Are All Shifter Cables the Same? (EASY Explanation)

You definitely know the importance of inspecting and changing your shifter cables regularly. They have to be in good condition always to aid frictionless riding.

Shifter cables are very essential on your bike because they connect the shifters on your handlebars to the derailleurs. They also help your shifters to control the gears on your bike.

In this article, I’ll be giving insights on when you need to change your shifter cables, the differences between shifter cables, and all other topics related to these that you might be interested in.

Are shifter cables universal

Are All Shifter Cables the Same?

No, all shifter cables are not the same. If after inspecting your shifter cables, you discover they are frayed, bent, or rusted and need to be changed, you can’t just buy any shifter cable you see out there.
Different bikes have different shifters, which determines the type of shifter cables to be used on them.

Types of Shifter Cables

Two major types of shifters come with bikes which determine the type of shifter cables it uses. The first is the Campagnolo shifter and the second type is other shifters that are different from Campagnolo. So they come in just two main categories.

1- Campagnolo shifters, which use Campagnolo shifter cables.

2- Other shifters, like Shimano, SRAM. These use shifter cables that are different from Campagnolo’s. These others are categorized into one because they can be used interchangeably as they have the same barrel ends and sizes.

The Campagnolo shifter cables have smaller barrel ends compared to other shifter cables. They are also smaller in terms of thickness. Campagnolo shifter cables are between 1.1 mm to 1.2 mm while others like Shimano are between 1.2 to 1.3 mm.

Can You Use Campagnolo’s Shifter Cables and Shimano’s Interchangeably?

No, you can’t. A Campagnolo shifter cable would be too small for a Shimano shifter and a Shimano shifter cable would be too big for a Campagnolo shifter. So before buying a new set of shifter cables to replace your old ones, check your shifters to know which one you should be going for.

Can I Use Shifter Cables for Brakes?

No, you cannot and you shouldn’t try to do that. Brake cables are significantly thicker than shift cables because of their unique function on bikes.

Braking involves great pull and force and it is through the brake cables that it can do this. This is why brake cables are about 0.3 mm bigger than shift cables. It enables them to bear the pull and force of braking.

If shifter cables are used for brakes, it wouldn’t take long for them to be frayed or bent. They are also likely to snap and this can be dangerous.

Shifter cables also have smaller barrel ends compared to brake cables. This can make them pull through the cable stops in the brake levers.

Can I Use Brake Cables for Shifters?

No, you can’t and shouldn’t. Apart from brake cables being bigger than shifter cables, they come with their different housing which isn’t compatible with road bike shifters.

Using brake cables with their housing on your shifters will make it shift sloppily or not shift at all. It probably would also not fit because of its size and different barrel end.

Are All Shimano Gear Cables Compatible?

Shimano gear cables used on road bikes are most times different from the ones used for mountain bikes because they often have different Shimano shifters. So a road bike Shimano gear cable would probably not work on a mountain bike with a Shimano shifter and vice versa.

However, all Shimano road bike gear cables are compatible. You can use any Shimano road bike shifter/gear cable for any shifter. The shifter sometimes comes at different speeds and uses different rear derailleurs but it doesn’t extend to the cables used.

There are generic sets of Shimano gear cables sold in stores that would fit any road bike with Shimano shifters. They are all compatible. The differences would be in quality, availability, and price range.

When to Replace Shifter Cables?

For your road bike to function properly, and fulfill the purpose for which you bought it, it has to have shifter cables that are well set up and in good condition.

Knowing when to replace your shifter cables helps to ensure that your shifter cables are functional and up to date, and will not fail unexpectedly.

These are some of the signs to look for, to know when your shifter cables need replacement.

1- When your shifters are not working properly. If you notice your shifters are shifting poorly or jumping while shifting, you may need to change your shifter cables.

When there’s a problem with shifting, inspect the shifters, derailleurs, cog, and chains. If they are all in good condition, then your shifters cables need to be changed. Lubricate your cables first, if the problem persists then go ahead and change them.

2- When you notice your road bike chain jumps back and forth even when you aren’t shifting, your shifter cables could be suffering from wear and needs to be replaced. Inspect your shifter cables and look for wear, when you find evidence of this, then it is time to replace those cables.

3- When they are frayed. Your shifter cables could become frayed at the ends or in the lever because it gets bent around while changing gear. This will affect shifting. When you inspect your shifter cables after noticing a shifting problem and discover it has frayed, you should replace them.

4- You should also change your shifter cables when they have cracks, snap, or become rusted. Having cracks in your shifter cables will be a huge problem for your derailleurs and shifters. They could snap while you’re riding, which will only be a nuisance if you’re lucky.

Rusted cables are likely to wear out and disintegrate fast. It is best to replace them as soon as you can.

While replacing your shifter cables, you should also check your cable housing for wear and cracks. You may need to change them too. I would advise you to change them all the same even if there aren’t any wears. It will make replacing your cables easier.

How to Adjust Gear Cables?

When your gear cables are not properly fixed or set up, it affects your shifting. Sometimes, shifters shift poorly or won’t shift at all. It can also prevent shifters from controlling the derailleurs properly or the chains would start rubbing annoyingly.

This could be because your gear cables are too tight or too slack. Most times gear cables need adjustment because they are too slack. This happens when you have been using it for a long time and it has stretched.

This prevents the chain from moving up to the largest sprocket even when you keep shifting because the slack is making the shifter pull the cables tight first before moving the derailleur.

Adjusting this is very simple and we’ll be taking it, step by step.


STEP 1: Shift into the highest gear i.e shift the chain unto the smallest cog/sprocket. This will release all tension from your gear cables and will make them loose.

STEP 2: Locate the cable hex bolt. That’s the bolt that holds your cable and keeps it tight.

STEP 3: Use a 5mm Allen wrench to loosen the bolt. Don’t remove the bolt, just loosen it. And don’t let the gear cables slip out of the bolt.

STEP 4: Hold the cables there and use pliers to pull it a bit, just to remove the slack.

STEP 5: Tighten the hex bolts back and shift to see if it has been corrected. Your shift should work perfectly and the chain should be able to reach your largest sprocket now.

If there’s still a lack, just go back to adjust it. If the gear cables are too tight which doesn’t happen often unless you didn’t set up well at first, then loosen the bolt and push the cables in, to achieve the necessary length.

How to Change Gear Cables?

If your road bike gear cables have become worn, cracked, or rusted, then they need changing. Follow these easy steps to change your gear cables.


STEP 1: Shift your road bike to the highest gear while pedaling, that’s the smallest cog.

STEP 2: Use a cable cutter to cut the cable cap off and undo the hex bolt. Don’t remove the bolt.

STEP 3: Unwrap the gear cable from the hex bolt and remove the outer cable that runs into the rear derailleur.

STEP 4: Roll the hood back from your shifters to expose the gear cable end. If there’s a retaining bolt, loosen it to expose the cable end. If the outer cable is still intact, there’s no need to remove the tape. Just pull the gear cables through the shifters.

If the outer cables need to be replaced then remove the tape from the handlebar, noting the position of the ferrules on it.

STEP 5: Thread the new gear cables through the shifters and tighten the retaining bolts.

STEP 6: Use old outer cables to size new ones if you’re changing outer cables. Pinch cables to give allowance for the new inner cables to go through.

STEP 7: Fix the outer cables on your bike the way you saw them. Then thread your inner cables through them from the shifter.

STEP 8: Attach the cables back to the rear derailleur, making the inner cables pass through the derailleur’s barrel adjuster.

STEP 9: Wound It around the hex bolt and tighten the bolt.

Final Thoughts!

Cables are important for your bikes to function and should always be well maintained.
Always do routine checks to assess them and make sure they are safe to ride with. Don’t forget to lubricate them if they aren’t pre-lubricated and change them when necessary.

Safe riding!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top