Replacing Bino’s cables for the first time

After inviting my wife to go riding with me one Sunday morning, I gave my folding bike Bino a quick checkup, since she was going to be riding him. Most of my riding happens with Hyro these days, so Bino is usually kept folded up in storage, and his infrequent use also means infrequent maintenance. As I learned, there is a point where too much of the latter can eventually backfire on you.

The earliest indication of just how dirty Bino’s brake cables had become.

Bino’s shifting was still good, but his braking action was terrible. Pulling the levers was fine, but letting go of them revealed just how much dirt and gumming-up there was in the cables. There was none of the snappy return of the levers and calipers to their starting positions, which is annoying at best and dangerous at worst. As a temporary fix, I dripped some very thin lube – trusty old Boeshield T-9 – into the brake cable housings to get them to move smoothly again, but I knew I had to replace the cables at the soonest.

Lubricating cables? Boeshield T-9 is excellent for the job.
That unsupported cable goes to the front derailleur. Zip ties are the only real way of securing it so it doesn’t flap around.

A few days after that ride, which went well, I got to the task of cable replacement on Bino. Much like Rommel’s road bike, Bino’s cables are all externally routed, but like Hyro, Bino also makes use of full-length cable housing for all four cables. The cable stops festooned all over the Dahon Vitesse frame aren’t so much real cable stops as they are supports for the cable housing, since none of them really involves terminating the cable housing and having the naked inner cable run continue.

These cable support stops also reflect Bino’s origins as a bike with no front shifting. There was none for a front shift cable, so that had to be improvised.

I decided to give Bino an improvement in his braking capabilities. Compressionless brake cable housing is much stiffer than normal helical-wound brake cable housing, and improves power transfer from brake lever to caliper, so I got an Alligator Sleek Glide brake cable kit. With Hyro’s hydraulic brake upgrade, Bino is now the only bike in my stable that still uses cables for braking, so I might as well give him the best. I was also curious how the stiffer compressionless housing would fit with Bino’s folding capability.

This went hand-in-hand with Shimano SP41 shift cable housing and Shimano shift inner cables. While shifting was still good, I might as well replace all Bino’s cables in one job.

Alligator’s brake cable kit comes with a two-headed brake inner cable, meaning it is compatible with either road bike or mountain bike brake levers. Just snip off the head you don’t need. In Bino’s case, I need the cylindrical one.

To facilitate the folding capability, all Bino’s cables are suspended in a loose loop over to the non-drive side, and are bound into one with cable wrap. This allows them to curl up out of the way in a manageable bundle when the bike is folded correctly. It is important, then, to maintain this property when replacing your cables.

Note the cables while Bino is in bike form.
Note where the cables go when Bino is folded.
Undoing the cable wrap binding releases the individual cables. Here the front brake cable has already been removed.

To release the brake cable from Shimano’s Alivio Trekking BL-T4000 levers, it’s just a matter of aligning the barrel adjusters with the open notch that goes along the forward edge of the brake levers.

You can then pull the lever and undo the cable anchor head. The whole cable should follow.

You can see just how dirty the brake inner cable has gotten. That fine black dust is all over my fingers.

This was also a good time to shorten my front brake cable, as there was quite a bit of extra length rattling over my front fender when the Alivio Trekking V-brakes were first transferred over. Alligator’s brake housing is a little more finicky to use than Jagwire’s, with a metal inner sleeve that tends to need cleaning up with each snip of my cable cutters.

To replace shift cables on Shimano’s flat handlebar shift levers, you will need a screwdriver. After shifting down to the easiest cog or chainring and releasing all cable tension, you will need to undo a little screw that serves as a plug for the cable entry port.

Once this plastic screw is removed, it’s just a matter of pushing the old shift cable out and threading the new one in. Compared to doing the same job on my old STI levers, this was very easy to do. Just make sure you reinstall the plastic screw afterward.

Overall, replacing cables on Bino was pretty straightforward, save for having to account for the front derailleur shift cable and securing it to the bike via zip ties. The compressionless brake housings worked well and didn’t interfere with the folding, even in spite of their stiffness.

The making of a ten-speed hero

A few years back, I rode with my friends Michael and Rommel from our home base in south Metro Manila to Tagaytay City in Cavite, via the town of Amadeo and Crisanto delos Reyes Avenue. Challenges had to be negotiated along the way on that ride: the gentle but quite lengthy ascent; the changeable weather conditions; and, in Rommel’s case, a bike with sub-optimal gearing both for the trip and its rider.

Following Michael into a cloudy noon as he took point at Amadeo en route to Tagaytay.
From left: Michael, Rommel, and yours truly riding along Daang Hari going back to Paranaque from Tagaytay.

While Rommel enjoyed riding, he wasn’t exactly in a position to ride as much as he liked, due to many factors, and consequently his climbing ability wasn’t the greatest. Yet, he embarked with us on the Tagaytay climb aboard his aluminum steed, equipped with decidedly flatland-biased gearing: an 11-25T cassette at the back and a 50/34T crank up front. Given all those limitations, we three completed the ride, although it took us much longer than expected – and I can imagine that it was harder than it should have been for Rommel.

Now that I finished upgrading Hyro to Spinal Tap spec, I had Shimano 105 5700 drivetrain parts lying around that could use a new home. Having had Rommel’s bike in mind for a while, I thought any help he could get negotiating climbs would be welcome. I rang him up and told him he would have first refusal on the parts, which were still pretty fresh.

Note the Sora RD-3500 rear derailleur; that’s actually a medium-cage GS unit.

The meat of the upgrade lay in swapping out the old 9-speed 11-25T cassette for my tried-and-tested 10-speed 12-30T block. Like most of us mere mortals, Rommel has almost no use for the 11T cog. Widening the gear spread toward the low end will be much more useful and practical.

Rommel’s bike with his Shimano Sora ST-3500 levers ready for removal.
They’ll get replaced by these 105 ST-5700 levers. They’re all scratched and dinged up, but they still work well.

Since the cassette, chain, and shifters need to match, on went the ST-5700 levers and my KMC X10EL chain. Finally, they get hooked up to the 105 5700 front and rear derailleurs. While setting the rear derailleur limits, I noticed the cage going into the spokes – one indication of a bent rear derailleur hanger. I straightened it out with an adjustable wrench and all was fine again.

Rommel trades up to a 105 RD-5701-SS rear derailleur.
With the 30T cassette, the short-cage mech is enough, as his bike has shorter chainstays and runs less chain.
The 105 FD-5700-F front derailleur.

One quirk about Rommel’s bike is that it seems to have been made for a 53/39T crank. The front derailleur mount barely has enough downward travel to accommodate a 50/34T crank, and there’s a tad more clearance between big ring teeth and outer cage plate than what is recommended. I did my best to tighten the high limit and mitigate outside chain drop.

I also ended up replacing all four of his brake and shift cables, treating his Claris BR-2400 rim brake calipers to some Jagwire compressionless brake housing. Having had only Hyro as previous experience, I can now say that replacing cables on a bike with external cable routing is much, much easier, and Rommel’s bike in particular is much less demanding of cable housing.

After surgery, and despite his asthma, Rommel was excited to give his bike a test spin around the block. He came back with a wide smile, telling me it felt like “a whole different bike.” All the old rattles and shakes had been addressed and removed, and his controls felt great again. More importantly, he was raring to go ride his bike once more, bad asthma be damned.

I’d say he drove home a happy customer.

Review: Park Tool IR-1 internal cable routing kit

Longtime readers will know that with Hyro, my 2014 Giant TCX SLR 2, I had a couple of trepidations. First, it was designed around press-fit bottom bracket bearings, and second, it routes all but one of its cables internally. After two sets of cranks and bottom brackets, my fears of the former were allayed…but I did not know what to expect from the latter.

Seeing how the LifeCycle mechanics used to wince when I sent Hyro in for replacement of a frayed and broken rear shift cable…I went through the process of discovery in a rather tentative manner. The LifeCycle guys never even touched Hyro’s cable housings, and they stayed in place for almost four years, with only the inner cables being swapped out. I found out for myself the aggravation of swapping Hyro’s rear shift cable for the first time as it ran through the drive-side chainstay. Subsequent inner cable swaps went smoother, but when horror stories abound about how it takes many professional bike shop mechanics at least 45 minutes fishing a cable out of a frame’s routing holes, I was dreading the prospect of having to perform a full cable replacement a little.

While looking for anything to help my odds of a successful DIY cable replacement operation, I came across the Park Tool IR-1, which was launched at the 2014 Eurobike trade show…and I just knew I had to get it for myself someday.


  • Three guide cables, each 250 cm long, all with magnets at one end
    • Threaded barb adapter
    • Rubber sleeve adapter
    • Bare guide cable
  • One guide magnet
  • Plastic carrying case


The IR-1 is the logical extension of bike mechanics’ tips and hacks when dealing with running cables through a bike frame with internal cable routing: tying cotton thread to an inner cable and using that to pull the cable through, or taking a more direct approach with a strong rare-earth magnet. What Park Tool did is to incorporate these tricks and build them into a dedicated tool.

All the guide cables have a magnet at one end. At the other end awaits either a rubber sleeve, a threaded barb, or nothing at all (just the bare guide cable). You can use the rubber sleeve to grip electronic shift wire or cable housing from outside, or screw the threaded barb into the cable housing’s inner lining and grip it that way, which is my preferred method. These should also work with hydraulic brake hose. The adapter-less guide cable is meant for use in places where the cable routing holes are just too small for anything else to work.

The threaded barb guide cable found the most use with me.

The fourth item is an anodized blue handheld “guide magnet” about 5 cm long…and this thing is pretty strong. The way it attracts itself to anything made of iron or steel, I’d guess it’s made out of some rare-earth metal such as neodymium – traditionally used for applications that require strong magnetic attraction properties.

Generally, Park Tool recommends the IR-1’s guide magnet to do most of the work of routing and navigating either the guide cables or bare inner cable through the frame. Best results involve a push-pull motion, pulling with the guide magnet while feeding the guide cable in. Once that’s through, any cable housing attached to the guide cable can follow suit.

The guide cables are all strong enough under tension. While pulling cable housings through the routing holes of a frame, they were in no danger of snapping…even when you’re negotiating stubborn compressionless brake housing out of a tight cable routing hole.

Using the manual guide magnet to pull the magnet end of the guide cable through the non-drive side chainstay.

Routing the guide cable through the non-drive side chainstay.

This is the tightest cable routing hole on the whole bike. It’s made even more complicated by the general reluctance of compressionless brake housing to bend.

When I replaced all of Hyro’s cables by myself for the first time, it took me about three and a half hours for the whole job – and this is with the IR-1 helping me out. Imagine how much longer it might have taken me had I not had this tool at my side. Six cable routing holes, three sections of cable housing, 45 minutes spent fishing housing from each hole…you can do the math. Had I not had this tool, I may have been permanently put off from performing DIY cable replacement altogether. I can only imagine how much of an investment this tool can be if part of your everyday job requires that you re-cable other people’s bikes with internal routing.

The video below is the final persuasion I needed to buy the IR-1, as the second demonstration bike featured is a 2014 TCX SLR 1 – an identical frameset to Hyro in everything save for the 15 mm through-axle fork.


As Park Tool themselves will tell you, you can’t actually buy the original IR-1 brand-new any more. They’ve replaced it with the IR-1.2, adding a fourth guide cable that they say is better meant for the wires of either a Shimano Di2 or Campagnolo EPS electric-shifting groupset. It also adds around US$10 to the original US$60 price. Frankly, I’m not sure it needed the upgrade, as the IR-1 was already capable of dragging Di2 or EPS wiring through a frame.

If it’s not already obvious, I highly recommend this tool if you’ve got a bike frame with any internal cable routing at all. If you run a local bike shop, and you believe that time is money, not availing of a couple IR-1s is the equivalent of leaving money on the table. I liken the IR-1 to a torque wrench: it can feel expensive at the outset, but it’s so essential at what it does and has very little in competition that it’s easily worth its price.