Introducing Mawson, my rugged KLR650 adventure bike, named after the famous Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson of South Australia. Mawson is a tough, simple and reliable single cylinder 650cc motorcycle, built on technology and design dating from the mid 80’s.

V2D loaded and ready to depart for Cape York.
Mawson – Sunken Luggage System MK2D, loaded and ready to depart for Cape York.


 The Kit

The gear I am travelling with:

  • Protective gear
    • Helmet – Shoei XR1100
    • Neck Brace – Atlas
    • Armour – Alpine Stars Bionic Jacket with BNS
    • Jacket – KTM Rallye Jacket
    • Gloves – Alpine Stars SP-8
    • Armoured Shorts – ForceField Pro 4 Layer armoured shorts
    • Pants – Xtreme Racing full leather
    • Boots – Apline Stars Tech 8
The Kit-1
Protective gear


  • Tools and general kit (left to right)
    • Hand chain saw with small piece of protective leather
    • Entrenchment tool that acts as an axe and an extension for my socket set when needed (changing counter sprockets)
    • 1L engine oil
    • Main tool kit and canvas bag
    • Electric pump (on red bag) from Best Rest
    • Canvas protective bag for fuel bladder next to the 12L fuel bladder (top right) from Liquid Containment. I carry two bladders and protectors.
    • Clymer KLR manual with home drawn electrical circuit diagram in addition to the electrical wiring diagram the comes with the manual.
    • Tyre repair kit
    • Contact adhesive
    • 14 tooth counter sprocket/ 16 Tooth counter sprocket
    • Nik wax for leathers
    • Waxed leather sewing twine
    • Two small pieces of sand paper
    • Small piece of copper pipe for swaging cables/ repairing broken clutch cables. My last clutch cable broke the ball of the end of it.
    • Several sizes of clear PVC tubing
    • Two small funnels
    • Zip ties
    • Locktight superglue (real super glue, not $2 shop stuff).
    • permatex thread-locker
    • Permatex gasket silicone
    • Duct tape
    • Spare fuses
    • Canvas spares bag
    • 50m 2.5mm dyneema core 200kg tensile strength
    • Canvas ground sheet/bike cover/tent outer when roller up
    • prussic minding pulley + webbing strap
The Kit-2
Tools and general kit

———zip tied into bash plate———–

  • Ball pein hammer 250g
  • Hack saw blade
  • Spare clutch lever
  • Vice grips
  • Tyre levers
  • Small piece of stainless for repairing cut tyre side walls

———stored in fairing———–

  • Quick steel for repairing small holes in crank case etc
  • Electrical wire
  • Electrical tape
  • Neoprene rubber for gluing onto rub spots. eg seat rubbing on tank
  • Assortment of spare bolts, nuts, pop rivets
  • Digital multimeter
  • Spare spark plug (iridium plug installed in bike)
  • Oil Filter
  • Drain plug crush washers
  • Air filter boots for when the roads get really dusty
  • Two spare air filters
  • Air filter oil

———stored in tank bag———–

  • Digital tyre pressure gauge
  • Helmet lock
  • Lip balm
  • Sun glasses
  • Uniden 78sx CB radio + 12v charger

———on handle bars———–

  • 60m recovery rope
The Kit-3
Photographic and electrical

Photographic and electrical (left to right)

  • 15″ MacBook Pro i7 2.66Ghz, 8GB, 240GB SSD + 500GB in optical bay
  • Three sets of four Sanyo Eneloop AA batteries
  • Spot Connect
  • 4xAA Lithium batteries for Spot
  • iPhone 4 + iPod 80GB
  • Canon 5D MKIII +32GB CF+4GB Eye-Fi SD card
  • Canon 50 1.4
  • Canon 70-200 f4 IS L
  • Canon 17-40 f4 L
  • Canon 100 f2.8 macro
  • Canon EX-600 RT
  • Cokin polarising filter
  • Benro C-0681EX carbon fibre 1.1kg tripod
  • Backup 1TB USB 2.5″ HD
  • Extra storage 640GB USB 2.5″ HD
  • Extra CF cards (8GB+2x4GB)
  • Time lapse remote cable release (non Canon)
  • 4 LP-E6 batteries
  • 12v LP-E6 charger (non Canon)
  • GoPro Hero 2 +16GB SD card
  • 12v socket to 2x USB + 12v socket adaptor
  • Lens bags
  • Dry bag
  • Canvas bag

——not pictured——-

  • 12v AA+AAA charger
  • Torch – Zebra light H51FW single AA, very small and light. The best UI of any torch I have ever used. Most customisable and practical.
  • Head torch – Led Lenser h14. Needs a lower mode, otherwise very good.


Custom made stainless panniers

See the Sinking Mawson page for the story of the Sunken Luggage System.

Choosing the bike.

One of the key aspects of selecting a tool is knowing what job it must perform. I wanted to adventure tour Australia on motorcycle as I had done on a borrowed Yamaha XT225 around Tasmania in 2008 with Alex Black. I am particularly grateful to Daryl Black for lending me his lovely new XT225. My criteria for a bike were:

The bike had to have a track record of reliability. Some known issues excepted. These can be fixed before taking on a big trip.

•Maintenance and repair with standard tools
The bike needed to be able to be pulled apart and fixed with simple tools that can be carried or found on farms and in small country towns. No complex electrical systems that need computers and special tools.

•Reasonable comfort
The bike must be comfortable enough that I don’t get more and more fatigued riding it day after day. A good seat and a bit of fairing to keep the elements off a little, reasonably upright riding position and so on.

•Reasonable off road capability
The bike needed to be at home on dirt, gravel, mud, sand and the many other challenging conditions found while adventure touring.

•Reasonable on road capability
The bike needed to be able to do highway speeds when called upon to keep up with traffic, occasionally do some long stretches of black top, be at home on tight winding roads with reasonable braking and acceleration under these conditions.

•Good fuel economy The bike needed to have good fuel economy. Carrying lots of fuel gets heavy.

Strong frame for carrying luggage on rough roads
A strong frame to attach luggage to was important. I didn’t want to to have to strip an expensive European bike and have its frame upgraded to carry my gear. The bike needed to be tough from the get-go.

Other considerations I was strongly attracted to low outlay and maintenance costs that seem typical of the Japanese motorcycles although it was not a requirement. Having ridden a small bike (Yamaha XT225) that fitted most of the criteria, I had a good idea of what a bike that fitted the criteria was like to ride. The little XT225 was a great bike! I still love this little gem. It did struggle a little on the highway and it didn’t have much in the way of fairing to protect one from the elements. The next size up is the 650cc class of bikes. Unfortunately there is nothing much in between that really fits the criteria. The three bikes that came up as serious contenders were the Kawasaki KLR650, Suzuki DR350SE,  the Suzuki DR650SE. Other bikes that held significant merit that I looked at: BMW F650GS, Yamaha XT600, Honda XR650L, KTM Adventure 640. Another consideration was that finding a bike that had just enough power to take me to amazing places without wearing out but not excessive amounts of power that would just temp me to be a hoon. The Kawasaki KLR650 is a simple, tough and reliable tool that fitted my needs well. Are there things I would change about the KLR? Yes! I have changed lots of things on my KLR to help it do what I want. Are there things that frustrate me about it? Yes! In retrospect, is the KLR the right tool for my needs? You bet it is. From the mountains to the coast…Mawson’ll take me there! Billy Goat Bluff, 1450m asl looking down on DargoDay 15-12Day 11-2

10 Responses to Mawson

  1. Richard Telford May 19, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

    Can you write something about the set up that you’ve put together with the sinks?

    • Oliver Holmgren May 20, 2013 at 9:46 am #

      I plan to as I have time. I have documented some of the stages and have the images with me.

  2. steve dannberg June 19, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    Awesome. Did cairns to cape and back on klrs with a mate last year. Considered ammo boxes, pelican cases, tool boxes etc for panniers but never kitchen sinks. World first i reckon.

  3. Floyd Constable July 15, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    Hi Oliver,

    Nice stuff mate!

    Just wondering what year model KLR you went for? Have you had any of the oil burn and other issues Ive heard a little bit about? Whats the best source of KLR650 specific mods/issue fixes you’ve come across?


    • Oliver Holmgren July 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

      G’day Floyd,
      Mawson is a 2010 model. I avoided the 2008 model as it was the first year of a few updates and it turns out they have some wiring issues for some people. The pre 08 models are good too but have weaker brakes and a few other shortcomings that need addressing. That said I had wiring rub issues too. Lots of riding on corrugated roads is hard on vehicles.
      Oil burn, I am not sure. I don’t burn oil in normal riding. BUT I do seem to use a bit of oil if I am cruising on the highway at 5k rpm or more for extended periods. That issue went away when I put a 16 tooth counter sprocket on though(4400rpm@110km/h down from 5k rpm). The 16t counter compromises dirt capability though.

      I bought mine KLR new.
      I can recommend That’s where I did a lot of research for my bike purchase choice.

      The fender is a UFO Superbike with a custom mounting onto an EagleMike forkbrace. Why? Partly vanity. I like the look of the Tengai low fender. Secondly I think the old high fender might have contributed a bit to buffeting in side winds on the highway. Those with high fender bikes seem to want low ones and visa versa. Grass is always greener I guess. The suspension work I had done made a world of difference. I couldn’t really do what I am without it. Seriously. The originals springs are much too soft if you are going to carry any gear.
      A good bash plate is a must too. I land on it regularly. Just too tender under there to leave to the OEM plastic guard. Barkbusters and something to protect the radiator are really important too.
      You could skip many of the other mods. That said, I do like the Thermo-bob. The doohickey diesnt seem as vital to do on post 08 bikes but from what i have seen it is vital on pre 08 bikes!
      Go as light weight as you can!
      The klr has a pretty tight ratio gear box like the DR650 and many other similar bikes. Be aware of its limitations and understand gear spread. It is one thing that is very hard/impossible to change.
      Depends a lot on how much you are willing to mod a bike to get what you want too. When I set out I wanted something tough, simple, cheap and reasonably ready out of the box.
      I am much more willing to get in there now and change things to create my ideal bike. If I built up another adventure tourer I would go lighter an smaller. Maybe a DR-Z400 with a ACT wide ratio gear box, safari tank and a stack of other mods. That said, I love my klr and where I go on it.
      Happy adventuring.
      Sunken Man

      • Floyd Constable July 16, 2013 at 7:15 am #

        Thanks Mate,

        Facinating stuff. I must admit you’ve given me the bug once again. My old man was a bike mechanic who worked from home so its in my blood anyways.

        Whenever my wife and I go overseas (SE Asia) we tend to do most of our travelling on rented bikes, not quite as hardcore as your journey but we’ve managed to take some rather ordinary steeds to some rather extraordinary places! 🙂

        Was with your dad all weekend and at dinner he mentioned your trip and I havnt stopped thinking about it since! 🙂 So much so that Im now on the hunt for a decent 2nd hand KLR…

        Im a massive bike geek and love to hear all the ins and outs such as what you mentioned above….so Ill hammer you with a few more questions if ya dont mind…

        Have you ‘undone’ the LAMS restriction stuff?

        Also, what was the major reason for choosing the KLR over the DR650?

        The DR seems like a great platform, in both its 400 and 650 versions, but would require a fair bit of modding to get it up to scratch with the KLR in terms of comfort for 2-up touring etc as far as I can tell. Ill have to take them all for a test ride I guess…

        Anyways, thanks again.

        All the best.


        • Oliver Holmgren July 16, 2013 at 11:26 am #

          Floyd, there are always a lot of things to consider if you are like me and want to get the decision just right. Some of your criteria might be different from mine too. I was never looking for a bike to do two up touring so just keep that in mind too. Having said that the KLR is by far the best bike for two up of the three. The DRZ400 would not be my choice of machines for two up. What sort of tracks you want to travel and how much gear you want to carry and how fast you want to go and how far on one fuel up are all questions that might change the answer to what machine suits your needs best. So much depends on expectations too. The KLR can seem a high powered machine if you have been getting around on little bikes in SE Asia and for someone else it is an underpowered heavy boring bike.

          To answer your questions about the DR vs KLR, I choose the KLR as it had a big tank, good seat, better wind protection, it is water cooled (I assumed this would be better in slow hot conditions however in retrospect the DR is just fine in those conditions), the KLR has a good luggage rack and so on. What I did not know was that the KLR has a reasonably tight ratio 5 speed gear box (2.86:1 spread ratio). That said I really think very highly of the DR and I think it would suit my current needs a tiny bit better than the KLR. Still I am not about to change! Nor have I owned a DR so I don’t know the beast as well.

          The Yamaha XT660 Tenere with harder springs might be worth a look for two up. Have a look at The couple who have that blog toured around Africa on a Yam XT660 Tenere. Better spread out gear box (3.25:1), injected, big tank and so on. Seems a good bike. I absolutely love the little, now out of production, Yamaha XT225. Great bike! If I were touring through Asia and had an option of one I would take it. Amazing gear box (6 speed 3.9:1), enough power, light, fuel efficient etc.

          The BMW F650GS (older rotax, non-ABS models) are reasonable too but didn’t fit my needs for a few reasons. Nice motor, crap suspension, small tank, specialised tools, expensive parts, not as tough or dirt capable….

          It all comes down to knowing what you want the machine to do. For what I am doing, The KLR is great, the DR would be better by a tiny bit if lots of mods done, the DRZ400 fully modded (Wide ratio gear box is a must, stock is 2.65:1), big tank, better seat, wind shield, soft bags, etc.

          The KLR is the best off the shelf(minimal mods needed) and its cheep(got mine new for $8400 on the road)! Don’t be afraid of a second hand one with high KMs either if it was a tourer. Find one that has been set up for adventuring. You will save an arm and a leg. You can get a 685 kit done late if needed with the money saved and it will be smoother. With the time saved in kitting it up you can get out there and ride.
          Mawson has 37,000km and is as happy as Larry. I got the LAMS derestriction done at 1000km service but they never rejetted it and it always vibrated a lot. Thanks to a carb tune and rejet in now runs much more smoothly. Do not bother chasing more power on a KLR. The KLR is what it is when it comes to power.

          Enjoy Floyd.
          Sunken Man

          • Floyd Constable July 18, 2013 at 8:44 am #

            Thanks Oliver, Great info and valuable opinion in that response.

            The Tenere looks like a wicked bit of kit. Looks like your travelling companion has one? About twice the price of a KLR though 😉

            Ahhh fun times, motorcycle hunting.

            Enjoy mate,


          • Oliver Holmgren July 18, 2013 at 7:57 pm #

            Dave just told me you are working at Milkwood Permaculture Farm so there is a chance you will get to see me and Mawson on the way south. If so you can take Mawson for a ride if you haven’t already got something.
            Until then, good luck.
            Sunken Man

  4. Floyd Constable July 15, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    Also, would you mind explaining the front mud guard? Why you changed it and where the replacement is from?

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