I was out for my usual bike ride the other day when something unusual happened. The cable for my front derailleur broke. I can’t remember the last time that happened. For those who don’t know a road bike generally has four cables on it. Two cables for the brakes (one for the front and and one for the back brake) and two cables for the derailleurs (also front and back).

The brakes are self explanatory but the derailleurs might need some explanation. They’re the part of the bike that changes the gears. One end of the cable is attached to the gear shift near or on the handlebars and the other end is attached to the derailleur. Move the shifter with your hand and the cable moves the derailleur which then moves the chain from one gear to the next. The front derailleur moves the chain on the gears near the pedals and the rear derailleur moves the chain on the back wheel.

When I cycle I usually only use two out of my sixteen gears. A high and a low. I keep the chain on the third ring down on the back gear cassette and then move the front derailleur from the big gear to the little gear when I want pedaling to be easier. I find this works for me as I don’t like to do a lot of shifting. There is no such thing as being in the perfect gear so I don’t bother to try. I like my two gears.

When the cable snapped I lost my ability to change the gears in front. I no longer had a low and a high. Since I was out on the road I adjusted my rear gear until I found a medium and settled into that. That’s also how I rode for the next two days as I waited for my new gear cable to arrive once I ordered it off the internet.

They must be making cables better these days than in my youth because I can’t remember the last time I changed a cable. I remember changing a lot of them back when I was a kid in the late 1970s and early 1980s but I don’t think I’ve changed a cable in at least 15 if not 20 years. It’s really been a long time.

My current bike is about eight years old and has a new type of shifter on it. Before this I always had the old type of shifter. That was two levers mounted on the bike stem right below the handle bars. Pull one lever to adjust the back derailleur and the other to adjust the front. Now my bicycle has the gear shifts integrated with the brakes. Squeezing the brake grip with your hand depresses the brake but pushing the brake grip sideways makes the derailleur move the gear up one notch. Next to the brake grip is a thumb release that when pressed moves the derailleur down a notch. Pretty simple but I’d never put a cable in one before.

The cable I ordered came with a set of cables. One for the back and one for the front. The back cable is a bit longer but otherwise identical. It was easy enough to string the cable through the brake grip and along the eyelets on the bike where the cable sits but that’s when the fun began. With an old style gear shift the tension on the cable was important (or at least that’s what I remember). With this new style tension wasn’t as important. The derailleur sat in one position regardless of the tension on the cable and then the cable moved it into a second position. Seemed simple.

There are also two little adjustment screws on a derailleur. One limits how far the derailleur can move from side to side and the other shifts the derailleur’s position ever so slightly from left to right so you can make fine adjustments.

Everything was going fine except that no matter what I did the derailleur wouldn’t stay in that second position. It would shift the gear from the smaller ring to the bigger ring but then the derailleur would move back to the smaller ring. I had no idea why.

The derailleur always starts in the same position but as I mentioned before the brake grip has two possible positions. Depressed or undepressed. I switched back and forth between the two but still couldn’t get it to work. I even used a block of wood to move the derailleur into different starting position and then put tension on the cable but all that did was mess up the derailleur’s starting spot.

This went on for two hours and I cannot tell you how frustrated I was. But then to cap it off the cable broke. I don’t know what happened. I must have somehow set the cable to have too much tension on it. Then I moved the brake grip to try and shift gears and heard a snapping sound. I wanted to scream but instead I calmly grabbed the second cable, strung it through the brake grip and eyelets, and then took a break for dinner. What else could I do?

After dinner I decided to tackle it again. I tightened up the cable, tried the shifter, and it shifted up and stayed there like it should. Huh?!? It worked?!? I have no idea what I did differently but somehow it now worked as it should. Once it was on right I spent the next ten minutes making fine adjustments to try and get the derailleur not to rub on the chain. That’s usually the eternal battle with the front derailleur and it was quite a battle here.

I ended up losing that battle as I couldn’t get the chain to stop rubbing totally. I finally gave up and said I was done. The next day I took the bike out for a ride and was annoyed by the rubbing. It wasn’t a lot but it was there. But as I’ve noticed with my bike over the years the derailleur often stops rubbing by itself somehow. And it did as I rode.

Cables can get loose over the years and start to not shift correctly so I’ve often had to adjust them. Many time before I haven’t been able to get the chain not to rub but then a day latter it stops on its own. I’m not sure how that happens but it’s happened enough to make me think things have to “Settle in” after I finish adjusting stuff.

I’m glad I got that cable in right because for a while it looked like it wasn’t going to happen. Everything is back in order now and my rides are fine. Happy day.