Mountain Bike Maintenance

Fix your own bike…

Cable Maintenance

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Cable Maintenance

The most important consideration of your cable sysytem, be it brake or gear, is the quality of the initial install. A flat (perpendicular), clean cut, finished to a smooth finish with a file and then tidied up with a spike will give you a noticably better feel at the lever. A Dremel tool is ideal for clean cuts, but a good quality pair of cable cutters (bike specific, not pliers!) and a few minutes with a metal file will do the job just as well. Clean, flat edges means that the whole suface of the cable end is flush with the cable cap. This means that the cable won’t move and slop around inside the cap when you increase and decrease cable tension and will translate to good lever feel and quicker cable response on gear shifts.

Before re-fitting a derailleur, take the opportunity to check your gear cables. I run a single length from the shifter to keep the dirt out, and also to remove the inefficiencies of using the traditional MTB style. Lubing can be done from either end of the cable, but if you do it from the rear it works best with the bike turned upside down to allow the fluid to run the full length. As long as the cable is detached from the derailleur you’ll be able to remove the cable outer from the shifter. Pull the cable back through the outer towards you. Once the inner cable is out, apply a couple of drops of your lube to a cloth and wipe down the full length of the cable. Use the point from a pair of cable cutters, or similar, to tidy up the compressed end of the cable outer and drip a small amount of lube down the cable outer. Don’t go crazy, a couple of ml will do. After a minute or so you should see the fluid dripping out of the other end. Carefully feed the inner back through; it should travel the full distance without any sticking, especially on a full length outer. If you experience any obstructions, pull the cable back out, put a little more lube, wait a few minutes and try again. If you’re still having trouble, try an aerosol spray like Finish Line, or similar, to force dirt out. It’s often wiser, under these circumstances, to simply replace your cables with fresh ones.

Instead of using a crimp-on cover for the end of your cables, try a little heatshrink tubing. You’ll be able to pick this up in various thicknesses from you hardware or electricla store and it’ll make the job of removing cables much easier. No more cutting cable ends off, or trying to slide a crimp back over, just slide a new piece of heatshrink on to ensure that cable is kept dry and protected from fraying.

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Written by SteveUK MTB

March 18, 2008 at 10:37 am

4 Responses

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  1. I’ve seen 3 different diameter of deraileur cable housing, 4, 4.5, and 5mm. Whats the difference/advantage of using one diameter over another.

    t castle

    November 29, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    • I don’t think I’d take cable diameter as an indication of quality, but the difference between 4mm and 4.5mm could be the addition of a plastic liner and the difference between 4.5mm and the 5mm could be the addition of a braided (teflon or steel) cover and coating. I doubt that this applies to all makes of cables, so don’t hold me to this.; make sure to check what ‘features’ you’re getting before you buy.

      Also, and particularly with gear cable, the most important thing is that you get a clean, perpendicular cut on the cable ends and use good quality, well-fitting end-caps.

      SteveUK MTB

      November 30, 2009 at 12:09 pm

  2. what kind of lube would you use for lubing your cables? i have not gone through the entire guide yet and sure to pick it up somehwere.
    smashing guide so far. tx


    June 20, 2010 at 2:15 am

    • Inner cables with a coating (like teflon) tend to get a bit gummy when lube mixes with the small amount of coating that wears off through use. A good cable route, with no sharp/tight curves and with clean, straight cuts, shouldn’t really need any lubrication to work smoothly. While a quick lube with a light oil – TriFlow or maybe even ProLink – might loosen up an old cable system, it will only be a temporary and the need for it could be seen as an indictaion that it’s time to replace the cables.

      SteveUK MTB

      June 25, 2010 at 2:09 pm

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