How to Replace Shift Cables on Your Road Bike: 2 Cutting-Edge Tech Tweaks for Smoother Shifting

New cables are essential to make your bike feel like new. Here’s why you need to do it before summer and a step-by-step guide to make the process super easy, even if you don’t have any mechanical skills.

While electronic gears and hydraulic disc brakes are pretty much all you’ll find on a new bike these days, most people still love their rim brakes and mechanical shifters. And rightly so, because they are always brilliant. Well they are as long as you take care of them.

As with any moving part on a bike, gear cables and their housing will eventually wear out or become clogged with grime. Gunk This causes excessive friction between the shifter and derailleur, causing your gears to malfunction.

You’ll probably find that your chain won’t make the jump to the next cog and when you’re in pain on a hill, that’s the last thing you want. And even worse, the inner cables can eventually break, potentially leaving you stranded at the bottom of a big climb with only one gear.

Doing this simple maintenance job will ensure your gears are running smoothly for those long summer rides.

What are the necessary tools ?

  • Cable cutters
  • A choice
  • File or rotary cutting tool
  • Allen keys
  • plastic sheath

The tools you will need for this job consist of a good set of cable cutters and an Allen wrench for the clamp bolt. We really recommend getting a good quality knife set as this will give you a clean cut of the inner cable and case. Cheaper side cutters can crush the housing and fray the inner cable, resulting in poor shifting or difficult installation.

For a pro level finish a pick is really useful and a file or rotary cutting tool will give your case the flattest surface at the ends. It may seem small, but it’s a crucial step towards perfect shifting.

And if you’re working on internally routed cables, you’ll want to grab a plastic sleeve. Honestly, it will save you hours of pain.

Get ready to simplify your life

Ideally, we always want to work on a clean bike. Cleaning a bike It doesn’t have to be spotless, but a drivetrain is a dirty place and a frame covered in road grime isn’t a nice place to put your hands either, so wash your bike before you go. go.

Now that you have a shiny bike to work on, drop the chain into the small ring and the smallest sprocket.


Unscrew the cable anchor bolt and cut off the end of the cable, above where it was clamped, to leave a clean finish.

Remove the small piece of housing from the rear mechanism and set it aside. Slide the plastic sheath over the inner cable, pushing it through the frame.

Slide it through the cable entry point, then tape the sheath in place.

Now that you have this in place, you can completely remove the cable inside and remove the tape from the bar. If you want to reuse it, try to do so without tearing the tape.

Now is a good time to check the length of your existing cable jacket. We can’t stress how important this bit is. Go too long and you’ll lose sharpness in your shifts. Cut too short, however, and you’ll prevent the bars from rotating properly.

Rotate the bars to check that they turn completely. If everything looks good, you can use this box to measure the new parts.

Take the cable cutters and cut your case to length. If your old hardware was not the correct length, remove the old inner shifter cable before sliding one end of the new housing into the shifter. Hold it in place with your hand where the bar tape would end.

Bring the box up to the stop of the frame. You are looking for the straightest entry line possible while still leaving enough length for the bars to turn. We want the cable to pass as well as possible.

Remember that the cable stop in the frame will be a few millimeters from the edge, so take this into account by adding a few millimeters to your cut point.

Now that you’ve made your cut, it’s time to maximize your shifting performance with some pro tips. The first is to square off the face of the housing so that it sits flat against the cable stop. You can do this with a metal file, but our favorite method is with a rotary cutting tool, although you may know them better as Dremmel.

It doesn’t take much, so be careful. Once done, the second tip is to use a pick to open the end, as the case liner was probably crushed when you cut it.

At this point, depending on your bike’s groupset, you may need to insert a ferrule or two onto the case. Refer to your old cable to see what you need. If you don’t have new replacements, just use the old ones if they’re in good enough condition.

It’s time to thread the new inner cable through the shifter body and that’s where you’ll reap the rewards of that liner. Simply insert the new cable, slide it through, then remove the liner.

If you are routing the front derailleur, simply place the cable inside the clamp bolt and tighten it.

For the rear derailleur you will need to cut another small section of housing. Again, you can use your old part as a reference for length, but you really need a gradual curve from frame stopper to derailleur stopper.

Once cut, remember to use the techniques we described earlier to get the cable faces perfectly flat and open the jacket. Replace all ferrules and route the cable inside to the anchor bolt.

Before tightening it, wind up the barrel adjuster as this will help you when you come to index your gears. Speaking of which, you’re going to have to do this now, so check out our video on how to do it. And then you will have to re-pack your bar tape. We have a video for that too.

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About Leonard J. Kelley

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