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VTX 1800 Clutch Will Not Release
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During a recent motorcycle trip down Highway 50 from Ocean City, MD to Sacramento, CA the clutch on my 2002 VTX 1800 started acting up. I was going through a very long, twisting and hilly section of Virginia and West Virginia when suddenly my rapid up and down shifts became very 'jerky'.

After another 150 miles I approached my next gas stop and discovered that I had to pull my clutch lever tight against the handle grip before the clutch would release and there was only about 1/2 inch of travel on release to when the clutch was fully engaged. The remaining couple of inches of clutch lever travel felt 'spongy' as though there was air in the hydraulic line.

VTX 1800 Clutch problems started after heavy usage in VA and W.VA - MPC Computer Repairs

After a couple more gas stops, I learned how to manage this very 'quick release' clutch situation and decided to try to finish my 7,000 + mile ride.

During the ride I kept checking for fluid leaks in the clutch system trying to determine where air might be getting into the system, I did not find any. After another 4,000 miles the clutch started to drag so much that I could not shift into neutral with the engine running. I had to turn off the engine shift into neutral and then restart the engine. When I put the bike into gear it would lurch forward because the clutch was not totally releasing.

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Did The Easy Stuff First

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Once back at home base I put the VTX 1800 up on a jack. I changed fluid and bled the clutch hydraulic system to remove any air. Doing this actually made things worse as now there was absolutely no resistance when I pulled the clutch lever in. It was as if the master cylinder had a internal leak.

VTX 1800 up on the bike stand - MPC Compouter Repairs

I took apart the master cylinder and found a slight build up of gray sludge inside. After a thorough cleaning I installed a master cylinder rebuild kit. While the system was dry I also took apart the clutch slave cylinder and found a slight buildup of the same grayish sludge that was in the master cylinder. I gave it a thorough cleaning and installed a rebuild kit in it.

The hydraulic system was filled with fluid and bled again but nothing had changed. Still very little resistance when I pulled the clutch lever and it felt like the clutch would not release. 

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Dragging Clutch = Burned Clutch
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With the VTX 1800 on a stand I put in into gear, pulled the clutch lever and tried to turn the rear wheel. It would not turn confirming that the clutch was not releasing. Started up the bike, pulled in the clutch handle, put it in gear  and stepped on the brake while still holding the clutch in. The bike stalled, again indicating that the clutch was not releasing.

Figuring that I had done everything I could do with the hydraulics of the clutch it had to be something internal causing the clutch to stick closed. Draining the engine oil gave me a hint of a problem because there is no mistaking the smell of burned oil.

Removing the crankcase side cover gave me a very strong blast of burned oil and cork smell. At this point I am sure that the clutch steel plates and cork plates will have to be replaced because of the clutch dragging so much.

VTX 1800 clutch teardown - MPC Computer Repairs

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Before totally disassembling the clutch I measured the amount of travel the front clutch plate made when I pulled the clutch lever all the way in. Surprisingly it was only about 3/32 of an inch, nowhere near enough for all of the clutch plates to separate from one another.

VTX 1800 clutch plates removed - MPC Computer Repairs

I finished taking apart the clutch plates and clutch baskets. The steel and cork plates were in better shape than I expected but with 63,000 miles on them and the fact that they had been over-heated I decided to replace them anyway.

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Inspection of the inner and outer clutch baskets did show some signs of wear where the steel and cork plate fingers and teeth made contact. Not enough wear that I thought it would cause the clutch not to release though. Because I plan to ride this bike for some time I replaced both.

To be on the safe side I also replaced the inner clutch basket nut, the outer clutch plate, clutch plate bearing and joint piece and clutch springs, basically the entire clutch assembly.

VTX 1800 clutch re-assembeled - MPC Computer Repairs

After reassembling the new clutch I measured the amount of the front clutch plate travel and much to my dismay it was only slightly more than 3/32 of an inch. I was totally baffled. I thought the removal of any warped plates would give me more travel than that. I re-bled the hydraulic system, double checked my assembly process and could not find a problem. I reinstalled the crankcase side cover and pondered this mystery.

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The VTX 1800 Clutch Hang Mystery
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I was positive that the clutch was mechanically sound and that there were no internal fluid leaks or air in the hydraulic system, so why was I not getting the amount of clutch travel I was supposed to be getting?

I measured the amount of fluid discharged from the clutch slave cylinder bleeder after pulling the clutch lever all the way to the handle grip, it was not the correct amount based on the clutch master cylinder volume. OK, if the amount of fluid is traveling down the hydraulic line and out the slave cylinder bleed valve was not correct, where is the clutch fluid going? I went back to the parts manual to check on any possibilities.

VTX 1800 hydraulic clutch parts - MPC Computer Repairs

After viewing the parts manual it finally dawned on me that the only place the hydraulic clutch fluid could be going without actually leaking out anywhere was someplace the could expand with less resistance than the clutch slave cylinder presented. That place? The rubber sections of the hydraulic clutch line if they were ruptured on the inside.

I grabbed the rubber section of the clutch line just below the master cylinder and pulled the clutch lever. I could feel the rubber clutch line expanding slightly as I pulled in the clutch lever.

To make sure this would not happen again I ordered a braided stainless steel teflon lined hydraulic clutch line from Russell Performance and installed it. 

Now that the clutch line was no longer expanding when I pulled in the clutch lever, all of the fluid would be going to the clutch slave cylinder which in turn should move the clutch front plate out far enough for the steel and cork clutch plates to fully release. Surprise! It did not. It was better but not fixed.

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The VTX 1800 Clutch Hang Mystery Solved
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Now I was, well, pissed! I had replaced 90 percent of the clutch parts. The only thing I had not replaced was the master cylinder itself and the clutch handle.

On close inspection of the clutch master cylinder I discovered that when the clutch handle was pulled all the way in it was not touching the clutch safety micro switch that is located on the master cylinder (see the little arrow in the picture on the right below). The only way that the clutch handle would touch the clutch safety micro switch is if I bent it outward away from the handlebar grip.

VTX 1800 clutch micro switch 1 - MPC Computer RepairsVTX 1800 clutch micro switch 2 - MPC Computer Repairs

Before I did that I took some measurements and looked up a picture of a new one, sure enough the outer end of my clutch handle was bent inward preventing it from getting full travel. I had to bend it out about two inches before it would activate the clutch safety micro switch on the master cylinder. The measurement needed for the clutch to operate correctly is 5 inches from the center of the ball on the clutch handle to the center of the handle grip

Once I did that the clutch would fully release so that I could start the bike up, put it into gear, continue to hold the clutch in while stepping on the rear brake without the bike stalling out. I could also shift into neutral while holding the clutch in and holding the rear brake on. I could also start the VTX 1800 in gear with the clutch pulled in. Clutch hang mystery solved!

I ordered and installed a new clutch lever because the old bent and unbent one was probably over stressed and due to unexpectedly fail some time in the near future (it did). It was while replacing the clutch handle that it dawned on me how it got bent in the first place.

Because of the quirky release action of the clutch, I 'nicked' an orange road construction barrel during my trip. I thought that I did it with the handlebar but that is not possible so it was the clutch handle that took the hit and got bent in towards the handlebar thus lessening the amount of travel to release the clutch which made the clutch drag even worse.


VTX 1800 High Performance Clutch Problem?

Did you install a high performance clutch and / or springs in your VTX 1800 and now the clutch drags or will not release at all?

Does your VTX 1800 stall as soon as you put it into gear even though you have the clutch lever pulled all the way in? 

When you stop do you have to turn your VTX 1800 engine off before you can put the transmission into neutral?

When you start out and put your VTX 1800 into gear does it lurch forward?

Can't start your VTX 1800 in gear even with the clutch pulled all the way in?

If you have not read the above litany, the short answer is that you may need to replace your clutch handle. Read the above litany to find out why.


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Last Updated 01-18-2017
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