I cycle year round, in Maine. It is pretty much guaranteed my brakes and shifter cables will need replacement in the spring, even if I try to maintain and clean the bike after each ride. Does anyone have any tips or tricks for protecting cables?

(The road salt, or whatever it is, seems to kill the cables, and yeah, I totally remember a time when cables would last a couple seasons, before the advent of what ever is going on the roads now.)

  • 1
    What do you mean by "seems to kill the cables?" Are the cables failing in some way? Or, do they start binding up and no longer move freely though the housings? Or, is it something else altogether?
    – dlu
    Jul 23, 2015 at 0:05

2 Answers 2


I wrenched for a cyclocross team and those bikes see pretty torrential conditions. How are you cleaning the cables? If you're just cleaning them as they are on the bike it probably won't do much good. You need to take the housing out of its stops.

How to do this: Rear derailleur: Shift your bike into the largest/inner rear cog. Now WITHOUT turning the crank click the shifter as if you were shifting into the smallest/outer rear cog. This will create slack in the cable and you'll be able to easily pop the housing out of its stops. Front derailleur: Shift into the big ring. Now WITHOUT turning the crank click the shifter as if shifting into the inner/smaller ring. Again, you create slack and be able to pop the housing from its stops. Brakes: You need to release the brakes. On a side pull there is usually a quick release lever on the caliper itself. On cantilevers you need to unhook one end of the straddle cable. Again, this puts slack in the lines and you can pop the housing out.

Once you have the housing free of its stops you can slide it to one end of the cable and wipe down the cable then slide it back to the other end and wipe the remaining cable.

It only takes a minute or two to do this. Do it after every wet/muddy ride and cables should last all season.

The more extreme and effective solution is to run full length cable housing. Basically if you have non stop housing from brake/shift lever all the way to the derailleur/brake there won't be as many points for grit to enter. This is how all bikes used to be but in the 80s everyone went to split stops because it was cheaper for manufacturers and also because more housing means more housing compression and that means spongier brakes and less precise shifting. Modern housing is much better than the stuff from 30 years ago so that need is no longer as great. Thanks to the rise of hydraulic brakes there are now little adapters designed to plug into the split cable stops to hold hydraulic lines in place. These same adapters can be used to hold full length housing in place and I've seen guys use them for the rear brake and derailleur cables on cross bikes. Here's an example: http://problemsolversbike.com/products/housing_guides

  • There are cable systems where only the liner runs full-length. Thus giving one the advantages of both worlds. Gore RideOn and Nokon are examples. Nokons are probably the best solution because the liner runs full length and the housing is made out of aluminium.
    – Michael
    Jul 23, 2015 at 6:07
  • If I change cables in spring I also change the complete housings. It's worth investing in ferrules for the housings that have integrated seals, little O-rings to keep water out.
    – Carel
    Jul 23, 2015 at 10:37
  • Nokons are great but tedious to install (one reason you no longer see them much in the pro peloton!)
    – ChrisL
    Jul 23, 2015 at 16:01

Since brake cables don't rust, I think the problem is that the cable housing gets dirty with mud or any other substances. The grit inside your housing will increase the friction so the brakes become hard to pull.

A way to solve this is to prevent dirt gets inside your housing by investing in good fenders. Moreover, they will help to make the bike cleaner after a ride.

Additionally, I used to lubricate the brake cables, but I found this is unnecessary (http://sheldonbrown.com/cables.html#lubrication)

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