Replacing a shifter

Removing the shift lever with a hex key

As mentioned previously, I’m upgrading Kuroko’s drivetrain to make climbing somewhat easier and to sort out a front shifter that sticks from time to time. I’d gotten as far last weekend as mounting the new front derailleur and was in the process of attaching the cable when I realized that the shift lever was the reason for the sticking. So off I went to the bike shop to buy a pair of replacement levers.

(There’s a separate story about the half hour I wasted there with an employee who apparently didn’t realize that some bikes have cable-operated disc brakes. Once I got someone else to help me, I had the right goods in under five minutes.)

Shimano 105 shift / brake levers in the box
In the box

I knew what I had to do to replace the levers, but it all took a bit longer than expected. In the process, I replaced the shifter cable and brake cable, but only the inners.

Shimano brake lever pulled back, showing head of brake cable
Mushroom head on the brake cable

I snipped the end off the brake cable and pushed the cable through the housing, then squeezed the brake lever to pull it all the way through.

With the brake cable out, I peeled the hood over the lever to access the shifter cable. This is the one I’d just installed last weekend when I realized I wanted to replace the lever. As I hadn’t yet fastened it down or put a cable end on it, it was just a matter of pushing it through the housing until the cable head was sticking out, and then pulling that through.

Shifter cable sticking out the side of the lever
The shifter cable comes out the side

With the cables out, there’s only a single hex-head bolt holding the shifter onto the handlebar.

Removing the lever with a hex wrench
Hexing it

Old lever (L) and new lever (R)
Old lever (L) and new lever (R)

Handlebar with shift/brake lever removed, showing mounting post
Cable housing and mounting post

Because I’m not replacing the cable housings, I didn’t have to remove the handlebar tape and rewrap it when I was finished — so long as I took some care in the process. It was a bit of fiddling around to make sure both the brake and shifter cable housings got slotted into the correct location before I could screw down the hex bolt for the new lever.

The brake cable went back in without any trouble. I was a bit concerned because this is the one cable that’s routed internally, through the downtube. It looked like the housing passed all the way through, so I wouldn’t have to fish around inside the frame for the cable end when I reinserted it. But I wasn’t sure until I tried.

I was in luck. The brake cable went right in and through the housing all the way to the rear disc, where it was soon sticking out just where it was expected to be. I fastened down the pinch bolt, cut off the excess cable and crimped a cable end on it. Then it just took a minute or two to adjust the brake.

Composite photo showing brake cable feeding in through the brake lever (above) and emerging from the housing at the rear disc brake (below)
Inserting the new brake cable

New Shimano shift lever fitted to handlebar
Shift lever in place in time to ride off into the sunset

I had a bit more exercise getting the shifter cable in. The hood needs to pulled well forward for this, and the shift lever needs to be in the right position before the cable head will slot in properly. It took a few tries, and I ended up unscrewing the lever from the handlebars once to get the cable threaded properly into the housing. But once it was in, it all went together in a moment. I pulled the hood back into place and stood back to admire my work in the setting sun.

This drivetrain upgrade project should have been a one-day job, but I’m now on my second weekend and still barely getting started. I’m glad I’m able to find and sort out problems as I go. As a final measure today, I gave the crankset a spin with the chain off. There’s some bearing noise and the crank will only turn around once on its own. So I’ll probably replace the bottom bracket bearings while I’m doing this upgrade, and get it all over with in one go. (Hoping that this is the last time I’ll have to replace the BB.)