Long term test: Sealed cable systems for cyclocross

A long-term test of sealed cable systems

When I wrote the piece on Cables for ‘cross in the fall, I have to admit that, while touting the virtues of sealed cable systems, I was skeptical that anything could survive a whole season of ‘cross. I knew they’d be good, I knew they’d last longer, but I didn’t really think  they could go the distance.

Boy was I wrong.

The second part of the story was a longevity test on two different setups and the results were better than expected. I chose the Nokon and Gore RideOn professional systems for my season-long case study in ill-treatment and both were up to the task. My pair of trusty Moots steeds went to hell and back this season. I lined up for no fewer than 29 races from early September until Master’s worlds in Belgium in late January. From the mud, sand and snows of Colorado and Oregon to the (even more) mud, sand and rain of Belgium, if my cables were going to fail they would have done so in spectacular fashion.

The Nokon system on my “A” bike performed admirably and, aside from a mid-season, barely necessary cable replacement and general clean up, they survived the season handily. I don’t intend to change them any time soon either. The one modification I did make was to sleeve the entire length of the outers with clear heat shrink. This eliminated grit from getting in between the pearls, protected the frame and stiffened up the outers a little, which helped the smoothness of the action. The cosmetic downside was that it took some of the pretty Nokon shine away. As per the mostly indecipherable Nokon instructions, I did lube the cables on the second install, but think overall that is a bad idea. Lube attracts dirt. Keep the setups as dry as possible. Graphite powder would be the only lube I’d put inside cable housing.

The Gore RideOn professional setup on my “B” bike copped the most abuse by far. Even though I took every precaution on install to reduce failure points, I still thought there would be no way they could withstand the abuses of ‘cross. Despite my doubts, the cables performed flawlessly, and even after countless training rides, power washings and races, the action is as good as the day I installed them. There was just one small issue: Right before Christmas, I noticed some of the coating shredding inside the ferrule right behind the headset. It wasn’t affecting performance at all, but I installed a replacement cable and repaired the liner where it emerged from the ferrule. Done. The other part of the puzzle was compatibility with top-routed ‘cross bikes. I have two answers. 1: Lois Mabon from Gore RideOn confirmed that the new professional kits will come with enough hardware to wire up a top-routed crosser and a SRAM rear derailleur-compatible grub seal will be included in the kits in the near future. Lois also hinted on a ‘new component’ that they will be unveiling, but that’s all I could pry out of her for now. 2: The other obvious RideOn option would be the Sealed Low Friction System. The liner runs continuously through the cable housing, eliminating the need for heat shrinking ferrules and offering a nice, clean look. Things to look out for on this are: the ferrules are all 5mm (not 4.2mm) and the system weighs about 20grams more than the professional kit.

The upshot of all of this is that I spent a lot less time freezing my fingers (among other things) off in the garage this winter. If you spend one hour per bike carefully installing a sealed system at the beginning of the season, you will eliminate most or possibly all of your cable maintenance for the year and dramatically reduce the expense involved with replacing and maintaining your cables. As with everything, taking the time to install properly is the key to the most reliable setup. Whatever your brand of choice, here are a few tips to get the best out of your cables.

  • First, pay attention to curve radius when cutting housing to length. If your curves are too tight it significantly decreases performance. I even route my front brake cable over the stem so it has a nice graceful entry into the top cable hanger.
  • Cut the housing sections clean and square and/or clean them up with a grinder or file.

Blow any debris out of the cut housing sections with a compressor, canned air or good old lung power.

  • Open up the housing liner at the cut ends with an awl.
  • Heat shrink any ferrules that could let in contamination.
  • With coated cables take care not to damage the coating when pushing the cable through the shifter. As you pull the cable, guide it into the shifter body through your fingers.
  • For RideOn cables remove the last 3 or 4 inches of coating from the cable at the rear derailleur to prevent shredding and binding.

Editor’s note: Australian native Michael Robson grew up racing dirt bikes and flat-track and in his teens progressed to BMX. He first came to race in the U.S. in the early nineties and ended up in Europe as a workaday roadie. Now a professional photographer and rabid cyclocrosser, Robson is reliving his youth ripping it up in master’s ‘cross, making great photos for a living and testing gear for VeloNews.