A big part of being a cyclist is looking after your bike.

If you treat it well and keep on top of general servicing and replacing parts, it will be very reliable and ride beautifully. A common issue that can cause bikes to stop working properly is a faulty shift cable. 

Cables are the part of the bike that links everything together and lets you control the bike’s brakes and gears. Broken and worn shifter or brake cables are the causes of many bike problems.

They can stop gears changing and brakes from working, and they make the bike feel challenging to ride.

It’s surprisingly easy to learn how to replace a shift cable. In this article, we will be running through the process to save you a trip to your local bike shop or from learning by trial and error.

What Tools Do You Need To Change Shift Cables?

A bike shift cable kit, Allen keys, and bike cable cutters.

When it comes to changing a shifter cable, you won’t need much. Good quality tools go a very long way, and we recommend using high-quality cables from companies such as Shimano or SRAM. Poor shift cables perform badly, stretch, and wear out very quickly. 

We also must stress that gear cables are for gearing, and brake cables are for braking. They are not interchangeable and lead to problems when used where they shouldn’t be. When it comes to how to replace a shift cable, you will need:

  • Shift Cable Set (including Inner Cables, Outer Cables, Cable Ferrules, and Cable Ends)
  • Allen Keys
  • Cable Cutters
  • Bike Stand (optional)

How To Replace Shift Cables in 7 Steps

How long does it take to replace a shift cable? We recommend allowing for between 30 minutes to an hour. Although the process is fairly simple, it’s important not to rush and cut cables too short or make wrong adjustments. 

In this guide, we will not change just the cable but the outer casing too. This is the best way of doing the job. If you just change the cable, it doesn’t always fix the problem, and the cable wears out much quicker.

It’s best to do the job properly once and not have to return to repeat it sooner than necessary.

Step #1. Preparation

A classic road bike on a wall stand.

The first step is to get yourself prepared. It’s good to ensure the bike is clean, making it a much less messy job and reducing the risk of dirt contaminating the cables.

Get the bike in the stand and have all your tools ready by your side. 

Step #2. Remove The Old Cables

An Allen key undoing the pinch bolt on a rear derailleur.

Now it’s time to remove the old cables. Take the cable cutters and snip the cable just before the pinch bolt on the derailleur.

Once cut, undo the pinch bolt, and the cable will come loose. Then, go to the shifter and pull the cable out. On a drop bar bike shifter, you will need to pull the hood cover back, and you will see the end of the cable. A flat bar shifter cable will just pull straight out.

The end of a shift cable inside a Shimano shifter.

Bin the inner cable, but keep the outers, as we will use them later as a size guide when we need to cut the new cables.

Step #3. Cut The New Outers

Next, we are going to cut the new outers. Using the old outers as a measure, take the cable cutters and cut them to size. You may need to use a hole punch to open the outer ends. Most cable cutters designed for bikes have these.

Then, put the cable ferrules on the ends.

Step #4. Install The New Cable Inner And Outers

Installing a cable into a rear derailleur.

Now, we are going to install the cable. Just like how the cable came out, we will go back in. Start at the shifter or the brake lever, thread it through, and then follow the same route all the way back to the caliper or the derailleur – but not through the pinch bolt just yet.

Then, put the cable outers in the correct place by threading them onto the cable and putting them into the stops. Once all the outers are in place, put the end of the cable into the pinch bolt, pull it finger tight, and tighten it. 

Step #5. Make Adjustments

Pulling a shift cable tight on a rear derailleur.

If you have changed a rear shifter cable, ensure you are in the lowest gear and then run through the gears, ensuring smooth shift changes. If they are not smooth, you need to adjust the cable slightly.

This job isn’t too difficult but it does require some explanation. If you’re not familiar with the process, you can check out our Complete Guide To Installing or Adjusting A Rear Derailleur and How To Adjust A Front Derailleur here!

Step #6. Cut Cables And Add Ends

Cutting the end of a bike cable.

Finally, cut the ends off the cables, leaving around an inch of cable beyond the pinch bolt to allow for further adjustments later on if needed.

Once cut, add a cable end and use the cutters to pinch it on. 

Step #7. Test

Finally, it’s worth taking the bike out for a test ride. If any further adjustments need making, it’s better to get them done now rather than later when you take the bike out on a group ride!

New cables often stretch a little over the first few weeks after installation as they settle in, so you may still need to make some minor adjustments later on.

Robbie’s Video Maintenance Guide: How To Replace A Shifter Cable or Brake Cable

Check out the BikeTips YouTube Channel here for walk-through bike maintenance guides and more!

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