Hydraulic Clutch Install? Ditch the Cable and Cramped Hands

If you’ve read these articles over the years, you know that I love old technology. The idea of fuel injection, computers, and – to a degree – LED’s for lighting seems superfluous to me when we’re discussing a mode of transportation that can’t even keep you dry or even marginally climate-controlled.

On the other hand, I’m slowly coming around to the idea of hydraulic clutches for bikes. Sure, I know that they’ve been used forever on some bikes and have even been an option from the factory on Harleys off and on for at least a decade (although I cannot find any current reference to them), but personally, I still like a clutch that is cable actuated.

Last week, though, I got roped into helping install a hydraulic setup on a friend’s bike and, I’ll have to say, it was a pretty slick install.

Now, I’m not going to name names or endorse products here, and I know my buddy doesn’t want the world to know just how cheap he is, but I’ll say this: he cobbled together the entire setup online from Ebay, the swap meet, and a few other sources for less than $60. What exactly is a hydraulic clutch? Basically, it is a sealed system using brake fluid to operate the clutch on your bike instead of the more traditional cable that most of us have. The primary benefit is that, depending on the bore size of the primary (master) cylinder and the bore size of the slave cylinder, you can end up with a very “light” clutch that takes almost no effort to engage.

In the case of my buddy, since he is missing a finger and has terrible arthritis in his hands, it makes riding, especially in traffic, far easier.
Are there any benefits besides pressure to retrofitting a hydraulic clutch to your motorcycle? That depends. The cables that operate most clutches inevitably stretch over time and since far too many riders are nervous about “ADJUSTING THE CLUTCH” (That’s how I always envisioned it years ago – whether for a car or a bike – “experts” made it sound a lot harder than it was), the result is often a trip to the stealership that ends in a bill you don’t like the size of. This is true of all cables – whether throttle, brake or clutch – and if you think that your older and formerly faster vehicle might be showing it’s mileage, it actually may only be a case of stretched out cables.

Anyhow, I told you all that to tell you this: The switch to hydraulic actuation made a huge difference in the perceived effort to operate the bike. Overall, the install took a little over two hours – and that included some figuring and fabricating and when we were all done, it necessitated a good long ride to check out the handiwork. The results were that after three hours in the saddle, Charles had none of the perceived pain or numbness that he usually had due to his physical issues and the bike ran flawlessly (1986 Wide Glide).

Should you consider doing it in your driveway? A lot of that will have to be decided on based on the skills you have in understanding the system, especially the relationship between the bore sizes of the master and slave cylinders, the distance the rod is going to travel and how the linkage will pivot, but as far as physically installing it? It should only require simple hand tools to actually complete the job. One thing I will definitely state is this – make sure that if you do this you use a metal master cylinder instead of the plastic ones – they have never looked right and I’ve always questioned their durability.

While Chuck went for a stainless lever to match all the chrome he has on the old Glide, you can find levers anodized in nearly any color with aluminum and varying levels of polish for the stainless ones.

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