Even the most expensive shifter cables will wear down over time due to frequent use and exposure to nasty conditions.
A quick squirt of lubricant can help solve the immediate problem, but once the cables start feeling gritty, it is time you need to change both inner and outer parts.
Instead of paying a couple of bucks for labor cost, you can totally change the cables at home once you know how to do it. I have written my guide on replacing shifter cables below, so read on.
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What Are The Signs That I Have To Change Shifter Cables
Generally speaking, you have to change shifter cables when either the inner cable or the housing wears down.
Inner cables are often made of galvanized or stainless steel to prevent corrosion. Galvanized cables will corrode when the coating worsens. As a result, there will be higher friction when you brake, even complete failure.
Stainless steel is more durable, but not totally resistant to corrosion. In some severe cases, stainless steel cables can still oxidize, and that is when you need to change the inner cables.
On the other hand, the housing needs to be replaced when the lubrication in the liner has been washed. It is not visible, but you can feel it on a bicycle with tight housing bends.
In fact, any cable and housing can lose its effectiveness over time as dust and dirt find their ways into the brake disc grooves. That is why it is best to replace the cable and its housing system periodically to ensure your bike will always be working well on the road.
But if you are too busy for that, look for some following visible signs.
- Do you see any cable unwinding or fraying?
- Do you see a kink in the cable housing?
- Do you notice any strands pushing through the end of the shifter?
- Does the brake feel compressionless?
If the answer is yes to any question above, I advise you to replace the shifter cables as soon as possible.
Tools Needed for Shifter Cable Replacement
You do not need any fancy bike-specific tools to change a shifter cable. Prepare some common stuff as follows.
- A hex wrench
- Diagonal cutters and cable housing cutters
- A small pick
- A new cable set (housing, end caps, wires, and ferrules included)
Note that changing shifter cables in modern bikes is different from fitting a completely new cable.
It is because in a modern road bike with internal routing, the cable runs through the frame, which means you need to remove the entire bike cranksets to replace the cables. In that case, some special tools may be required.
For more information about how to replace & fit gear cables on a road bike , let’s watch a helpful video on:
Step 1: Prepare
At the first step, your goal is to unfasten the old cables to fully remove them in the next step.
To do so, you need to fully shift onto the smallest rear and front gears, then chop two end caps off the shifter cables using the cable housing cutters. Next, undo the anchor bolts on the rear derailleurs.
You will see the front parts of the outer cable under the bar tape. So to access the shifters, you need to unwrap the bar tape first. Then, unthread the brake hood carefully until it falls below the shift lever.
Now you can easily cut the electrical tape that keeps the outer cable in place.
Step 2: Remove the old cables
Disconnect and remove the outer cable housing from the frame before removing the inner cable from the shifter.
To release the gear cables that thread in from the side, you need to shift onto the highest gear and pull back the lever towards the bar.
Now the old cables are fully removed from the shifter, get ready for the next step.
Step 3: Cut the new cables
Do not throw away the old cable right away. You need it as a guide measure to cut the new cable outers. Make sure you use dedicated cutters to get the ends as flat as possible.
If the inner liner seems disengaged, use the pick to open it out. The pick also comes in handy when widening the new opening to install the new ferrules. Once the opening is wide enough, simply push the ferrules onto the two ends of the shifter cables.
Both plastic or metal ferrules are fine, but the metal ones are a bit more durable. On the other hand, plastic ferrules earn a point as they do not get as noisy as the metal ferrules when the housing compresses.
Step 4: Install the new inner cables
It is time to install the new inner cable into the shifter now.
Check to make sure the shifter is still in the highest gear. Then, slide the new cable into the lever as gently as possible. You do not want to damage it, do you?
It may require some wiggling here and there. Once you have finished, the end of the cable should pop out on the other side. Pull it tight and do not forget to click the shifter once to ensure the cable is properly engaged to the shifter.
A small tip: you should feel more tension as the shifter is ratcheted up.
After that, slide the outer cable along the inner wire; then wind the inner wire through the frame stops and fit the ferrules into place. Attach the first section to the bar using tape.
For the front section, slide the cable through the guide, which you should find under the bottom bracket. Meanwhile, the last section needs installing between the rear derailleur and the final stop for the gear.
Step 5: Attach to the derailleur
As its name already suggests, you will attach the cable to the derailleur at this step. Try shifting the lever many times without pedalling to place tension on the cable. By doing this, your gears will settle and do not go out of adjustment after a while.
Repeat the step with both rear and front derailleurs.
Step 6: Dial it all in
Check to make sure the barrel adjusted is correctly dialed in. Snip off any excess cable and crimp it on the new end cap. That should be enough to re-index the gears, as long as you have not done any changes to the derailleur.
That is all about bike shifter cable replacement! Pretty easy, right? Follow the guide closely and you can do it all at home with ease.
Changing Internal Shifter Cables on Mountain Bikes
It is more confusing if you want to adjust the cable for a mountain bike with internal routing. In that design, the cables do not run through but inside the frame itself. But do not worry; I got your back.
For more information about how to change a shift cable on your MTB, let’s watch a helpful video on:
Step 1: First, find the cable stop under the bottom bracket and remove it from the bike.
Step 2: In internal cable routing, the two gear cables will cross in the down tube. At this step, you need to switch the position of each.
To be specific, you will slide the cable from the right shift lever into the left sleeve and vice versa. Then, slide the Bowden cable through the frame.
It is recommended to hook the cable with a screwdriver before pushing it through the hole so that you can guide the cable through more easily.
Step 3: You will want to put the new cables in the crossing position as in the original design. To do so, take the slide that pushes into the frame at the top right, pull it to the left through the cable stop and vice versa.
Step 4: Put the cable stop under the bottom bracket again. Slide the cable through the covers of the other cable to the front and rear derailleurs. You are good to go then!
Tips for The Shimano Tiagra Cable Replacement
How about changing a Shimano Tiagra cable? Are there any special tips and tricks?
I do not have any fancy tips here, but I will give you a pretty detailed guide. In fact, replacing a Shimano Tiagra cable is not really different from a common cable, so no worries.
For the gear cable, you need to shift the changer to the smallest cog in the smaller inside shift lever. Pull on the brake to expose a small hole on the outside, and pull the old cable through this hole. Finally, insert the new cable through that hole again.
With the brake cable, you will need to slide the whole gear shift lever inwards and fully pull the brake lever backwards. By doing so, the hole where the cable end stays will be revealed. Pull out the old cable and insert new one as you have done with the gear cable.
How To Keep The Cables Running Smoothly
To extend the lifespan of your shifter cables, you should take special care in the installation step. I recommend stainless steel cables for more durability against corrosion. Also, the housing should be well-lubricated in advance.
Even though you can lubricate the cable later, it is still worth investing in a pre-lubricated housing. This is because the pre-lubricated cable housing is distributed evenly along the length of the housing.
Meanwhile, you can only add the grease later by rubbing it on the cable or injecting it into the ends of the housing. Either way, you cannot achieve consistent lubrication as in pre-lubricated housing.
Liquid lubricant is not recommended either, as it is not durable and offers little water resistance in the long term. Not to mention the fact that many liquid lubricants are likely to attract dust and dirt, which may speed up the deterioration.
If you want to ride in wet conditions, it is best to use sealed ferrules to keep the lubricant and stay away from contaminants.
Meanwhile, lined ferrules are helpful in preventing the cable coating from wearing off. In addition, there are hooded ferrules to save the cables in nasty conditions using a double-lip seal.
You can also find special ferrules for specific conditions on the market. For example, anti-kink ferrules are manufactured to fit folding bikes with a tight housing bend. There are some reducer ferrules for modern housing as well.
The material used in making the ferrules also needs consideration. I recommend aluminum as it is more durable, keeps the strands in place, and does not compress under load.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How much do I have to spend to replace a shifter cable?
A: The usual labor cost for replacing a shifter cable is about 20$ each cable. That does not include the money you spend on the bicycle parts such as the cable itself, housing, etc. Replacing shifters at home will save you some bucks.
Q: How long does replacing shifter cables take me?
A: It takes as little as 15 minutes when you are familiar with the steps, but a bit longer if this is the first time you have changed shifter cables on your own.
Q: Can I replace shifter cables without tools?
A: It is difficult to change a shifter cable with your bare hands since you may need a few tools such as scissors, wrenches, and the like. Fortunately, there is no bike-specific tool needed in the process.
Q: When should shifter cables be replaced?
A: Replacing shifter cables is an important part in bike maintenance. It is recommended to replace the cables every 5000 or 6000 mile. Otherwise the cables might break and cause stiffness in the pedals when you brake.
The Bottom Line
You see, replacing shifter cables is not as difficult as you think. There are no fancy tools needed, just a little patience, a detailed guide, and you can totally do it yourself at home. After changing the cables, apply some tips and tricks I have listed above to ensure your cable and housing work well for a long time.
If you have any questions related to the topic, comment down below so that I can help you out. Stay tuned for more new posts about bicycles.
Thank you for reading.