How To Ride A Motorcycle With A Broken Clutch Cable

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How To Ride A Motorcycle With A Broken Clutch Cable

Step Five: Get Moving

With the bike in neutral, start the engine and get it rolling up to about 5 or 10 mph. A hill helps here, as does a buddy riding alongside, pushing you with an outstretched leg. Or, just run alongside the bike until you’re up to speed, hop on, and click up into 2nd gear.

Alternately, you can use the bike’s starter motor to get it moving. Again, use 2nd gear and, when the coast is clear, thumb the start button and give the bike a little gas as it begins to move. It should fire the engine after a few revolutions and you can then accelerate away.

1st gear is simply too short and abrupt on most bikes, but your mileage may vary.

Step Six: Shift Gear

This is the easiest part. You probably already know how to upshift without the clutch (apply upwards pressure to the shift lever, close the throttle a bit), but downshifting is nearly as easy. It helps to have the engine spinning low in the rev range, then just apply the normal amount of downward pressure to the shift lever, hold it there, close the throttle a bit and the lower gear will slide home. Downshifting without the clutch can be a jerky affair.

Step Seven: Coming To A Stop

Coming up to a stoplight or stopped traffic? Start slowing well ahead of time, giving you the opportunity to downshift without the clutch. Try and find neutral before you have to come to a stop, then just coast to a halt modulating your speed with the brakes. If you can’t find neutral (don’t underestimate how recalcitrant some gearboxes can be), then you’ll need to stall the bike at a stop, just use both brakes to make sure you do so without jerking forward and be prepared for that jerk and to catch the weight of the bike when it happens so you don’t fall over.

You’ll need to follow Step Five again when it comes time to pull away. Obviously this would be a huge pain if you have to do it every half mile, crossing a city and exposes you to the unpredictability of other traffic at each and every stop. You can mitigate the hassle somewhat by rolling through stop signs or choosing routes with fewer intersections.

Just be careful, the cars around you aren’t likely to understand the unique challenge you’re facing and may fail to anticipate that you’re going to come to a sudden stop when you stall the engine or that you’re going to pull away slower than normal. Keep safety as your first priority and resort to riding without a clutch cable only when it’s absolutely necessary. There’s no shame in pushing.

  • 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.