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Best gear cable upgrades for slicker shifting

The easy route to slicker, smoother, more accurate gear shifting

Cyclist magazine
21 Jul 2020

Perfect gear shifting starts by having clean, well-lubricated components both inside your shifters and of course throughout your derailleurs.

These items are obvious but there is one important component that connects the two – your gear cables.

On the face of it, there isn’t much to your gear cables but dig into them and you’ll find a carefully engineered arrangement with very fine tolerances, and low-friction materials that allow the other parts to work seamlessly.

One part of the arrangement, the outer housing, is loaded in compression so mustn’t get shorter; the other half, the inner cable, does the opposite so is in tension and mustn’t stretch.

Between the two, there has to be as little friction as possible, and the combined setup then has to pass around the tight corners of your bike.

A slight failing in any of these areas and your shifting will lose accuracy, so it’s worth looking after them. And if you want even sharper shifting, we’ve looked at some of the best upgrade options…

Best gear cable upgrades

Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 Road Gear Cable Set

Sitting right at the top of the Shimano tree is this shift set, RS900, designed specifically for the latest generation of Dura-Ace 9100 shifters and features all the glittery baubles you’d expect.

Core to the shift performance is a pair of 1.2mm stainless-steel inner cables coated with a specific low-friction polymer to give a quicker shift action.

This works with the low-friction silicone-based grease that’s inside the polymer liner of the outer cable.

In the pack is one length of SP41 outer that can be cut to the correct length from shifter to frame, enough for both front and rear, while a specific outer section, RS900, needs to be used for the final section to the new style of shadow rear mech. 

You can’t really go wrong with Shimano components. These aren’t cheap but they do their job very well indeed.

Buy now from Wiggle for £43

Shimano Road Gear Cable Set with SST Inner Wire

A step down from Shimano’s top-flight Dura-Ace cables, this simple set for overhauling your gearing is still the most anyone will ever need.

Each pack contains an end-to-end solution for your gear cable replacement comprising inner cables for the front and rear, 1.7m of outer cable as well as a set of ferrules or end caps to encase each cable where it’s cut.

The inners themselves are 1.2mm stainless steel and are electronically coated with something slippy to give a smooth surface.

On the inside of the cable outer is a polymer sheath that’s lubricated all the way with a low-friction silicone treatment to keep friction to a minimum. 

A better-value option than the Dura-Ace cables, but still miles ahead of unbranded alternatives.

Buy now from Wiggle for £18

Sram SlickWire Shift Cable Kit

More often than not fitting replacement cables comes down to simply replacing the original ones like for like, going with the original factory option. After all, they worked well when new, and we wouldn’t argue with this logic.

Sram’s SlickWire shift cable out features a 4mm outer that’s built to be compression-free with a pre-lubricated liner. Promising a much-increased service life, it comes packed as a single length, giving maximum compatibility for all types of bike.

The inner wires are again factory-specification stainless steel with a diameter of 1.1mm and come pre-cut for either front or rear derailleurs.

These are a good value, reliable option for use with not just SRAM but any other make of groupset.

Buy now from Wiggle for £27

Jagwire Road Elite Link

Constructed with aluminium joints or links, Road Elite is the very best gear cable that Jagwire makes.

Best described as an involved process, Jagwire uses not only an inner and outer cable but also a housing liner to ensure that everything runs as freely as possible.

This ensures a smooth transition between the conventional outer that sits under the bar tape and the links that run outside.

Thankfully, this is more than just a vanity thing, although it does come in five colours for perfect bike matching.

It also weighs in at about 20% less than standard cables and can make tighter corners if you have a small or awkward frame design. 

These are genuinely innovative and offer performance benefits to match the price.

Buy now from Wiggle for £59.20

BBB Shiftline Road S

With over 1,500 products in its line-up, BBB has grown massively in its 20 years of business but it still holds true to its original ethos of producing top-quality components at good prices, and the Shiftline gear cable set is no different.

Featuring two pre-stretched stainless steel inner wires, each 1.1mm thick, they are given a low friction surface treatment.

This works with the polymer compound that lines the outer housing to minimise friction and ensure smooth, accurate shifting.

The pack contains 1.8m of outer, a 29cm length for the rear mech, two inner cables plus all the ferrules (to stop the ends from fraying) you’ll need to complete your bike. 

Stainless-steel cables are ideal for riding in all weathers, and the low-friction coating helps keep them clean.

Buy now from Tredz for £23.95

Transfil Mudlovers Gear cable set

As the name suggests, Transfil has made an aftermarket replacement gear cable set for those who know their bike will be used in the most extreme riding situations, and it’s not just for off-road riders.

Mudlovers uses a very sensible technique to keep as much rubbish away from the inner workings of your cables as possible and thus promote longevity and performance: they seal it from end to end.

To do this they use a 1.1mm stainless-steel inner cable that runs inside a waterproof liner right from the shifter to the derailleur. It doesn’t stop where the outer does at the frame stops but runs the whole way through from shifter to derailleur. 

The perfect choice for adventure bikes that are likely to be used on their share of muddy trails.

Buy now from Wiggle for £16.99

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