Gear Cable Stretch and Tension - Rocket Science or Bike Tech 101?

User avatar
AUbicycles
Site Admin
Site Admin
Posts: 12982
Joined: Tue Aug 23, 2005 2:14 am
Location: Sydney & Frankfurt
Contact:

Gear Cable Stretch and Tension - Rocket Science or Bike Tech 101?

Postby AUbicycles » Thu Jan 18, 2018 8:58 pm

I would love to hear from the experts on this, potentially a very very basic part of bike tech but I will admit that I have rarely taken the time to understand it better, so now is my chance.

We are talking gear cables - I understand that new cables are good and ongoing maintenance adjusting the cable tension is required during the lifetime - as the cable wears and stretches - to ensure smooth shifting.

My specific question is why does a stretched gear cable need to be replaced? The front and rear derailleurs have springs and in this context the cable as requires a fixed length and tension but elasticity is required. During wear, the tension is adjusted to counter the stretch and that should be it.

Why would a cable (excluding cable outers) have a limited lifespan meaning that replacing it leads to a significant improvement in shifting?

Two things come to mind, first is a coated cable so the coating is also subject to wear from rubbing, stretching and degradation over time. The second is that cable elasticity helps shifting so a worn cable has less internal 'spring' leading to less forgiving shifting (related to ability to tension).

Look forward to having your thoughts, wild claims and facts on this.

Christopher

User avatar
Derny Driver
Posts: 2287
Joined: Wed Nov 21, 2012 12:18 pm
Location: Wollongong

Re: Gear Cable Stretch and Tension - Rocket Science or Bike Tech 101?

Postby Derny Driver » Thu Jan 18, 2018 9:03 pm

At the places where the cable bends, it fatigues and eventually breaks. Downtube shift cables do not need replacing as often as the modern ones where the cable end is wrapped around the inside of a ratchetted integrated brake / gear lever.

User avatar
bychosis
Posts: 5507
Joined: Sat Jan 14, 2012 1:10 pm
Location: Lake Macquarie

Re: Gear Cable Stretch and Tension - Rocket Science or Bike Tech 101?

Postby bychosis » Fri Jan 19, 2018 7:25 am

I wouldn’t have though that a stretched cable needs replacing, but at some point (will depend on the particular steel type) the stretch is too much for the steel in the cable and it will fatigue and break he individual stands which get caught up in the mechanisms and housings.
bychosis (bahy-koh-sis): A mental disorder of delusions indicating impaired contact with a reality of no bicycles.

User avatar
Thoglette
Posts: 3837
Joined: Thu Feb 19, 2009 1:01 pm

Re: Gear Cable Stretch and Tension - Rocket Science or Bike Tech 101?

Postby Thoglette » Fri Jan 19, 2018 8:51 am

I'm sure Duck will clear this up presently but my understanding and experience is that "stretch" happens early in the life of a cable. Basically new cables "settle in" and I always have to adjust some slack out of new cables after the first weeks of use.

Cables fail via fatigue, strand by strand, as bychosis notes. Typically wherever they have to bend: usually near fixed anchor points or in the shifter.
Stop handing them the stick! - Dave Moulton
"People are worthy of respect, ideas are not." Peter Ellerton, UQ

User avatar
Duck!
Expert
Posts: 6790
Joined: Tue May 21, 2013 8:21 pm
Location: On The Tools

Re: Gear Cable Stretch and Tension - Rocket Science or Bike Tech 101?

Postby Duck! » Fri Jan 19, 2018 8:59 am

Pretty much all of the above. Yes, cables stretch over their lifespan, but mostly when new; you'll tend to find after replacing cables that you'll need to retune the gears a fair bit soon after fitting the new cables, but that will become less frequent as they settle in.

There isn't really any need to replace inner cables purely because they've stretched. However stainless steel is prone to work hardening and breaking where it is stressed around the shifter mechanism.

Different coatings behave differently, some remain intact for the life of the cable, while other will peel off and clog the outers, causing poor shifting.

Outer casings wear, particularly in tighter curves along the handlebar, and they too need periodic replacement.
I had a thought, but it got run over as it crossed my mind.

NewStew
Posts: 168
Joined: Wed Mar 31, 2010 1:26 pm

Re: Gear Cable Stretch and Tension - Rocket Science or Bike Tech 101?

Postby NewStew » Fri Jan 19, 2018 11:05 am

I read somewhere that the majority of the early "stretch" in the cables is actually caused by the outers moving into the end caps and stops and becoming properly seated. From my understanding of stainless steel wire and also changing cable outers (not that much really) it sort of makes sense. Thoughts?

Not that it matters as the solution is still the same and as long as a persons internal working theory on what is happening leads to the correct action then that working theory is sound enough.

User avatar
AUbicycles
Site Admin
Site Admin
Posts: 12982
Joined: Tue Aug 23, 2005 2:14 am
Location: Sydney & Frankfurt
Contact:

Re: Gear Cable Stretch and Tension - Rocket Science or Bike Tech 101?

Postby AUbicycles » Fri Jan 19, 2018 6:42 pm

Thanks you everyone for the input - all very logical and appreciate.

User avatar
10speedsemiracer
Posts: 825
Joined: Sat Feb 11, 2017 7:38 pm
Location: Melbourne, Eastern Suburbs, near the hills,

Re: Gear Cable Stretch and Tension - Rocket Science or Bike Tech 101?

Postby 10speedsemiracer » Fri Jan 19, 2018 7:11 pm

NewStew wrote:I read somewhere that the majority of the early "stretch" in the cables is actually caused by the outers moving into the end caps and stops and becoming properly seated. From my understanding of stainless steel wire and also changing cable outers (not that much really) it sort of makes sense. Thoughts?

Not that it matters as the solution is still the same and as long as a persons internal working theory on what is happening leads to the correct action then that working theory is sound enough.


This is what I was taught as well, i.e. cables don't stretch until later in their life and the initial experience of shifting going off after the first few weeks is down to cable housing and ferrules compressing and seating after early repeated use. When cabling I get around this by giving everything a good squish with the end point held immobile, and then retuning shift/brake cable. So for a rear derailleur, the process is to drop the RD to the smallest cog-hold it in place-work the shifter thru a click or two and release and then check shifting. The better prepped the cable housing is, the smaller the amount of variation before/after. Same for the brakes. wedge something (icy pole stick sans icy pole) between brake pads and braking surface, moderate squish on brake lever and release, then readjust.

I honestly don't know if this is truly the case however seems to work for me and has for a long time.
Mmm, SunTour

User avatar
Duck!
Expert
Posts: 6790
Joined: Tue May 21, 2013 8:21 pm
Location: On The Tools

Re: Gear Cable Stretch and Tension - Rocket Science or Bike Tech 101?

Postby Duck! » Fri Jan 19, 2018 11:56 pm

I disagree. Yes there would be some compression in the ferrules, but the majority is in the cable itself. The steel wire, regardless of whether it's stainless or not, is elastic, so it does stretch, and it loses its elasticity over time. Secondly, the cable is not made of straight strands of wire, it's helical winding, so under tension it will try to elongate & straighten out the winding, resulting in detuning of the gears.

If anyone else on here plays guitar, they'll be familiar with stretching in new strings; when freshly fitted they'll need frequent retuning until they stretch a bit & settle in, then they'll be quite stable, until they get really old & dead. Gear cables are the same, except they don't really go beyond that settled state until they break strands and/or the outers wear out.
I had a thought, but it got run over as it crossed my mind.

User avatar
AUbicycles
Site Admin
Site Admin
Posts: 12982
Joined: Tue Aug 23, 2005 2:14 am
Location: Sydney & Frankfurt
Contact:

Re: Gear Cable Stretch and Tension - Rocket Science or Bike Tech 101?

Postby AUbicycles » Sat Jan 20, 2018 3:53 am

Duck! wrote:If anyone else on here plays guitar, they'll be familiar with stretching in new strings


I was going to use this as an example and was considering the dead strings which is a whole new topic. But one trick I was told was to boil the strings first but I don't know if just old rockers voodoo or actually useful.

With creaky knees, the tone and twang of the gear cable probably can't be heard anyway.

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: CoffsGal