Harley Clutch Adjustment: A Guide to Doing it in Your Own Garage

Knowing how to make a Harley clutch adjustment is essential to keeping your motorcycle safe and responsive on the open road. This simple task is quick and easy to perform at home and can make all the difference in ride comfort and vehicle behavior. Before we get into the how, here are a few common reasons why you’ll want to consider a Harley clutch adjustment.

  • You are coming up on a regular motorcycle service interval and want to save time and money by maintaining what you can at home.
  • You notice you cannot fully disengage the clutch when you pull the lever.
  • The clutch is slipping, as indicated by unusual sounds (squeaking) or the smell of burning oil.
  • The ride feels unresponsive, slow, or dragging.

All those reasons and more are why it’s important to know how to adjust your Harley Davidson’s clutch. This Harley Clutch Adjustment guide from our team here at Demon’s Cycle will provide the information you need to know when, how, and why to adjust your clutch, along with a video to make the process as smooth and easy as possible, and your commonly asked clutch adjustment questions answered.

What to Know Before You Start

It’s important to note that not all Harley Davidson motorcycles will need a clutch adjustment, only those with a clutch cable, since the cable is susceptible to pulling and shifting. If you have a Harley Davidson with a hydraulic clutch, you won’t need to concern yourself with clutch adjustments as much, as hydraulic clutches are largely self-adjusting, as long as you maintain proper fluid levels. You’ll be able to determine if you have a cable clutch system or a hydraulic system by the absence or presence of a master cylinder in the clutch area of your bike.

If you’ve determined that you have a cable clutch motorcycle system and you’re ready to continue onto the process of adjusting, then there’s one more essential thing you’ll want to do before you begin: Let your bike cool. Since heat causes expansion, you won’t get the proper adjustment on a hot bike or after you’ve ridden recently, and you’ll need to begin again. You also run the risk of damaging your clutch or causing slipping while you’re out on the road, so it’s always better to wait.

Harley Clutch Adjustment: Step by Step

Step One: Let Your Bike Cool

It’s worth repeating that a cool bike is the only type of bike you should be doing a clutch adjustment on. Since clutch adjustments only take about half an hour, once you’re comfortable performing them, you can fold them into your regular motorcycle maintenance time. But you should never do a clutch adjustment on a hot or even warm motorcycle.

Step Two: Remove the Clutch Cable Cover

You will need to be able to access the clutch adjuster. The small piece of rubber visible about half-way down your clutch is the clutch cable cover. Simply move it out of the way up or down and reveal the adjuster below.

Step Three: Give the Clutch Cable Slack

The simple reason for this is that you want to remove any tension on the clutch so that you can squeeze the clutch lever completely, allowing you to adjust it properly.

Giving the clutch slack is simple. Secure the adjuster with a wrench and then loosen the jam nut that rests on top of the adjuster in order to hold it in place. Allow the adjuster enough room to move so that all tension on the clutch is released.

Step Four: Remove the Derby Cover

derby cover

A handful of bolts will be keeping your derby cover in place. Remove them and store in a safe place then remove the derby or clutch cover and place it off to the side. Keep your hand on the cover as you take out that final bolt to reduce the risk of it coming free prematurely and breaking or suffering damage.

Step Five: Free the Clutch Adjuster

As on the clutch cable adjuster, there is a jam nut keeping the system in place. A simple wrench and either an Allen key or a screwdriver will efficiently help you to remove the jam nut so you can access the clutch adjuster.

Step Six: Adjust the Clutch

It’s essential that you don’t over tighten the clutch adjuster. That’s why you’ll want to use your fingers rather than any tools that might provide overmuch torque. Tighten until you meet resistance (or feel the adjuster bottom out) then immediately stop.

You’ll want to have your motorcycle service manual on hand for this next step. Use your Allen key or other easy-access tools to complete the adjustment according to the specifications in your manual. It will either specify an exact amount (such as ½ turn) or a range of turns. Complete the adjustment carefully and do not over-torque.

Step Seven: Return the Jam Nut to Position

You’ll want to do this while the Allen key or screwdriver is still in place, to ensure that your new alignment is maintained. Once returned to its original position, tighten the jam nut only as far as it wants to go. As with the clutch adjuster, you do not want to force or tighten the nut too much.

Step Eight: Return the Derby Cover

You’ll want to begin by turning the bolts on your derby cover by hand. Once all of the bolts are in place, you’ll want to tighten them down carefully, making sure that you work on opposing bolts, rather than going in a circle. This provides a better seal and ensures the cover sits properly.

Step Nine: Adjust the Clutch Cable Back

You slackened the clutch cable in the beginning of your Harley clutch adjustment process. Now, you’ll want to return the tension back by adjusting to tighten, rather than loosen. Your service manual will help you find the appropriate tightness, but you should also check in with your clutch for feel as you go. Once you reach the right adjustment, tighten your jam nut to keep it in place and return the clutch cover back to its original position.

Step Ten: Test it Out

Adjusting the clutch on your Harley is a simple process and it gets easier every time you do it. You’ll know you got it right when you test it out on the road, so take it for a ride!

FAQ About Harley Clutch Adjustments

There are a few common questions that come up when discussing Harley clutch adjustments and we’re here to ensure you get the answers and resources you need to feel confident servicing and maintaining your bike.

How Do I Adjust a Hydraulic Clutch on a Harley Davidson Motorcycle?

Hydraulic clutches are an innovative design that doesn’t actually require adjustment, as they are largely self-adjusting. That said, hydraulic fluid can become dirty or contaminated, which leads to a less safe and responsive ride as well as corrosion in essential parts. Flushing a hydraulic clutch is a little more involved than adjusting a Harley clutch cable, but it’s certainly a service you can perform at home.

Why is My Harley Clutch Lever Hard to Pull?

There are a few reasons you might have difficulty pulling your Harley clutch lever, but most of them are easy to address. Here are the most common culprits.

  • Your clutch cable is frayed (and should be replaced immediately)
  • Your cable needs to be lubricated
  • Your cable isn’t routed properly, resulting in pinching or crimping
  • Your clutch lever is greasy or dirty, causing it to stick
  • Your clutch is not in the right position for your grip

A closer look will make it easier to determine the root cause of clutch lever stiffness, so you can address it right away.

Why Won’t My Harley Clutch Disengage?

There are a few common reasons behind why your clutch isn’t disengaging or disengaging fully. To begin with, you may need to make a clutch adjustment or go back in and fix the adjustments you’ve already made. Check to be sure that all the parts have been returned to their proper positions (if put in upside down or backward, they can prevent your motorcycle from disengaging fully). You’ll also want to check and see if your plates are sticky or rusty, as that can cause disengagement issues as well.

For more information on Harley-Davidson clutch adjustments and for the parts you need to do the job right every time, trust the team here at Demon’s Cycle today.