Ask a Mechanic: Maintaining Your Bike’s Cables and Housing

Ted wants to know, “Is there anything I can do to prolong the life of my cables and housing, and keep them running smoothly?”

Great question Ted. Maintaining your cables and housing is important to ensure that your bike is shifting and braking optimally. Old, dirty cables and housing are a common reason for sluggish shifting and braking, but there is something you can do to revive them. Fortunately, the process is quick, easy and will make a huge difference in your bike’s performance.

Simply lubricating the housing frees up cable movement. The process will differ slightly depending on whether you have full-length or interrupted housing. If the housing is interrupted, simply push the rear derailleur up the cassette while spinning the crank to create slack in the cable, then pop the cable and housing out of the stop. This will create enough slack in the cable to remove other housing sections from their stops. Once the housing is free and slides easily on the cable, remove one of the ferrules from the end of the section of housing you are working with. Now, simply drop some lube into the housing and use the cable to work it down into the housing. I prefer to use Dumonde Tech’s Liquid Grease for this. Liquid Grease is a little thicker than most lubes and stays in the housing, while lasting longer than a chain lube would.

On a road bike, lubing the section of housing under the handlebar is tricky. Let gravity be your friend; Position the bike so it’s upside down and let the lube work itself down into the housing. If the housing is full length, you’ll have to loosen the cable anchor bolt on the derailleur to allow you to freely move the cable inside the housing. This can also be done with the cable still in the housing, but is easier if you are replacing the cable, which brings me to the next thing you can do.

This won’t be necessary for everyone, but when you pull the ferrules off the housing you may notice the cables inside the housing have pushed through and are exposed inside the ferrule. If this is the case, you’ll want to take this opportunity to cut the end of the housing to restore the housing end. Brake housing usually doesn’t fray, but is worth checking. If you choose to remove the cable completely or are going to replace it, put the lubricant of your choice in the housing before you insert the cable. That way, the cable with help work the lube into the entire section of housing.

Once that’s done, either put the housing back into its stops or reconnect the cable. If you had to loosen the cable from the derailleur, you’ll have to re-adjust it. That’s all there is to it. Keep in mind that this is a temporary solution and can only be done a few times before you should replace the cables and housing completely. The lubricant will free up the cable and make it slide better in the housing, but also tends to turn dust and debris into mud and sludge, so try not to overdue it on the lube.