What is up with Erik Zabel’s shifting cables? Is he trying to hide them like Campagnolo’s under the bar tape? Looking at the pics of the finish of Stage 6, looks like Zabel has his Shimano Dura Ace shifter cables routed in this cute little loop around the shifters, and back under the bar tape, a la Campy cable routing. What’s the skinny on this? Looks like he is using Nokon cable housing to make the bend, but why? Is it a visual preference, or a tactile one?
Yes, Eric Zabel is one of a number of riders who has concealed shift cables with his Shimano STI system. The key to curving the shift cable so sharply that it pops out of the side of the lever and then goes right back underneath the tape at the base of the lever hood is to have flexible cable housing. And there is none more flexible than the German Nokon housing, which is made up of separate cylindrical aluminum segments with ball joints on the end. This is the housing that T-Mobile mechanics have used to route Zabel’s shift cables under the tape. Other Nokon uses in the Tour
Nokon creates other opportunities for cable routing that would otherwise not work. The beauty of it is that you can make very tight bends and keep the cables very short without hindering braking or shifting ability or limiting the rotation of the handlebars about the headset. With most housing, if you make the bends tight and the cables short, when you turn the handlebars, the brake calipers pinch inward and/or the derailleurs move as the cables tighten up. You can see what I mean by grabbing the loops of your own cables and bending them around—you will see your derailleurs and brakes move.
This does not happen, however, with Nokon housings. They are so flexible, with the freely-moving ball joints on the end of each one-centimeter-long segment that you can twist the loops around and the derailleurs and brake calipers do not move.
The Nokons still will not compress in length, which is critical for shift cable housings, or split under the pressure of super-high cable tension, which is critical for brake housings.
Muñoz’s cable magic
Another team using Nokon housings is Liberty Seguros, and chief mechanic Faustino Muñoz is a master at elegant and unobtrusive cable routing.
On the BH road bikes, the blue Nokon housings match the bike color scheme and are pulled in very tightly by the stem and head tube. As this is a Campagnolo-sponsored team, the shift cable is already concealed under the tape, but Muñoz’s routing makes it almost entirely disappear from view.
On the time trial bikes, Muñoz has come up with a completely unique way of routing the cables that is even more elegant. Shift cable routing from the shifters on the ends of the aero’ extensions is intended to come out of the tail end of the extensions on the team’s Oval carbon aero’ bars, but that makes a bigger cable loop. So Muñoz (who does not need to worry about voiding any warranty) drills a hole in the inboard wall of each aero’ extension behind the clamp. Then the cables flow directly into the internal routing tubes inside of the frame.
And rather than letting the rear brake cable flop around between where it exits the hole in the base bar and where it enters, the frame, Muñoz has screwed a little threaded boss with a cross-hole into it on the back of the extension clamp. He runs the rear brake cable through the cross hole to keep the cable tight along the bar.
Notice that the front brake cable goes to a little U-brake behind the fork crown. Also note that the shifters and cable housings are gold to match the frame. Elegant, eh?