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When Do You Replace Shifter Cables?

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When Do You Replace Shifter Cables?

Old 04-30-22, 07:03 PM
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Random11
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When Do You Replace Shifter Cables?

I once thought that one advantage of mechanical shifters is that you don't have to be concerned about your battery dying. But yesterday I had a shifter cable break. It's the second time I've had this happen on a bike I've had less than three years. So, that advantage isn't so much of an advantage after all. A cable break prevents you from shifting almost as much as a dead battery does for electronic shifters. (Only one cable breaks at a time, so some limited shifting is possible.) Yesterday, it was the cable to my front derailleur. Previously, the cable to the rear derailleur broke. This is far from a tragedy, of course, and I was able to complete my ride, albeit at reduced speed because I was stuck in my small chainring. It got me to thinking that it might be worthwhile to change the cables periodically before they break. Does anyone do this? I can manage a broken shifter cable every so often, but I was wondering if others replace the cables as preventive maintenance.
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Old 04-30-22, 07:35 PM
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Originally Posted by Random11 View Post
I once thought that one advantage of mechanical shifters is that you don't have to be concerned about your battery dying.
Your use of the past tense ("once thought") suggests that you now think a dead battery is a problem with mechanical shifting. Hmm.

Originally Posted by Random11 View Post
But yesterday I had a shifter cable break. It's the second time I've had this happen on a bike I've had less than three years. So, that advantage isn't so much of an advantage after all. It got me to thinking that it might be worthwhile to change the cables periodically before they break. Does anyone do this?
That's a solid idea, as virtually any google search would confirm.

PS: This belongs in the Mechanics subforum rather than GC. Just saving cxwrench the trouble of pointing this out.

Last edited by Koyote; 04-30-22 at 07:43 PM.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:02 PM
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I’ve never had a shifter cable break in hundreds of thousands of miles of riding. I’ve broken a couple derailleurs, and had brake cables pull loose, but never broken any.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Random11 View Post
I once thought that one advantage of mechanical shifters is that you don't have to be concerned about your battery dying. But yesterday I had a shifter cable break. It's the second time I've had this happen on a bike I've had less than three years. So, that advantage isn't so much of an advantage after all. A cable break prevents you from shifting almost as much as a dead battery does for electronic shifters. (Only one cable breaks at a time, so some limited shifting is possible.) Yesterday, it was the cable to my front derailleur. Previously, the cable to the rear derailleur broke. This is far from a tragedy, of course, and I was able to complete my ride, albeit at reduced speed because I was stuck in my small chainring. It got me to thinking that it might be worthwhile to change the cables periodically before they break. Does anyone do this? I can manage a broken shifter cable every so often, but I was wondering if others replace the cables as preventive maintenance.
The question is, how did you manage to break a shifter cable ?
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Old 04-30-22, 08:14 PM
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Originally Posted by 50PlusCycling View Post
I’ve never had a shifter cable break in hundreds of thousands of miles of riding...
Interesting. I'm definitely a novice compared with you. I've been riding less than five years. But with two cable breaks in less than three years on this bike, I was thinking that this must be fairly common. Maybe I've just had some bad luck and cable breaks are less common than I was thinking.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:15 PM
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I have never had a cable break in over a half century of riding bicycles. I had also never had a chain break until I boasted about that in a chain thread a few months ago. I better go check my cables now.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:17 PM
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Originally Posted by holytrousers View Post
The question is, how did you manage to break a shifter cable ?
It's not unusual. Shimano 11sp is kind of known for shredding them inside the STI lever. I've had that happen in as little as 2,000 miles on a new cable. Granted, I live in an extremely hilly area, so my shifters get a lot of use.

OP: sounds like you should replace them every year or so. Though realistically, you shouldn't have to do the FD cable as often.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:18 PM
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Originally Posted by holytrousers View Post
The question is, how did you manage to break a shifter cable ?
I was just riding and shifted, and the cable broke. I'm riding about 5000 miles a year, mostly on rolling hills, so I do shift a lot, but I don't think my riding is too unusual in that regard.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Chuck M View Post
I have never had a cable break in over a half century of riding bicycles...
Your experience is certainly at odds with Koyote's earlier comment that an internet search (I didn't do one) would reveal that it's a good idea to replace shifter cables at regular intervals. But it appears, from your experience and others, that breaking shifter cables is unusual, although it's happened to me twice. I've been riding less than five years so you have ten times the experience that I have, and I appreciate your sharing it.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:28 PM
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Originally Posted by 50PlusCycling View Post
I’ve never had a shifter cable break in hundreds of thousands of miles of riding.
If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred billion times... don't exaggerate!

Just kidding! On a much smaller scale, though, I resonate with your comment. I have a Trek mountain bike that I bought 22 years ago, which has a low-end Shimano (3x8) drivetrain. I have a nice road bike a couple years younger with an Ultegra (3x9) drivetrain. Each bike has 6-7,000 miles on it. I'm still on the original shift cables. Since I'm an older guy (think "70Plus"), I tend to shift a lot.
I *have* had the occasional issue with the pawls in the shifters (trigger-types on the Trek and STI on the Airborne) getting stuck and failing to shift, but these have responded to soaking in WD-40 followed by spray lithium grease. Perhaps I've been lucky.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:28 PM
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Where did the break happen ? Are the housings properly cut and well seated ? Did the cable move smoothly inside them ? Did they break when you tried to overshift ?
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Old 04-30-22, 08:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
It's not unusual. Shimano 11sp is kind of known for shredding them inside the STI lever....
That's what I have: Shimano Ultegra 11 speed.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Random11 View Post
Your experience is certainly at odds with Koyote's earlier comment that an internet search (I didn't do one) would reveal that it's a good idea to replace shifter cables at regular intervals. But it appears, from your experience and others, that breaking shifter cables is unusual, although it's happened to me twice. I've been riding less than five years so you have ten times the experience that I have, and I appreciate your sharing it.
Actually Koyote's mention of the STI cables does make me want to consider replacing them on my bike with them. All of my other bikes through the years have not had STIs and have had friction shifters where it is easy to see if there was a fraying or damaged cable. I think what he described is a classic out of sight out of mind thing that I will look into.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Chuck M View Post
Actually Koyote's mention of the STI cables does make me want to consider replacing them on my bike with them. All of my other bikes through the years have not had STIs and have had friction shifters where it is easy to see if there was a fraying or damaged cable. I think what he described is a classic out of sight out of mind thing that I will look into.
Occasionally, when it shreds inside the shifter, the whole STI lever needs to be replaced. Tip: if it stops shifting, DON'T keep clicking the lever -- that just shreds it more, and raises the odds of a much more expensive repair. Just get home and deal with it.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:38 PM
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11sp about every 1,100 miles
9 sp about every 9,000 miles
8 sp about every 8 years

Those are assumed theories.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:38 PM
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Originally Posted by holytrousers View Post
Where did the break happen ? Are the housings properly cut and well seated ? Did the cable move smoothly inside them ? Did they break when you tried to overshift ?
Good questions, holytrousers, and mostly, I don't know. The bike seemed to be shifting OK prior to the cable break, and I don't think I was trying to overshift. On the front deraillieur there is only one shift to make. But since it appears that my having broken two cables in less than three years is unusual, I can't rule out that they are breaking because of something I'm doing.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Random11 View Post
I once thought that one advantage of mechanical shifters is that you don't have to be concerned about your battery dying. But yesterday I had a shifter cable break. It's the second time I've had this happen on a bike I've had less than three years. So, that advantage isn't so much of an advantage after all. A cable break prevents you from shifting almost as much as a dead battery does for electronic shifters. (Only one cable breaks at a time, so some limited shifting is possible.) Yesterday, it was the cable to my front derailleur. Previously, the cable to the rear derailleur broke. This is far from a tragedy, of course, and I was able to complete my ride, albeit at reduced speed because I was stuck in my small chainring. It got me to thinking that it might be worthwhile to change the cables periodically before they break. Does anyone do this? I can manage a broken shifter cable every so often, but I was wondering if others replace the cables as preventive maintenance.
Preventative maintenance? No way. What a concept. Kinda like changing the oil in your car engine before it blows up. Or replacing your tires before they...blow up. Funny (sort of) that you've had this happen before and didn't learn from it. And of course as Koyote posted this thread should be in 'bicycle mechanics' not GD. Learn OP...learn.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:52 PM
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I should change cables on my most used road bike, but I had the same thought last year and didn't do it.
The current ones work fine, but its $8 for new cables and housing so of course I should do it as preventative maintenance.

...but its also 30min and I seem to never prioritize.
Oh well.
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Old 04-30-22, 08:53 PM
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Originally Posted by cxwrench View Post
Preventative maintenance? No way. What a concept... Learn OP...learn.
That's what I was asking about, cxwrench. Nobody had ever suggested to me that I should replace my shifter cables as preventative maintenance, so I was asking what others thought and did. I'm fairly new to cycling (been riding less than five years) and I'm fortunate to be able to learn from wiser and more experienced BF members like you. How often do you change your shifter cables?.
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Old 04-30-22, 09:02 PM
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If you ride regularly then once a year, and replace the housing too. I've worked in shops since '95 but my main background and most meaningful experience is being a pro road team mechanic. On the race bikes I'd replace cables/housing every few weeks/once a month depending on conditions. The one season I worked for a mtb team, every race. Same with pro/elite CX race bikes...every week.
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Old 04-30-22, 09:03 PM
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Every ~2,000 miles. I had a cable break in the body of a Shimano STI lever at around 2,500 miles (I think the 105 5800 shifters were notorious for this), and after having to drill holes in the shifter to extract it, that was when I decided 2,000 miles was a nice round figure to replace cables and do a checklist of other maintenance items. Re-grease all contact points, check all bolt tensions, check the hubs, spoke tension, wheel true, hanger alignment, inspect / adjust / bleed brakes. Having a shift cable break mid-ride is not the end of the world since you can easily fix the cable to a middle'ish cog and have a single / dual speed bike for a bit, but again, it's a big problem if it breaks inside an STI lever body.
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Old 04-30-22, 09:14 PM
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Originally Posted by cxwrench View Post
If you ride regularly then once a year, and replace the housing too. I've worked in shops since '95 but my main background and most meaningful experience is being a pro road team mechanic. On the race bikes I'd replace cables/housing every few weeks/once a month depending on conditions. The one season I worked for a mtb team, every race. Same with pro/elite CX race bikes...every week.
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Old 04-30-22, 10:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Random11 View Post
I once thought that one advantage of mechanical shifters is that you don't have to be concerned about your battery dying. But yesterday I had a shifter cable break. It's the second time I've had this happen on a bike I've had less than three years. So, that advantage isn't so much of an advantage after all. A cable break prevents you from shifting almost as much as a dead battery does for electronic shifters. (Only one cable breaks at a time, so some limited shifting is possible.) Yesterday, it was the cable to my front derailleur. Previously, the cable to the rear derailleur broke. This is far from a tragedy, of course, and I was able to complete my ride, albeit at reduced speed because I was stuck in my small chainring. It got me to thinking that it might be worthwhile to change the cables periodically before they break. Does anyone do this? I can manage a broken shifter cable every so often, but I was wondering if others replace the cables as preventive maintenance.
I've had cables start to fray, but they always give me plenty of warning (my rear shifter cable lasts ~1 year before the fraying at the shifter starts to affect shifting and stray strands start to poke my fingers). I keep a spare on hand and can thread the new one in without disturbing the housing or the bar tape - takes maybe 15 min to replace the cable and tweak the indexing. Once I had a set of Gore Ride-On cables that worked perfectly for ~10 years, and I only replaced them because I thought it was "about time", not because they were malfunctioning. That was a mistake - I bet if I hadn't touched them, they'd have worked for another 10 years.
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Old 04-30-22, 10:08 PM
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Originally Posted by cxwrench View Post
If you ride regularly then once a year, and replace the housing too. I've worked in shops since '95 but my main background and most meaningful experience is being a pro road team mechanic. On the race bikes I'd replace cables/housing every few weeks/once a month depending on conditions. The one season I worked for a mtb team, every race. Same with pro/elite CX race bikes...every week.

You got me to thinking. I am not racing but I am overdue to change cable & housing. Been about three years. Time slips away from me these days..................
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Old 04-30-22, 10:12 PM
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Once, when I first overhaul the bike.
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