A love letter to external cables

In a world of aero advances and tidy designs, I like to keep my cables outside the frame

External cables visible on a gravel bike
(Image credit: Future)

This article is part of a series called ‘A love letter to…’, where Cycling Weekly writers pour praise on their favourite cycling items and share the personal connection they have with them. 

The below content is unfiltered, authentic and has not been paid for.  

To be clear from the start, this isn’t a lamentation specifically against routing gear cables through headsets - or the various complexities of a fully-integrated cockpit. On the contrary, I can see the utility of full internal cable routing in particular situations - and if you are going down that path, the least you can do is complete the job! 

Plus, credit where it’s due, full internal cable routing is getting ever easier to live with. Electronic/hydraulic groupsets are cascading ever further down Shimano and SRAM’s hierarchies, obviating the need for any cable replacement as part of routine maintenance. 

Even better, ever more brands are improving their fully-integrated designs to allow for spacer shuffling and stack height adjustment, as well as even stem swaps without having to disconnect the brake cables and re-bleed the system.

Heady times. Although it is quite incredible how much time it has taken for these systems to reach that basic level of user friendly design - but that’s besides the point and is a topic for another day.

Instead, the focus here is on cables being routed outside the tubing of the frame for the entire length. No hopping into the downtube behind the headset, no sneakily slipping into a chainstay. Full external routing from shifter to derailleur, with concessions only for bar tape.

Why? Well, this stems from my huge soft spot for all things mechanical. I think it’s probably the ubiquity of chipboards across everyday appliances which means - in cases where it won’t cause an undue amount of hassle! - that gives such a joy to opting for analogue.

It also very much helps when the mechanical option is actually cheaper than the electronic, which isn’t so often the case, but still is with groupsets. Shimano’s 105 Di2 vs its mechanical 105 is exhibit A - but mechanical vs electronic SRAM Apex is still another example.

And so, with my favoured groupsets being staunchly cable operated, then comes the considerations on what the build will be like to live with - and this is where my penchant for external cable routing really stems.

External cables visible on a gravel bike

(Image credit: Future)

With the cables proudly outside of the frame, access couldn’t be easier and servicing is straightforward as a result. A small nota bene here - my precise preference is for fully-housed cable routing, rather than the exposed sort. 

I fully appreciate all of the benefits of exposing the cables: crisper shifting due to less compression, frugality from requiring less housing, weight saving, and simple delicate aesthetics. But I’ll take the consistent shifting performance of full cable housing in muddy and gritty conditions every time. Also, by reducing the potential points of entry for water ingress, I find the service interval for fully housed cables tends to be a little longer, too.

However, these days there aren’t any mainstream brands which offer models with external cable routing. In fact, there’s barely any boutique brands that are doing it, either. Fortunately for me, I already have a frameset which I’m very pleased with, and which does have external cable routing - I’ll be holding onto it for a long time yet!

As it is, my next frameset will have to be custom. With the current market, I can choose between either getting the geometry I want or the features I want - I can’t get both from a stock build. 

That is a situation which works well for my current frameset. I have no roving eye that might culminate in an impulse purchase. Going custom is a much more considered choice - and one which I have no reason to make just yet. And so my Sonder Camino, resplendent in its external cable routing, will be seeing many more miles yet.

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