Words: Henry QuinneyYou're Joking Right?
No, I'm not. I'm fed up with internal routing being bashed. It's just far better. I admit it - I love internal cable routing. There, I said it. What’s more, I like it in the most basic form with only entry and exit ports. It’s the cleanest looking and most functional.
I think cable routing is like tyre inserts or bleeding brakes in that I often don’t understand how people can go so wrong. I’m not some bicycle rider-cum-technical-polymath… it’s just putting a bit of foam in a tyre or pushing oil through a system. I do, however, follow instructions and tend to have a plan A, B, C and even a D or E on occasion.
I should also mention that I’ve spent the most part of my professional life working as a mechanic. This might support or indeed undermine my argument but, then again, a lot of my interactions with riders or customers en masse would suggest that many of them think that bicycles are simple beings. In a maintenance sense I would agree with this. There is undoubtedly a degree of nuance with some jobs but I'm not sure that extends to pushing a cable through a hole.
What Has Been Seen Cannot be Unseen.
Whenever people complain out of sympathy for mechanics I just think that if your chosen mechanic can’t push a cable through a hole without significant difficulty then you’re probably backing the wrong horse. With triathlon bikes and even some of the more aero-orientated road bikes, I kind of get it, especially when you have to cut hoses and cables the perfect lengths to not only fit in but also to keep them from forcing themselves out under tension, but for the lines we use in mountain bikes… it’s just not a problem.
My current main bike, a Specialized Enduro, is genuinely a remarkable bike but I have the gripe that I really strongly dislike fully guided internal routing and that’s for a very simple reason - I run my rear brake on the left. Small potatoes, I know but it does bother me on a superficial level.
The side that we run our brakes is often subject to the side of the road in which the traffic drives in your home country. There are different explanations for which side of the road one may drive on. Be it what style of horse-drawn carriage your ancestors used, Pope Boniface VIII’s declaration that pilgrims must travel on the left or indeed whether you may wish to keep your sword arm free and uninhibited should you find yourself in the midst of an impromptu enduro joust-off.
Either way, us Brits, with our tea, our biscuits, Duran Duran, two world wars and one world cup, drive on the left and subsequently run our rear brake on the same side. I believe the blasé term is “export”... and we certainly “exported” our culture elsewhere, and not just the driving-on-the-left thing, but maybe the less said about this the better. However, while I'm here, I would just like to take this opportunity to formally apologise to North America for Piers Morgan. To say the man is without redeemable traits would be unfair, as it doesn’t entertain the possibility of harvesting his potentially life-saving organs, but I’m sorry all the same.
But yes, the cables. So, I drive on the left and use my brake on the left. I also like my cable to not
cross the headtube. It looks messy, in my opinion. I know some people feel or have felt in the past that longer curves in the cable translate to greater shifting performance or that it's the best way to keep cable off the headtube but I just don't buy it. The real problem then arises when you use a frame that has preordained entry ports for right hand rear braking. Honestly, there is currently a great deal of conversation in my own country regarding the realization that we’re actually not as important as might like to think. Shrinking violets and a lessening say in international diplomacy I can handle but it really hit home when I couldn’t have my cable routing of choice.
What’s WORSE, far worse, is that I can no longer heatwrap or affix my dropper and the rear brake lines together. Oh sweet Boris, the humanity.
A lot of Fuss About Nothing? Possibly.
Riding my bike is a pleasure and anything that inhibits that even slightly is to be avoided at all costs. I know this feeling could be denounced as mere shallowness or snobbery, and while I don't disagree with that, I would say my strong feeling of pro-internal routing is only as ridiculous as being vehemently against it. I think the optimisation of a bike is one of the things that got me hooked in bicycle mechanics in the first place. As soon as I rode a bike I was always curious how to maximize the experience.
I suppose I do take pride in the way my bike looks, even if I am the only one to ever really take a close look at it. It's not totally dissimilar to being house-proud. I mean, we could live in holes in the ground with tarpaulin rigged over the top, label it as "highly ventilated semi-open plan" by way of justification, but personally, I'd really prefer to live somewhere nice even if maintaining it is either beyond me or labour intensive. For instance, I'm not a plasterer but I'm also not suggesting that I want all the guts of the house exposed just in case I want to have a stab at the plumbing. I'd rather just learn how to do it properly or pay somebody to do it well. This idea that we should be at the whims of the most mechanically inept is bizarre.
Admirable Efforts Aren't Always Enough.
I want my tires to thud and not prang, my gears to roll through with not so much as a gentle purr, and my bike to always be free from creaks or clacks. Should my bike develop a noise, it's not the end of the world by any stretch but I'm always very happy to remedy it at the first available chance. Ugly or excess cabling on an instrument of pleasure that literally costs thousands of Queen Liz's finest pounds is just... absolutely unthinkable.
My quest for the neatest routing even took me to try right-brake-rear. It's an interesting question - can one retrain your brain to use the brakes inversely to what you learned? Some people probably can but for me, I personally can’t. I know this because I tried and was genuinely scared for my life. Road cyclists have long run their setup “euro”, ie. front brake a gauche. Not only does it lend to cleaner routing to the front caliper brake, but it also means that one can endo while flicking through the gears at traffic lights, should you be faced with a big hill straight out of the blocks that no amount of tokes on the ol’ asthma inhaler will account for.
So yes, I tried it on my road bike as a hopeful youth coming down a not inconsiderable mountain and it was just awful. I persevered for another week or two but just couldn’t do it. It was a strange thing in that if I had time I could remind myself to do the inverse to what I know. The problem is that when you increase a small element of danger a panicked brain might get confused and overcorrect to do the inverse of the inverse.
But where was I? Ah yes, the cables. Some companies make a very inoffensive stab at well-executed external cabling and honestly, it’s fine. Pole does a good job of it and GT manage to hide their cables in the silhouette of their bike. I mean, it’s fine. It’s okay. It doesn't necessarily upset me. You might see some companies route their rear brake externally which is… well I don’t like it. As we’d say in ol’ blighty, it just isn’t my cup of tea. The argument that you might need to change your brake in case it gets damaged and the remedy is having the hose external to the frame... righto. And if you break a lever, for example, I would probably change the lever and not the whole system but maybe that's a luxury and finding compatible parts might be difficult, especially in the current climate.
It might be said that it makes installing a new brake slightly easier, but does it really? You’re probably going to have to cut the new hose to length anyway. I suppose it does mean that you don’t have to bleed the brake you’re removing, which is a good thing I suppose. In a “race situation” maybe it has its merits but even then I seem to be immune to the idea’s charms. I would contend that in that particular “race situation”, a downhill bike fork's often don’t let you slip a caliper or lever between the stanctions and the headtube. So, you’re kind of just making work for yourself at that point. You may also run into a similar situation depending on your linkage.
Yes, I have a background as a mechanic but I don’t think that means I have a third hand or pot luck. Common sense and methodical thinking will be your most reliable ally, in my opinion.
I went riding with my friend the other day and upon seeing his bike with cables out every which way, I wondered if he was at risk from accidentally rustling some cattle by inadvertent lassoing or maybe after an OTB he would be found in the woods and the police would assume it had been some kind of auto-asphyxiation fetish gone wrong.
I have never been sat in a car and thought "well, this dashboard is nice but do you know what would really set it off? Lots of exposed wiring". These aren't lawnmowers or agricultural machinery. These are fine vessels and should be able to be designed as such, without people complaining just because their sausage fingers are bereft of the most basic requirements of dexterity to complete a simple task.What Do I Want?
What I want is nice wide entry ports with malleable rubber grommets, including an option for a blanking plate and some borrowers-pipe-lagging. Installation only requires a small amount of patience and the red RockShox double barb tool (or you can use a cut spoke, some surgical tubing or a cut ferrule to great effect).
So, it’s quieter, cleaner, and looks better. What’s not to love? I suppose I welcome greater levels of integration and can’t wait to see what the next wave of bikes will have. Focus have got an interesting solution, as do Magura, and of course AXS is game changing. I’m excited to see where this will lead next and the svelte bikes we could be riding in the next decade.
If anyone has any queries regarding this article please feel free to handwrite me a strongly worded letter.