How to Lubricate Brake and Shift Cables
Cable lubrication is recommended, especially if you ride in the rain or have old cable housings.
Most brake and shift cables these days have a plastic lining built into the housing, therefore eliminating the need for lubrication. However, if you ride a lot in wet weather, or have an older bike without the plastic lining, you’ll want to lubricate the cables to prevent rust. I personally believe that well-lubricated cables also improve braking and shifting.
I use Tri-flow to lubricate cables, as it is very effective at distributing itself evenly, and lasts a long time. Most bike shops carry it, or they may have a similar product that will work just as well. Make sure you shake the bottle before use, and have a rag handy to wipe off any excess.
Brake Cable Lubrication
Most brake and derailleur systems have some sort of quick release system that allow you to release the cable from it’s stop. Here it is demonstrated on a cantilever brake, but other systems like sidepull, U-brakes, and V-brakes have similar quick release mechanisms.
Once the brake is released, compress the lever, pull on the housing, and slide it through the barrel adjuster until the inner wire is exposed. Now carefully squeeze a few drops of oil onto the inner cable just above where it runs down into the housing. If the cable is vertical, the oil will penetrate the housing on its own.
Slide the cable housing back into the barrel adjuster and re-connect the brake.
Shifter Cable Lubrication
Rear Shift Cable
To lube the rear shift cable, first shift the gears until the chain is on the largest sprocket, and then stop the wheel from rotating.
With the freewheel stopped from moving, shift your shifter all the way in the opposite direction, as if you were going to shift to the smallest sprocket. The rear derailleur should now be stuck on the largest sprocket, which will give you enough slack to fully release the cable from the frame. Pull the upper section of the outer cable down leaving a section of inner cable exposed. Lube the cable the same way as the brake cable, and then reconnect the outer housing.
Now pull the lower section of housing free from the frame, and slide it away from the derailleur. Repeat the lubrication process and reconnect the housing. Don’t forget to move your rear shifter back to the largest sprocket before rotating the rear wheel.
Front Shift Cable
To lube the front shift cable, shift the front derailleur to the largest sprocket, and then stop the crank from rotating and move the shift lever all the way in the opposite direction. Disconnect and lube the upper housing of the front shift cable the same way as the rear. Reconnect the cable and once again make sure to shift the lever back where it was before rotating the crank.
Discuss this topic in the Cable Forums
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