmed spark while kicking in the dark with plug out of cylinder
  • Carb has been entirely disassembled, cleaned with carb cleaner, blown out with compressed air, and pilot put to 2 turns out
  • Valve clearances checked again
  • Got it running long enough to give the battery a good charge, about an hour, checked the voltage and its at ~12.8 V
  • After the best purr its ever produced, 2 days later it won't start whatsoever. 
  • Its been about 3 months but only 100 miles since I fixed the rocker arm
  • Wife is sad :( she had a whole visual overhaul in mind for her learner bike, and I'm running low on patience and ideas. 

Any help is appreciated. I really think this machine can be great fun and my wife loves the idea of it, it just isn't reliable right now.

I've taken a fair amount of pictures, including endoscopes of the piston and intake valves and a video of the valve noise. I don't know if they'll be of help but I can post them if requested. 

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Update: 

I checked the timing and found that the exhaust cam was early by 1 tooth, so I fixed that. Unsure if this was a mistake on my part or if it skipped at some point, probably the former. In the process I checked that the tensioner was working correctly, and it is. 

I didn't think one tooth would make such a difference but the kick definitely feels much different. Still can't get it started, though. I'm going to start messing with the fuel/air ratio and see if I can get it going, then tune it in. 

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Update: Though nobody has engaged here, I'm going to post this update in case some future person winds up here from google. I've also had a few people engage on reddit so I'll post for posterity. 

Inspecting the carb, I noticed that the vacuum cap covering a port on the front of the carb was cracked, resulting in a major vacuum leak. Most of the hoses on the bike are old and brittle, I've been replacing them bit by bit and the fuel line snapped on my three times before I just replaced the whole thing. This cap must have been brittle and got damaged during the last time I reinstalled the carb into the bike. I capped it and was able to get it started pretty easily.

Last night I got it up and running and went about 30 miles with no stalling, overheating, or backfiring. I'm going to make some fine tunes to the mixture now, but it runs!

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Well i just read your saga and I must say that you are a trooper. I’m helping a friend with his KLR 250 and started to do some research to figure things out when I saw your post. It seems that you have covered a lot of ground and have the bike running good. The only thing I did not see you say is that you properly adjusted the float bowl level. This can create a lean or rich condition. Additionally, I would check out the gas tank to make sure it is not rusty and insure you have a fresh fuel filter to boot.

I may have a question or two for you as well. Have you ever removed and cleaned the chain? Can’t find the master link on this one.

All the best
Paul

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On 10/19/2019 at 5:37 AM, wantabeach said:

I may have a question or two for you as well. Have you ever removed and cleaned the chain? Can’t find the master link on this one.

I've not removed the chain, its in pretty good condition, but we did lube it last week and have before and I've not noticed a master link. I'll admit I wasn't looking hard because I was only going to use it as reference and not looking to remove it. They're pretty obvious on my other bikes but I've not found it on this one. 

I had the carb entirely disassembled, including the float, but I did nothing to adjust it. Currently it seems to be behaving properly. I've got the fuel screw at ~2 1/4 turns out and it starts, runs, and idles fine on street and offroad with the correct usage of choke.

Thanks for the encouragement. This bike is great fun when its running and its worth the effort. We just took it up yesterday and did some offroading. I'm not keeping up with the dirt bikes, but it holds it own for sure. Let me know if there's anything I can help with, I feel like I know all the engine torques by heart, I took the damn thing apart so many times....

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Hello, I had a 98 with about 10 k on it . If I let it sit for more than 2 or 3days I had to squirt starting fluid into the air box snorkel . It usually started if I rode it more Frequently. I don’t know why or how but it ate the intake cam one day and I heard it when I stopped at a red light, heard it slapping a little .I pulled the valve cover off at home and found an intake cam lobe just a little eaten and it’s rocker also worn . I got real cheap parts with 2500 miles on them on eBay and bought the complete tear down nuts and bolts bundle for 35 or 40 bucks more.  Long time ago .Oh the bike ran almost perfect with the affected cam and rocker arm . I bought both cams, and rocker arms and the cam chain and tensioner came with the tear down stuff. I ended selling the exhaust cam and rocker years later on eBay . I put in the intake cam , rocker, newer timing chain and and tensioner . Some where down the line I bought the oil pump rotor and it’s race and put it in . I’ve heard too many sob stories over the years of catastrophic motor loss because of high mileage and oil,pump failure. The rotors and races are cheap and you don’t need to replace the whole pump and housing . Easy job too. 

Bike ran great for a long time but still needed ether frequently. This was the original carb. Then it started sticking the float all the time and fuel running on the garage floor overnight. Rebuilt the carb and it got a little better , than it started doin it again . I fired it . Got a mikuni pumper  carb, I think it was a 33 or 34 mm and it bolted up without much adaptation . A little metal off of the frame so it could stand straight up for the float tank to be level . It always started harder if it wasn’t ridden regualarly. Believe it or not because it was a pumper it squirted gas from the accelerator pump. I ended up learning it liked a lot of gas to start easily . I would crank the throttle around 10 or more times and it would start on the first kick every time , no matter how much I rode .the mikuni pumper back then was around $200or so on amazon . Never flooded . I could always start it that way. Now I’ve had a honda Xr 650 L with electric start. Woo hoo. It has to get full choke every cold start . If you touch the throttle it will flood and practically kill the battery cranking it . If you just choke this big red pig as they call it, and only touch the throttle after it farts on full choke it will start first time every time . So my 62 years of sperience is oil pump , pumper carb and keep the oil level full .

 

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Thanks all. It's been up and running well for a few weeks now.

Fires up in one or just a few kicks now every time. I took it to an offroad park two weeks ago and it worked great all day, took it up to some offroad areas at 4000 ft elevation last weekend and had to change the mixture for altitude, but it ran great for several hours once I leaned it out. Brought it back home and reset it to sea-level and it runs great. The front tube is starting to exhibit a leak, but I'm hoping the engine and carb problem is solved for now! When its time to change oil, which I'll do somewhat prematurely given its history, I'm going to double check clearances and timing again, but for now I'm putting some miles on it and its running wonderfully. 

Now I'm moving on to replacing the tubes and getting the spare wheels ready for some knobbies!

 

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