How To Replace Bike Cables In 5 Easy Steps


As a part of routine bike maintenance, replacing bike brake cable is one of the most important things that you need to learn. Over time, your cables can be prone to wear, especially when they are exposed to dirt and other harsh elements that can cause damage. The failure to replace the cables when necessary can compromise the overall performance of your bike. 

If you want to learn how to replace bike cables, keep on reading! It might seem like a tricky job for the uninitiated, but you do not need to pay a mechanic to complete the task. With basic tools and a bit of patience to spare, you can do it by yourself. 

When Should You Replace Bikes Cables? 

Replace bike cables at least once a year. This is the standard practice among regular riders. Cables can stretch over time and the casings will compress. If you use it more often, pay attention to possible shifting problems as they can be indicative of the need for new cables. 

Stainless and galvanized steel are the common materials used in bike cables, including both brake and shifter cables. They can resist corrosion, but that does not mean that they will be free of damages, especially stretching. Because of this, regular replacement is crucial. 

A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Replace Bike Cables 

A bike has multiple cables that connect the parts, making sure that it performs well as a whole. Among others, the brake cables are some of the most important, and hence, they are what we will be talking about in this quick guide. Whether you are engaging in bicycle restoration or maintenance, follow the steps mentioned below. 

1. Remove the Old Cable 

To replace bike cables, the first thing that you need to do is to remove the old one. Using a wire cutter, snip the end of the brake cable. This is the part on the wheel and not the one on the lever. 

After cutting the cable, use a 5 mm Allen key to remove the pinch bolt. Look for the indentation in the bolt, pinch with the Allen key, and turn clockwise until it is loosened. After this, move to the handlebar and loosen the barrel adjuster. This is next to the brake lever and this is what secures the brake cable. All that you need is to turn the adjuster counterclockwise using only your hand. 

Next, slide the cable out of the handlebar. The type of bike handlebar will dictate how you should do this. If you have a straight handlebar, slightly pull the lever then slide the cable through the lever and adjuster slots. On the other hand, in the case of curved handlebars, look at where the cable connects to the clamp to remove it. 

2. Remove the Cable Housing 

When replacing a bicycle brake cable, it is also a good practice to replace the housing at the same time. Chances are, it has also been stretched and contaminated. If it is stiff and rusty, the best thing to do is to remove and replace it. On the other hand, if it is still in good shape, you can save money, time, and effort by not removing the old housing. 

Slide the housing to remove it from the slot that connects to the frame of the bike. In some cases, it can be attached using zip ties. If that’s the case, then you will need to cut the zip tie first. There are also instances when there is a grip tape that you have to remove, especially if you are working on a road bike equipped with curved handlebars. 

A good practice is to take a picture of the housing before it is removed. This will give you an idea of its original position, making it easier to proceed with the replacement. 

3. Install the New Housing 

If you are replacing the housing, now is the time for its installation. End caps or ferrules might be attached to the housing you have initially removed. Connect them to the new housing that you will be installing. 

Connect the housing into the slot that attaches it to the frame of the bike. See to it that the ferrules are in the right position since the one at the handlebar is different from the one at the retention bolt. It might also be necessary to secure the housing using zip ties. 

4. Thread the Cable 

Now that the housing is in place, the next step is to insert the new bicycle brake cable. Before doing this, see to it that you are using a cable similar to what you have earlier removed. The diameter should be the same. Take note that brake cables are different depending on the lever, so choose appropriately. 

Slide the cable slowly at the outer housing. When there are two sections of the casing, which is common in bikes with a rear-wheel brake, start threading the cable at the MTB handlebars. The bare wire or plain part of the cable is what should slide into the retention clamp. 

Before threading the cable, some people opt to add a rubber donut. You can buy it in your neighborhood bike shop. This will serve as a cushion, which will prevent ruining the paint job in the handlebar. 

5. Secure the Cable 

Once you are done threading, the last step to replace bike cables is to secure it in its original position. Attach it to the retention clamp. In case you do not know, this is the part where all other cables connected to the bike’s braking system are found. 

Rotate the pinch bolt counterclockwise and loosen. Then pinch the brake pads until they are touching the wheel. Insert the cable in the retention clamp and pull slightly. Tighten once it is in place. 

Return the ferrules in the housing of the brake cables. Fitting these components in the frame will vary depending on the model of the bike that you have. Consult the manual or go online to learn how to do it the right way. 

Once the cable and the housing are secure, it is now time to test the bike and see if the MTB brakes are working perfectly. Start by engaging the lever and see if there is resistance from the brake cables that you have just finished installing. Do this up to ten times. Pull hard enough so that the brake pads will touch the wheel. 

If the lever feels too tight or too loose, then proceed with the necessary adjustments. Loosen or tighten the barrel adjuster until you achieve the resistance you are most comfortable with. 

When there is an excess cable, trim and crimp. The best practice is to leave a few inches of the cable hanging. This will leave enough room if ever you will need to adjust the cable in the future. Hook it around the brake and see to it that it isn’t too long. Otherwise, it can obstruct the wheels and limit your braking power. 



Q: Are all bike brake cables the same?


Not all brake cables are the same. Whether you have a mountain bike, road bike, or any other type of bike will dictate the appropriate brake cable. While they usually have a diameter of 1.5 to 1.6 mm, the heads will be different. The choice of the head will depend on the design of the lever that comes with the bike.

Q: Are bike brake cables universal?


No, bike brake cables are not universal. Consider the bike that you have to find the most suitable cable. You will find three common types of bike cables in the market – mountain brake cable, Shimano brake cable, and Campagnolo brake cable. From the size to the style of the head, brake cables have significant differences.

Q: How much does it cost to replace a gear cable?


The cost of replacing a gear cable will cost anywhere from $100 to $400, provided that you are letting the pros handle the job. You can cut the cost into half by doing the job yourself. This will allow you to save money from labor.

Q: Are gear and brake cables the same?


Gear and brake cables are not the same. While the process of replacement will be roughly similar, the cables themselves are different. For instance, brake cables are usually larger with a diameter of 1.5 to 1.6 mm compared to gear cables, which are usually 1.1 to 1.2 mm. The housing of these cables is also different.

Globo Surf Overview 

From tightening bike brakes to changing brake pads, you need to know a couple of things to maintain the peak performance of your bike’s braking system. In this post, we focused on how to replace bike cables. As mentioned, you can do it by removing the old cables, replacing the housing, and threading the new cables. Even as a novice, you can complete this task without paying anyone!

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Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!