Category: How To

An anonymous reader sent in the following question:

“How often should I replace my cables?”

Well, that’s an excellent question! There are no hard and fast rules about replacing your cables, but I like to do it once a year. If you ride in really harsh conditions (excessive rain, snow/road salt, mud), you may consider replacing them more often…like every six months or so.

casings

I’m not going to bore you with a step-by-step tutorial on replacing your cables, but I will offer several tips, tricks and pointers to make things smoother. First, when you buy cables, go ahead and spring for replacement casing, too. It’s only a dollar or two a foot (cheaper if you buy it in bulk from Bike Tools, Etc. or the like). Remember also that there are two kinds of cable casings…spiral-wound for brakes, linear compression casing for derailleur systems. Don’t mix the two unless you want inaccurate shifting or blown casings and poor braking!

Next, most inner wire (cable) sets are two-ended. Be careful when you get started that you don’t cut off the wrong leaded end — once the wrong end is cut, it’s too late to turn back!

From left to right: barrel end for mountain bike brake levers, mushroom end for road brake levers, mini-barrel for shifters
Leaded ends

How on earth are you supposed to cut cables and casings cleanly? Proper tools are a must — home wire cutters mash the cables and casings and leave a messy, mangled end, so that’s a no-no. Many bike tool makers (Park, Lifu, Cyclo) make specific cable and casing cutters that are expensive but worth it for a clean, precise job. My favorite, though, is the Dremel tool with a reinforced abrasive cutoff wheel. I’m lucky that my wife has a Black and Decker “Wizard” tool that is cordless…which makes things even easier. Don’t tell her I’ve liberated it for my own nefarious purposes!

cutters

A lot of us have Dremel-type tools laying around (and if you don’t, now you have a perfect excuse to run out and buy one — handy for all manner of bike tinkering!). With the cutoff wheel installed, you can make very precise cuts in the casing that need little or no “truing”. To cut cables, just wrap a bit of masking tape at the point you’re going to cut and cut right through the tape and cable. The tape keeps the individual wires from unraveling.

Another trick with the cutoff wheel is to “dress” the end of the casing to give it a nice square end. Just run the casing along the flat top of the cutoff wheel like so:

Dressing the casing end
(I’ll cover making badass .45 caliber zipper pulls in another post)

Once you’ve dressed the end of the casing, reach in the end of it with a sharp nail or file and make sure the liner isn’t mangled.

Swapping your cables and casings out at least once a year will provide smoother braking and shifting and will help keep you from getting stranded with a serious technical problem…no one wants to be late to work, right?

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.


Click here to see a vast selection of cables for your bike.

John, also known as Moveitfred By Bike sent in the following question:

“Do you have any recommendations for fenders? I’m looking for something that’s easy on and off for a steel frame cyclocross bike with cantilever brakes. “

My initial response to him was that unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways: you can either have GOOD fenders, or you can have “easy on/easy off” fenders.

For example, the SKS Race Blade — they go on and off very quickly, but they don’t provide enough coverage to really keep you and your bike clean and dry. Same goes with the seatpost-clamping rear fenders. Same with the clip-on front mini-fender that goes on the downtube.

I’ve tried a couple modern brands of fenders, notably the Zefal Cafe models and the Planet Bike full-coverage fenders with integral mudguards. The Planet Bike ones are substantially better (better hardware, more versatile).

The more I thought about it, though, I realized you CAN “have your cake and eat it too.” One trick some folks use to make the fenders go on and off easier is to thread longer mounting bolts “inside out” (from the inside of the fork/dropout bosses toward the outside of the frame) and using metric wingnuts to attach the stays and struts. Still, it’s not a 30 second removal process!

I had stumbled across a photographic tutorial of this setup on the Web several months back, and rediscovered it while I spoke to John via email. Here are the particulars:

Alex Wetmore (an amazing tinkerer… on his blog, check out the “to die for” workshop in his basement!!!) wrote a tutorial on this method on his website…and has allowed me to share a couple pictures of the setup with you. The first is the fender attachment at the fork crown:

attachment at fork crown

The second photo is one where the fender stays attach to the braze-ons of the fork:

Attachment at fork braze-ons

As mentioned earlier, you might have to find longer mounting bolts for the fenders to make this work, but that isn’t too difficult.

If you go for really blingy, indestructible fenders, I heartily recommend either Honjo or Giles Berthoud fenders. Honjos come in fluted, smooth or hammered-finish aluminum, while the Berthoud ones come in stainless steel. The mounting hardware and struts are without peer, and either brand is so gorgeous that you won’t want to take them off!

Either Peter White Cycles of New Hampshire or Velo Orange in Annapolis, MD carry these kinds of fenders…might be worth checking out!

Setting up your fenders this way makes the bike more versatile. On days you don’t need the protection and don’t want to push the extra weight around, just slip the fenders off and ride. Bad weather in the forecast? Pop the fenders right back on. It’s a great tip, and we’d like to thank John for sending in the question and Alex Wetmore for letting us use his photographs of the process.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

Reader Tom Hewitt sent in the following handy tip that we’d like to share with you:

basketball net

“Some of us bike commuters prefer backpacks to panniers for a variety of reasons (multiple shopping stops require leaving your bike outside, bike handling is adversely affected by heavy weight in the panniers, etc.). But sometimes a backpack just won’t haul everything you’ve purchased. My solution to this problem is a cheap basketball goal net, about $2 at a discount store, with a carabiner on each end to close it up. While there are many ways this can be attached to the bike or rack, I prefer to fasten it to the backpack itself. It is particularly handy for carrying light bulky things (paper towels) or fragile items that might be damaged by being crammed in the pack (potato chips, tomatoes). Most modern packs have many spots where the carabiners can be attached so it’s no problem fastening the load. And the net is easily carried in a pocket of the pack so it’s available whenever needed.”

Here’s a picture of the net in action:

net in action

Great trick — thanks for sending it in, Tom!

Does anyone else have a handy, unorthodox bicycle commuting tip or trick they’d like to share? If so, let us know about ’em!

Hey everyone, this is my first post as an official BikeCommuters.com team member so I thought I’d post about something I use every day during my bike commute. The video is a little rough as I’m still working on my editing skillz.

Enjoy!