How To Ride A Motorcycle With A Broken Clutch Cable

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How To Ride A Motorcycle With A Broken Clutch Cable

Photo by Naoto Sato

Your clutch cable snaps, leaving you without the ability to disengage the clutch. Can you ride the bike home? Of course you can. Here’s how to ride a motorcycle with a broken clutch cable.

Note: These instructions are equally applicable whether you have a cable-actuated clutch or a hydraulic one. They do not apply if your actual clutch mechanism breaks, in which case you’ll be calling a tow truck.

Step One: Prevent It From Happening

The lucky thing is, breaking a clutch cable is a rare occurrence. Grease yours once a year or so and replace it every 30 or 40,000 miles (consult your owners manual for service schedule) and you’ll likely never break one. Clutch cables break by fraying, popping one strand after another over time. So it’s also something you can keep an eye out for, not something that’s likely to happen without warning. Make inspecting the head and tail of the cable part of your routine pre-ride bike inspection, along with tire pressures and such.

You can also be left unable to pull the cable if you break the lever in a spill. Preventing broken levers is actually simple; versions designed to fold in case of impact are common in the aftermarket or you can make your own by sawing halfway through the lever, three quarters along its length with a hacksaw. Doing so creates a natural stress relief point; the lever will snap there in a crash, leaving you the remaining length to work with.

Step Two: Arm Yourself For The Possibility

Long distance, self-supported riders who plan on being a long way from mechanical help often duct tape or zip tie spare cables alongside the current ones. Cables take up little space and weigh virtually nothing, so there’s no real penalty in doing so and the benefit is quick repair; with the cable pre-routed, you won’t have to do anything but connect it in order to get moving again.

If that’s overkill for you, consider packing a small pair of vice grips in your tool kit. Those are a multipurpose get-you-home item, working equally well as a shift or brake lever as they do holding onto the end of a broken cable.

Step Three: Evaluate The Need

Riding with a broken clutch cable is possible, but by decreasing control over your bike it adds an extra element of risk and complication. If your route home (or to a mechanic) involves crossing a city and you’re within cellphone reception, balance the risk and challenge of riding the bike with just waiting for a buddy to come get you in his pickup truck. The last thing you want is to damage the bike (or yourself) further.

Step Four: How’s Your Bike Work?

Does your bike have a failsafe, preventing it from starting if the clutch lever’s not pulled in? If so, the switch is likely in the clutch perch, so you’ll still need to pull the lever in to start, even if it’s not connected to the cable.

Continue Reading: How To Ride A Motorcycle With A Broken Clutch Cable >>

  • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

    I liked this one. This was good. Almost had to deal with this on the 5. Luckily it just popped out of the lever.

  • kevin

    Just had to experience this scenario for the first time the other say, luckily in my pickup truck, not on the bike. City traffic with no clutch is no fun, on two wheels or four. Best advice is this whole article is to do a little preventative maintenance on a regular basis so you’ll never have to worry about it!

  • Beale

    I always tie wrap a brand new cable along side of my clutch cable so that if it breaks, all I have to do is switch to the new one next to the broken one. An old desert racing trick.

  • Diego Martinez

    I had this happen on the way to the canyons, and instead of letting it ruin my day, I just rode sans clutch up and back. It was actually kind of enjoyable, but it did give me fits and starts at times, as well as making me focus that much more on my throttle control…

  • Brett Livingood

    Now how do you ride with a shattered clutch plate?

    • Piglet2010

      Hang onto the side of a pick-up truck bed, the way the “alley cat” push-bike racers do.

      Nb. Only recommended for the foolishly reckless.

  • Archie

    If neutral is difficult and you know you’re going to have to come to a halt, use the kill-switch a few feet before your halt instead of letting it stall. Healthy amount of rear brake as you’re approaching in second gear and you won’t jerk about when you cut the engine.

  • McMike

    I’ve done this with a car before by clutch-less shifting. The only difficult parts was coming up to a stop sign/light and creeping along in first, hoping I would be able to go as soon as I hit the interception. AND when I failed, and had to start the car in first. I realize that’s not possible in most motorcycles, but clutchless shifting, and anticipating speed and gears can really help get you home if this happens.

  • Mitchel Durnell

    Clutchless downshifting is hella hard on your transmission, unless it was unavoidable I wouldn’t do it…

    • Mugget

      Not really, not if you’re doing it properly. That’s the great thing about straight cut gears. If you have to force anything to shift gears, then yeah that’s bad – regardless of whether you’re using the clutch or not! Also mis-shifting and finding false neutrals, much worse than a properly executed clutchless shift.

      If you’re doing it right you won’t have to use any more force on the shift lever than normal. If you’re stomping on it trying to get it to change gears, then you are doing damage.

  • Jonathan Berndt

    this happened on my Ducati 748 in the Texas hill country, a standing tipover on unlevel ground broke the clutch lever in such a way that it was useless.
    i found that if i started the bike in neutral, i could physically push it, jump on and click up to 2nd and ride off. when i had to stop i found neutral again and just repeated the process. i did this for 10 miles to get home. as i got nearer to Austin there was more traffic and the whole process became more challenging. im sure it was entertaining to watch me between the lights where there were 4 lanes of traffic, but i got home and never stalled it!!!

    my KTM640 had defective clutch cables, they would last about 1000 and fail at the same place. KTM eventually fixed the problem but they failed me twice (after the second time i started to carry and extra cable, and dont you know for the next 7000 miles i owned it i never had another break!) and both times i was able to get home doing the above. i wouldnt recommend it because you really have to concentrate and its pretty risky in traffic, but it worked for me.

    • http://about.me/PaulMEdwards Paul M Edwards

      Similarly my 2008 Buell 1125R had a flaw where the hydraulic clutch piston actuator seal would go out causing a loss of pressure. Happened to me 2 or 3 times before the 3rd revision design finally solved the problem. One of those times my wife was passenger while I was shifting without the clutch on the way home. She didn’t even know until we got off the freeway in town and I was hanging back at the light dragging the rear brake and shifted a bit jarringly into first gear.

  • Riedl

    One time I lost a shift lever and thought it would be better to ride home through town instead of the interstate. I was apparently thinking of speed as the issue instead quantity of shifts which was a horrible mistake. I would strongly recommend taking whatever route involves the least amount of stops.

  • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

    Been in this boat before on my GL1100. Thankfully I was only about 6 blocks from home and only had to contend with one stoplight. Not fun, but I made it.

    I’d never heard the tip about routing the spare clutch cable alongside the existing one before. That’s genius. I’ll be doing that on my Tiger 1050 come spring.

  • PeteN95

    Good article, but one correction, you need to open the throttle slightly when downshifting, not close it. Close the throttle for upshifts, open for downshifts. It is really pretty easy and much less scary than having the throttle cable break on a liter bike and stick WFO!?! (turn off key or hit kill switch!)

  • phoebegoesvroom

    I had never heard of the trick of routing a spare cable alongside the functioning one. That’s a pretty brilliant idea, and one I’ll remember for long distance rides.

  • gravit8ed

    I’d suggest riding like you don’t have a clutch (cable) as normal practice, anyways. Learn how to rev match up/downshifts and how to stay more fluid in city driving situations and you’ll be prepared for almost any weird malady your petulant bike can throw at you.

    I had a clutch snap on me this summer during evening rush-hour about 5 miles from the homestead, but because I knew the area very well I could time my approach such that each light was green upon arrival. There were certainly moments of panic but because I usually ride without using the clutch (once moving) it was just a matter of figuring out how to get stopped without killing and dumping the bike in traffic.