How to change a gear cable on a mountain bike

replace mtb gear cable

A gear cable can wear out. As a result, you can shift less well or it can even break in the long run, so that you can no longer shift at all. It is smart to regularly check the quality of this cable to prevent bicycle breakdowns on the way. Do you want to replace it? Then this page is the right place for you. I’ll tell you all about replacing the MTB gear cable. Because, how often do you have to replace it, how often do you have to do this and what do you need?

Why replace the MTB gear cable

The gear cable is important. Thanks to this cable you can use the shifters to ensure that the mountain bike derailleur puts the bicycle chain on another chainring. It is important that the gear cable is properly tensioned and that it is not damaged. Is it due for replacement? Then you can shift less well or it can even break in the long run. And then switching becomes impossible.

The most important reasons to replace an MTB gear cable in time:

  • Nice and smooth shifting
  • Prevent broken gear cable
  • To avoid unsafe situations
replace mtb gear cable
You need an Allen key to replace the gear cable. ©

When should you replace the gear cable?

How quickly the gear cable needs to be replaced depends on a number of factors. This depends, among other things, on how well you maintain your mountain bike, how often you get on your bike and whether you regularly tension the cable. The maintenance of specific parts is also important: regular cleaning of the MTB derailleur can even have a positive effect on the lifespan of the cabling.

In contrast to, for example, the MTB bicycle chain, with which you can use a wear meter to see whether it needs to be replaced, there is no standard to determine when exactly the gear cable is worn out. You can often recognize it by the following problems:

  • The cable begins to split
  • The outside cabling shows damage

You can significantly extend the life of the gear cable by regularly replacing the outer cabling, running the cables through the frame or by regular mountain bike maintenance.

Which tools do you need?

Replacing the gear cable is not a difficult job. You do need the right tools for this. And of course a new gear cable. It is smart to also buy an outer cable; this is the time to replace it right away. See below which tools you need:

  • Allen key (probably Allen key 5)
  • Cable cutter

If you want to do it right, you also need a cable end cap and a file. This allows you to finish the end of the gear cable properly and neatly.

Gear cable MTB step-by-step plan

When you have gathered all the necessities together, we can start with the step-by-step plan.

Follow the steps below to replace the MTB gear cable.

  1. Shift the bicycle chain to the smallest rear sprocket

    This means there is as little tension as possible on the bicycle chain, making replacement easier.

  2. Disconnect the shifter cable at the rear derailleur

    Unscrew the derailleur cable with an Allen key. Is the cable split? Then cut it after the split so that it can be easily removed from the derailleur later.

  3. Remove the outer casing

    Slide the outer casing off the inner cable at the rear. Set these aside.

  4. Remove the gear cable from the MTB shifter

    Now remove the gear cable from the mountain bike shifter as well. Also remove the outer casing here and set it aside.

  5. Check the condition of the outer casings

    When the outer cables need to be replaced, it is smart to replace them immediately. Use the old outer casings for the correct dimensions. Neatly file the ends and fit the ends of the new housings with the caps of the old housings.

  6. Slide the new inner cable through the shifter

    Take the new gear cable and slide it through the shifter on the MTB handlebar.

  7. Fit the inner cable with the outer casing and route it to the derailleur

    Slide the (new) outer cable (the longer of the two) over the inner cable. Route the cable through the frame cable guides or route it through the frame with an internal cable guide.

  8. Slide the new outer casing over the last piece of gear cable

    Before we mount the cable at the derailleur, we slide the (new) outer cable over the inner cable.

  9. Thread the shifter cable through the rear derailleur

    Slide the cable through the cable adjuster (make sure it is screwed open slightly) and pull it through to the cable clamp. Clamp the cable with the screw by tightening it with the Allen key.

  10. Cut the cable to size if necessary

    Cut the cable after clamping it. Do not do this too close to the Allen screw, so that you still have some play. Veil off the ends and provide them with a cable end cap.

  11. Adjust the cable with the cable adjuster

    Now shift up and down and slightly adjust the gear cable with the cable adjuster, which we just put the cable through.

When replacing the gear cable, there is a good chance that you will also have to adjust the derailleur again. Read all about adjusting the MTB derailleur here.

Frequently asked questions about replacing a bicycle gear cable

Can I replace an MTB gear cable myself?

That is certainly possible, provided you have the right tools for this. Basically you only need an Allen key and a good cable cutter.

Do I have to replace both the inner and outer cable?

When you replace a gear cable, it is smart to also take the outer cables with you. Chances are they are worn out if the shifter cable is also worn out. And this is the time to replace them right away, since you dismantle the complete cable.

When should I replace the gear cable?

If you notice that shifting is no longer smooth, your gear cable may be worn. You often notice that shifting with the shifters is less smooth. The wear can also be seen: for example, that the outer cable is broken or that the cable splits.

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