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How to Change the Brake and Shifter Cables on Your Bike

By Filippo Mari

Sometimes you can spend hours trying to fix your bike without any success because you have overlooked the cable. Shifter cables can stop functioning properly for many reasons. They can get rusty, dirty, or they can bend. The outcome? Your bike will stop working smoothly. Let’s avoid that. 

If you do not have hydraulic disk brakes or an electronic shifter, you have two different types of cables on your bike: brake cables and gear cables. Let’s start with the first.

How to replace a brake cable

The first thing to do is to understand what kind of brake cable you need, as there are different variants. So, check the ending of your existing one to make sure you buy the right one for the job.

Click on the pictures below to see the instructions.

Once you have the right cable you can start changing it. To do that, you will need the following tools: pliers, an Allen key, a wrench (according to the size of the bolt), and wire cutters.

The first step is to get rid of the old cable. To do that, you need to pull the cable out of the brake lever on your handlebar and from the actual brake. After that, you can remove the old cable from the housing.

The next step is to thread the new cables into the housing. If you are keeping the current housing, you can re-grease it to make sure the cable moves more smoothly. Open the adjusting barrel, put the new cable ending into the brake and thread it through the adjusting barrel.

Then you need to thread the cable through the greased housing and secure the housing in the adjusting barrel.

Finally thread the cable through the brake and the cable will be in place.

Now we need to set the brakes properly so they will work well, and the levers will be comfortable for your hands. First, push the brake pads almost all the way to the rim by hand and tighten the cable in the position.

Bicycle brake

Once this is done, use the adjusting barrel to adjust the cable tension until you find your preferred level. When that is done, tighten the adjusting nut.

We are almost there. All that’s left to do is to cut the cable, put on the end cap and fix it in position with pliers.

Fix the cap with pliers

How to replace a shifter cable

Make sure the chain is on the smallest sprocket. That lets you thread the cable easily through the shifter.

Bicycle chain
Put the chainon the smallest sprocket

Find the hole for the cable in your shifter. In the picture below you can see examples of the most common shifters.

Shifter cable change

Pull out the old cable. The cable should come out easily without much resistance. If that’s not the case, the cable housing is most likely damaged and needs to be changed. Just like you did for the brake cable, if you’re using the current housing you can lightly lube the new cable so the shifting works smoothly.

Pull the new cable all the way through, make sure the end of the cable sits firmly in the shifter, and create tension by pulling with your hand and tightening the cable. To learn more about this last step and in general how to set the shifter, follow the instruction in our previous article.

Pro Tip: If your cable housing runs inside your frame and you need to change it, leave the cable in place and pull only the housing. Then use the cable as your guide while installing the new housing. This will save you a lot of trouble.