thanks for the input tseta... as a n00b, i'm trying to gather as much info as possible, and then sort through it as i think it applies to my bike's issues. i'm hopeful my clutch lever line is what's leaking down at the gearbox, causing the lever fade. the links you provided are really helpful -- the discussion regarding the graduated bearing retainer is ringing some bells for me. i'll do more investigative work next weekend and hopefully have more info to share.
i really appreciate your time and insights.