Internal cable routing is the new industry trend, and both bike manufacturers and part makers seem to be experimenting about it. Nowadays, (I mean, at least 15 years) every new “technology” or “standard” seems to be aimed to replace any standards prior, making our bikes complete junk, because nothing will work together. Planned obsolesence, again.
What are the problems of internal cable routing, now, or a year ago ?
Internal cable routing really makes bikes look simpler, streamlined, and more aero, as the man in spandex says. They look indeed simpler, but it’s not.
I love the look of a streamlined bike, no strings attached – who doesn’t? But it’s also like having a Bugatti at your disposal, with limited funds. It would probably become a liability than a fun machine, as fast as it can reach 0 to 100. 30.000$ oil changes, cramped interior, lack of visibility in traffic and consumption that puts main battle tanks to shame is not easy to live with. Yet, it’s still so much fun for certain type of people, probably not the type reading this blog.
A quick pros and cons:
Pros of internal cable routing
- Gorgeous looks.
- Still expecting more?
Cons of internal cable routing
- Cable replacement takes forever.
- It costs much to replace any cable. For example, if you need to remove hydraulic brake lines, you’ll also need olives, etc. And yes, you’ll probably need to.
- Cables are not totally hidden.
- Lots of extra friction.
- Needs a special frame.
- You’ll probably need some proprietary parts like cable inlets that won’t be available pretty soon. You’ll either shell out a lot of money or be left with an ugly bike because you cannot get a $0.4 worth, 4mm².
Why do we need a Internal Cable Routing headset now?
Because bike industry completely lost its way, and constantly trying to fix the problems they create, that didn’t exist before they try to “fix it”.
Cable routing by drilling inlet and outlet holes into a frame was never a good idea; especially in aluminium frames. This is a recipe for asking for trouble unless those areas are specially and carefully reinforced, which is a trait the bike industry lost a while ago.
Instead of reinforcing the frame, which is costly, design-specific, and adds extra weight, why not put a new headset with holes in it, and run cables there? That’s a great idea as always – lots of problems? Yes. They’ll find another way a few years later, and then you’ll have a brand-new bike. A total win-win scenario, not for us.
So basically, internal cable routing headsets cut costs for frame makers, because they don’t have to modify head tube area anymore.
This also creates an opportunity to create “bike-specific” headsets. Headsets are immensely complex already. Probably, any headset would not fit your frame anymore. A new vendor lock-in scenario.
Specialized Tarmac SL7’s from 2020 and 2021 are recalled due to problems with such headset related problems. Mind you; this is a road bike that is probably more expensive than my most readers’ cars.
Internal Cable Routing headset cons
Too many headsets to choose from
I don’t think we’ll have too much too choose, frankly. By too much, I mean, lots of varieties that probably won’t fit our particular frame.
Even with today’s standards, there are lots to choose from: integrated, semi integrated, 1 1/8, 1 1/5 tapered, 1 1/4 tapered, some others I probably missed, and any combination of it.
Internal Cable Routing headsets are looking even more complex than that. Some road bikes have already non-standard weird stuff.
In most bikes, cables and hoses are entering the headset in tight angles. This is no good for friction.
Also, I don’t like the idea that my cables and hoses would be rubbing to steerer tube. Not just for noise, obviously.
Essentially, tight angles means less cable longevity, and more friction, and less than ideal shifting, if you don’t have electronic groupsets.
Water and dirt ingress
Cables and hoses run thru a rubber grommet in internal cable routing headsets. They want us to believe that is perfectly waterproof. No. Firstly, it won’ t last. UV, heat, cold, sweat will kill it (maybe that’s the point). Second, placing seals where the water will collect is not an ideal thing.
Too much hassle
I’ve read some remark something like this: this headsets makes easier to place your bikepacking bags.
Wonderful. Do you know what is the worst failure in bike touring? Unless your frame or fork is cracked, its headsets. That’s why people buy ridiculously priced Chris King headsets, because you know, it’s the king. And not in 15.000$ bikes: you can see a Chris King headset in a touring bike with a 200$ groupset.
Let alone they’re complex to choose and source, you’ll have to do a lot of work to change a headset.
Maybe that’s why Chris King is not making Internal Cable Routing headset, at least for now.
Internal Cable Routing headset pros
They make your bike look gorgeous
I’ve some sort of OCD. I don’t like cables hanging around. For me, internal cable routing headsets are a blessing, on looks department.
But I also hate the idea of making anything both more vulnerable and harder to service.
Do I have absolute hate for internal cable routing headsets ? Surprisingly, no, unless some frame makers use this “fashion” as an excuse to make their proprietary headsets, maybe even forks. I have a bad feeling that we’ re going into that direction, which makes me nervous about it.
Will I try one? Definitely yes. But not in the earliest opportunity: I’ll check my frames first to see if I can use such a headset, at least with some small modifications. This will be a non-hydraulic disc brake bike, because I don’t want to mess with them to change my headset.
I’m glad to have discovered your blog (it’s a blog, right?)
You are perfectly right about internal cable routing. You just forgot to mention a factor: the role of competitive cycling in driving this madness. The madness with fully hidden cables started from road cycling and the promise of some elusive two or three watts won when riding over 400Km/h. Let’s admit it… but why push this to consumers like me? Why this enormous marketing force for steering desire towards this idea?
Thanks Alex. Yes; I believe this is a blog. At least, I’m trying to keep it that way.
Well; I’m perfectly OK with all “blueshit” that would enhance my performance only % 00000.27 percent, if I were racing. But I’m not. Most people don’t. I definitely think like you, but industry doesn’t; because it’s not good for profits.
We’re almost in same age, so we both remember bikes of old: you buy a bike and ride it 20 years. I sometimes miss those days and bikes. Not for the sake of nostalgia, but one reason I like bikes because they don’t fail me, whereas every electric or internal combustion engine failed me a lot. I used to trust on bikes, because they were simple, trouble free, and wouldn’t fell apart in the middle of the road.
I’m trying to build a vintage, steel bike these days, but I have too much stuff to do, and too little money to invest 🙂 Then maybe, it will become my main bike.