Upgrade your mountain bike cables

Four strands of wire, the largest barely 2 mm thick, determine how your bike brakes and shifts. Sever just one and you’re in trouble, with only half a transmission or safety system. Because every ride you take subjects these cables to moisture and dirt, it’s best to lube them about every 6 weeks and replace them yearly.

Things are changing though. Two companies have introduced “super” cables that last at least twice as long as stock wires, without maintenance. They fit both road and mountain bikes but are best suited for off-road use, where cables take a beating.

Gore-Tex coated “Ride-On” cables are outrageously expensive at $45 per set of brake or shift cables (with housings) and $55 for tandem ones (800/488-5544). Even so, many mountain bikers are switching to this sealed system (the cables run inside a piece of plastic tubing) to dramatically reduce cable friction and improve shifts and stops. RideOns are especially effective with Grip Shift shifters.

The Talon “Slick Whip” is less pricey but still effective – and easier to install. (Price: $7 for standard diameter road and mountain cables, $9 for oversize mountain bike brake cables, and $11 for tandem cables; 602/898-3772, AZ). It’s a Teflon-coated replacement inner cable that works with your housing.

Here’s how to install the RideOn or Slick Whip cables on a mountain bike.


  • repair stand
  • diagonal cutters
  • cable ends
  • replacement cables with housing
  • cable cutter
  • pliers
  • single-edge razor blade or sharp knife
  • 8- and 9-mm combination wrenches
  • 3-, 4-, and 5-mm allen wrenches
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • file
  • awl or nail
  • oil and grease
  • electric drill and bits

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