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I just bought a new bicycle. While I was fiddling with things (removing tags, mounting a light, etc.) I noticed that the boot on the rear brake cable was loose. When trying to reseat it, I found that one of the strands of the brake cable was broken, and poking through the boot. Furthermore, the cable is un-twisted just before the bolt that clamps it to the right side of the brake. These seem like very bad things to me which I should immediately get fixed (and complain about). Am I correct? Is the bike unsafe to ride?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

I wouldn't say that a single broken strand on a new brake cable would render the bike "totally unsafe to ride," but if it is an option you should bring it back to the shop and have them replace it. This might be a sign that whoever put this bike together or inspected it for sale doesn't have a very thorough shop ethic. If they were careless enough to install a brake cable incorrectly, there may be other - more serious - oversights which can add up rather unpredictably. Not totally unsafe, but not ideal for a new bike.

In any case, brake cables are cheap and should be replaced at regular intervals.

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Not "dangerous", but take it back! I have been riding my rear brake for a year or so with worse fray, but if it is new and looks like that, make them replace it! It will only get worse and you will end up paying for their mistake. (I worked in a bike shop and we bought cables by the case, it only takes a few minutes to swap them out.) –  BillyNair Jul 7 '12 at 6:47
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That looks to me like an overtightened bolt. See how the cable has spread out under the bolt? That means more strands have probably been damaged. The problem is not that one strand has broken, but that more strands will break in short order. So yes, do something about it soon.

If you're lucky you'll be able to wind the barrel adjuster on the brake lever in and use the same cable, as anyone lazy enough to leave a cable like that on the bike might well be lazy enough to not wind the adjuster in. But I wouldn't bet on it, and either way it's safer to bin the cable and put a new one on, since you won't have much cable left after the fastening bolt which is not ideal (there's a short, sharp end that's hard to get an end cap on and the cap will be poking out at an annoying angle, or without the cap there's lots of sharp ends on the exposed strands).

This also gives you a change to see what the shop you bought from is like with warranty service issues.

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I took it in and they replaced it, no questions. The cable now looks much less spread out. –  Kevin Reid Jul 8 '12 at 14:19
    
Excellent news. –  Kohi Jul 8 '12 at 21:37
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There's nothing structurally wrong, but whoever put the bike together (likely at the bike shop) was a little sloppy.

The bike is perfectly safe to ride, and the durability of the cable is not seriously impacted. You'd need to have about half the strands in the cable broken before its integrity was at any risk.

And, contrary to what Kohi said, the bolt is not overtightened. It's normal for the cable to spread out like that when compressed.

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