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Close-up image of frayed brake cable on cantilever brakes, with cable-tie positioned above the fray.

How to reverse the fray and save your cables

A low-cost, low-effort bike maintenance hack from the depths of social media.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 23.05.2024 Photography by
Iain Treloar
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Social media is a cesspool. Between the attention-shrinking dopamine hits, the disinformation and misinformation, the squabbling and the creeps, it’s enough to make you want to scrub yourself with bleach and move to the woods somewhere. But then, every so often, something comes along that suggests that, actually, perhaps all that doomscrolling is worth it, sometimes. Maybe it’s a pretty picture. Maybe it’s a nicely written caption. Or maybe – as is the case here â€“ it’s a little hack that genuinely makes your jaw drop (for the right reasons, this time). 

Full credit to this one goes to Schoolyard Projects, a German bike restorer who turns out lovely retro-modern 26” mountain bike rebuilds. Here’s the thing about such bikes: they use these outdated things called ‘cables’ to control the gears and the brakes. These are not issues that will worry the hydraulic disc brake or electronic crowd, but for many cyclists on many types of bikes, there is an inevitability to those cables: at some point or another, they will fray.

Now, there are ways to rectify that. If you’ve got enough length to play with you can cut the cable back a bit. You can run a new cable through. You can risk tiny bits of wire embedding themselves in your fingertips as you twiddle the cable around in the hope you’ll be able to salvage it enough to crimp a cable-end on. Those are all options. But Schoolyard Projects has another way, and it made me say ‘woah’ out loud like a big goofy idiot whilst I was baking a chicken pie last night (yeah, turned out pretty good, thanks). As such, I think it’s worth sharing it with you:

If for some reason that’s not displaying for you: get a cable tie, tighten it around the cable above where the fraying begins, then wind it clockwise (reverse for Campy) along the cable until you reach the end. Hey presto – your frayed cable is now no longer frayed.

In my testing, this worked perfectly the first time, then I deliberately brutalised the cable again to see how bad it could get; the results were not quite as clean the second time around, although still workable. But that’s not a super-realistic real life scenario, and I’d venture that for the majority of frayed cables this will salvage it enough to get a cable-end back on and proceed on your merry way.

Close-up image of brake cable, post-cable tie treatment, without any fraying visible.
Just add cable-end.

Caveats? Well, as always, there’s some nuance in the margins. For one thing: you need to make sure the cable isn’t frayed beyond the pinch bolt. For another: some will raise eyebrows at the use of cable ties (although he’s got a hack for reusing those, too). Some people suggest twirling with pliers, others using heatshrink wrap, others using solder. And I also think you should use a cable-end, rather than gluing it, as the above video would suggest.

All of that’s valid. But I also know that there are probably half a dozen times when I could’ve used this over the years and saved either a cable or my fingertips. Take this tip for whatever value you might find from it, but at least for me, it seems a pretty handy thing to have filed away in the back of the head.

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