Field repair: Fixing a broken rear shift cable

My riding style revolves around anticipation and smart use of gears, regularly using the shifters as I go. So you can imagine how irritating it can be to have shift cables fray or break on me mid-ride.

With no cable tension working on your front or rear derailleur, the spring tension will naturally pull them toward the smallest chainring or cassette cog, respectively. While it’s not such a big problem losing the use of your front shifter this way, as you can get home comfortably on your small chainring, it’s far more challenging to break a rear shift cable, as you’re effectively stuck in top gear. If your ride route involves any sort of climbs or your bike is loaded with panniers, that can be very hard to deal with.

Fortunately it need not be a catastrophe. Depending on the situation, you can usually bodge a fix to get you home. Here’s Dan Lloyd of GCN demonstrating how to do it with the remnants of your broken gear cable…and a multi-tool that you should always carry with you.

Not too long ago I’ve had the misfortune of my rear gear cable dying on me and snapping inside the body of my Shimano 105 STI levers. While unfortunate, it was a good time to test out the effectivity of this emergency fix, as the prospect of pedaling to my destination in either a 34×12 or 50×12 gear wasn’t very appealing to me.

Here’s the result:

I managed to stick the rear derailleur into the 21T cog quite cleanly, without the ticking noise of a chain wanting to move up or down the cassette. With this field repair, effectively I was riding a single-speed. I could ride in the big 50T chainring most of the time, only needing the 34T when going really slowly. It’s amazing how usable a 50×21 gear is; I’d even say perhaps I should have tried the next smaller 50×19 gear instead.


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