Whether you're updating the look of your ride, or fixing parts after a parts-thrashing meeting with the asphalt or dirt, you're probably going to have to replace your levers at some time - but how do you go about doing it? Luckily it's one of the easiest installations you can do, but there are a few basic things to know first to make sure it's done right. Check them out here before you swap yours!
Whether you're on an off-road motorcycle or on a street bike, we all break a lever at 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 Ninja.
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 new one.
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.