How to: Replace your control levers
Whether you're on an off-road motorcycle or on a street bike, we all break a
some point. Hopefully it happens less on a street bike than on an off-road bike since
hitting concrete can be a little more harmful than the dirt. Off-road bikes tend to break
levers more often, especially if you're training for the X Games. But when your bike
goes down, one of the first things to take a hit are the levers. Luckily most are fairly
inexpensive and replacing them can be easy. Of course there are a few slight variations in
the lever systems from bike to bike, but most systems make it easy to remove and replace
the levers. Before trying to replace either the clutch or the brake lever, the first thing you
need to do is make sure that the new lever you are installing is specific to or compatible
with your bike. Good luck trying to put a Harley-Davidson clutch lever on a Kawasaki
There are two main types of lever systems: hydraulic and cable. Hydraulic levers are
usually easier to replace since there are no cables to detach and reattach. The clutch lever
is more likely going to be a cable system while it is common to have either hydraulic or
cable brakes depending on your model.
Replacing a Clutch Lever
To remove a broken clutch lever that is cable operated, start by moving back the rubber
clutch lever cover (try saying that five times fast) on the handlebar if your bike model is
equipped with one. Locate the clutch cable and tug on it gently, just enough to move it
out of your way. You should be able to see the tightening bolt on the clutch cable. Loosen
this bolt with your fingers so that the cable is a little freer to move about the cabin- or
handlebar, rather. Using a wrench, remove the mounting bolt and nut that
are securing the clutch lever. Set both of these aside. From here, you should be able to
pull the lever forward and away from the handlebar. Once the lever is free from the
perch, detach the clutch cable from its port at the end of the lever.
From here you can install the new clutch lever. Essentially you're just going to reverse
the process of taking off the broken lever but before you start it's a good idea to lube up
your clutch cable. In order to do this, you will need to also detach the bottom of the cable
as well. Unless you are replacing the entire cable, only detach the top and bottom of the
cable and leave the mid section alone. Place a rag or cloth under the bottom of the cable
to catch any dirt and grime that will be escaping from that end. Attach your handy cable luber,
such as this Champion's Choice Cable Luber,
to the top of your cable and grab a bottle of contact cleaner and the red spray nozzle
that you never think you'll need. It may be easier for you to cut the nozzle a little shorter
in order to have more control of it. Spray the contact cleaner or WD-40 into the cable
luber (holding a rag or cloth behind it as you do so will help to keep the rest of your
garage from getting an unwanted shower). As you do so, work the cable up and down to
break any gunk and grime free and allow the cleaner to work its way down to the bottom
of the cable. Do this for a good few minutes until the cable can smoothly and easily work
its way up and down. Reattach the bottom of the cable to the clutch arm and make sure it
is snug before reattaching the clutch cable.
For a helpful visual aid on cleaning your clutch cable, check out this video:
Once the clutch cable is slick, insert it into its port in the new clutch lever and slide the
new lever onto the mounting assembly. Hopefully you put the mounting bolt and nut
close by because you're going to reattach them to secure the lever. To adjust the clutch
cable, check your manual to see what your bike's standard "free play" amount should be.
Use the tightening bolt that you loosened earlier to tighten the clutch cable to the
recommended standard. Then slide the rubber clutch lever cover back in place and your
lever is officially fixed.
If you have a hydraulic clutch lever, there will be no cable to detach and reattach. Instead,
follow the same steps as up above but ignore the bit about the tightening bolt and the
clutch cable. Once you have the lever installed, some hydraulic models may have an
adjuster on the lever itself. While you wont need to adjust the lever to get it to spec, you
can adjust it for personal preference.
Replacing the Brake Lever
Changing a brake lever is almost identical to changing the clutch lever. If your bike has a
hydraulic brake system obviously there won't be a cable to detach and reattach to the
brake lever when switching it out but if your brake system runs off of a cable system
you'll need to do the same process with the brake cable as you did with the clutch cable.
Follow the same steps as laid out above for either the hydraulic or cable brake lever.
Especially if you are an off-road rider, you may find dirt build up accumulating around
your brake and clutch levers. Dirt can make your levers more resistant and tire out your
hand muscles faster. This is especially problematic with levers that are cable operated
since a dirty cable can stick. In order to clean your levers and cables, follow the steps
above to remove the lever, wipe down the lever and its mounting units and lube up the
cable (if it's cable operated rather than hydraulic). Once both parts have been freshened
up and any debris has been removed, just reattach the lever just as if you were installing a
Clean and lubed up cables as well as levers can make a bike not only look factory new
but feel factory new too. Just like everything else on your bike, proper maintenance and
care can make all the difference. Even if you manage to keep your levers out of harm's
way, clean your levers and cables often.