How To Adjust Your Clutch

November 22, 2011

Cheese Whiz, How To

Dear Rebel,

The other day, when I was strutting around the local Harley dealership, the service writer told me I should pay to have my clutch professionally adjusted. He also said that just the day before another rider had done $15,000 worth of damage to his motorcycle when he tried to adjust his own clutch. How can I avoid his mistake?


Live SOA Die SOA

Dear Jax,

Harley wants you to adjust the clutch on a new bike after the first 1,000 miles and then every 5,000 miles after that. You are going to need a set of tools, some spray lubricant, a derby cover gasket, some Teflon paste and a motorcycle jack. You might also need a book. Then do this.

Raise the bike on the motorcycle jack just high enough that the bike is level instead of leaning over on the jiffy stand.

Find the cable that comes out of your clutch lever and run your hand down that cable until your fingers find a black, rubber boot. It should be in about the middle of your clutch cable. Spray some lubricant inside the boot. Pull the boot up and you will see two nuts. The big one is called the lock nut and the little one is called the cable adjustor nut. Loosen both of them with a couple of box wrenches by turning the wrenches in opposite directions. Loosen them until your clutch lever is all play.

Pull the rubber sleeve away from the clutch lever to expose the top of your clutch cable. Spray cable lubricant into the sleeve so it runs down the cable. Open a beer, take a drink, set down the can then spray lube down the cable again.

Loosen and remove the Allen screws that hold the derby cover to the primary chain case. Some bikes might use Torx screws. It seems like Harley keeps changing fasteners every other year just to mess with me. I miss Shovelheads. But I digress. If you see a star shaped indentation instead of a hex it’s a Torx screw. If you don’t know what a derby cover or a primary chain case is get a book. Mark the exact location of the derby cover with something like touchup paint or a Sharpie. The cover is round and it is possible to put it back on incorrectly. Put the derby cover on something soft. Throw the old gasket away.

Loosen the locking nut in the center of the clutch with a socket wrench. I don’t know what size socket. I always just try different sockets until one of them fits. Locate the center adjusting screw. If you don’t know what it looks like look in your book. But, you should be able to figure it out. You want to separate the clutch plates by tightening the adjusting screw with an Allen wrench. Or, for all I know, on your bike it is a Torx screw.

Loosen the adjusting screw then tighten it all the way back in again. I don’t know why you have to tighten it twice. Maybe the guy who taught me this was messing with me. Then, back the adjusting screw out one full turn. Keep that adjusting screw in place while you retighten the clutch locking nut with the socket wrench.

Now go back to the cable and tighten the cable adjuster nut until there is less than 1/8 inch of free play in your clutch lever. You are going to have to stand up and squeeze your lever a couple of times when you do this. Pull the boot at the top of the clutch cable where it meets the lever back up. Keep the cable adjuster nut in exactly the same position while you tighten the cable locking nut. After you tighten the locking nut pull that black boot in the middle of your clutch cable back up.

Look at the primary fluid in your primary case. The fluid should just touch the bottom of the clutch plates. If it doesn’t add more fluid until it does. Don’t use motor oil or transmission fluid. Use primary fluid.

Smear Teflon paste on the threads of the derby cover screws. Put a new derby cover gasket over the big, open hole in the side of your primary. It should go painted side in. Put the derby cover back in exactly the same place it was in when you took it off. Tighten up the screws.

Finish your beer. Lower the bike off the jack before you try to ride it. You’re welcome Jax.

Your pal,



26 Responses to “How To Adjust Your Clutch”

  1. Penguin Says:

    OK tutorial and far better than the procedures given in factory book..which can, by the way, be had for 7 bucks if you are willing to buy the download online and also willing to read on puterscreen…

    Only one criticism, bro, how do you get box wrenches onto the cable? Maybe tubing wrench, – but I use visegrips or open end wrenches (ok sometimes a pair of adjustable wrenches).

    Same adjustment, almost, for a 1940 WL…

    Quite seriously I have been troubled by dragging clutches even since they went to wet clutches… The clues here about the best primary oil are useful. I will do more reading on this question of oil and sticking.

    Much more generally, I wish to recommend a source on non commercial how-to stuff: AND

    These give lotsa cool stuff about building – types of steel, building forks, frames, all oldskool.


  2. slycechyx Says:

    Dear Rebel,

    I used this post as a guide when it was time to lubricate my clutch cable. Except, I forgot to drink a beer while waiting for the lube to drip down the cable. Am I going to crash & burn the next time I ride?


  3. Sandhog Says:

    Reb,the guy who told you to tighten it twice wasn’t just messing with you. It’s recommended because sometimes grit or just plain old stixtion won’t allow the plates and adjusters to seat properly.
    It may adjust right the first time and it may not. Doing it twice makes sure nothing is hanging up in there. It’s a good practice.

  4. Nagalfar Says:

    Its nothing personal… seriously damn, how long does it take to learn how to adjust a clutch even if you dont want to learn, it will make you learn it.. seriously if you dont know how to adjust a clutch and what it does is pretty damn important, are there really that many I have only been riding for 3 months and need to know how to adjust my clutch, a really good question for a new rider, are there really that many here? or is this good jab at some of my older brothers! …. lol.. ride on!

  5. Rahlow Says:

    Clutch adjustment???
    I’m still looking for the blinker fluid drain……

  6. y2kfathead Says:

    Your first overpriced accessory from the dealer should be a shop manual; and buy it before they use the wallet vacuum on you! When they realize that you have perfectly adjusted your own clutch to your liking and preference, they are less likely to torque your nuts until you give them all your money. One fine establishment adjusted my clutch release point so that the clutch would slip on hard shifts at higher RPMs. Now, if I was the suspicious type, I would almost think that was intentional, and, not just an oversight.

  7. Sieg Says:

    Still run HD 105 in my primary.however much gets sprayed in by the breather.

    Ah, Shovels are so much easier.

  8. Mike Says:

    thanks rebel, for Mr. Prine.

  9. Ol'LadyRider Says:

    I had to add an extra step the first time I did this on my bagger… In between loosening the locking nut and tightening/loosening/tightening the adjustment screw, I added “have as many drinks as it takes to lessen the despondency of finding the locking nut overtightened by Harley, then find a wrench you can use to loosen the nut while holding the adjustment screw in place and rupture every blood vessel in your eyeballs getting it loose.”

    It helps if you have the bottle handy so you don’t have to get up to start lessening the despondency.

  10. grumpy Says:

    ive been riding for 40+ yrs,and am a 1%,i refer dyanas as dike glides,as most women ride them,the show is a fkn joke.just hollywierd shit.

  11. knucklehead82 Says:

    will this work on a ironhead?

  12. Mad Jack W. Says:

    Good reading, and much needed! Thank you and may YHWH bless.
    Mjack Weber

  13. Snow Says:

    Keep the info coming Rebel… lol

  14. Rebel Says:

    Dear RVN69,

    Yep, Stock clutch. Simple maintenance job for people who don’t know what to do.


  15. RVN69 Says:

    I’m not gonna put words in Rebel’s mouth, but I think he is talking about stock clutches. I had a Barnett Scorpion clutch in a 116″ Road King (127hp&147ftlbs of tq)and I had to use Ford ATF to keep the plates from sticking. In all my bikes with stock clutches I used HD primary fluid.

    Honesta Mors, Turpi Vita Potior.

  16. YYZ Skinhead Says:

    I just got around to watching the SOA clip. Tell me that fellow at 6:00 did not say “skythe” when he meant “scythe”.

    YYZ Skinhead

  17. The Creep Says:

    Don’t use tranny fluid?! DAMN! I’ve been bamboozled!

  18. Glenn S. Says:

    I like the show. But then again, I like Star Trek too.

  19. Cap'n Bill Says:

    I found the article quite refreshing and informative! The instructions were so precise, even my new OL could follow ’em, but eye digress, too…!
    oy vey

  20. Photon Says:


  21. Goldsboro Williams Says:

    Dear Jax:

    To avoid doing 15K worth of damage to your bike, I am willing to part with one of mine for half off the regular price for you to practice on. I have a 1992 883 that I will sell to you for only $20,000.00, but only if you act now!


  22. Rebel Says:

    Dear Magnet,

    The article is aimed at novices. Which is why, for example, I specifically say to lower the bike off the jack before trying to ride it away. More experienced riders can get as drunk as they want. I mean that is the point of working on a bike isn’t? Have a couple beers?


  23. Magnet Says:

    Is this some kind of joke or just a misprint? No beer until step six or seven and then only one to last the entire procedure – WTF? That can’t be right. I won’t even pull that oil measuring thingee until I’m on at least my fourth brew.

    PS – can you maybe do an article on tire rotation next?

  24. troyez Says:

    You forgot the part where my joints and bones creak and ache when I get up off the floor and I cuss myself for not buying that beautiful lift table!
    And “$15K damage,” to your bike?! How much is your bike worth, Jax?!

  25. bob Says:

    1,000 lb.Dyna ,”Clay”?Always insult folks’intelligence.

  26. common_call Says:

    Just Harleys? What about Hondas or Yahmahas?

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