Brake and shift cables are so necessary that we hardly think about them. They’re hiding in plain sight. We obsess over our shifters, be it the throw or the feel, the lightness of the clicks, the nature of the ergonomics, and how many gears we can shift at once. We obsess over our derailleurs and how fast they can push the chain onto another cog or chain ring. We study brake calipers, trying to find the best one-finger feel and smoothest power curve and the consistency of the pads.
But cables? They come with’ the shifter, right? We have to replace them every so often. We’d prefer to replace them before they break, because they inevitably break during a race. And we pretty much replace them with whatever was standard when new. Good as new is what we’re generally trying to achieve.
Thing is, even with our professed replacement interval of once every six months for the cables and once a year for the housing, we’d probably be happier with our shifting performance if we replaced the housing and cables every six months. But that necessitates re-taping (new tape), cutting cables and housing to size, “breaking in” both the housing and cables, and a fair amount of adjustment. It’s easy maintenance, can listen to podcasts while it’s happening, but it’s still time that we could be doing other things.
So we generally let it go as long as we can. And by the time we’re ready to replace, the cables and housing are probably well past gone. Each time we do our housing replacing, typically in the spring, like mid-March, after most of the winter grime, just after the start of the racing season, and near the day we brought the frame into our life, we marvel at how light and easy the shifting has become, wonder about how much energy we were wasting by pushing so hard on the shift paddles, and fervently believe we should probably replace our cables and housing more often. And the shifting is great. When we give it some thought, we know that this is the proper state of affairs, but all the same, we let it go to the point that working against the springs is hard and releasing the spring is slow. And at those times, we kind of, sort of think about replacement, but since the increase in friction has come about so slowly, we almost barely notice.
This spring, we decided to do it differently. We replaced our cables, usually Campagnolo brand cables, and our housing, typically cheap-o lined housing because we haven’t noticed a performance advantage from Campy, with Gore cables and housing. Specifically, the Gore RideOn Professional System Derailleur Cables and Housing and the Gore RideOn Low Friction System Brake Cables and Housing.
Gore RideOn Cable Systems are part of the same company as the people who produce Gore-Tex, Gore Bike Wear and Glide floss. Initially, we figured the cables were somehow covered in some kind of ultra-thin Gore membrane. This is not the case. The cables are coated with a PTFE covering at the factory. PTFE is sometimes known by the brand name Teflon, but as DuPont owns the Teflon, other companies producing PTFE are not making Teflon, but a similar substance. Both the shift and derailleur cables are coated with the substance, though the first and last 100mm of the shift cables have the coating removed so as not to interfere with the shifting mechanism. The interior of the Professional System derailleur housing and Low-Friction System brake housing has a Gore-formulated lube that is designed to work with their cables. The derailleur cables come with an almost full-length high-density polyethylene liner. Everything included is designed to have the “systems” start at very low friction and remain low-friction for a long, long time.
Talking about the cables is a mouthful; calling it a “system” might be accurate, but feels a bit overkill. And when you open up the packaging, which is as attractive as it is wasteful, there seem to be way too many tiny pieces for something as seemingly simple as housing. The seeming complexity is a bit off-putting. Thankfully, it’s much easier than it looks. There are more ferrules than most people will need. The little red flag-style cable-crimp covers look a bit much, but are nice for calling attention to your expensive cables.
But when you open the packaging and ignore the vast quantity of ferrules, a few things become apparent. Gore has wisely designed their derailleur cables with two heads, one for SRAM/Shimano and the other for Campagnolo. Since there’s one at each end, you just cut off the one you don’t need and go about your business. The brake cables likewise come two-headed, one for brakes on drop-style handlebars and one for brakes on upright handlebars. Another simplifier is that the cables and housing are already lubed, so do not add your own.
The rest goes on pretty much as expected, though there are some long ferrules that you have to put in the right places, but the Gore instructions do a good job of telling you where they go.
Recently, we got a second set of the Professional System Derailleur Cables and Housing as well as the Sealed Low Friction System Brake Cables and Housing. We were interested to see how our shifting performance had degraded in the intervening six and a half months.
We had our doubts about the ferrule that runs from the derailleur cable housing stop by our head tube all the way to the font derailleur pinch bolt for the front and the head tube stop to the right chainstay stop for the rear derailleur. It seemed excessive. Weight-wise, it’s only a 4g penalty to have the ferrule covering the cable those two long distances. When we first installed it, the one good thing seemed to be we could run the SRM cable on the ferrule down to the bottom bracket without interfering with our shifting. But, after a long road test, we think it works.
Now that we’ve replaced our cables and housing, we believe that neither contamination from water and grit nor wear from the cable on the housing adversely affected shifting performance. The new set of cables and housing haven’t resulted in a perceptible reduction in friction when shifting. The friction felt low when we installed the set in the spring, and now, at the start of the fall, the new set feels about the same as the old set felt the day before we replaced it.
With the new set, we went with the Sealed Low Friction brake cables and housing. This differs from the Low Friction in that there’s a full-length liner running from your brake lever through the housing, all the way to a couple of millimeters from the pinch bolt. In order to make this work you need to put a grub seal over where the liner ends. The liner is similar to the one used with derailleur cables in that it fits very closely to the cable and that it’s transparent, but it’s made of nylon for greater abrasion resistance.
Considering that brake cables are generally exposed to less muck than derailleur cables, and that the front derailleur cable is encased in housing for almost its entire length, the sealed system seems excessive. All the same, the liner adds only a few grams of weight and doesn’t seem to add any friction to the system and maybe it will keep the cables and housing that much cleaner.
There were a few quirks to the setup. First, the brake housing initially compressed more than our old Nokon system, which was expected, but less than our older cheap-o housing. Gore is coming out with a compression-less brake housing which they seem to claim will feel as stiff as Nokon. The brake liner necessitates removing all burrs or notches at the ends of the housing that you might have created when you cut the housing. We filed ours down until the offending pieces were removed; we found if there was anything sticking the least bit in, the housing liner could not thread through the housing. In terms of the derailleur cables, we found that the cables slipped a bit through the pinch bolts, even when we torqued the bolts to spec. After a re-setting the cable a few times, this slippage stopped. It was probably a combination of the coating wearing off and the cable flattening a tiny bit.
We’ve been impressed by the Gore RideOn Cable Systems. The price seems a bit high for cables and housing, especially when you can buy housing in bulk, but the prospect of silky-smooth shifting starting the first ride of these cables and lasting for a year of daily riding is an enticement that really yanks on the lazy gear maintainer inside us. Set and forget for a year is something we want to live with. With cables and housing anyways.