Day 3: cables need love too.
There are going to be some fantastically well-maintained motorcycles on the roads by the time the lockdown comes to an end. So far, we’ve learned how to clean our chains and inspect our tires together. The third thing we’re going to have a look at together are the clutch and throttle cables.
Like many mobile components on a bike, these cables need to be inspected and lubed up on a regular basis. Unlike the chain and the tires, however, there isn't a recommended fixed interval for cables maintenance. While you can pretty much rely on how the levers and the throttle feel, you can also include a little cable checkup on your list of yearly Spring or pre-storage Fall maintenance. It might not be necessary but it certainly won’t hurt.
Spotting your clutch and throttle cables is pretty easy: they’re the cables coming out from behind the clutch and from inside the right-hand side grip, running along the handlebar and plunging down the neck of the bike. They are then usually routed towards the carburetors or throttle bodies, next to the engine. You should be able to spot them on the side of your motorcycle. To make sure, give them a gentle tug to see them wiggle at the head.
Both types of cable look similar with a small, hammer-shaped head mounted to a metallic cable inserted into a rubber sleeve. The hammer-shaped head is usually inserted into a sort of rail or groove and should be very easy to slide and take out.
Other than a screwdriver to open up the controls cluster to have access to the throttle cable and a wrench to loosen up the bolts around the cables, you shouldn't need any elaborate tools to perform this maintenance. All you will need is a bit of patience.
Note that not all bikes are routed and set up the same. I will give you an idea of how things look on my 1979 Honda CX500—which is probably one of the simpler set ups—but they might present themselves a little differently on your motorcycle or even be hidden away if you have a fairing. Don’t hesitate to look at your owner’s manual or to research your specific model online to figure out how locate all the cables and access them. Whichever motorcycle you have, it should be fairly easy and straightforward. Once you have that part figured out, the maintenance part will mostly be the same for any type of motorcycle.
While it is possible to lubricate the cables without removing them completely, I recommend you still do for two reasons. First, it will allow you to familiarize yourself with the components and second, it will allow you to do a complete visual inspection. You need to make sure that the rubber sleeves and metal cables are intact and that there are no metallic strands sticking out or dents in the rubber that could compromise the cables. If you find that one of them is damaged, I recommend you order a replacement part, it’s actually a pretty cheap part to buy.
On my CX, the throttle and clutch cables are attached to the carburetors and are very easy to take out by gently pulling on the cable toward the carb and sliding the cable head out of the rail. To avoid any mix up between the cables, I recommend that you pull the cables out one at the time or that you identify them with a little post-it note to make sure everything goes back where it’s supposed to. If the cables follow a certain path along the neck or the side of the bike, you can also take pictures to make sure you run them in the same place when you reinstall them.
Going Old School
Once the cables are out, I decided to follow the “old school” steps suggested by Ari Henning from Motorcyclist (back in the day, before he moved to RevZilla). I’ll describe the steps but you can also check out his video for a clear visual of what to do.
For this step, you will need a plastic bag, an elastic, a pair of scissors, and either a can of cable lube if it’s something you already have or a bit of engine oil. Take the plastic bag and cut a portion of the corner. Then, create a tiny opening at the corner in which you will insert the cable head. Secure the plastic bag around the cable using the elastic (it will look as though the cable is wearing a tiny poncho) then flip the bag up to create a sort of funnel around the head of the cable.
Spray the cable lubricant or pour the engine oil in the plastic bag and make sure it reaches the edge of the rubber sleeve, where the metal cable is inserted. Gently pull and push on the cable head, sliding the metal in and out of the sleeve in a back and forth motion—this will allow the oil or the lubricant to coat the inside. Make sure the lubricant gets all the way to the other end of the cable to make sure the whole mechanism is properly lubricated.
Ta-dah! That’s all there is to it. All you have left to do is empty the homemade funnel and remove it from around the cable then follow the steps backwards to reinstall the cable back on your bike. This is also an occasion to adjust the throttle on your bike if you find your bike’s throttle response is becoming a little sluggish. Ari Henning shows you the easy steps to adjusting the throttle cable in this other MC Garage video.
That wasn’t too bad, was it? It takes a bit of work figuring it out but once you do, it’s very straightforward and pretty easy to perform. Doesn’t that clutch feel better now? With these few, easy maintenance tips you can perform with tools and products you already have at home, you’re going to be ready to rock and roll once you hit the road. With a clean chain, tires in tip top shape, and cables all lubed up, you’re in for an amazing, worry-free riding season.