Cleaning and Lubing Clutch Cables

There’s a common misconception that this cable doesn’t  need much in the way of cleaning and lubing. Nothing could be further from the truth! Like the throttle cables, this needs regular inspection and the use of cable lube and some high temp grease for the exposed cable ends as the steel cable runs inside an outer cable but it bends due to cable routing creating friction and wear internally and externally (especially on the perch end).

A binding cable means poor clutch action and shifting plus accelerated friction plate wear and that can create a very expensive and premature repair bill if you can’t do a clutch replacement yourself. To mitigate this you should lube the cable internally and externally every 6 months, and more frequently if the bike is a commuter.

Most clutch cables are secured in 2 places – at the lever with the barrel part of the cable fitting into a manufactured slot in the lever, and at the engine end of the cable there are many different forms of fittings with some kind of a barrel or ball type fitting engineered to precisely fit the receiving hasp.

To start the job you need to remove all the free play from the clutch cable at the handlebar end. Make sure that the adjuster slot and the slot in the clutch perch align perfectly. Then remove the nut and bolt holding the lever to the perch and remove the lever from the perch. Once the lever is free, gently remove the barrel end of the cable from the lever and set the lever aside making sure that you don’t drop the bushing out of the lever!!!


If it is a struggle to get the cable loose enough, go to the clutch end and add free play to the cable there.

Clutch cable with the lever removed

Clutch Cable with the Lever Removed

The cable end is now exposed so remove it from the perch via the open slot. Examine the cable end for any fraying or unwinding or bending and if you see that, replace the cable immediately (and lube the new cable before you install it!).

With the cable now upright, you can lube it. There are several lubes out there specifically for this task and there are a couple of fittings that attach to the head of the cable to assist should you want to use them. This is not a quick process so be prepared to spend 10-15 minutes to ensure you do the job correctly!

–      you can slowly let lube drip through the cable until it runs out of the bottom of it

–      you can wiggle the cable end up and down to help the lube travel inside faster

–      you can detach the entire cable, hang it and do the same while manipulating the cable up and down to speed up the passage of lube throughout its length

If you choose to remove the cable, remember the cable routing from top to bottom and use pictures to record it accurately!

Once the cable leaks lube out of the bottom, your job is done. You can leave a rag in place for an hour or so to soak up excess or if your removed the cable let it drip dry.

Next task is to clean out the perch and cable adjuster housing so take it apart and clean it thoroughly. Once done, blow it out with compressed air. Then grease the cable adjuster threads and reinstall it into the perch. Run the adjuster all the way in and line up the slot with the perch slot.

As the perch and adjuster are ready, grease the exposed cable and barrel end and then remove the bushing from the lever and clean and grease it and the shouldered bolt.

Clutch Cable Clutch End

If you removed the entire cable route it correctly and attach it at the clutch end correctly. If there’s a securing mechanism there like a tab for the cable end, finish the installation now and secure this end of the clutch cable. Then secure the cable into the clutch housing fitting and reset the lock nuts to the previous position or leave them loose for a final adjustment. Now you can move to the bar end.

Reintroduce the cable carefully through the slots and locate and seat the end of the cable housing in the adjuster. Making sure that the bushing is in the lever, attach the barrel end of the cable into the machined slot and set the cable through the lever slot. Now the lever is ready to reintroduce into the perch, and again check your lever bushing is in place. Work the lever into the perch until it sits in position and the bolt holes lines up perfectly with the perch and lever. Push the shouldered bolt through from the top and attach the nut to the threads underneath. Torque that nut now.

At this juncture, you are ready to adjust the free play correctly. For that process, read the article on adjusting the clutch cable – we don’t need to take your time up here with that.

The Author:

Dave Moss is the Founder of Catalyst Reaction and Host of OnTheThrottle video programming specializing in technical analysis and how too segments. He has been working with street, track and race riders and motorcycle suspension and chassis geometry since 1995 and has become an internationally recognized authority in his field through his work with regard to testing and tuning. Dave is an avid rider and races with AFM in Northern California and is the 2011 450 Superbike Class Champion.

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