Easy Upgrades: Shimano Cables and Housing
Looking for an easy and affordable upgrade that’s sure to improve your bike’s performance? Consider swapping out your old shifter cables.
Looking for an easy and affordable upgrade that’s sure to improve your bike’s performance? Consider swapping out your old shifter cables. Over time, dirt and water get inside the housing, causing a build-up of friction that makes your bike's shifting less efficient. This extra resistance makes it harder to pull the cable through the housing, and that means more work for your thumb or fingers with every shift.
“With new cables and housings, your bike’s shifting will have a lighter action and more precision,” confirms Shimano North America’s Road Brand Manager Nick Legan, who’s also a former WorldTour level mechanic. “This means that the force required to perform a shift is lower, and each shift will occur more seamlessly.”
Old shift cables and housing also cause sluggish or delayed shifts. When you shift to a smaller cog, the derailleur spring is trying to pull the cable to the next index point in the shifter. If there is too much friction in the system, it can take several turns of the crank before the shift actually happens, and it can even skip as the chain struggles to find the next gear.
Cables and housing wear out gradually over time, and we often don't even notice the degradation in performance until it is severe. But you've installed a new set of cables and housing, all that friction suddenly goes away, making the effort at the lever much lighter, while also letting the chain snap down to that next cog instantly.
“When I worked in the Shimano Multi-Service department and did race support, we'd get a lot of people coming to the race trailer asking to have their shifting performance checked by a factory tech,” adds Shimano North America Mountain Bike Product Manager Nick Murdick. “The result was almost always the same – shifting could be better if they had new cables and housing installed.”
Shimano Premium Shift Cables
New cables and housing can bring back that new bike feeling without breaking the bank. So, which kinds of cables and housing should you choose for the best possible shifting? Here are Shimano's good, better, and best upgrade options.
Shimano’s OT-SP41 Stainless Steel Road Shift Cable Set is compatible with both road and mountain bikes drivetrains. It features a corrosion-resistant stainless steel inner cable and uses the same top-shelf housing as more expensive Shimano cable sets. The OT-SP4 set delivers crisp, reliable shifting and is a higher quality set than the cables that come on most new bikes today. It’s the optimal balance of performance and price for all of your upgrade or replacement projects.
One step up is Shimano’s OPTISLICK Shift Cable Set, which utilizes a stainless steel inner cable and receives Shimano’s OPTISLICK coating to reduce friction. The housing is the same pre-lubricated SP41 as the stainless steel set, but the housing ferrules with the OPTISLICK set feature improved seals. Thanks to the friction-reducing OPTISLICK coating, this cables set is an excellent option for riders who often find themselves pedaling in inclement weather.
Finally, Shimano's DURA-ACE Polymer Shift Cable Set is the absolute best shift cable and housing upgrade available for your road bike. The stainless steel inner cables have a long-lasting polymer coating that acts like little tubes woven around the cable. This reduces the amount of surface area in contact with the housing liner, which helps decrease friction when shifting. The spaces between the polymers also act as grease traps, keeping everything well lubricated and further reducing friction. This set also comes with sealed Shimano ferrules, which are another important consideration.
Ferrules and Housing
Ferrules are an often overlooked but vitally important piece of the cables and housing equation. Shimano sealed ferrules have small O-rings inside them to keep as much dirt from entering the system as possible. There is an aluminum version of the sealed ferrule that features a stronger and more stable interface with the end of the housing, which keeps it working for longer in high movement areas such as at the rear derailleur.
For housing, Shimano’s SP41 housing is the top pick for premium performance and durability. It utilizes a super slick inner liner tube made of durable plastic and is filled with special cable grease along its entire length to reduce friction. The SP41 housing is specifically designed to fit precisely with Shimano shift cables, so the system runs more efficiently for longer.
It's best not to wait until you have serious shifting problems to replace or upgrade your cables and housing. "The extra friction that creeps into the shift system is so gradual that it's impossible to notice if you always ride the same bike,” Murdick says. And when it does come time to change things out, it’s always best to replace cables and housing together. This ensures you get optimal performance and durability that lasts. "Feeling all that friction go away immediately is really eye-opening for many riders.”