By Zack Vestal
Late in the riding season, the best ways to dress up your bike and make it feel like new include new cables and housing, new bar tape or grips, a new chain, and new tires. If you can’t afford new wheels or other components, there are little things that can make a big difference.
It’s especially true for shifter and brake cables and housing. Aside from just improving the feel at the levers, actual shifting and braking performance will improve as well.
At $60, a Yokozuna Reaction cable and housing set is probably not the cheapest you can find. But it’s among the best, and without a doubt will improve both the feel and performance of your shifters and brakes.
American riders are not likely to have heard of the Yokozuna brand, but the Japanese company has been around for decades. For years as a subcontractor, Yokozuna has been providing cable and housing for high-end component groups to some of the top drivetrain builders in the industry. In 2005, the company entered the consumer market and is currently distributed in the US, Canada, Australia, and Britain.
A Yokozuna Reaction cable kit includes brake and shifter cables, and housing for both. Versions are available with mountain bike brake cables, and shifter cable for either Shimano/SRAM or Campagnolo. Ferrules, cable end caps, and 2 short sections of extra-flexible brake housing (for extra-tight handlebar bends) are included.
Holding the package, it feels a little heavy, and I thought it might be due to the very beefy-looking 5mm brake housing, which is about the most highly engineered I’ve seen yet. But I weighed 36-inch lengths of Shimano and Yokozuna brake housing, and the weight was equal (about 53 grams).
The brake housing is composed of coaxial wire strands (just like shifter housing) over which a steel ribbon is wound, to keep it from splitting under compression. The whole thing is coated in a clear plastic sheathing. The see-through nature of it is cool—you can see the co-ax strands underneath the outer wind of ribbon. It’s lined internally with a slick housing, which is “Jet-Lubed” end to end with light cable grease. The whole package makes for very stiff housing that is very hard to bend.
The 4mm shifter housing looks a lot more like standard coaxial SIS housing. Like the brake housing, the plastic sheath is clear, and it’s lined internally and pre-lubed.
Also like the brake housing, the 1.2mm shifter cables are almost immediately notable for a unique look and feel. The individual stainless steel wire strands are wound more tightly than on most shifter cables I’ve seen, which makes the Yokozuna cables very flexible and supple. They are also quite smooth.
Ditto with the 1.6mm brake cables—they are wound tightly (but not as noticeably so as the shifter cables), are very flexible and very smooth.
Installation is the same as with any cable set. However, the brake housing is very, very stiff, so routing it through tight bends will be tricky. I was barely able to get it to bend to follow the groove on my road bars, but that was the only issue I had. (I preferred to use the normal housing rather than the short, flexible sections provided).
The amount of shifter housing supplied with the kit was barely enough to fit from the Dura Ace 7800 levers I have, on 44cm bars with a 100mm stem, to the downtube cable stops on my Trek Madone. Be careful with your install to make sure you will have enough shifter housing for your application.
Good cable cutters are absolutely necessary, because both cables and housing are made of stout material. In fact, cutting the brake housing requires a bit of post-cut care, as the outer steel ribbon tends to pull away from the coaxial strands when cut. I had to re-cut the ribbon and bend it away from the cable path. Then, using a machinist’s pick or other sharp tool to open up any crimping of the inner lining is helpful. Once ferrules are in place, everything looks and behaves as normal. The plastic shifter ferrules are not sealed (in contrast to Shimano SP-41 ferrules, which use little rubber o-rings).
Correctly installed, both braking and shifting feel fantastically positive. I would venture to say that the brake cable and housing combination is the smoothest, most solid I have ever used. Squeezing the brake levers, the cable pull is consistent and easy, and when the pads hit the rim, zero flex or sponginess is felt. It’s remarkable how positive and uniform both the front and rear brakes feel.
Action at the shift lever was very smooth and consistent, more or less on par with my previous best experiences of cable and housing combinations. I would rate correctly installed and lubed PowerCordz shifter cables alongside the Yokozuna combination for extremely low-friction performance, but with the Yokozuna stainless steel cables, you gain easier, more familiar installation and possibly a measure of durability as well. The Yokozuna cables are heavier, but easier to adjust, and less finicky in terms of final adjustment.
My “go-to” shifter cable and housing combination is a 1.1mm, Teflon-coated cable with 4mm Shimano SP-41 housing and sealed ferrules. The Yokozuna set was as good as this combination at first, and better with time. Most of the Teflon coated cables I have used are not so slick underneath the coating, and when it wears off, shifting performance degrades. The Yokozuna set was very consistent in the 40 or so hours that I rode it.
If you’re in the market for a nice cable and housing set to match a nice bike, or if you just want to make your favorite bike feel better than new, give the Yokozuna Reaction cable set a try – you will not be disappointed.