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Home » Bike Quiz » Bike Quiz:  All of a Sudden the D@^^n Bike is Hard to Shift…  What Do You Do?!

Bike Quiz:  All of a Sudden the D@^^n Bike is Hard to Shift…  What Do You Do?!


March 2015

You went out yesterday and rode through a hurricane.  Fortunately the wind was at your back so it was neat hitting 84 mph, soft pedaling.  Unfortunately, there was a spot of rain you had to drive through.

The next day you head out to recon the damage, running through a few chin-deep puddles.  Or you cycle in England, pretty much the same thing.  On your way home you hit a dry stretch and go to shift into the big dog (that’s the big chain ring, Noobs) only to hear a gnarly screech and your two shifting fingers break at the knuckle.

What do you do?

A.  Take the bike home, hit eBay and upgrade the shifters and dérailleurs.

B.  Decide that you really don’t need the big ring anyway and vow to become the fastest baby ring cyclist EVAH!

C.  Dude, bust out the lube!

D) Pull over and wave the bike above your head, waiting for the team car to promptly deliver you a fresh one.  (Thanks to the tempo cyclist for that one)

The answer is C, unless your name is Cancellara, Quintana, Froome or better:  You’re so fast they call you something fancy like the Manx Missile or The Terminator- in which case the answer is definitely D.

First of all, we swear…I’m sorry, we sweat when we ride.  Generally speaking, if we’re riding fast enough we do swear but that’s another topic altogether.  If we do not sweat, we are doing it wrong.  As we sweat, it drips onto the bike.  Sweat enough and it will work it’s way down to the underside of the bottom bracket where, if you have externally routed cables, the cables run over a guide plate…  Clog that up with salt, the remnants of dried sweat, then douse that with water, and you’re hit.  That s#!t will freeze up your cables quicker than your eyes on a sub-zero ride (that’s F, not C).

First, clean the affected area with a damp toothbrush, then add a dollop of bike lube (bike lube) to the end of a Q-tip and slather the cables at the plate… Voilà.  There are still other camps who recommend a lighter lube, such as Boeshield T-9, in lieu of the heavier grease…  This makes sense but requires application every few rides…  The grease lasts much longer but will attract gunk over time.  Work the gears up and down the cassette a few times to get the lube in there good and you should be golden.

In the case of a rear dérailleur, especially in externally routed cables, you will also have to pay special attention to the housing that covers the cable that leads into the rear dérailleur.  Riding through heavy rain, water, grime and grit are forced into that housing.

Now, get ready for one really cool tip…  You can clean and lube that cable and housing without loosening that cable at the dérailleur, but it’s a little tricky.

Shift into the smallest gear in the back.  Taking the rear wheel off at this point will help but is not entirely necessary.  Once you’re there, you’ll notice the cable is loose, but not quite loose enough to pop the housing out of the zert.  What you want to do is manually (with your right hand, manipulate the dérailleur – push the pulley hanger back and toward the bike…pushing the dérailleur arm with the part of your hand that normally wraps around the hood… Push toward the bigger cogs and hold it there:

This will give you enough slack to work the housing free of the zert with your left hand…  If you notice in the photo, mine is already out.  Spray a cleaning product into the housing (I use Finish Line’s two-in-one) and work that back and forth on the cable.  Repeat the cleaning step before applying the new lube, if necessary, making sure the cable housing slides freely over the cable.  Wipe everything down, then lightly wipe bike lube (the heavy green stuff) onto the cable and work the housing back and forth again.  Put the cable housing back into the zert the same way you took it out by manually operating the dérailleur as described above to get your slack and work the housing back into the zert. Run through the gears a couple of times and you’re good to go.

Elapsed time to clean and lube the bottom bracket cable guide:  less than a minute.

Elapsed time to clean and lube the rear derailleur cable housing:  a couple of minutes.


  1. Save up and buy a Di2 groupset! 😀

    • bgddyjim says:

      I am of two minds on the Di2 (or Ui2) shifting – same for hydraulic disc brakes… While I have heard that there is absolutely no doubt of the superiority of the shift quality of electronic shifting, I am going to resist the change vociferously for one simple reason: I don’t like change if we must sacrifice reliability for the change… I had a friend, out partying too late the night before, who had to ride a whole century in a decent cruising gear for 22-23 mph (it was like 52/15 or something) because he forgot to charge his battery. It was hilarious we messed with him on every single hill, both up and down. Hydraulic brakes are in the same boat. Mechanical are more reliable, won’t leak and are much more adjustable – so while I do have hydraulic brakes on my mountain bike, I’d prefer my wife’s mechanical disc brakes.

      • Once I went to Dura Ace Di2, I’ll never go back to mechanical. It’s incredible. 😀

      • bgddyjim says:

        No kidding… Now that makes me question my stubbornness. My wife thanks you in advance. 😂

      • Like I said, it’s incredible. As far as the battery goes, mine goes for a loooooong time between charges and the system lets you know when it needs it. In the midst of the season, I’ll put around 200ish miles a week on mine. One of the great parts of the design is that the battery goes into a sleep mode between shifting, therefore it is not “on” all of the time. My training bike has a 105 group set mechanical, and switching back and forth shows me the HUGE difference between the two.

  2. garym6059 says:

    I plan on taking up cycling more this summer and you just become a virtual mechanic!

  3. Dan In Iowa says:

    Better yet…..LUBE IT BEFORE YOU RIDE!! I do 6,000 miles per year for the last 10 years and I’ve never had this happen to me. Preventive maintenance is the best maintenance. Otherwise….spot on! Love your writing!

    • bgddyjim says:

      Thanks Dan, you’re absolutely right and it is a part of my normal maintenance. The first time it happened though, it was a pretty big surprise.

  4. Yup, done this a couple of times now.

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