Nokon MTB Derailleur Cable Kit
As bicycle connoisseurs, we pride ourselves on selecting an appealing mixture of componentry to complete our dream bikes. However, there are few who give serious thought to the cables that are an integral part of a new drive train. Most often we grab whatever is available at the shop or those that came with our new shifters. Surely we can all remember committing the most grievous error — installing a used cable at least once in our lifetimes. That always seems to happen the night before the big event, and always elicits regret when you suffer poor performance during the crux of the big climb on race day. Bicycle cables are an overworked and under-appreciated part of the shifting system. It is time we gave them the respect they deserve. This week we’d like to take a look at a somewhat unconventional cable system from Nokon.
We selected a set of Nokon derailleur cables and housing for this test during our sometimes wet and grimy winter riding season. For those of you who don’t know, they differ from standard cable housing in that the Nokon housing is made of aluminum segments housing a continuous Teflon sleeve, available in a number of anodized colors: silver, black, red, blue, and gold. They look super-duper cool. The inner wires are twisted stainless similar to what you’d find in any other quality derailleur cable system. Nokon makes claims of many performance benefits over a standard cable and housing system, most of which I found to be true. And, the system warrants merit based on both design and function.
When I removed the old housing from the Turner Flux test mule, it was banded together and put away for further testing. The Nokon derailleur cable and housing system is a bit confusing at first glance — the directions were printed entirely in German! Then I flipped the page over and discovered an English version. Still, I highly recommend one reads the installation instructions thoroughly before cutting any of the tubes and making any of the housing sections. The gist is this — the Nokon derailleur cable and housing system is engineered around tiny aluminum segments that have one spherical end and one convex end. They fit together end to end along a Teflon sleeve that covers the inner wire. After becoming familiar with the instructions, building the housing sections is much like making a bead necklace. The first time is an experiment but it’s also kind of fun — unless you start cutting the liner, it is not committing.
The Nokon derailleur cable and housing system relies on these aluminum segments and a Teflon liner to work in harmony in order to provide an efficient and reliable system to house and protect the inner wire. The Teflon liner is by nature slippery, and allows the inner wire to glide through it with ease. The function of the aluminum segments is to provide the stability to the cable system. As the cable is pulled, the housing has to resist compression in order to accurately transmit the lever input to the derailleur for the shift. If the housing compresses or deforms under this stress, the result is sloppy shifts and missed gears. Not cool.
Not only does the segmented housing of the Nokon derailleur cable and housing system totally resist this linear compression, it allows for smaller radius bends without housing deformation. Think of it like this — take a soda straw and bend it. At first, the straw can bend a bit without changing its cross-sectional shape, but it eventually gives way to the bending force and deforms. If there was a wire being pulled through it, the wire would experience friction where the straw collapses. This type of deformation can occur if conventional cable housing is made to follow a very small radius. Therefore, the Nokon derailleur cable and housing system is an ideal upgrade for full suspension frames or other designs that can put conventional housings under stress.
The Nokon derailleur cable and housing system has performed flawlessly for the last few months and even offered up a few surprises. First, it seemed that the segmented housing would be floppy, but it remains rigid under normal cable tension. Worries that the aluminum housing might be noisy against the bike frame were for naught. They certainly aren’t audible on the trail. The second surprise came when we broke out the digital scale and removed the Nokon aluminum housing from the Flux and compared it to the original housing. At 72 grams, the Nokon housing added a 14 gram weight penalty over the 58 gram conventional housing. Now realize that 14 grams isn’t much — we can usually scrape that much weight in dried mud from the bottom of our downtubes.
For all the hype surrounding the Nokon derailleur cable and housing system, there seems to be some legitimacy to their design. It is a fact that they work extremely well — most high quality housings and inner wires do. However, the real difference will be realized over time. The downfall of conventional housings is that the inner wires are exposed between housing sections allowing water and grit to contaminate the housings. This can lead to rusting inside the housing and poor shifting performance. This can be avoided by thoughtful maintenance and timely replacement of affected sections of housing. However, how many times a year do you pull the housings from the split-stops, wipe down the inner wires and lube your housings? If your answer was “never”, or, “pull what?”, then the Nokon derailleur cable and housing system might be a nice upgrade for your bike. The real beauty of the system is that the inner wire is totally sealed from the elements by the continuous Teflon liner. Also, the aluminum housing segments will never rust or corrode. It is likely that the Nokon derailleur cable and housing system will outlive your passion for your current bike and could be transplanted onto a sparkling new one.
I think the Nokon derailleur cable and housing system will provide exceptional durability and shifting performance that will not degrade over time like conventional cable systems will. It won’t necessarily make your bike lighter, but will certainly look cooler than your buddy’s bike. And, the design of the segmented housing provides the ability to route cables with tighter bends while maintaining a high level of shifting precision — this could be a major benefit for some particular frame designs.