My rear shifter cable just snapped yesterday. It broke down without any real warnings that I can recall. It neatly broke right at the head, that remained inside the shifter (a Shimano one).

If I recall correctly, it already broke last year but as I don't do much distance I wonder if this is normal. I had the cable changed at a local shop, and I must say I don't know which cable they put in, but it seemed quite cheap.

I isolated a few possible causes:

  • I shift too often/too many gears at once. As I ride the bike in a city I tend to quickly shift down when approaching a red light, and back up when it turns green. Should I instead remain in an upper gear and use more strength to get going ? Or maybe just shift the front gear once ?
  • I don't really put any maintenance effort in the shifter, should I maybe grease it from time to time? Especially since the bike is parked under a shed, but not in a closed garage.
  • Maybe the shifter itself is damaged, I bought this bike from second hand, it has visibly suffered a few falls, but the external damage is minimal.

Or is this a perfectly normal occurrence ?

  • 5
    Having any cable fail after only a year of regular use is an issue, especially since you do not seem to have abused it. I have bikes I've used for decades without problems with the gear cables. But I suggest that you update the question to say what model of Shimano the gear lever is, in case there's a specific issue that people know about.
    – andy256
    Jun 13, 2016 at 6:23
  • 1
    @andy I'ts not about shimano cable, as OP says, it was replaced last year. Sometimes you can get a bad cable.
    – Alexander
    Jun 13, 2016 at 6:35
  • 1
    Possibly the original cable was mis-installed and the new one put in to match the old on. Or there might be damage, or a loose part. It's worth opening up the shifter if you can (often there are screws holding a cover in place) just to see what is happening inside. But the first step is to ring the bike shop and explain what happened, as they may well fix it as a warranty job.
    – Móż
    Jun 13, 2016 at 6:46
  • 1
    If exposure to the weather is the cause then you would see significant rust on the inner cable when you pull it out. (A hint of rust/corrosion here and there is not a problem.) But how stiff is the shifter normally? It may be that the cable is being subjected to excessive force because the derailer is really stiff or the cable is misrouted. Jun 13, 2016 at 11:18
  • 1
    Shifting down a lot of gears quickly at the back is perfectly fine if you keep pedalling. If you don't you'll notice it gets harder to push the lever because you're pushing the derailleur against the chain against the sprockets. On one bike I hardly ever change at the front - almost flat roads and only a few hundred metres between traffic lights.
    – Chris H
    Jun 13, 2016 at 20:13

2 Answers 2


It's not uncommon. Some Shimano shifters are prone to breaking off near the head in the shifter and it can be a bugger to get that little bit out of the shifter. My wife has Ultegra 9sp and I have to replace her cable about every 12-18 months.

She can now tell when it's beginning to fray because the shifting gets dodgy before it completely breaks.

  • 3
    It is a good point that, when a cable is starting to fail, you can usually feel it "give" as individual strands of the cable break, and often it will feel "spongy" when it's gotten about 2/3rds broken. Jun 13, 2016 at 21:44
  • I'll accept this answer as I remember feeling my cable starting to give way some time ago... Just didn't pay much attention to it.
    – Urukann
    Jun 15, 2016 at 9:45
  • I've been replacing my 5800 rear cable every 6 months. I ride 80-100km per week, and shift frequently. Still, it seems excessive. I've heard that this is a problem for the Shimano 5800/6800/9000 series. Shifting is great until it breaks...
    – daaxix
    May 29, 2017 at 12:03

It's unusual to have to replace cables every year, you'd expect several years of lifetime under any normal circumstances, even without maintenance.

So it could be that you got a duff cable, or it could be that the bike is left in a particularly harsh environment, or it could just be that your memory is playing tricks. But whatever the reason, brake cables are pennies to replace. Get some decent ones now - you may as well replace your gear cables too if you have any - snd start keeping some kind of maintenance log just so you remove any doubt about when parts get replaced. (Some web sites will help here, for example.) And, when you do replace the brake cable, take a look online about what you can do yourself to maximise the lifetime of the new cable. It is mostly a case of lubrficating them in the right place, but this is something you don't have to worry about very often - things like your chain will demand far more frequent attention

  • Thanks for the advice, I'll keep track of this cable replacement problem.
    – Urukann
    Jun 15, 2016 at 9:46

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