My road-bike renewal scheme

Following up on my last post here, I am investigating how to improve my road bike. As I said there, it will involve a new wider-range cassette and a compact chainset. However I am also going to take the opportunity to fix a couple of other annoyances.

The first annoyance reared its head the first time I cycled home after dark: the gear cables come out of the inner sides of the lever units and go through the air in a nice loop to the cable stops on the down tube. This is fine, but the cable sheaths are quite reflective and when the front light is on I can see little else. Now it’s possible that I could fix this problem by replacing the cables and sheaths with matt-surfaced ones; however, the difficulty with that plan is that no-one makes matt-surfaced cable sheaths so far as I can find (even the black ones you usually get for MTBs are very shiny). Another way to fix it is to route the cables for the gears underneath the bar tape in the same manner as the brake cables are already. This scheme requires control levers which have the gear-cable exit from the back rather than the side: the good news is that such things exist; the bad news is that the ones which came with my bike do not have that facility.

The second annoyance is that I cannot change gear very easily from the drops. There are two reasons for this: firstly the Sora tension release lever is unreachable from the drops whatever you do; secondly the tension-increase lever needs to move a huge distance to engage. This means I need to move my hands to shift gears in either direction, which puts me off using the drops. The tension-increase actuation problem is possibly even worse from the hoods. In either position I cannot increase tension without inadvertently steering as well.

Both of these problems are safety issues, which makes them a little bit more urgent than the switch to compact chainrings I plan to make at some point. In particular the cable-sheath reflection problem is going to become rather acute as it starts to get dark earlier and earlier.

The collected wisdom of the intertubes tells me that the lever system with the least distance required for actuation is SRAM Red. These, and all other SRAM controls have the option of routing the cables under the bar tape, which means that they solve both my current control-related problems. The cheaper SRAM systems have the same short-throw mechanism on the front shifter but need more movement than Red for the rear shifter. I think any of them would be shorter than Sora, so I was planning to settle for Rival until: I managed to find Red shifters at 39% discount on google product search, making them similarly priced to Force. That offer was too good to pass-up: I couldn’t get them at that price even tax-free on cyclescheme next April.

Unfortunately, the SRAM levers are designed for a 10-speed system and SRAM’s derailleur actuation rate (how far it pulls the cable per click); so I will also need to replace the cassette (with Shimano 105), chain (again Shimano 105), front derailleur (SRAM Rival) and rear derailleur (more SRAM Rival). I think the brake callipers should be compatible; if not I shall have to get the Rival callipers as well.

Happily 9- and 10-speed chainrings are interchangeable, because the inner-width of the narrower links doesn’t change; that said I have the 105 compact crankset and BB cups on my wishlist as I want the 50/34 compact rings before I next go near the Isle of Wight.

I’ll also need to change the bar tape when I replace the control levers; and while I’m doing that I think I’ll put some gel pads underneath to absorb the vibrations from the road and make long rides a bit easier.


  • Seriously discounted Red controls: £280
  • Derailleurs/chain/cassette/bar tape: £150
  • Compact chainset/BB cups: £150

If I do all that it’ll have cost more than the bike did originally; but it should make it considerably safer and more pleasant to ride in the medium to long term. In the short term, it means I have to learn a new control system for the gears which is probably going to cause some confusion until I get used to it.

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