Making Sure Your Shifter Cables Don’t Destroy Your Levers

“Who knows what evils lurk in the heart of your bike’s shifting??? ARB Cyclery DOES!!” – Bruce B. the mechanic 2/25/2016Crash

When it comes to maintaining your bike, too often, out-of-sight means out-of-mind. I’ve seen this happen too many times before. Many people are super happy the first few months after they get their new bike and everything works perfectly, as it should. Fast forward a few accidental drops (I never do this) and a few rides in the rain, possibly a crash or two…

Speaking of crashes, I remember when I had finally built up a carbon steed with new parts and I was itching to ride my bike all week. A buddy and I decided to take it for a quick 20 mile spin to test it out. *Cue lens flare, dramatic overhead camera angle, and epic soundtrack. It was great. New bike day is ALWAYS great. However, just 3 miles away from home, it happened. I took a turn too hard trying to push my bike to the limit, dragged the brakes a fraction of a second too long, and slid out on the sand that made its way onto the bike path. At that point, I knew I was falling but there was nothing I could do.  I had only one thought in my head, “Man, I hope my bike is going to be ok…”.  My friend was totally clueless, and rode off into the distance, leaving me sideways on the ground, craning my neck around for any signs of damage on my new frame.

Anyways, point is I don’t like to neglect my bike and neither should you. It’s as important to me as your family pet is to you. Yeah, my bike is like family to me. But a lot of people put in big miles on their bikes and come back from their rides exhausted. Totally understandable. It’s almost instinctive to just throw your bike in the corner before you plop down on the couch with a beer. But as time goes by, the smoothly operating machine that you loved can become a cantankerous beast. Its easy to push off a tune-up, or lubing your chain, but each time you ignore your bike you’re taking a step down the dark, dark path of bicycle neglect.

So how may you avoid the dark side you ask? This time we will focus on your bike’s derailleur cables. The newer 11 speed systems, particularly those from Shimano (Dura-Ace, Ultegra and 105) rely on a systems design approach to achieve their phenomenal performance. This approach includes re-designed cable housing and polymer coated cable wires, coupled with radically higher cable tension.

If you’re lucky it’ll all come out with some fishing around.

The result is a shifting system that works really, really well until it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, it can be with catastrophic and expensive results. Derailleur cables are made up of stranded wire and work with the shift lever to move your derailleur in the precise increments necessary to smoothly shift your bike from one gear to the next. They operate by bending back and forth the inside of your levers (out-of-sight, remember) and they begin to fail by breaking one strand at a time. As you continue to shift, more and more of these wires fray and snap resulting in either cable failure or in the worst case, lever failure. In either case your bike is out of commission. The cost of a cable is about 12 bucks, (installation is included as part of an ARB Classics level or above tune-up). If an individual lever is destroyed by a broken cable, the cost of the replacement lever can be in excess of $200.

Especially if you haven’t looked at this often overlooked critical component in more than a year, it’s really a good time to include cable replacement as part of your bike’s routine maintenance. Your bike will continue to please you with like-new performance and your wallet will thank you.


One thought on “Making Sure Your Shifter Cables Don’t Destroy Your Levers

  1. Good write up…! What are the symptoms when strands are coming off (out of sight)? And are you recommending to change cable annually?

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