News Feature

Chains 'n' Sprockets ... Clutch Cable Free Play Adjustment

October 11, 2016 | By Jeff King

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 and clutch cable, and provides 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.

3. 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 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.

Lucky for you we get to go a little deeper into the process and adjust the cable at the clutch end (where those clever engineers have thought of exactly this condition, and have a designed a way to make even greater adjustments to the clutch cable).

Here’s a typical arrangement permitting adjustment of the cable down at the clutch.

Again, there's an adjuster bolt and a lock nut (this time, wrenches are required).

We are going to do a total reset of your clutch cable adjustment, to restore the ability to make fine adjustments at the lever.

Starting at the clutch lever, loosen the knurled lock nut, and screw the adjuster bolt all the way into the perch.

This will undoubtedly create a lot of additional slack in the cable, but don't worry; we're going to correct it by adjusting down below at the clutch side adjuster.

Now, at the clutch end, loosen the lock nut with a wrench and adjust the bolt (CCW or CCW) so that you have approximately 1/8" of free play back up at the lever. (You don’t have to completely nail the adjustment at this time ... just get in the ballpark).

Some clutches have a different arrangement to make this cable adjustment, but the concept is the same. There's a lock nut and an adjustment screw:

If you have this type of adjuster, simply loosen the locking nut, screw the adjuster in (CW) to reduce free play, and out (CCW) to increase free play.

After you are satisfied with clutch end cable adjustment, use a wrench to tighten down the locknut on the clutch end adjuster. If you have the adjuster screw version, hold the adjuster screw in position with a screwdriver and tighten the locknut with the appropriate wrench.

Once you're all buttoned up on the clutch end, turn your attention to the adjuster bolt at the clutch's lever to make finer adjustments required to achieve 1/8" of free play.

You should be able to dial in the exact amount of free play you want with the levers adjuster. Once you have the correct free play, tighten the knurled lock nut at the lever by hand.

You’re done. Now as the cable stretches or the clutch wears, you can make any fine adjustments needed at the lever in the future.

If you unable to achieve the proper amount of free play using this method, it's probably time for a new clutch cable. The cable is either the incorrect size (too short) or simply stretched out beyond available adjustment. Order that new cable and install and adjust your new cable with these same steps.

Checking free play only takes a moment, and your attention to this matter will be rewarded 100 fold by avoiding expensive repairs or a possibly a tow from your favorite secluded country road (we all could use less of those).

If you'd like to get some real world experience on this procedure, Moto Republic offers private one-on-one instruction on this procedure or any maintance task you want to learn more about. We encourage you to come on in and get your service on.

Check out our current Workshop and Class listings here on

Happy Wrenching.

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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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