Kawasaki Ninja EX 500 Adventure Bike Project

I sold the 2005 KTM 625SMC supermoto I’d had for years to slow down the pace a bit and enjoy the scenery. I’ve been riding around on a vintage 1973 Suzuki Titan T500 two-stroke twin since. The Titan, while a thrill to ride, doesn’t brake well at all and handles just slightly better than terrible – it is more adventure than I’d like, thank you very much. I enjoy riding the less traveled (sometimes dirt or gravel) mountain roads surrounding Asheville, NC but have found myself in-between suitable transportation.

So it was time to explore the idea of buying another bike – I’d had my share of buzzy single cylinder dual sports so a single was out. And while it would be nice to own a fancy adventure bike I’m just not in a place where I want to worry about scratching bodywork. This bike needs to be special. A twin cylinder dual sport, adventure bike, beater I can drop in the rocks and not lose any sleep over. No frills, not too heavy, offroad capable and fun with a price tag of under $1000.

I found a Yamaha TDR250 on Ebay. Man what a cool bike! I’ve read that you can install an rz350 top end and have yourself a 350 in no time. But the auction continued and the price went up fast.


Of course the TDR was never sold here in the United States and the one I found eventually sold for $3000. With shipping included it would have been too much for a bike I was going to thrash around on. Seeing the TDR made me think of modifying a Yamaha RZ350 into a dual sport – banshee engines can be found pretty easily but RZ parts are not an economical choice for a beater. Sure would be fun. Next time.

I continued my online search for something that didn’t exist and discovered the Kawasaki KLE500 – another cool bike that was never sold in the United States. The Kawasaki KLE500 is configured as a dual sport with a Ninja 500 engine. Why was this bike never sold in the US? What a sweet looking ride. It was clear what must be done – find an inexpensive Ninja 500, raise it up and strip it down.

Kawasaki KLE500

A search on Ebay quickly turned into the purchase of a $400 intact but neglected Ninja 500. The guy even met me half way just to get it out of his garage. For anyone who is not familiar with the Kawasaki Ninja 500 it’s kind of a beginner, budget sport bike powered by a parallel twin motor that is noted for reliability, smooth power delivery and abundant spare parts. Often seen piloted by smart people, short guys, college kids, wives and girlfriends.

With the battery charged up and some fresh fuel I took the Ninja for a spin. You can watch the silliness in the video below. As ridiculous as it looks I was able to get a sense of how the bike handled in stock trim. A few laps and it was clear what needed to be done. The lower bodywork would need to come off, the suspension needed to be modified for more ground clearance and some handlebar risers would be nice. The photo in the video shows the bike fresh off the trailer and then you’ll see a clip where I remove the front wheel to see how a 21″ wheel might fit – it won’t. Certainly going to need a set of off-road worthy forks.


So without getting carried away I started experimenting with some simple, perhaps unorthodox solutions requiring modifications that could be reversed back to stock. I was lucky to have KLR650 and Ninja 500 spare parts bikes handy to play parts swap with. To gain maximum clearance in the rear I made some linkage out of similar grade and thickness steel plates. Up front I tried several arrangements before deciding to machine out the upper and lower triple clamps to accept a slightly larger and much longer Kawasaki KLR650 dual sport fork. Newer generation KLR 650 forks are double the price of the older ones so $99 later I had a set of 2005 KLR 650 forks on the way.

Now how to fit a more adventure-bike style handlebar arrangement to the upper clamp? The orientation of the stem to the forks on the Ninja is not a typical layout. The forks are located considerably forward of the stem which  solves clearance issues with the radiator and frame but makes it tough to swap out another set of clamps.  After fooling around with several different scenarios I had a local machinist rough up a prototype upper clamp. The clamping mechanism didn’t work out as planned so we reinstalled the stock upper clamp and modified the new upper to make it into a fork brace/handlebar mount. It bolts right into place where the stock bars went. The next step is to get a pair of post style handlebar clamps and drill some holes.


The photo above shows the bike with longer rear links installed and KLR forks in place. The top clamp shown here was later used as a brace with the original part – this way I could keep the key lock and still install regular style handlebars. The modified suspension leaves the Ninja with over 9″ of clearance. You can flip the centerstand down all the way it won’t touch the ground! Going to have to figure out how to hold the bike up since the kickstand is too short as well. More to come…

Project status:

Issues to resolve: Find KLR650 front brake caliper to bolt onto fork. Need longer cables with taller bars. Tires?

Need handlebars, clamps and risers.

Find aftermarket clutch lever and perch to replace one modified by previous owner.

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