If you are lucky enough to have a hydraulic clutch on your motorcycle, count yourself as one of the fortunate few.

The rest of us have to deal with clutch cable maintenance, adjustment and the occasional snapped cable. Thankfully, a properly adjusted and maintained clutch cable can last almost indefinitely and reduce wear on your clutch’s internals as well.

Clutch Cable Free Play Adjustment

Properly adjusting your clutch cable’s free play is essential to getting the maximum life out of your clutch components, clutch cable as well as providing a good “feel” at the lever. The ability to properly make this adjustment should be in every rider’s toolbox.

Adjusting your clutch lever “Free play” is process of achieving the correct amount of slack of the clutch cable, as measured at the pivot point of the clutch lever. To measure free play, apply light pressure (just enough pressure to take up the slack in the cable) at the clutch lever and measure the distance between the lever and the perch.

A correctly adjusted clutch cable should have about 1/8” of free play measured at the pivot.

When we have too much free play at the lever, the clutch is never fully engaged when we pull the clutch lever. This results in harder shifting and increased clutch wear. Additionally, the friction point of the clutch will likely be much closer to the grip than optimal (meaning, the clutch will start grabbing very early in the lever’s travel, giving you less room to modulate the clutch and make smooth starts and gear changes).

Too little free play is the condition where the clutch cable is so tight, that the bike’s clutch never gets to disengage fully even when the lever is let out and the bike is in gear. The clutch cable is always engaging the clutch (just a little bit), separating the clutch plates, and causing accelerated wear. This slipping can be very subtle, but will get worse over time.

Adjusting Free Play

We adjust free play by use of the adjusting bolt and locknut on the lever.

  1. First, loosen the lock nut (usually the large knurled nut) fully counter clockwise. This can often be done by hand, but grab the appropriate pair of pliers if it’s too tight.
  2. Now by hand, rotate the adjusting bolt in or out (CW or CCW), depending on whether you need more or less free play.Screwing in the adjuster bolt (CW) increases free play:

Screwing in the adjuster out (CCW) reduces the amount of free play:

We want to shoot for about 1/8” of free play.

  1. If you can achieve 1/8” of free play by adjusting at the lever, you are done!

Cinch down the knurled locknut (by hand) to lock the adjusting bolt into position. We want the lock nut tight enough to hold the adjusting bolt in place, but not so tight that you can’t o make adjustments by hand on the side of the road if needed.

Now, there are cases when you’ll find your adjuster bolt is already adjusted fully IN or OUT, making it impossible to correctly adjust your free play at the lever.

If that's the case, we need to make and adjustment at the other side of the clutch cab... at the engine.

We'll cover that in the next post: Clutch Cable Free play Adjustment 2