August 10, 2015
By Bob Gregor
Dialing in your motorcycle's hand controls is an easy afternoon job that can pay big dividends. A badly adjusted clutch cable can burn out an expensive clutch within a few miles. Getting the adjustment optimized on the handlebars, hand levers and throttle could give that badly needed fraction of a second needed to prevent an accident or lessen the impact force.
H A N D L E B A R S
Start by getting the handlebars set up right. Ideally you want the bars to position your upper body in a comfortable stance, with minimal wrist twisting. Many modern bikes have bars that clamp on to the fork tubes. These may not be easily replaceable or adjustable.
Check to see if they can be rotated a few degrees to get your wrists in the most comfortable position. Another alternative might be to switch them to an aftermarket replacement like HeliBars.
If you have conventional tube type bars that clamp to the triple trees you should be able to rotate them at least a small amount. Loosen the bar clamps to allow the handlebars to rotate.
Ideally you should be able to sit on your bike in your desired stance, close your eyes, put your arms almost straight out with your wrists straight. The handlebars should be right where your hands are placed.
If you can't adjust them to get a good position, you should consider changing them.
Once the handlebars are set up, position the clutch and brake lever angles. Loosen the clamps so you can rotate the assemblies. Grip the handlebars and make a very quick grab for either lever. Your fingers should lightly skim across the lever without having to change your wrist position or raise your fingers over the lever. You want to be able to actuate these controls, especially the brake, as quickly as possible.
Some bikes have controls that let you position the distance of the lever from the handlebar. Once again, position them where you can quickly get your fingers around them without having to stretch for position.
Next step is to grease the the lever pivot points. Remove the pivot bolts and smear a liberal amount of grease around the hole and bolt.
If you use a cable for either the brake or the clutch, you should also lube the fitting at the end of the cable and about an inch of exposed cable.
If you have hydraulic clutch and front brake actuators, no more adjustment is needed. If you have a cable clutch it is very important to set the correct cable free play. This is a critical setting since a bad adjustment can wipe out a clutch in a few miles.
Gently pull in the lever until you feel the tension just start. Notice a slight gap between the top of the lever and the lever perch. This is your clutch cable free play. It should be about an 1/8 inch or the width of a nickel.
If it needs adjustment, just loosen the locknut and turn the adjuster until you get the correct spec.
Then tighten the lock nut with your fingers, so it is easy to make future adjustments on the road without any tools.
If you have cable operated drum brakes, the adjustment is identical, but you can have more free play if it helps you get a better grip on the lever. Take a look at your throttle ... when you just start to open it you should have about 1/8" to 1/4" rotational free play before the carbs or injectors start to open. Check your owners manual to see how your model adjusts. Most of the time it is on the throttle housing. It's not too big a deal if you have excess play, but if it's too tight, the engine can rev up in a tight low speed turn and dump your ass on the pavement.
Make sure the throttle operates smoothly and doesn't hang up keeping the engine revving. If you detect any drag, you need to take it apart for a good inspection, cleaning and lube. On some bikes this can be a bit difficult to tackle at home, so look in your manual and decide if you need to take it into a shop.
The last thing to look at is your control switches. On some bikes the position is not adjustable. If they are movable, just loosen the clamping screws and rotate them for easy access.
Go riding. Have fun.
DISCLAIMER: The methods in this article are guidelines, provided and performed by a trained mechanic. If you are not comfortable performing routine maintenance on your bike, it is recommended you get a trained mechanic to complete these and more difficult tasks on your bike.
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