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How to clean and re-lube brake cables

Cyclist magazine
15 Apr 2020

Don't let tired brakes cause you to come a cropper. Here's an easy six-step guide for how to maintain them.

It’s vital that you keep an eye on things like your brake cables which are literally lifesavers. Over time, you may find that braking power isn’t what it used to be or the cables become less responsive. A simple case of cleaning and relubing the cables may well be all your bike needs to make sure you keep rolling safely… 

How to clean and re-lube brake cables

You will need: Dry lube - Gloves - Cable cutter - 5mm Allen Key

Time taken: 15 minutes

Remove the cable end cap

Before you do anything, remove the end cap from the brake cable, otherwise you won’t be able to get the cable out through its housing.

Using your cable cutter, simply snip through the cable – cut it off as close to the end cap as possible, otherwise you risk not leaving yourself with enough slack in the cable to put it all back together again when you finish the job.

Loosen the brake cable pinch bolt

Now, take your Allen key and loosen the brake cable pinch bolt – this usually requires a 5mm Allen key but some brakes may use 6mm or 4mm bolts.

Once you’ve loosened the bolt (don’t remove it completely), the brake calliper should release and spring open wider than it normally does. 

Remove the cable

To extract the cable from its housing simply clasp the lever that is used for that brake. Loosening the brake cable pinch bolt will make the lever move much more freely than it normally does, allowing you to see the exposed end of the cable inside the lever hood.

Gently pull it from the lever to be cleaned.

Re-lube the cable

Wipe away any grime and dirt that may have collected on the cable while it was in use before applying some dry lube. You can either do this by applying it via a cloth or directly to the cable itself.

If you plump for the latter, be sure to wipe off any excess to save the cable from any future grime build-up.

Install your newly clean cable

Taking care not to fray the ends with any forced insertions, carefully align the brake lever so you can thread the cable through the anchoring clip and into the housing’s opening, then feed it all the way back through the housing and back into the cable pinch bolt on the brake calliper. 

Retighten the cable pinch bolt

Clamp the brake pads against the wheel rim with your hand and tighten the bolt. Check the brakes are aligned and the right distance from the rim – use the barrel adjuster to adjust the spacing if necessary.

Use the crimper part of the cable cutter to fit a new cap to the end of the cable to stop it fraying.

Top tip

When cleaning your cables, be sure to take your time placing them back into the outer cable housing as a misplaced attempt could see the cables fray making them a nightmare to re-use.