Seems like every year towards the end of cyclocross racing my brake cables start to get 'sticky'. The STI shifter is fine for changing gears, but when pulling on brakes it feels like I'm breaking loose something stuck before the pads actually touch the rims. I think water/mud/grime is somehow working into the housing and adding friction.

I have replaced the cables and housing about this time every year. Is this too often? Should I be doing some better (more) maintenance? - I rinse and wipe bike clean after every race and practice, but not really anything special for brake cable/housing.

side question: Should I change shifting cables and handlebar tape at the same time (since I'll have the wrap half way off)?

2 Answers 2


I encourage replacing once there is a noticeable decline in performance (usually that means that they get "sticky").

Depending on the type of elements you go through, you might get back most of the perf by pulling the cable most of the way out, adding a drop of thin oil, then sliding the cable back through all the housing. Repeat a couple of times wiping cable each time. This will often clear the bits of gunk that are making it sticky.

Changing shift cables/tape at same time: Tape...absolutely, it's cheap and I always feel like I've treated my bike nice when it's sporting new wrap.

Shift cables...if they are in good shape and the drive train is clicking along nicely, I tend not to mess with it. If they are getting sluggish like the breaks, then I'd go ahead. Keep in mind on the shift cables that they will stretch a bit so you will need to tighten the cable and possibly do a slight retune of the drive train a bit after a few days.

  • I prefer to use "dry" type lubes in muddy, dusty,gritty enviroments. Even a light oil tends to make the grit stick to the cables. The grit gets pulled into the housing over time.
    – mikes
    Dec 21, 2012 at 22:06
  • Dry lube is good for making smooth action but will not act as a cleaning agent which is how I use it in this case. Here, the lighter the better, but if it's dry, it will not help.
    – Ken Hiatt
    Dec 24, 2012 at 17:19
  • Most aerosol dry lubes uses a liquid carrier that will flush then evaporate leaving the dry lube in the housing.
    – mikes
    Dec 24, 2012 at 21:37

I think the more common strategy is to squirt spray-lube into the housings once or twice a year and only replace them when they're showing rust or other signs of being over the hill. I replace mine every 10 years, whether they need it or not.

Certainly if you're replacing the tape then that's a good time to replace the cables, but I only replace the tape every ten years as well -- in-between I just add layers of hockey tape.

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