How to Adjust and Maintain a Motorcycle Clutch [Video]


Just like any other part of a motorcycle, the clutch also requires some attention as well as periodic maintenance. If you have some mechanical skills and the required tools, you can easily maintain and repair your motorcycle’s clutch by yourself. However, if you are a complete beginner, it’s highly recommended that you get these repairs done by a professional.

If you want to find out more about typical motorcycle clutch malfunctions and their remedies, this post is for you.

We are PowerSportsGuide have gathered all you need to know into this post!

Motorcycle Clutch Maintenance

Regarding motorcycle clutch malfunctions, the most common issues are arguably clutch dragging and slipping.

In a nutshell, when a clutch is slipping it means the clutch is failing to fully engage, so it can’t transmit all the engine power. In contrast, clutch dragging refers to a malfunction in which the clutch doesn’t completely disengage with a fully depressed clutch lever.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and take a closer look at these issues!

How do You Check a Motorcycle Clutch?

When it comes to checking a motorcycle clutch, it’s typically much easier to inspect a dry clutch as it’s far more accessible. In contrast, a wet clutch is typically hidden under a cover on the side of the engine. Therefore, to check a wet clutch you have to first remove the cover. But there’s no need to worry, as the clutch on your bike always “lets you know” if it is malfunctioning!

If you are considering buying a used bike and are wondering how to check its clutch, best practice is to take the bike for a test ride. Clutch malfunctions are easily recognizable when you shift or accelerate.

But if you are a complete beginner it’s recommended that you have the bike inspected by a professional.

How Can You Tell if Your Motorcycle Clutch is Going Bad?

There are many signs that a motorcycle clutch is going bad, which are as follows:

  • Hard shifts
  • Stiff or stuck clutch lever
  • The bike is creeping in gear even if the clutch is fully disengaged
  • Unexplained high engine revs
  • Lower engine power (especially at aggressive accelerations)
  • The clutch is making noises
  • Worse fuel mileage

Although some of these symptoms can also be caused by other malfunctions, you may want to check the clutch first.

It’s always wise to adjust and lube the clutch cable as a first step. This can solve most of these issues and doing this is far easier than taking the clutch apart.

If cable maintenance doesn’t help, typically the next step would be to replace the clutch pack (the metal and friction plates).

What Happens When a Motorcycle Clutch Slips?

If a motorcycle clutch slips it simply means that the plates inside the clutch assembly can’t engage perfectly. In other words, the plates slip on each other, so the clutch can’t transmit all the engine power towards the transmission.

What Does it Feel Like When a Motorcycle Clutch Slips?

In a nutshell, the symptoms of a slipping clutch on a motorcycle are as follows:

When the clutch slips on a motorcycle it causes the engine to rev up quicker and robs engine power. Finally, it results in poor gas mileage and decreased performance, especially at a wide-open throttle. If the clutch is really worn out, it can even prevent the bike from moving. This means that if you can’t start your bike in first gear and the engine is just revving, it could be a clue that the clutch is slipping.

How do You Fix a Slipping Motorcycle Clutch?

To fix a slipping motorcycle clutch always try adjusting the clutch cable first. Clutch slippage is often caused by an improper cable adjustment, so playing with the cable can solve the issue in most cases. If this doesn’t help, you should check the friction plates in your clutch. If they are worn out, replacing them will probably fix the clutch slippage. Also, make sure to use fresh and appropriate engine oil!

What is Motorcycle Clutch Drag?

Motorcycle clutch drag refers to a malfunction in which the clutch doesn’t completely disengage. This means the plates inside the clutch assembly can’t completely release. So, the clutch continues to transfer some power even when the clutch lever is fully depressed.

Just like slipping, motorcycle clutch dragging is also easily identifiable.

How Can You Tell if Your Clutch is Dragging on Your Motorcycle?

The most common symptoms of a motorcycle clutch drag are as follows:

  • Hard shifting
  • Gear clashes during shifting
  • Hard to find neutral
  • The motorcycle creeps in gear, even if the clutch lever is fully depressed
  • Engine may stall in gear even with the clutch lever depressed

Clutch dragging on your bike is always a hassle, as it may creep in gear, which is not only frustrating but can also be dangerous.

Therefore, clutch drag has to be fixed as soon as possible!

What Causes Motorcycle Clutch Drag?

In most cases, motorcycle clutch drag is caused by partially engaged friction plates in the clutch. Since the plates can’t completely disengage, they transmit some power even if you completely depress the clutch lever. Motorcycle clutch drag occurs when the clutch release mechanism is damaged, or the clutch cable is improperly adjusted. Also, wear on the clutch baskets can often lead to clutch drag.

Besides these most common issues, motorcycle clutch drag can be caused by many other major malfunctions in the transmission, such as oil that is too thick, or even a chain that’s too tight.

How Do You Fix Clutch Drag on a Motorcycle?

To fix clutch drag on your motorcycle, it’s recommended that you first adjust and lube the clutch cable. If it seems worn out, you may want to even replace the cable. If this does not solve the problem, you should inspect the cutch assembly. Worn out/damaged clutch release mechanism and plates can all cause the problem. So, to fix the drag you should probably adjust or replace these parts. Finally, change the oil and the filter as well.

In most cases motorcycle clutch drag can be fixed by adjusting and lubing the clutch cable, and/or changing the engine oil.

How Do You Tighten a Motorcycle Clutch Cable?

You can tighten a motorcycle clutch cable in two different places:

  • With the barrel adjuster on the clutch lever
  • With the cable adjuster down by the engine

You can easily loosen or tighten the clutch cable on your bike by playing with these adjusters.

For smaller changes you can use the barrel adjuster, which is placed where the cable enters the clutch lever.

If you need bigger changes, you can use the cable adjuster which is mounted on the other end of the clutch cable (down by the engine).

How Much Play Should a Motorcycle Clutch Have?

As a rule of thumb, the free play of a motorcycle clutch cable should be about 1/7”-1/8” on most bikes. You can check the free play between the lever perch and the back of the lever with a vernier caliper or a tape measure. However, keep in mind that the required free play and measurement protocol may vary from one model to the next. So, before checking and adjusting the clutch on your bike, always refer to the owner’s manual.

Also, make sure to check and adjust the clutch when the engine is cold!

How Do You Adjust the Friction Zone on a Motorcycle?

Adjusting the free play on a motorcycle clutch requires that you adjust the friction zone as well. Loosening the cable brings the friction zone closer to the grip while tightening the cable moves the zone further away. So basically, playing with the clutch cable will adjust the position of the friction zone. But if you want to make the friction zone smaller or larger it can be much trickier.

The most common way to adjust the size of the friction zone on a motorcycle is to modify/replace the clutch lever.

How Do You Replace a Motorcycle Clutch?

You can replace a motorcycle clutch in eight simple steps:

  1. Read the manual
  2. Drain the oil
  3. Remove the clutch cover
  4. Remove the pressure plate bolts
  5. Remove the plates and inspect the baskets
  6. Replace with new plates
  7. Replace pressure plate and the cover
  8. Refill the oil in the engine

It is that simple? The answer is yes, and no.

Replacing a motorcycle clutch is not rocket science, but it definitely requires some skills and tools.

If you are interested in more details, don’t miss this detailed post at RevZilla, or just check out this tutorial video: (Also, don’t forget to check the service manual as well.)

Do You Need to Soak the Motorcycle Clutch Plates?

Yes, experts recommend soaking the motorcycle clutch plates overnight. Best practice is to use clean 4-cycle motorcycle engine oil for this purpose. Keep in mind that the plates need to be soaked only if your bike features a wet clutch. It’s very important to never soak the plates of a dry clutch, as they have to remain completely dry.

How Long Does It Take to Replace a Motorcycle Clutch?

Replacing a motorcycle clutch typically takes about an hour or two. However, it may differ slightly depending on the model as no two bikes are the same. After replacing all the parts and refilling the oil don’t forget to test the clutch to make sure it works properly!

How to Extend the Clutch Life on a Motorcycle?

Here are some vital tips on how to extend the clutch life on your motorcycle:

  • Inspect and maintain the clutch periodically (adjust and lube the cable)
  • Always fix clutch malfunctions immediately (slip, drag)
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance
  • Pay attention to chain tension
  • Use the recommended engine oil
  • Use the clutch properly
  • Avoid aggressive “race style” accelerations and stunts like burnouts or wheelies
  • Don’t ride the clutch in high RPMs
  • Avoid clutchless shifting

How Long Does a Motorcycle Clutch Last?

It’s hard to tell how long a motorcycle clutch lasts, as it depends on many factors like the bike’s type, performance, your riding style, and the quality of maintenance. If you are looking for some ballpark figures, wet motorcycle clutches last about 20,000-50,000 miles with normal use. In contrast, dry motorcycle clutches typically last only 10,000-20,000 miles.

Again, these are just ballpark figures as there are many factors in play.

On a high-performance bike with aggressive riding, you can destroy the clutch in less than 5,000 miles.

In contrast, with reasonable use the clutch in touring bikes can last more than 100,000 miles. However, this is not typical.

How Often Should You Replace a Motorcycle Clutch?

Motorcycle manufacturers typically don’t specify exact clutch replacement intervals. This means you should replace a motorcycle clutch only if it’s worn out or malfunctioning. As long as the clutch works properly it only requires periodic maintenance and inspection, which is clearly stated in the service manual.

How Do You Change a Clutch Lever on a Motorcycle?

Here’s how to change a cable clutch lever on a motorcycle step-by-step:

  1. As the first step, read your bike’s service manual
  2. Loosen the clutch cable with the adjuster
  3. Unscrew the pivot bolt
  4. Carefully turn the lever out and detach the clutch cable
  5. Remove the lever from the bike
  6. Clean the lever perch and pivot bolt (and the spacer if featured)
  7. Apply some grease inside the lever perch and on the spacer
  8. Attach the clutch cable to the new clutch lever
  9. Slide the lever into place
  10. Apply some Loctite on the pivot bolt and replace it
  11. Set the clutch cable tension
  12. Test the clutch

Here’s a great video on how to change the clutch lever on a motorcycle:

How Do You Change a Hydraulic Clutch Lever?

Surprisingly, changing a hydraulic clutch lever is easier than a cable lever. This means you can replace a hydraulic clutch lever in the above-described way, except that you don’t have to deal with the clutch cable. Just make sure to check if the clutch is engaging and disengaging properly after the replacement!

How Do You Lubricate a Motorcycle Clutch Cable?

To lubricate a motorcycle clutch cable, you have to first remove the cable from the bike. Attach a motorcycle cable lubricator to the end of the cable and inject some lube into the cable housing. Make sure to use an appropriate lubricant that is formulated specifically for cables. (Don’t use WD-40!) Besides the lubrication, you may want to check the cable for damage before you replace it.

If no special cable lubricator is on hand, you can make a small funnel from the corner of a plastic bag. Just use a rubber band for securing this funnel to the end of the clutch cable.

Finally, raise the funnel high, pour a little lubricant into it, and let gravity do its job.

You can see this trick in this tutorial video:

Related Questions

How do you adjust the clutch biting point on a motorcycle?

You can adjust a clutch biting point on a motorcycle in two places, with the barrel adjuster on the clutch lever or with the cable adjuster at the other end of the cable.

How do I know if the clutch cable is bad on my motorcycle?

The typical symptoms of a broken motorcycle clutch cable are clutch issues (slip, drag) or signs of any wear and tear on the cable. Best practice is to remove and visually inspect the cable, as motorcycle clutch cables are prone to breaking at their ends (especially at the lever).

How much does it cost to replace a clutch cable on a motorcycle?

If you can manage it by yourself, a motorcycle clutch cable replacement may cost you as low as $30-$50. But if you get it done by a professional, be prepared to add the price of labor to this cost.

When should I replace a motorcycle clutch cable?

If you notice clutch issues or any wear or tear on your motorcycle’s clutch cable, it’s highly recommended that you replace it immediately. (If it looks good, try lubricating it first!)

How long should a motorcycle clutch cable last?

Motorcycle clutch cables typically last about 10,000-30,000 miles. The life cycle of a clutch cable depends on many factors from the features of the bike to the quality of clutch maintenance. Lubricating your clutch cable periodically can significantly extend its life!

How much is a motorcycle clutch?

As a rule of thumb, the price of motorcycle clutch kits ranges from $150 up to $300, which typically only contains friction and metal plates. In contrast, a complete motorcycle clutch can cost you anywhere from $500 up to $1,500. And these are just the prices of the parts. You can also figure in about two hours of labor for the replacement.

Which materials are used for making motorcycle clutch plates?

There are two different types of motorcycle clutch plates inside the clutch. The metal plates, as their name implies, are made of steel, while the material of the friction plates is typically a blended composite material that typically contains Kevlar or carbon fiber.

Can you fix a burnt clutch on a motorcycle?

Yes, a burned motorcycle clutch can be repaired in most cases. To fix a burned clutch, you need to replace the clutch plates at the very minimum, but in a worse-case scenario, other parts may need to be replaced as well.

How long does a Ducati dry clutch last?

The dry clutches in Ducatis last about 10,000-25,000 miles, but it strongly depends on the attitude of the rider. If you ride a Ducati hard, the clutch probably won’t last more than 5,000-10,000 miles!

What is the best oil for a wet clutch?

The best oil for a wet clutch is what the manufacturer recommends! Never use any auto transmission/engine oil in a motorcycle. The recommended engine oil is always clearly described in the manual.

Is car oil okay in a motorcycle if you have a dry clutch?

No, never use car oil in a motorcycle, even if the bike features a dry clutch. Always check the manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for the oil.

Are brake and clutch levers interchangeable?

Although they look very similar, motorcycle brake and clutch levers are typically not interchangeable. This is because they feature a slightly different design. Brake and clutch levers usually come in pairs, so it makes sense to replace both for a uniform look!

Are bike clutch levers universal?

Since the design of motorcycles varies from one model to the next, their clutch levers are typically not universal. Keep in mind that the design of the clutch lever affects the friction zone as well! Therefore, it’s recommended that you do your research and purchase a model-specific clutch lever that perfectly fits on your bike. 

But the good news is that OEM and aftermarket clutch levers are available for virtually any bike on the market.

Conclusion

Motorcycle clutch maintenance is not rocket science. In fact, this is one of the easiest repairs you can do on your bike.

However, if you are a complete beginner, it’s recommended that you get it done by a professional. Keep in mind that an incorrectly set clutch can lead to major engine damage in the long run. Therefore, if you lack experience, it’s best if you take the bike to your dealer or a repair shop.

Since these tasks can be done quickly, you don’t have to be afraid of expensive repair bills.

If you want to fix your clutch one way or another, always refer to your bike’s service manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations!

References:

https://www.revzilla.com/common-tread/how-to-replace-a-motorcycle-clutch

https://www.motorcyclistonline.com/motorcycle-tech-tips-bike-maintenance-how-to-lube-lubricate-motorcycle-cables-mc-garage-video/

https://www.motorcyclistonline.com/story/mc-garage/motorcycle-clutch-maintenance-how-to-tips/

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