How To Replace A Bike Brake Cable In 5 Steps [With Pictures]

Photo of author
Written by
Last Updated:

Cycling is great fun, and little else can beat a good day out on the bike.

When you’re a cyclist, it is always good to learn how to fix your own bike. One of the most worthwhile jobs to learn is how to replace a bike brake cable.

Having your brakes working properly is vital. Although many people think it’s a complicated process, it’s a very easy job that doesn’t take long.

In this article, we’re going to be showing you:

  • Why Replace Your Bike Brake Cables?
  • What Tools Do I Need For A Bike Brake Cable Replacement?
  • How To Replace A Bike Brake Cable In 5 Steps
  • Important Considerations After A Bike Brake Cable Replacement

Let’s dive in!

How To Replace A Bike Brake Cable: Title Image

Why Replace Your Bike Brake Cables?

There are many reasons why you might need to know how to replace a bike brake cable. Here are the most common you’ll come across:

#1. General wear and tear

Like any mechanical part on a bike, brake cables only have a certain lifespan.

They get used a lot, and it’s only a matter of time before they wear down. When they are at their worst, they either don’t work as effectively as they should, or can even stop working altogether.

#2. Corrosion 

Cable inners and outers have to be strong and are generally made of metal and plastic.

When a bike is being used in all weather conditions, it’s easy for the metal to rust and the plastic to become brittle. This causes the cables to dry out, get stiff inside their casing, and not work properly.

#3. Stretching

It is normal for brake cables to stretch over time.

This is because they have a lot of pressure going through them when friction needs to be created on the rim or disc. There’s only a certain amount of times you can get away with adjusting cables until you need to change them altogether.

Also, the more they stretch, the weaker they become, which could lead to them snapping. 

#4. Upgrading

Many cyclists change their brake cables to upgrade them.

You can get stronger cables that will give you a longer lifespan or cables that work more efficiently. It’s a great upgrade to improve your cycling experience and can make the work easier on your hands. 

The front end of a road bike with brake cables showing.

What Tools Do I Need For A Bike Brake Cable Replacement?

Changing a bike brake cable doesn’t require many tools or parts. If you don’t have the tools, it’s worth investing as you will probably be using them again at some point.

To replace a bike brake cable, you will need:

  • Bike Stand (Optional)
  • Clean Rag
  • Cable Cutters
  • Allen Keys or small wrench
  • Long Nose Pliers 
  • Brake Cable Set (Inner, Outer, Ferrules, Cable End)
The tools you'll need when learning how to replace bike brake cables.

In this guide, we will be replacing both inners and outers. Many cyclists make the mistake of only doing the inner cable and finding the same issues later. Doing both is good practice as you’re working in the area anyway, and the replacement will last much longer.  

The bike we used to take these photos was fitted with rim brake and hybrid (flat bar) brake levers. However, the process is the same for bikes with mechanical disc brakes and road bike (drop handlebar) levers.

We recommend using branded cables such as Jagwire or Shimano. These are likely to work better and last longer.

We’ve often been asked if you can use leftover gear cables as brake cables. Gear cables are much smaller and have different end pieces.

Though in theory, you could bodge the repair to make it work, it would be difficult to make the end pieces fit and the cables themselves are not as strong. In short – we wouldn’t recommend it.

A bike is held in a maintenance stand, ready to be worked on.

How To Replace A Bike Brake Cable In 5 Steps

Now for the fun bit, fixing the bike. Before we start, we highly recommend reading the instructions properly and working through them slowly. Brakes are a vital part of the bike, and you will want to get it right the first time. 

Step #1. Preparation

The first part of the job is to get yourself prepared.

Clear a space where you can work safely and have all your tools lined up next to you. Don’t open up the brake cable set yet, as it has a lot of small parts you don’t want to lose. 

Now it is time to get your bike in the stand, protecting the frame with a clean rag.

Step #2. Remove the old cable inners

Cutting off the end cap from a brake cable.

The first place to go is to the brakes themselves.

Using an Allen key or small wrench, undo the pinch bolt. This will release the tension on the cable. When you do this, the brakes will completely release and come out of adjustment. 

Now, cut the end cap off the cable. We do this so the inner cable can travel through the system when being removed.

Next, pull the brake lever. It should be completely loose and won’t return to its original position.

In this position, it will show you the cable stop. You will need to grab this and pull the old cable through the system. When it’s out, throw it straight in the bin, as you will not need this again.

Step #3. Swap the old cable outers

Cutting down the outer cables to size.

Now the inner cable is out, it’s time to remove the outer.

The outers are the plastic casings that house the inner cable. On the front, you typically have one. On the rear, you might have two or three separated from one another. With no inner cable inside, these will come straight off the bike.

Don’t throw these cables away just yet. We can use these cables to ensure our new cables are the correct length instead of guessing or having to measure.

Open the new cable set and get the outer cables. Line up the old outer cables on the side. Then cut the new outers to the same length using the cable cutters. The cleaner the finish on the cut, the better.

Once finished, install the ferrule on each end.

Step #4. install the outer and inner Cables

Installing the outer cables on a white road bike.

Now, take your new outer cables and install them into the bike. Try to follow the same bends and the previous cables and ensure they are not in the way of moving parts.

With many cable sets, the inner steel cables come with two different ends: one for old-style brakes and one for more modern ones. You’ll need to pick the one you need and use the cable cutters to cut the other off.

Attaching the new bike brake cable to the rear brake.

Now, thread the new brake cable through the outers, starting at the lever and finishing at the brake. Wind all the adjusters in with the cable loose in the system.

Next, use the long nose pliers to pull the cable lightly and tighten it back into the pinch bolt. Ensure there is tension in the cables.

Once the cable has some tension, cut the cable an inch after the pinch bolt. To avoid the cable fraying, install a cable end, using the pliers to crimp it on.

Step #5. Adjust the brakes

Squeezing the brake lever to test the new cables.

The final step is to adjust the brakes, so they slow the bike down effectively. Before you start using the adjuster, check the brake cable along its entire length to ensure it’s installed properly and that everything is secure. 

Try pulling the lever, and you should see the brakes tighten up with the tension on the cable. If not, you might need to release the pinch bolt and pull the cable tight to create tension.

Now, using the small barrel adjuster on the brake or lever, tighten it up until the brakes work adequately in the stand.

Turning the barrel adjuster to perfect the setup of the brakes.

Once you feel they’re about right and the brakes feel responsive, pop the bike out of the stand. Now it’s time to give it a good test to ensure it all works properly and stops you quickly!

Important Considerations After A Bike Brake Cable Replacement

After you have changed the brake cables and ridden a few hundred miles, you will start to notice them getting slacker. This is because cables need time to bed in and stretch initially.

You might need to tighten the barrel adjuster slightly to ensure they are just as responsive as when you first did the job.

It’s good to learn how to make these adjustments, as when your brake pads begin to wear down, you can keep the bike feeling responsive by using the barrel adjuster too.

Now you know how to replace a bike brake cable…

You have now successfully changed a brake cable correctly!

We hope you enjoyed our guide and found enjoyment in working on your bike. If you’d like to learn more bike maintenance essential skills, why not check out our other guides below!

Photo of author
Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.