I discovered the surprisingly simple art of cutting and installing bike cables. Gone are the days when I’d nervously haul my bike to the local pro for every little tweak, worried I’d botch the cable length.
Now, armed with the right know-how and tools, I’m my own bike mechanic. Stick around, and I’ll show you how you can be too, turning a daunting task into a satisfying DIY project.
To measure and cut bike cables: Cut cables to the shortest length that allows free movement through mounting locations with large bends. Use a sharp cable cutter for a clean cut. Ensure the cable housing is as short as possible while connecting all levers and frame stops, and allowing full handlebar motion. Cut housing perpendicularly with a sharp cutter and open flattened ends with a pointed tool.
This article will provide insight into bike cable cutting and installation. We’ll also offer tips to help you easily install your bike cables.
It would be best if you cut cables to the shortest length possible while allowing them to pass through the mounting locations. The cables should have big bends so the bike’s moving parts can move freely. It would be best if you cut the cables using a sharp cable cutter.
Bike cables acquire wear and tear every time you use your bike. These micro tears accumulate over time, eventually requiring you to replace your bike cable. The cables will cause your bike to shift and brake poorly without replacement.
Worn-out bike cables are also a potential danger to bikers, as they can snap while you pedal. That said, routine cable replacement is a requirement for every bike owner.
However, you may ask, “is it difficult to cut bike cables and replace them?”
Cutting bike cables is easy as long as you have the right tool. A sharp dedicated cutter will allow you to make a clean cut, so you can avoid messing up the end of your bike cable.
Cable wires are rigid, so using a blunt cutter can make it challenging to cut bike cables. A dull cutter can also cause fraying on the ends of the wire. If fraying happens on your bike cables, you will need to cut their ends again, thus reducing their length.
Moreover, bike cable replacement is something an amateur home mechanic can easily do. All you need are tools, cables, and about an hour of your time.
Worn-out bike cables can cause your bike to shift and brake slowly. These issues are potentially dangerous, as there are instances in the trail that require you to brake swiftly. If your cables cannot do such, it can lead to an accident, which you can avoid by routinely checking and changing your brakes. (source)
One way to improve your biking experience is to cut bike cables to the correct length. For instance, your brakes will work brand new, and shifting from one gear to another will be smooth.
The same goes when you cut bike cable housing. Cutting the cable housing too short can cause it to stretch too much and break. When worse comes to worst, incorrectly cut bike housing can lead to braking or shifting failure. Fortunately, you can avoid these issues by cutting your cable housing correctly.
Bikers follow no general length when you cut bike cables and their housing. For the cable housing, the rule of thumb is to cut it as short as possible. However, the entire housing should still pass through all the routings. They should also connect all the levers and frame stops throughout your bike.
In addition, the cable housing should allow you still to move the handlebar to its full range of motion after you install the cable.
Cut bike cables and housing either too short or too long, and they will cause unnecessary friction whenever you use your brakes and shifters.
Use a sharp dedicated wire cutter and hold the housing close to its jaws in a perpendicular position. Once the housing is in place, make a quick cut to ensure that your housing will have a clean end.
If the end of the cable housing flattened while cutting it, use the crimper of your cable cutter to open it up. (source)
Bike cables for gear and brake cables are different and non-interchangeable. It would be best if you used compressionless housing for gear cables and wound housing for brake cables.
Understanding the different parts of cable housings is essential to avoid interchanging them.
The braking system of your bike works using cable-pull brakes. This cable has two parts:
- an inner cable made up of braided stainless steel wire
- a cable housing
The inner cable of a bike braking system features flexible steel wires twisted together to create the ideal thickness. This cable design is called the Bowden cable, invented by Sir Frank Bowden on April 3, 1904.
The cable used for your bike’s braking system has an inner core that consists of twisted steel wires that resemble a rope. The twisted design gives the cable the durability and flexibility it needs, as it stretches when you pull your brakes. This way, the cable can transmit mechanical power once you pull your bike’s brakes. (source)
The other part of the braking cable is its housing. As mentioned, the housing for brake cables is different from that of the shifters. The brake cable uses wound housing. This cable housing is twisted like a spring. This way, it can compress a little whenever you put pressure on the cable by pulling your bike’s brakes. (source)
Similar to brake cables, shifters use the Bowden cable to jump from one gear to another. Shifter cables have the same parts as the brake cables. However, the difference lies in how tightly the cables are installed.
The individual wires of a shifter cable twist tightly together. For this reason, it can wear out faster than a brake cable. Meanwhile, a brake cable is a bit looser than a shifter cable. The reason is that it runs a straighter line than the shifter cable when installed on a bike.
After you cut bike cables for your shifter, they need to be inside a housing different from the brake cable used. The shifter cable is inside the compressionless housing.
Like the wound brake housing, the compressionless shift housing consists of steel surrounding the inner liner. This steel lining has a plastic coating that prevents moisture from entering and corroding the shifter cable.
The difference between brake and shifter housing is how their steel lining is placed. While the steel inside the brake housing twists throughout it, the steel lining strands for the shifter housing run straight. This design provides the shifter cable with precision, preventing your chains from shifting to a different gear from where you want them to. (source)
Replacing your bike cables with high-quality ones can significantly impact the performance of your bike. For this reason, we looked for the best bike cable brands you can get for your next ride.
Shimano is one of the most popular bike part brands today. One of the excellent products they sell is bike shifter cables. According to Shimano North America’s Road Brand Manager Nick Legan, Shimano shifter cables can give the gears lighter action. Meaning you will need to apply less force when shifting gears. The Shimano cables can also make bikes shift more smoothly.
The smooth-shifting action reduces friction, preventing the cables from wearing out quickly. (source)
Cut bike cables, and their ends will begin fraying after some time, making them shorter than your bike needs. But the Yakamoz bike cables are different. For instance, the Yakamoz Universal XL Brake Kit is different. This bike brake cable kit is 8 feet long, so you can cut it to the appropriate length without worrying that the fraying ends will mess up your measurements.
The inner steel lining of this cable’s housing consists of high-carbon steel, allowing it to resist corrosion. (source)
As mentioned, installing and cutting bike cables is easy if you have the proper tools. These tools will help you prepare your cable and housing with ease. Even better, they can make the installation process hassle-free.
A cable cutter allows you to cut bike cables and housing with minimal damage to their insulators. This tool has sharp jaws that prevent it from ruining the ends of the cable once you cut them—using a cable cutter instead of a regular wire cutter results in a cleaner and more precise cuts.
Side cutter pliers have a similar purpose to cable cutters. The difference is that you can use this tool to cut the ends of the cables diagonally. You can also use side cutter pliers if necessary to strip off the wire.
For bike cables, you can use the side cutter pliers to clean the wound housing.
Cut bike cables fray on end. To prevent fraying from happening, you need end caps to hold the wires together. The end caps also allow you to install the cable and housing into its designated levers easily. (source)
Looking for Some More Ways to Help Your Bike Last
- Regular maintenance will keep you pedaling for years. Read – DIY Mountain Bike Maintenance Schedule
- Everyone wants a new bike, find out when it’s time to buy with this article: Repair Old Bike or Buy New – Options
- DIY Mountain Bike Tune Up – A Complete guide to what to repair and how.
Working with bike cables is an easy task. Below are some bike cable installment tips for home mechanics:
One of the essential things during bike installation is to cut bike cables cleanly. If the cable frayed a little, you could twist it back to close the ends again. Your bike cable would only fray a little if you bought a cheap one.
You can cut your cables cleanly by using a sharp cable cutter. Snip off the cable to your desired length quickly to prevent the cutter’s jaws from flattening their ends too much. The inner lining of the cable housing will close after cutting, but you can use any pointed tool to open it up.
It is ideal for installing bike cables by leaving big bends on each cable guide. This way, you can ensure that your bike’s moving parts, such as the handlebar, can move freely. These bends will also provide the cables with enough length.
Install cable ties to the cables’ mounting locations before routing them. The cable ties do not have to go tightly around the mountain locations. The reason is that they should only support the cables’ route while still allowing them to move freely.
End caps are essential for bike cables as they prevent the ends from fraying. They hold the cable strands tightly, ensuring that they will not wear out quickly. (source)
Cutting and installing new bike cables is a task every home mechanic can do if they have the tools needed for the project. A sharp cable cutter will help you cut the cables cleanly. The other tools mentioned above will also aid you in quickly installing the new cables to your bike.
We hope that this article helped you understand how bike cable installation works. If you have comments or questions, please drop them in our comments section.
MTB Tools I Love and Recommend
I own each of these tools and only recommend things I own and use.
- Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand. Nice mountain bikes don’t have a kick stand so keeping your MTB safe but conveniently stored is essential. I keep my bike on my stand whenever I’m not riding it. This makes it easy to lube the chain, inflate the tires and adjust the derailleur. Highly recommended – Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand (👈 Link to Amazon to see what thousands of others have said)
- A basic MTB toolbox for replacing a chain, adjusting brakes and dialing in the fit. Bike Hand has a 37-piece box that has most of the specialty bike tools to keep your MTB properly maintained. The Bike Hand brand is value packed for the avid rider. Check out the competitive prices with this link to Amazon 👉 Bike Hand 37 pcs Bike Repair Tool Kit
- Get a good air pressure gauge, if you get just a tiny bit serious about MTBing you’re going to start playing with tire pressure. A couple psi can make your tires sticking or not. Get a good gauge, I highly recommend the Topeak Smartgauge D2, it’s accurate, flexible and easy to use. An Amazon best seller, here’s a link 👉 Topeak Smartgauge D2
- Carry a multitool with you on every ride. I’m serious, most of the time you can MacGyver something to get back to the trailhead if you have a multitool. I’ve got the Crank Brothers M19, it’s worn, rubbed and abused – but it still works. Thousands sold on Amazon – check it out with this link 👉 Crank Brothers M19
- Bowman-Melton Associates, Inc. Bicycle Commuter’s Handbook Part 2: Companion To The ETC Guide To Bicycling To Work Or Transit. https://www.nctcog.org/getmedia/526fdd66-5bb7-4518-83c4-5993d889bc91/Bicycle_Commuter_Handbook.pdf. Accessed November 30, 2022.
- Mike Davis and Guy Andrews. Complete Mountain Bike Maintenance. A&C Black, 2014. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=FcVdAwAAQBAJ&pg=PA58&dq=how+to+measure+bike+cables&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjIwfiXsNf7AhWVDd4KHU-PAukQ6AF6BAgFEAI#v=onepage&q=how%20to%20measure%20bike%20cables&f=false. Accessed November 30, 2022.
- Neto, Antonio Ribas, Matheus Del Porto, Julio Fajardo, Victor Ferman, and Eric Rohmer. “A Wearable Underactuated Robotic Glove Driven by Myoelectric Control Input.” pg. 2007. doi: 10.17648/sbai-2019-111433. Accessed November 30, 2022.
- C. Calvin Jones. Big Blue Book of Bicycle Repair: 4th Edition. Park Tool, 2019. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=CDcLEAAAQBAJ&pg=SA13-PA69&dq=wound+and+compressionless+bike+cable+housing&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi7k9yitNf7AhWHZd4KHfzLAWYQ6AF6BAgHEAI#v=onepage&q=wound%20and%20compressionless%20bike%20cable%20housing&f=false. Accessed November 30, 2022.
- Easy Upgrades: Shimano Cables and Housing. Shimano. https://bike.shimano.com/en-US/information/news/easy-upgrades–shimano-cables-and-housing.html. Accessed November 30, 2022.
- Universal Sport XL Brake Kit. Jagwire. https://jagwire.com/products/diy-cable-kits/universal-sport-xl-brake-kit. Accessed November 30, 2022.
- Easy Upgrades: Shimano Cables and Housing. Shimano. https://bike.shimano.com/en-US/information/news/easy-upgrades–shimano-cables-and-housing.html. https://bike.shimano.com/en-US/information/news/easy-upgrades–shimano-cables-and-housing.html. Accessed November 30, 2022.