Introduction: How to Lube Control Cables

Picture of How to Lube Control Cables

Oh, the joys of motorcycle maintenance. Or is that just something we pretend when bragging to our cager buddies at the bar? I forget. Sometimes it's just another item on our to do list, and today is one of those days.

Lubing the control cables on your motorbike is something you should do yearly or whenever the throttle starts to stick. Considering the consequences of your throttle or clutch cable locking up, this is really overlooked way too often. Thankfully, it's easy easy and pretty much free to do. It can be intimidating the first time, but there isn't all that much to it.

Today we'll be working on a 2017 Kawasaki Ninja 650 ABS, but on most sportbikes these days it's the exact same process. Actually, it's pretty much the same regardless of if you're working on a cruiser, a scooter, a dirt bike or even a lawnmower, so this should have some value for anyone.

Let's begin!

Difficulty: Low
Tool Requirements: Low
Time: 1 Hour
Cost: ≈0$ after the first time

Step 1: What You'll Need

Picture of What You'll Need

Thankfully, not much you don't have already. The main components needed are:

  • Cable Lube: While you could use motor oil or other general purpose lubricants, considering that a small bottle will last you years, you're better off getting the specific stuff. I've had a good experience with Cable Life, so that's what I'll be using today.
  • Cable Luber Tool: I used a Motion Pro Cable Luber V3, since the specific tool makes lubing the cable much easier and quicker, not to mention cleaner. While I have tried the "normal" type of cable luber tool in the past, it has always been a nightmare for me leaking everywhere except for inside the cable sheath. Their new model is so much better.
  • Pet Training Pads: Don't laugh just yet. This isn't a must have item, but these days I love them during brake fluid changes, chain lubrication, oil changes and plenty of other projects like this, thanks to it keeping me from having to clean up afterwards. You really shouldn't be getting oil on your bodywork (or your concrete floor) and this is way more convenient than towels.
  • Zip Lock Bag: A small zip lock bag, or any small bag you have laying around, will be needed.
  • Rubberbands
  • Basic Tools & Supplies:
    • Phillips Screwdriver
    • Allen Key Assortment
    • 10mm Socket and Ratchet
    • Towels
    • Pencil or Crayon
    • Gloves

Step 2: Prepare the Work Area

Picture of Prepare the Work Area

Step one is to go fetch the tools and prep the work area.

One tip which I won't get tired of repeating in the near future is how awesome dog training pads are for bike maintenance. I found out by mistake, simply trying to spend a package that hadn't been used for years. Now I love them. They're dirt cheap and are both waterproof and absorbent, making them great for absorbing drips and splashes without having to clean up later. With corrosive fluids like brake fluid that really is priceless. Simply make a slit in the center and pass the handlebar through. Of course, you can use paper towels and a trash bag instead. If you're doing this inside a garage, put some sort of protector under the bike, too. The excess lube will be leaking down under the bike.

While the pad will protect the bike from oil splashes, it won't do much when the ratchet handle bangs against the tank or you drop a wrench. A paint ding years ago taught me the hard way to always use a mechanic's gas tank apron. Or at least throw a towel on top just to avoid accidents. Sooner or later it will happen to you, too.

If you have a rear stand, you might wanna use it for convenience, but it's not necessary.

Step 3: Remove the Clutch Lever

Picture of Remove the Clutch Lever

I'll be starting with the clutch since it's easier.

Mark the position of the brake lever since most of the time you have to loosen it to remove the clutch lever. That way you can quickly leave it in the exact same position later. I always forget to do this until it's too late.

To remove the lever you'll have to remove the nut on the bottom of the pivot screw, and then pull it out. On some bikes it is screwed out.

To remove the cable from the lever turn it upside down and rotate the cable out through the little slit for this purpose.

To remove the cable from the bracket you'll have to align the shiny silver clutch cable adjuster nut. I have a 8mm CNC Adjustable Cable Nut since it's a cool cheap upgrade and I'm vain like that.

Step 4: Slip on the Cable Luber

Picture of Slip on the Cable Luber

While I consider cable lubing a worthwhile maintenance item, boy did I hate doing it with the traditional type of cable luber. I don't think I've ever been able to use one without making a mess. So this new style is certainly refreshing given that it actually works without leaking, making the task much simpler. Take this as a practical review if you'd like. Personally, I give it a thumbs up.

To use the Motion Pro Cable Luber V3, first you have to slip on the fat part of the body, and then the rubber gasket in the direction as pictured. Then, slide the cable down slightly and screw the other side on. If the thin cylinder is retracted (not poking out) then push it out from the inside with a philips screwdriver or something similar being careful to not scratch the inside cylinder.

Step 5: Lube the Clutch Lever Cable

Picture of Lube the Clutch Lever Cable

Finally, let's lube that cable!

If your motorcycle has a particularly dirty or sticky cable, or it's been double digit years since it was last lubed, use an air compressor with a blower attachment to blow out any gunk, dirt or water out from the inside of the cable sheath. Just put the tip against the cable luber's inlet and blow until you're satisfied.

To lube the cable, use the thin little red tube to "inject" it through the tool's inlet. Do it in bursts given the lube needs time to move through the cables sheath. Once clear fluid is dripping from the other side of the clutch cable (normally a rubber boot) you'll know you're done.

Finally, press the thin metal cylinder to eject all remaining lube inside the tool out through the cable.

Step 6: Reinstall the Clutch Lever

Picture of Reinstall the Clutch Lever

Now it's time to reassembly the clutch lever. Thankfully it's pretty easy and there aren't any issues to watch out for. If anything just be careful with the little white plunger from the clutch switch.

Remember to use blue threadlocker when reinstalling the clutch pivot bolt. Tighten up well, but not enough that the clutch lever starts to bind.

You'll also have to readjust the clutch cable adjuster nut to leave it like before. In my case it was less important since I already had aftermarket adjustable levers installed. A pro tip is that if you want cheaper levers, the Z650's levers are the same but tend to be cheaper and have more options.

Step 7: Disassemble the Throttle Cable Housing

Picture of Disassemble the Throttle Cable Housing

Now it's time to tackle the throttle cables.

In my case I had to remove the cruise control first. It was just 3 bolts to get it out of the way. If you've never tried cruise control on a motorcycle, definitely go for it. It's an awesome upgrade for long trips, or simply to adjust your jacket while riding and things of the like. I can't live without it these days.

Remove the two bolts on the back of the throttle cable housing and slip both sides out of the way. Take a good look at the cable routing since it tends to be a hassle to get it right when reassembling.

Step 8: Lube the Throttle Cables

Picture of Lube the Throttle Cables

Lubing the throttle cables are a bit more complicated. Let's go step by step.

There will be one cable with a thin metal tube. Lube that one just like you did the other side.

After that is taken care of, we have one cable remaining. Thanks to the plastic elbow installed on it, regrettably there is no way to attach the tool. We're going to have to go with the old school method. It's slower but does the job good enough.

Cut off a corner from a ziplock bag and grab a rubber band. Pull the zip lock bag inside out and slide it over the cable, including the elbow. Attach the rubber band tightly around it. Reverse the zip lock bag over the rubber band and elbow.

Now you can squirt lube into the bag and wait for gravity to do the job for you. Keep the bag high up, and move the cable back and forth so the lube moves through it quicker. Once you're done, remove the bag.

That wasn't so bad, was it?

Note:
On the vast majority of Fuel Injected modern bikes, the throttle cables have open ends just like the clutch cable. If your bike is carburated, it is typical for the cable to end up inside the carburetor housing. If that's the case you'll have to remove the cable end from it's housing before lubing to avoid pooling the carb with dirty cable lube.

Step 9: All Done? Not Quite Yet. D'oh!

Picture of All Done? Not Quite Yet. D'oh!

So now we just reassemble and grab a beer? Hmm. Apparently not.

In real life things don't always go as smooth as those generic 3 minute YouTube How-To's would make you think. I screwed up. Sorta. When I went to reassemble the throttle housing I noticed that the throttle had no tension. It's a trivial issue, but if you weren't expecting it, it sure can make you nervous and regret having touched anything in the first place. Thankfully it's an easy fix, if it's even important enough to call it an issue to begin with.

When we pushed in the throttle cable into the sheath so it would fit inside the cable lube tool (not the zip lock one), we apparently pushed the cable stop out of it's slot on the other side of the cable (throttle body side). To reattach it it only takes a few minutes (less than 5, I promise). If this happens to you, remove the two screws on the right side of the bike to expose the throttle body. Then simply push the cable stop back into it's slot as pictured.

That's all. It certainly will make you nervous if it catches you by surprise, but it's really not a problem as much as it's just a small extra hassle.

Step 10: Reassemble the Throttle Housing

Picture of Reassemble the Throttle Housing

Now that that's sorted out, we can finally reassemble the throttle cable housing. Take note to route the throttle cable properly and tighten it up.

Extra note. If you liked the cute little CNC Brake Fluid Cover, Ebay is a great spot to get one. Also, the Z650 covers are perfectly compatible with it and tend to be cheaper and have a greater selection.

Step 11: Takeaway

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Isn't it nice to spend some quality time getting to know your bike as well as crossing out another maintenance item from the to do list?

Anyway, thanks for reading my Instructable! I hope it was helpful. And because I'm feeIing inspired today, I'll say goodbye with a quote:

“In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

- Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

If you want to see what other projects I've been up to, check out my profile — here are some others you might like:

Comments

seamster (author)2017-11-17

Solid tutorial, well written and loads of info. Well done.

I don't even have a bike anymore, but this was a great read. Thanks!

MillennialDIYer (author)seamster2017-11-17

Thanks! Hopefully that "anymore" turns into a "yet" sometime in the future ;)

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Bio: Just a guy who doesn't know when to quit, and is constantly in search of a solution to a problem that doesn't exist ...
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