Mountain Biking and Mountain Bikes for Africa









Mountain Bike Gear and Brake Cable Fitting


Mountain bike gear and brake cables should be checked and changed regularly. Fitting new bicycle cables is one of the best ways to make you bike feel like new. You may not think it is necessary because your brakes and gears still work, but guaranteed you will feel a significant difference after changing them. Suddenly the gear shifts will be crisp again and the brake levers won't feel so heavy and hard. Fitting bicycle cables for gears and brakes is a regular bike maintenance procedure that should be carried out at least once a year or more often if you ride in the wet alot.

Fitting new cables is a quick and easy job. It is one of the best bicycle repair jobs. Often you donít realise how your shifting has deteriorated as it is a gradual process. Changing your cables makes your gear changes crisp and smooth, just like a new bike. If you can master the setup and adjusting gears then you can change your own cables. The process is the same for front and rear derailleurs and very similar for brake cables, but obviously the cable lengths and outers are different.

Gear cables vs Brake cables whatsí the difference?
Now days with hydraulic brakes most bikes only have one set of gear cables on them and no brake cables. But for v-brake type set-ups and cable discs there will still be a set of brake cables. These two types of inner cables are different with the gear cables being a little bit thinner than the brake cables. They also have a different locating head, with the gear cables having a small cylinder shaped head, and the brake cables having a larger barrel/keg shaped head. The outer housing is also different, if you look at the end of the cable where it is cut you will see it. The inside of the gear cable housing is made up with several parallel strands of wire running parallel to the length of the housing. This compresionless cable is designed to maintain a fixed length when the housing is curved, to prevent ghost shifting. The brake outer housing is made up with a single spiral or helix type of structure using one piece of metal. This cable housing is designed to resist the compression that occurs when the brake cable is pulled by the lever.


Fitting New Bicycle Cables

Tools ( check the MTB tools section to see how useful these tools are)
Allen keys
Cable cutter

Parts -cable set consisting of;
Gear inner cable
Gear outer cable
Ferrule for cable ends
Cable outer caps

  1. Adjust the shifter to the high position with no tension on the cable.
  2. Loosen the cable bolt at the derailleur, cut the end of the cable off
  3. Pull the cable out. On some shifters you may need to loosen a cover at the shifter to pull the cable out.
  4. Remove the old cable outers and use them to measure and cut the correct lengths from the new cable outers.
  5. Put the new outer end caps on the cable outers and fit the new outers to the frame.
  6. Thread the new cable inner starting at the shifter through the cable outers upto the derailleur. Donít forget to fit the frame protectors if you have them
  7. Tension the cable and tighten the cable bolt at the derailleur. Then pull on the exposed cable by hand or shift a few times to get the cable to settle in.
  8. Then re-tension the cable by loosening the cable bolt and at the derailleur and taking up the cable slack.
  9. Now check the gears and adjust the cable tension with the barrel adjuster if necessary.


  • If your gears were set properly before changing the cables then you should not need to do anything extra, and your gears should work perfectly after changing cables. Often with no adjustment at all.
  • For improved water and dirt resistance you can consider fitting outer cables for the full length of the inner cable, so that there are fewer exposed pieces and less open ends for water and grime to enter. Also consider using some of the top end cables like Shimano XTR with sealed ends or Nokon with a closed system.

If you need major adjusting then something has gone wrong and you had better re-check the whole gear setup.

Gear Shifting Problems
Gears setup and adjusting

Check out our Mountain Bike Maintenance and Repair Guide for the next step in maintaining your bike. Join our mailing list and we will let you know when we update this section



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