Nokon Road Brake Cable Kit
Cable stretch. When you build up a bike you cut the housing to length, then thread through the cables, tighten down the pinch bolts, and stretch. Squeeze the brake levers as hard as you can, push the shift levers while the chain is firmly in place and the cranks are stationary. It's a ritual we've all committed to memory. Do this a few times to stretch the cable, then loosen the pinch bolts, and re-tighten the cable. And you might need to do this for another round or two before the cable is properly stretched.
After setting up Nokon brake cables and housing on our bike, we're in agreement with what others have been telling us after they installed Nokon. Cables don't stretch nearly as much as housing compresses.
This lack of compression with Nokon is no small deal. Braking feels much “stiffer.” Every time we squeeze the brakes, the sensation of moving the lever seems to result in a much faster response at the caliper and less mush immediately after the pads contact the rims. This is great; whether or not this constitutes “better” braking is up for debate. What it seems to mean is that with Nokon we don't have to move the lever as far so we can either brake later or squeeze a bit easier.
The result is pretty much a wow. The process of compressing the cable housing after setup was unnecessary. The sensation of stiffer braking happened the first time we had to slow down. And it's been good ever since.
There's another reason to like Nokon cable casing. Creating tight radii of cable housing. If you're riding a small frame, or a time trial frame where you have to carefully wind the cables around bars and stem into the frame, the housing is incredible. It can't get kinked.
The reason it can't kink is the design. Nokon housing isn't wound or vertical strands of metal encased in plastic. It is made of segmented ferrules. Think anodized aluminum Lego pieces. Each one is called a “pearl.” There is a ball end and a socket end to each. The balls nestle inside the sockets. And you stack them. So long as the ball end is firmly nestled in the open end, the design doesn't allow kinkage and doesn't compress. The way to firmly nestle the pearls is to tension the cable.
Worry about cutting housing too short? No worries with Nokon. After lining up the pearls, you realize the housing won't allow the handlebars full mobility; all you need to do is add a pearl or two and it should be fine. We swapped out handlebars and stem while we had the Nokon housing on our bike. The new bars demanded more cable housing; we added three more pearls for the rear housing and one for the front, and all was good.
The pearls aren't lined. Rather there is a separate fiberglass-reinforced Teflon liner that goes inside. And the cable runs inside the liner. The pearls could last forever; all you need to do is periodically replace the liner and cable. The people at Nokon suggest replacing the cable every year and the liner every two years. Any cable will work, though Nokon recommends a simple stainless steel cable rather than the “lined” cables out there.
The biggest issue with Nokon is the setup. Not only is it all-but-guaranteed to be longer than with traditional cable housing, the directions are lousy. You have to keep the pearls snug against one-another and on the liner in the setup process and occasionally the bottom ones fall off. We don't know if the problem with the directions are because they're poorly translated from German or they don't know how to explain their product, but the key thing to take away from them is a list of all the parts included. There are many, and all are bagged. Two cables. There were three separate sections of pearls mounted on three separate sections of Teflon liner; one for the front brake, one for the rear brake going from the bars to the forward cable stop and one for the rear brake from the rearward cable stop to the brake itself. There are two sections of flexible hose; these go from the brake lever around the handlebar bend. There are two balls that allow you to reverse the direction of the pearls so you can get the ball end of a pearl sitting against the brake caliper or cable stop. There are two gold-anodized ferrules with Nokon for aesthetics and reversing the direction of the pearls. There are four sections of clear hose to go over the pearls in spots where they may bump into the frame. And there are two small sections of narrow-diameter clear plastic which is designed to mate the rear section of liner with the front. One is for use; one is a spare. And two cable ends to finish the package.
We assumed that we were supposed to cut the liner so it stayed entirely within the housing. A wrong assumption. Nokon's brake housing is designed as a closed system. The cable itself runs inside the liner all the way from the brake lever to within a few millimeters of the housing stop on the brake calipers. Thisis to keep the cable life long and reduce the likelihood of corrosion. Running the exposed cable along the top tube no longer necessitates rubber cable donuts to stop “ping”-ing noises. There is also a slightly larger diameter clear length of housing liner that joins the front segment of liner to the back. The cable moves inside the liner inside the housing. Nokon says the liner should be replaced every two years and the replacement can be any brake cable.
We started by threading the brake cables through the levers. Then we slid on the flexible hoses. Next the liner-held strands of pearls. For the front housing, we put a cable stop on the end. Either have a housing stop or a ball end against the brake caliper or frame cable stops. There are even different-sized housing stop segments; one is slightly smaller diameter so it can fit in with an overpainted frame. We next cut off about 3mm of liner so it won't bump up against the cable stop. For the rear, we removed a few pearls and added a housing stop. Then we slid on a rubber cover and put it where the housing could abrade the frame. Next, we measured the length of the rear segment of housing. We put that in place, cutting off a little liner so the liner wouldn't bump up against the stop.
The trickiest part was sealing the cable inside the liner by the rear housing stop. We could get the sealing section over one part of the liner, but had trouble doing the second. Nokon recommends either cutting the difficult liner strand on an angle so it can get wedged in or trying to flare out the clear segment a bit.
We can see Nokon staying on our bike a long, long time. We might want to replace the clear rubber housing protector for the rear brake housing once the rubber turns opaque. Rain and grit have gotten in and seem to be “fogging” the hose. It's unsightly. Doubt it could lead to corrosion. The only complaint we've ever heard about Nokon housing is that it slowly corrodes if you live by and ride alongside an ocean beach. We've been riding on salty roads all winter and notice no exterior corrosion.
A small benefit, but real nonetheless is the weight savings that the housing realizes. We saved about 20g switching. Not much, but when you're competing to be the biggest weight weenie in town, you could win the prize by switching to Nokon.