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replacing the clutch cable

what you'll need:
Time needed: about a half hour

  • pliers
  • needlenosed pliers
  • small flathead screwdriver
  • flexible claw pick-up tool
  • 8mm long socket
  • 10mm socket
  • 10mm box-ended or open-ended wrench
  • 12mm open-ended wrench

There isn't a set interval at which you should replace your clutch cable, but in my experience, it's pretty obvious when the old one is at its end. For me, shifting got really clunky and unreliable, it became almost impossible to shift into neutral at a light, the clutch started dragging, and I was at the very end of all of my adjustment knobs. Time for a new cable. Fortunately, they're cheap (I paid about $15) and it's quick and easy to swap in.

Replacing the clutch cable really is as easy as "remove the old cable, pull it out, thread the new cable in, attach it up". There are a couple of little tricks, though, that'll make it a lot easier.

The first step is to lift up the tank so that the clutch cable is more accessible. You could probably do this with the tank down, but why? Keep life simple and lift the tank so you can see.

Make sure you know where both ends of the clutch cable attach to the bike. Also, take just a minute and note the clutch cable routing. I took a good half-dozen pictures to have a reference, just in case; we've all said "oh, I'll remember where that cable goes..."

We'll deal with the lever side first, because it's easier. Grab a pair of pliers and turn the clutch locknut and adjuster knob in as far as they'll go. You want to get as much slack here as possible, or it'll be impossible to get the lever off.

Use the 10mm socket to remove the bolt that holds the clutch lever on. There's a nut underneath the lever; hold it with an open-ended or box-ended 10mm wrench.

Once the bolt is out, flip the lever upside down. You'll see where the little knobby on the end of the clutch cable fits in; there's a notch cut out of the lever for the cable. Just pivot the lever until the cable comes out through the notch.

Take a look at the clutch lever assembly from the side; you'll notice that the adjustment knob, locknut, and bracket all have notches cut along their sides. Line up the three notches, and you'll be able to slide the clutch cable right on out. Once the cable is out, remove the rubber boot.

Now it's time to move down to the clutch release assembly. Use an 8mm long socket (or an extension on a regular 8mm socket) to remove the three bolts that hold on the front sprocket cover. Take a look at the clutch release assembly and where the clutch cable attaches to the assembly arm.

Use an open-ended 12mm wrench to remove the bottom locknut. Once it's out, lift the adjuster screw on out of the bracket.

Every project has a really annoying gotcha. This one requires removing the clutch release assembly. Use a 10mm socket and remove the two bolts that hold the assembly on. Turn the assembly sideways, and you'll see this project's "gotcha". The end of the clutch cable fits into a little bracket, but there's a little metal tab that bends down and prevents the cable from coming out of the bracket. This is a Really Good Thing when I'm riding, but it's annoying when the goal actually is to get the cable out of the bracket.

Use a small flathead screwdriver and needle-nosed pliers to pry that tab back so that it's flush with the bracket. Once the tab's out of the way, you can push the cable end right on out of the bracket.

Now you've got both ends of the old cable disconnected. Grab it at the lever end and gently tug on it until it snakes its way out.

Before installing the new cable, you've got to make sure that it's really well lubricated, or else it'll bind up and snag and your life will suck. The easiest way I found was to hold the new cable vertically, attach one of those cheap-o cable lubing gadgets on one end, and WD40 the living hell out of it. We found that you really can't lube too much. Just keep on lubin' until you've made a huge mess and the cable slides easily in and out of the sheath.

Getting the new cable in isn't really that tricky. I started threading it in at the lever end and paused when the other end was just under the airbox. Then I threaded the flexible claw pick-up tool up from the clutch release assembly end. After a couple of tries, I was able to grab the clutch cable with the pick-up tool, and gently tug on the latter until it'd threaded the cable down through the chassis.

Insert the bottom end of the clutch cable into the little bracket and, using your flathead screwdriver and needle-nosed pliers again, bend the little tab back down into place.

Re-attach the clutch release assembly, and put the cable adjust screw into its bracket. Slide the bottom locknut up onto the screw.

Now go back up to the lever. Don't forget to slide the rubber boot back onto the cable before resinstalling it (translation: learn from my mistakes). Line up the notches in the bracket, adjuster knob, and locknut again. Slide the new cable in. Put the cable end into the lever, and bolt the lever back onto the bike.

Before hopping on your bike and riding off into the sunset, you'll need to adjust the clutch cable free play.