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What is the best way to lubricate gear and brake cables in their tubular housings? Up until now, I've used CRC/WD-40 with an extension tube and attempted to squirt the lubricant into the tube housings. However, I suspect that this is fairly ineffective because 1. WD-40 is not a great lubricant (judging by the other Q+A on this site), and 2. the lubrication doesn't travel very far into the tubes.

So what is a good way of doing this?

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From my experience non-lubricated cables work better in the long run. Lubricated ones feel somewhat better when just lubricated but tend to accumulate dust and eventually get stuck which never happens to non-lubricated ones. –  Rilakkuma Aug 19 at 10:41
    
Spray lube is the way I (and several good bike mechanics I know) go, but there are better lubes than WD40. You generally want something with Teflon. –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 19 at 11:44
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For older and rusted cables I like triflow with teflon. And it has a pleasant banana odor. –  Blam Aug 19 at 18:17
    
You have to work very slowly. You put one drop after the other of very fluid oil on the cable were it comes out of the housing. Through capillarity the oil gets sucked up into the housing. Meaning you'll do this from both ends of the housing. –  Carel Aug 20 at 19:28

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I use chain lube since I also prefer the solvent+grease wet chain lubes. That's exactly what you want inside cable housings. Popping the quick releases on brakes or frame attachments on gear cables, then dribbling chain lube along the inner so it runs down into the outer works well on cables that are already installed and doesn't require re-adjusting anything afterwards.

Many outers are pre-greased these days, and the way to fake that if you get cheaper outers is a grease gun. A syringe will work at a pinch, but it needs to be a small one or the force needed to squirt grease into the tiny hole in the outer will be extremely high. Trying to manipulate grease into a cable outer any other way is frustrating and I find it ineffective (I have tried!)

Using oil kind of works, but I find I need to re-oil the cables way too often. Grease works better. Teflon coated cables work even better, and the combo of teflon cables and pre-greased outers (or plastic-lined outers) is amazing. But not worth the $80 a set unless you're running 10 speed gears or something expensive (I use a Rohloff, and that doesn't care about fine adjustment, only cable friction).

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Another chain lube user here - I use Dry lube, not Wet, pull the cable housing as far one way as it will go, drop or two of lube in the other end, and then work the housing back and forth on the cable. Then push the housing the other direction and do the same thing. –  Gary.Ray Aug 19 at 12:37

As many cable manufacturers recommend, modern cables+housings are designed to not be lubricated.

So, if you have modern cables, I'd probably avoid lubricating the cables period.

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I use Rock 'N' Roll Cable Magic cable lube created specifically for non-coated cables. http://www.rocklube.com/cable.htm

Without taking the cable all the way out of the housing, I'll shift to get as much slack as I can in the cable so I can get the housing out of the stops (my bike has slotted cable stops) and put in a few drops and move the housing back and forth to get the lube distributed.

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This is something generic put into a container which is labeled as being created specifically for non-coated cables. The idea that you need a myriad of separate lubes for every conceivable purpose is just clever marketing. –  Kaz Aug 20 at 18:54

As stated, modern teflon line outer cables do not require lubrication. These cables are often designated as being 2P-class cables. 1P cables lack the liner. Not all cables carry such an indication, visual inspection will quickly show if a liner is present. A teflon liner is a thin, plastic layer inside the outer cable, often white or light blue. If you have older, or cheaper cables, without such a liner, lubrication is required. Teflon lined cables with inner cables that have corroded and are stuck should be replaced, due to damage to the inner cable and/or liner. In an emergency however, lubrication can help to unstick these cables.

Note that WD-40 is NOT a lubricant and should never be used for any type of serious lubrication. It does more harm than good. See also this related question. Buy a specific cable lubricant, which is designed for penetrating through the whole cable. If this is not available, any other light oil or grease will do.

Cable lubrication is much easier using a specific cable lubricator. Mount the lubricator with the large hole over the outer cable, the small hole over the inner cable. Tighten the screws (gently!), insert the lubrication spray can straw and insert small quantities of lubricant until it flows out the other end. In general, you would want to lubricate from top to bottom, in order to have gravity help distribute the lube. Not for the brake cables however, be very careful not to get any lubricant on your brake pads/disc/wheel rim or any other friction part. For brakes, always lubricate Bottom-Top, or completely detach the cable from the brake before lubricating.

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WD-40 contains lubricant. According to the MSDS it contains "petroleum base oil". Not a lot of it, but it's there. You can see it. Spray the stuff on a surface, let it evaporate and there is a film of oil. This oil is not suitable for every purpose; it works in those situations that call for a light machine oil. There is also no mention of any useful additives (anti-rust, anti-wear). So it's not a great lubricant and its claims of being general-purpose are greatly overstated; but it's a lie to deny that it's a lubricant. –  Kaz Aug 20 at 18:57

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