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I'm in the market for a new bike. I'm not a club rider but a utilitarian one: I commute on my bike, visit friends and run errands. On average I probably ride 2-4 miles per day, almost entirely on good roads. Very occasionally I'll ride on a rough track like a riverside path.

I picked the model I was interested in and asked a cyclist friend if he'd go for that, or a more expensive version. The extra money buys:

  • An aluminium fork instead of a steel one
  • A few extra gears
  • Internal cables

The extra gears are of no value to me. I tested both in the bike shop and couldn't tell the difference between aluminium and steel forks on a good road surface, which is where I do almost all my riding.

That leaves the cables. I can see that internal cables look much neater, but my friend says they'll save me money on cable replacement because they won't get dirty from road spray working into the internals.

The price difference is £100. Are they really going to save me £100 over the likely lifetime of the bike (let's say 10 years)?

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    Water and gunk only gets into the cables at the ends. Internal cable ends are exposed just as much as external cable ends, so there's no difference on that score. The internal cables are a hair less likely to be damaged in rough use, but you don't sound like you're planning to ride rough. And they are harder to replace when they need replacing. – Daniel R Hicks Jan 19 '16 at 13:05
  • @DanielRHicks Thanks. TBH, that's kind of what I'd presumed. But no expert so wanted to check. You're welcome to add that as an answer for votes & possible accept. – Matt Thrower Jan 19 '16 at 13:08
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    There is a difference in some external cable arrangements, especially on older bikes, where the cable housing is only present in short segments, with exposed cable in-between. These setups are actually superior in terms of cable friction, but potentially a little worse in terms of maintenance, when the bike is exposed to the weather a lot. You hardly ever see this scheme on new bikes, though. – Daniel R Hicks Jan 19 '16 at 13:14
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    Just a note: While you may not feel the difference between the gears, having more gears provide the greatest benefit in that the jump from one gear to the next is a smaller increment. Consider having 3 gears (say 32, 20, 14) versus having 5 gears (32, 24, 20, 17, 14). The "20"s will feel the same on both, but you'll have a smoother switch up to the next gear on the bike with 5 (increase of 4) than what you'll have on the bike with 3 gears (increase of 12). – RoKa Jan 19 '16 at 13:16
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    Replacing internal cables is more work. It sounds like you'd be better served on the cheaper one, but make sure those are all the differences and you're not getting things like better wheels and what not for the extra 100 pounds. – Batman Jan 19 '16 at 13:53
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One difference that internal cables make is if you transport your bike by car or have to haul it around by hand.

  • Because the cables are inside the frame, they are less likely to get pinched by the clamp on your car-mount (especially if you use a trunk mount that clamps the top-tube). This is also true for car/bus bike mounts that clamp the down tube.

  • If you are carrying the bike up flights of steps, having internal cables means your hand/shoulder isn't rubbing the cables when you carry it by the top-tube.

  • If you have external cables on your downtube, they can get banged a bit if you lock your bike with a U-lock through the front wheel and triangle. Nothing critical.

These are all really, really minor. Internal cables are more about the aesthetics than anything else.

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I use two bicycles daily: one with all cables internal, including those on the handlebar and one where only top tube cable is inside, other cables are outside.

While riding it makes zero difference.

While cleaning the bicycle I find the internal routing handier, because the surface is featureless, thus easier to clean.

When changing the cables, I finish the bike with outer cables in less than a hour, while the bike with the internal routing takes several hours and sometimes massive amount of PITA with things like accidental cables lost in the tube.

To summarize: cable routing makes no difference for riding, internal routing is slightly better when cleaning the bike, external is way easier to maintain.


And when it comes to the rest of extras, my opinion is that the only extra worth looking at is extra gears. It may point to a groupset which is newer (those tend to have more speeds as time progresses). If it is a "granny gear" and you are not into climbing, then it is not worth getting.

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I transport my bike on a standard mounted hitch rack and I've been doing it for years. With external cables, you will end up damaging your shifters since the cables have constant contact/tension with the rack.

  • Rubbing the cables won't ruin the shifter, just the cables. – whatsisname Jul 25 '17 at 2:44
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I have internal cables on my bicycle. I ride about 4 miles every day in an area with four seasons. The largest advantage I have found with internal cables lays in the ease with which I can clean the frame when road salt or muddy splash collects on the frame's surface. As many people have pointed out, it is not an especially strong feature but if you wash your bike down a couple of times a month, internal tubing may make cleaning the bike easier.

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External cables can reduce your options for mounting luggage (frame bags) and lock holders. If you can fit such bags it's often with extra fiddling.

I've seen brake cables running up the seat tube on a step through. These make fitting a child seat bracket a little interesting.

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in addition to @RoboKaren's answer:

  • Race drivers prefer them because it makes bikes more aerodynamic.

  • For off road (and not) makes cables catch less dirt which makes them last longer and need less maintenance.

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