Friday, October 9, 2020

Your clutch cable suddenly snaps; do you carry a spare?

Photo of both ends of a cable, one with connector, other without.
My clutch cable always breaks at one end or the other, when the nub pulls off the strands.
There was no warning.

I was shifting gears the other day when the clutch lever on my Royal Enfield Bullet suddenly slapped all the way to the hand grip. Despite my deathgrip on the clutch lever, the clutch was not operating.

I did the natural thing — I panicked.

Clearly I now had no control over the clutch, but what else might be broken or about to break?

I don't remember what gear I was in, or whether I was in the gear I was shifting from or the one I meant to shift into.

Either way, I was still moving along the street, so I just kept going, letting the motorcycle gradually slow. But how could I come to a stop?

I'd never thought about what I would do in this situation: the motorcycle is running and it is in gear. I'm not sure which gear. If I turn off the motor the stop might be very sudden; would the rear wheel skid?

The neutral finder lever might offer some help, but using it without the clutch usually provokes bad noises. I didn't want to risk causing damage.

The only alternative seemed to be to apply the brakes and deliberately stall the motor.

Letting the motorcycle slow as much as possible on its own first, I gently applied brakes and I switched off the motor just as we came to a stop. There was barely a "bump" from the drivetrain to show the motorcycle's displeasure with this treatment. Whew.

I'd aimed for a shady spot on the sidewalk where I could change the broken clutch cable &#8212 it was a hot day in Florida.

Luckily, I knew I had a spare clutch cable in the Bullet's toolbox. This practice has saved me many times. I've changed clutch cables roadside often — once in the dark — but I don't do it often enough to recall immediately how it's done.

I was delighted to discover that the spare cable I had in the toolbox was one of the extra long versions Classic Motorworks used to sell for Bullets, probably for use with taller than stock handlebars. These are ideal for fast repairs since they can be routed around the casquette instead of having to be carefully threaded through the nest of wires behind the headlight.

Photo of clutch cables going around and through the casquette.
Here is the extra long spare clutch cable routed over the casquette into the lever.
The original cable, now detached, emerges from its hole in the nacelle.
Replacing the cable is easy at the gearbox end, thanks to a little circular cover that swings open to reveal the gearbox-end connection to the cable.

Since my clutch cable looked good at the handlebar lever, I knew it would be broken at the gearbox end — sure enough, the little nub that holds it in place there had popped off.

All I had to do was to disconnect the clutch cable from the lever on the handlebar, pull it out of the back of the gearbox, and replace it with my spare cable. (The hardest part of this was getting the outer cable end out of the gearbox; it took a lot of wiggling and pulling.)

But which end of the spare cable was which? It turns out that they aren't identical, at least on my 1999 Bullet. The gearbox end is fatter. Just examine the old cable to see how the cable fits and is routed.

One lesson I learned at once: it is far easier to FIRST attach the new cable at the gearbox end and THEN attach it to handlebar end. It's the difference between squatting on your haunches staring into a little black hole to see what's going on and standing in the sunshine alongside your bike getting the length of the inner cable extended enough to attach.

You definitely want to do the fiddly part of this standing up.

Once in place you'll need to adjust the cable to make the clutch operate. This is best done by first using the adjuster fitting at the midpoint of the cable to give you a reasonable amount of cable at the lever and then doing the fine adjusting with the adjuster at the handlebar.

You want the cable attached at the clutch lever just loosely enough that the clutch is not pulled by movement of the handlebars. I was back on the road in no time.

One final thing: I was really happy to have a clean rag in the toolbox to wipe the grease off my hands after fiddling with the old cable.


  1. If a guy takes a file and rounds the shoulder of the lower nubbie a bit before using it, it can then swing somewhat in the actuator arm, reducing the bending forces on it which cause the fatigue failures. A bit of grease on the nubbie there, and a bit more at the lever end socket cut down on quite a bit of friction. I like the Hitchcocks heavy duty cables, but you do need to pre-fit them to bake sure they aren't too tight in the fittings. The better "feel" alone is worth the cost to me. Cheers - CW -

    1. This sounds like a fine idea. Thank you.


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