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Ok folks, I'm confused and in need of advice. On my commuter (touring) bike, I just upgraded my BB5's to BB7's. In the process, decided/realized that I also need to replace my cables and housing (@mikes was right in his answer to a past question of mine).

In surfing the 'net I see that I can get compressionless cable housing or "regular" cable housing. Compressionless seems to be preferred by folks interested in higher levels of performance.

That said, I have always trusted Sheldon Brown's advice on a variety of bike related topics. He seems to say that compressionless housing is made for (and should only be used for) indexed shifters and it might be dangerous to use it for brakes. However, there are several vendors (1),(2) who sell compressionless housing made specifically for brakes.

So, is Sheldon wrong? Will I be introducing additional risk in my braking system by using them? Will compressionless cable housings make a significant difference in the performance of my mechanical disc brakes?

Thanks in advance for any advice you might have.

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I dare say the good people at Jagwire tested their cable outers before advertising them as break cables. Both examples you posted have an additional kevlar reinforcement over their gear cable counterparts. – alex Sep 12 '13 at 6:27
up vote 6 down vote accepted

I recently upgraded my brake cables with some Jagwire of the compressionless variety. jm2 is correct in saying the steel housing is reinforced with kevlar to prevent the longitudinal wires from buckling. The performance is very good and my brakes are far more responsive than with the old, traditional spiral-wound housing that was there before.

That said, installation is made a bit more tricky because:

  1. The cable is not as flexy (it's a lot thicker than gear housing) so lengths must be cut appropriatly and secured well with the correct ferrules/end caps.
  2. It is a bitch to cut. I tried first with a proper, full-size hack saw to get a smooth cut and it was immediately blunted. They must use very hard steel. I then just used some high-quality wire cutters which just about did the job and I smoothed up the cuts with a file. Make sure you have decent cutters if you're using compressionless.

It's also debatable whether compressionless is needed for brakes. It's needed for gears as they are indexed so need precise cable draw for a given shifter movement. Brakes have no such need, if you need more caliper movement just squeeze the lever a bit more. It probably gives some finer modulation but I reckon most of the improvements I experienced were just due to new cable vs 8-year-old ropey cable.

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Great advice, especially about the installation issues. Hadn't considered many of those (I had a hard enough time cutting my old stuff). – D. Woods Sep 12 '13 at 14:32
Isn't longitudinal wire housing only for shifters? At least for road I've always been told to use coil for brakes. Or is compressionless brake designed specifically to allow use of longitudinal wires in brake cable housing? – John Doucette Sep 12 '13 at 15:18
If you have a dremel that's the way to cut it. Get the thin cut-off wheels. You can get generic packs of 100 on eBay for $12. The benefit is that after you cut you can square it up cleanly. – jqning Jun 14 '15 at 15:54

I believe Sheldon wrote this before there was brake specific compressionless housing available on the market. My understanding is that brake specific compressionless housing is reinforced with Kevlar, not plastic, and it has certainly been rigorously tested to work as expected.

The folks I know that run compressionless housing on their mechanical disc brake setups seem very happy with it, so if you're not completely happy with your current setup it may be worth a shot.

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Thanks. Very helpful. – D. Woods Sep 12 '13 at 14:33
Indeed, compressionless housing for brakes is quite new (post his death, iirc). Regular compressionless housing (e.g. things for your shift cables) will rupture, hence hte need to reinforce. – Batman Dec 16 '14 at 1:03

Yes there is a difference between traditional gear & brake housing. And no you shouldn't use standard gear housing for brakes as it can split right down the middle.

The true compressionless housing available for brakes these days is like nokon, i-link and vertebrae. They all use a segmented design and can be used safely for both gears and brakes.

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