Reader Mechanical Question: Cleaning Shifters
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“How should I clean shifter units and what cables should I run? I destroyed my shifters last year and I am sure it could have been avoided.”
Mechanic on Duty: Drew Hager
The trick to cleaning shifters (and all of your drivetrain) is to clean it while it’s still wet. Wet mud doesn’t do nearly the damage as dry grit. I get it: we’re tired and maybe had a few beers after the race so we nap on the couch rather than get on our bike maintenance and the next thing we know, the mud is now dry and gritty. Often, folks will just spray some lube in the shifter’s guts to get it moving again and call it good.
But there is a better method. An adequate pressure hose should be enough to blast the gunk out. Simply peel the hood back and flush it, let it dry and re-apply lube. I prefer a thin oil to the grease that the factory installs if you have to constantly clean your shifters. Dumonde Tech sells a great product called “Freehub Oil,” which is thick for an oil yet still more thin than a grease. It coats well and has great capillary action. And, an added benefit for ’cross, it is rated to -40 degrees before its done being slick. Freehub oil works well for all ratchet and pawl mechanisms besides just freehubs, and it works great on shifter internals. More than anything, dirty oil is slicker than dirty grease and doesn’t cause as much initial damage.
When doing this type of cleaning in the pit, I’d stay away from the pressure washer with your shifter’s internals. During Masters’ World Championships this year, I was turned on to a product called “Blast Off” made by Pro Gold. It is a can of high-pressure residue-free cleaner and it un-clogged shifters quick in the worst mud I’ve seen. I have also got on good word from a guy who owns a fleet of neutral service pit bikes that he uses electric parts cleaner to de-gunk his bike’s shifters!
As far as the type of cables you should run, that answer may be dependent on what your style of bike maintenance is. Personally, I am always messing with my bike so I tend to stick with affordable, easily obtained un-coated stainless steel cables and housing with nose ferrules on the last exposed piece of cable. I replace cables as needed, which is usually as soon as I feel friction in the line. I will let a brake cable go untended longer than a shift cable. That said, many folks have great luck with sealed cable set-ups. The installation takes more attention and time, but could last an entire season. My major hold back from a sealed set up is that the system’s weakest point is the first thing you mention, it’s connection to the shifter.
Drew Hager is an employee of Industry Nine, handcrafting fine USA-made wheels. Drew began working in cycling as a teenager and currently holds a cat 2 cyclocross license and a USAC race mechanic license.
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