Motorcycle Control Positions

Courtesy of: Harry Klemm, Group K

No two people are alike, and no two motorcycles are identical to ride—even if they are the same make, year and model.

The reason no two motorcycles ride the same is generally down to how adjustable items such as the clutch and brake levers are positioned or adjusted. For the most part, these adjustments are subject to rider preference. However, there are some important aspects to consider when personalizing a motorcycle’s control positions.

Typically, a classic motorcycle will have adjustment available for:

Clutch and brake lever positions

Gear change and rear brake levers

All of the above can be positioned to increase rider comfort and safety.

Handlebar Position

Moving the handlebars will affect the position of the levers, the switches, and mirrors where fitted. In addition, the handlebars need moving clearance on some bikes such as café racers to ensure the bars do not hit the fuel tank on full lock.

The rider should adjust the handlebars first to find a position that offers the most comfort over longer runs (a certain amount of trial and error will be necessary to find the optimum position).

Lever Positions (Clutch and Brake)

The clutch lever on older bikes tended to be hard to pull in. As such, it is important to set the lever position to afford the rider maximum leverage when pulling the lever in; this is generally achieved by setting the lever so that the clutch begins to disengage as the fingers move toward 90 degrees. (See notes below.)

The front brake on a motorcycle is controlled by the right side handlebar lever (much to the surprise of American cycle riders when riding a motorcycle for the first time!). The lever must be positioned so that it does not interfere with the throttle housing or switch assembly when the lever is pulled in. As per the clutch lever position, the fingers of a human hand develop their maximum leverage as the fingers approach 90 degrees; however, motorcycles with cable front brakes will have a tendency for the cable to stretch slightly when pulled in with any force. To allow for this, the lever should be positioned so that the brake begins to come on as the fingers are slightly outstretched.

Gear Change and Rear Brake Levers

The position of the gear change and rear brake levers is something of a

compromise. During normal gear changing up through the gears, the rider will typically be in a relaxed seating position, and leaning slightly forward. However, when the brakes are applied he or she will typically sit upright. Needless to say, changing the body’s riding position between these two will automatically change the position of the feet in relation to the levers.

A reasonable starting point with the foot levers is to position them in the middle of the rider’s feet when he is sitting in a neutral position.


The mechanic must ensure that the levers are not set too low down as they will scrape on the ground during cornering where high lean angles are required--generally this applies to racing only.

If the motorcycle has a fairing fitted, changing the position of the controls can cause interference. For example, on a fixed fairing, moving the brake lever may cause it to come into contact with the fairing’s cut out at full lock. The mechanic must check for this when placing the levers.

If a handlebar fairing is fitted, moving the handlebars will obviously move the position of the fairing. All clearances (lock to lock and full suspension compression) should be checked before riding the motorcycle.

It must be remembered that all motorcycle clutch levers must have some free play in the cable before the clutch becomes disengaged. This free play is to ensure that the clutch will not slip due to the lever partially disengaging the clutch mechanism. Typically, the clutch cable/lever should have 1/8” (3-mm) of free play.