Your clutch cable is pivotal to the performance of your motorcycle. Without it, your bike wouldn’t be able to change gear. It’s therefore incredibly important you maintain and look after your clutch cable, otherwise you just wouldn’t be able to ride your bike – which is undoubtedly every rider’s worst nightmare!
Unfortunately, clutch cables aren’t for life. Over time and after repeated use they will stretch and become worn, damaged, and frayed. Damaged motorcycle clutch cables can be difficult to operate and are likely to reduce your comfort and control, so it’s crucial you replace them.
In this guide from the Venhill team, we explain how to replace and install a clutch cable on your motorcycle. But first let us explain why clutch cables need replacing as well as provide guidance on how often you should look to replace them.
The clutch is one of the most crucial controls on a motorcycle, and is also one of the most difficult to master. No matter how skillful a rider is with their clutch control, if the mechanism that controls it isn’t working exactly as it should be, even the most simple manoeuvre can become a real challenge.
A poorly maintained clutch cable can quickly become a weak point in the system. Under a tremendous amount of load every time the clutch lever is operated, overtime and after repeated use they will stretch and become worn, damaged, and frayed. Left unchecked this will eventually lead to a cable failure.
How Often Should a Motorcycle Clutch Cable be replaced?
As a general rule, a quality cable should last a minimum of two years, but an owner’s or workshop manual will usually provide some guidance on a particular model.
How, when and where you ride your motorcycle can also be a factor. Off-road bikes, large capacity touring and adventure bikes, and those used to commute on a regular basis can require more frequent clutch cable changes.
Regardless of what, how and where you ride though, it’s well worth getting into the habit of giving your clutch cable a quick once-over before every ride, and a more detailed inspection before longer journeys.
How to Inspect a Motorcycle Clutch Cable
A quick visual inspection along the length of the cable can uncover any obvious issues like cracks or kinks in the conduit (the cable’s outer covering), corrosion at the exposed ends of the inner wire, and anything untoward with nipples and other fixings.
Next check the ‘free play’. Free play refers to the distance a clutch lever travels before it starts pulling on the cable. To measure it, make a note of the lever position with the clutch fully engaged (i.e. let out), then slowly pull the lever in towards the handgrip until you start to feel the tension in the cable. The distance from the ‘engaged’ position to the tension point is the free play.
Most manufacturers specify 2-3mm of free play. A clutch cable that’s too loose will give poor response and may not even operate the clutch fully; one that’s too tight can make the clutch ‘slip’ reducing the life of the friction plates.
Incorrect cable free play doesn’t usually require replacement of the cable, it can be adjusted. Read our Expert Advice Blog on why and how you should adjust your bike’s throttle cable, to get an idea of how to do this - the technique is pretty much the same.
You can also get an idea of the condition of your clutch cable by how the lever operates; both at a standstill and whilst riding. If it pulls smoothly and consistently returns to its original position, then it is probably in good condition. If the lever is stiff or your gear changes aren’t smooth, then that could be a sign the cable needs attention.
It is worth highlighting that cables may need replacing without showing clear exterior damage. For instance, the outer conduit may look perfectly fine, but the inner wire could be frayed. Any problems controlling the bike could suggest compromised cable performance, whether that be clutch or throttle cable (or front brakes on bikes with a drum set-up).
As with any motorcycle maintenance task, if in any doubt seek the opinion of an expert.
Choosing the Right Motorcycle Clutch Cable
If your clutch cable needs replacing, then it’s vital you purchase a suitable, high-quality replacement. Venhill Featherlight Clutch Cables use stainless steel inner wire and PTFE ‘teflon’ lined conduit for a lighter action and more durability. They’re also ‘bird-caged' making cable breakage at the lever end far less likely.
You’ll also need to make sure you select the right cable for your bike. Original Equipment Manufacturer (often referred to as OEM) cables often have a part number printed in white somewhere on the black outer conduit that can be used to help identify your part. See our OEM part number guide for more info.
How to Replace a Motorcycle Clutch Cable in 10 Steps
Before starting, make sure the bike is secured on a centre or paddock stand, and there’s plenty of space and light to work with. Replacing a clutch cable doesn’t normally require many tools, but you may need to loosen or remove components and bodywork for access. You’ll also need some light oil to loosen fixings and lubricate your new cable.
- First locate the cable and remove any components or bodywork that will stop you from accessing or changing it. This will vary depending on the bike and how the cable is routed; you may only need to remove small items like an engine cover, or larger parts like the seat or fuel tank.
- Next, make a note of the route of the original cable, so you have a record of how it runs around the frame, forks and other components. If you don’t have a good memory, draw it or take pictures with your smartphone.
- Check that the new cable matches the old one; the outer needs to be the same length and diameter. Make sure that any brackets/gromets are in the same places and the nipples/barrels that connect the cable to the components at each end match too. The distance the inner cable sticks out at either end also needs to be similar - don’t worry if there's a slight difference, as the old cable may have stretched over time.
- Next, disconnect each end of the cable. At the lever you should find an adjuster screw and lock nut that holds the cable in place. Loosen both and align the openings so the cable can be removed from the lever/pedal. Do the same thing at the clutch end, and then check along the length of the cable for any brackets or cable ties that might prevent it being removed.
- Before installation, hold the replacement cable vertically and use a few drops of a light oil to lubricate the inner wire, moving it up and down to ease the oil down the inside. If you’re fitting PTFE-lined cables, like Venhill Featherlight, you won’t need to do this, because they’re designed to operate smoothly over their lifetime with minimal lubrication.
- You’re now ready to route the new cable. We suggest leaving the original cable in place, if there’s enough space, so you simply feed the new one along its length. Make sure the cable will comfortably reach its intended connection at either end. Then remove the old one. If there isn’t room to do this, it’s sometimes possible to attach the new cable to one end of the old one with strong duct tape, and then gently pull through until the old one is out and the new one is in its place - make sure you get the new cable the right way round.
- Once the cable is in place, check along its length for contact with sources of heat, such as cylinder heads and radiators and allow a suitable gap between them. Reattach any brackets or grommets and if you’re using cable ties, remember to leave them loose so that the inner wire isn’t squashed and can move freely. Also, take care not to clamp the cable too tightly in place, as it can restrict the handlebars or controls from moving freely.
- Then reattach the inner cable to each end. Where nipples/barrels require lubrication in levers or linkages, use a small amount of copper grease. Avoid using heavy greases, as they attract dirt and can get gunged up.
- Set the cable adjustment or free play as per your motorcycle manufacturer’s guidelines and operate the lever to make sure it’s working freely.
- Finally, check the handlebars turn lock-to-lock feely, and that the cable operates at both extremes of steering. If you can’t turn the bars fully or the cable doesn’t operate properly, check the cable routing, looking for pinch points or areas where it may have slipped out of place. Also, check the adjusters and that all the nipples are located properly.
Buy Motorcycle Clutch Cables with Venhill
If you’re looking to buy a new motorcycle clutch cable, be sure to browse our online range here at Venhill. We’ve been making replacement cables for motorbikes since 1970, so are sure to be able to help.
Our clutch cables are developed from the original factory-fitted lines, and are designed to give improved performance and feel, as well as adding durability and a smoother action.
You can find clutch cables for most makes and models of motorcycle in our part finder. If your bike isn’t listed, we can make cables to almost any specification with our Bespoke Cable Service.
Alternatively, if you’d like advice about which cable is right for you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our motorcycle cable experts today.
Maintaining a motorcycle's clutch cable is paramount for seamless gear changes and overall bike control. Over time and with extensive use, these cables undergo wear, fraying, and stretching. This wear and tear, if unchecked, can lead to significant performance issues and potentially a complete cable failure. Regular inspection, ideally before every ride, can detect visible damage such as cracks, kinks, or corrosion along the cable's length.
Inspecting the cable's 'free play,' which determines the distance the clutch lever travels before engaging the cable, is crucial. Manufacturers often recommend a specific free play, typically around 2-3mm. A cable that's too loose may affect response, while one that's too tight can cause the clutch to 'slip,' impacting the friction plates' lifespan. Incorrect free play doesn't always necessitate a cable replacement; adjustments can often rectify this issue.
Additionally, monitoring the clutch lever's smoothness during operation and gear changes can signal the cable's condition. A stiff lever or rough gear changes could indicate cable problems.
Importantly, cable issues might not always be visible externally. Even if the outer conduit appears intact, the inner wire could be frayed, affecting bike control. Seeking expert opinion in cases of doubt regarding motorcycle maintenance is advisable.
When it comes to selecting a replacement clutch cable, opting for high-quality options tailored to the specific bike model is crucial. Cables like Venhill Featherlight Clutch Cables, engineered with stainless steel inner wires and PTFE-lined conduits, offer lighter action and enhanced durability, minimizing the risk of cable breakage.
Replacing a motorcycle clutch cable typically involves several steps. First, securing the bike on a stand and ensuring adequate workspace is essential. Removing obstructive components or bodywork to access the cable is often necessary. Careful disconnection and removal of the old cable, followed by lubrication and installation of the new one, while ensuring correct routing and alignment, are crucial steps in the replacement process.
Post-installation checks involve confirming proper cable adjustments as per the manufacturer's guidelines and verifying smooth operation during handlebar movement.
For those seeking replacements, reputable suppliers like Venhill offer a wide range of clutch cables designed to match original specifications, ensuring improved performance and durability. Their part finder tool helps identify suitable cables for various motorcycle makes and models. Additionally, their Bespoke Cable Service caters to specific requirements, providing customized cable solutions.
Consulting motorcycle cable experts can offer valuable guidance in selecting the right cable for individual biking needs.
Venhill, an established manufacturer since 1970, specializes in producing replacement cables designed to enhance bike performance, offering smoother actions and increased durability. Their expertise and diverse range cater to most motorcycle models and specifications, ensuring optimal clutch cable performance.