Be Sure to Inspect the Cables for Damage Before Lubing Them
Before lubing a motorcycle cable, visually inspect the cable to ensure it's not damaged and that it moves freely once disconnected.
You want to be looking for anywhere that the cable housing may be kinked, smashed or shows any signs of the inner cable developing any separation or fraying which generally happens near the ends.
A damaged or frozen cable should always be replaced with a new cable, as damaged motorcycle cables are a safety hazard.
The Need for a Cable Luber
Long gone are the days of removing a cable from the motorcycle and submerging it in a solvent (gas) or oil with hopes of calling it lubed.
The only method that should be considered now for lubing motorcycle cables on a dirt bike is with use of a cable luber. Cable lubers are not perfect but they are a small ingenious tool that clamps around the end of a cable and allows an aerosol based lubricant to be forced through the cable so that the cable and inside of the cable sheath are lubricated with minimal mess and the cable itself can then slide within the sheath with minimal friction or resistance.
If you don't yet have a way to lube the cables, you should definitely add a cable luber to your arsenal of tools, as these make lubing the cables much easier than other less favourable methods.
What Do I Use for A Motorcycle Cable Lubricant?
If you're not sure of what the best product is for lubing the cables on a dirt bike, there are products which are designed specifically for this but they are generally hard to find and are usually of a small quantity (6.25 oz). We've found silicone spray to be a much more readily available lubricant which we highly recommend using.
Silicone spray can be found at most auto parts stores and works exceptionally well as a cable lubricant. In addition to silicone spray being a quality cable lubricant, it also does a fantastic job at displacing water that gets trapped in the cable after a washing and it, protects the cable sheathing from rusting, while providing an ultra slippery lubricant which results in a smoother operating control cable. That and keeping chain lube or mud & oily substances from sticking to anything else that the silicone spray comes in contact with while lubing the cables.
NEVER Use Chain Lube on ANY Cables.
How To Lubricate the Clutch Cable
If you have a cable actuated clutch (as most of us do) then occasionally lubricating the clutch cable may just do wonders as far as you're concerned, but some clutch cables go into the ignition system or under a cover so here's how to lube the clutch cable without making a mess.
- Begin by disconnecting the clutch cable from the clutch perch on the handlebars by winding the adjuster all the way in until maximum slack is obtained in the clutch cable, then remove the cable housing from the adjuster, then the cable end from the lever allowing the end of the lever to move freely.
- When lubing a clutch cable, it's important to know where the lube is going at the other end as some dirt bikes have the actuator lever inside the ignition cover and just dumping the excess lubricant from within the cable sheathing into this area can make quite the mess inside the cover where things otherwise stay clean and dry so take note where the other end of the clutch cable is.
- If the end of the clutch cable IS visible without removal of any parts from the motorcycle, it's probably safe to just squirt the lubricant through the cable until you see it coming out the other end, then wipe up the excess and dry the area with compressed air.
- If the clutch cable goes through a hole in the cases and the end is NOT visible, the clutch cable likely extends into the cases where the ignition system is. This area is best to remain clean and dry so removal of the ignition cover to catch and clean up any excess cable lube is a must before actually lubing the cables.
How to Lube the Throttle Cable(s)
Considering that there are both 2 stroke and 4 stroke dirt bikes running around, it's important to realize that a 2 stroke's throttle cable goes into the top of the carburetor and if proper preparations are not performed, there are problems that can arise.
Squirting cable lube through a 2 stroke dirt bike's throttle cable without disconnecting it from the carburetor slide prior to squirting the lube would introduce the lubricant being used, and possibly trash from inside the cable to the inside of the carburetor, neither of which are any good for the carburetor's performance although if you're afraid there's already trash in the carburetor, here's how to disassemble and clean a carburetor.
You may notice that throttle cable's will often not be compatible with the cable luber tool. With these type of cables, you'll need to just insert the straw into the threaded part on the end of the cable and in short bursts, work the lubricant down the inner length of the cable.
- 2 Strokes
To lube the throttle cable on a 2 stroke dirt bike you'll need to first disconnect the throttle cable from the throttle tube and throttle assembly on the handlebars, then remove the cable from the slide by removing the top of the carburetor and removing the cable from the slide so as to not dump excess lubricant or contaminates into the top of the carburetor.
Note: Before removing the top of the carburetor, be sure to wash the dirt bike so as to not allow any contaminates such as dirt into the carburetor.
- Now with a clean motorcycle, refer to a factory service manual if necessary for instructions on removal of the carburetor's top, as well as removal of the cable from the carburetor's slide and remove the throttle cable and point the end downward, then force the lubricant down the length of the cable until it's visibly exiting the far end.
- 4 Strokes
Considering the profound difference between a 2 stroke carburetor and a 4 stroke carburetor or fuel injection throttle body, it isn't generally necessary to remove the throttle cable from the throttle linkage on the carbureted or fuel injected 4 stroke dirt bikes, although it is important to remove the cover that is covering the linkage so as to not have an unruly looking mess seeping out from the cover's edges.
- With the cover over the linkage removed and the cable(s) disconnected at the handlebars, the throttle cable(s) can now be lubricated in a manner nearly identical to that of doing a 2 stroke's cable once disconnected and the resulting mess
How To Lubricate the Hot Start Cable
Lubricating the hot start cable should not even be considered without removal of the cable from the carburetor, otherwise the lubricant being used is certain to get into places you likely don't want it, as contaminating the inside of the carburetor with silicone spray or other cable lube could have potentially adverse effects in how a carburetor performs.
When lubricating a hot start cable, just be sure that you remove the cable from the carburetor before sending any lubricants down the sheathing of the cable in a way similar to how you have to lube a 2 stroke's throttle cable.
How to Lubricate A Brake Cable
Brake Cable you ask? Yes... For those out there piloting an older or lower performance machine than the current crop of dirt bikes which are seen more commonly around the motocross tracks and off-road parks, there is a brake cable where there would be a hydraulic hose or steel braided brake line and these brake cables are frequently in desperate need of lubrication.
- Front Brake
Lubricating the front brake cable on a cable actuated front brake can have a profound difference in the feel at the brake lever as these cables are frequently sorely neglected and are frequently in desperate need of lubrication which is generally as simple as removing the cable at the top and injecting the lubricant into the cable allowing the cable lube to run down the inside of the sheath.
When lubricating a brake cable it will be evident that the cable is lubricated once the lubricant begins to exit the end of the cable near the brake backing plate at which point any excess can be easily blown off with compressed air, or otherwise cleaned up and then the brake cable reconnected at the lever and properly adjusted.
- Rear Brake
On some of the cable actuated rear brakes of the earlier bikes, there is just a cable which is exposed and has no outer sheath. These brake cables do not require any more attention than a visual inspection to examine the cable for any broken or loose strands which if noticed, the cable needs replaced before the next outing.
On the cable actuated rear brakes where there is a sheathed cable running from the brake pedal to the arm on the rear brake backing plate, it's best to remove the cable from the motorcycle and hold the cable by hand in a vertical manner while injecting the lubricant into the cable, then clean up any excess and reinstall the cable, finishing with adjusting the rear brake so it has a feel comfortable to the person riding the bike.
How To Get the Lubricant Inside the Cable
- First, remove the cable from the handlebar controls as will be illustrated in a factory service manual specific to the motorcycle at hand,
- Next take the top end of the cable where it attaches to the lever or control at the handlebars and extend the cable to it's fullest length possible.
- Now open a cable luber and attach this to the cable, closing the thumb screw(s) tightly once it's in place.
- Now, using silicone spray (or a cable lubricant of your choice Not Chain Lube ) and the straw that came with the aerosol, insert the straw into the hole in the cable luber and in short bursts, squirt the lubricant into the cable luber while holding the cable and luber wrapped in a rag with your other hand.
- Continue squirting short bursts of lubricant until the lubricant is seen exiting the lower end of the cable, at which time the cable should then be worked back and forth through as much movement as possible, followed with another application of the lubricant before considering the cable to be properly lubricated.
Once the cable is well lubricated, clean up any residual mess, reconnect the cable to what was just disconnected (reassembling components if necessary), and finish the job by adjusting everything per a factory service manual's instructions.