More Rules, Fewer Exceptions

More Rules, Fewer Exceptions

Years ago I got a chance to try one of the first compressionless housing systems. It used tiny sections of aluminum tubing, like centimeter-long Lego pieces. It worked fantastically well. Braking and even shifting improved, noticeably.

There was just one problem. I lived two miles from the ocean. Salt air invaded my entire life. The housing, which will remain nameless because there’s always a chance they’ve improved it since then, began to corrode, and eventually—meaning after three years—the housing oxidized so throughly it began to break down and crumble.

As I mentioned in my review of the impressive Velo Orange Grand Cru brakes, I’ve been using Yokozuna Reaction compressionless brake housing for most of the time I’ve been using those brakes. As I mentioned in my review of the Grand Cru brakes, I realized that in reviewing the brakes with compressionless housing I was stacking the deck in the brakes’ favor and so I swapped out the Yokozuna housing for some more traditional housing.

I wasn’t surprised when the braking suffered. That’s not to say I wasn’t dismayed, though. I rode it that way for just a few days and once I felt I had a feel for the Velo Orange stoppers I immediately put the Yokozuna housing back on. I don’t see me ever riding that bike without compressionless housing. Now that I’ve done it, to go back to regular housing would be like going back to Miller Light after having had a craft-brewed IPA.

I save my suffering for on the bike, thankyouverymuch.

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A package of the Reaction housing goes for $45.99—which is certainly a premium considering you only get enough cable and housing for one bike, but as fool-proof performance improvements go, I can’t think of the last time something less than $50 made as big a difference. Your $45.99 gets you 350cm of housing and two cables. I’ve been using it since March and the cables move as smoothly now as they did on the day I installed them.

The housing is composed of a steel core wound around a die and then sheathed in vinyl. This housing is so stout it would meet the spec for Formula 1 use, that is, if there’s anything on a Formula 1 car that is still operated by a cable.

Yokozuna makes it clear that cutting the housing isn’t easy and they won’t warranty housing damaged by dull cutters. I bought a new pair of cutters just so I wouldn’t damage by cable cutters by trying to trim the Reaction housing to length. Good thing I did. After just three cuts the cutters I picked up at my neighborhood hardware store were already showing signs of dulling.

My experience was so surprising it left me with a big question: Why haven’t SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo switched to compressionless housing for their brakes?

Final thought: Best $50 upgrade on the market. 

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22 comments

  1. Jonathan

    If you want to do it on the cheap, grab some BMX cable housing. Most of it is compressionless, just ask your friendly BMX-bro which ones are the best.
    I picked up about 20 sets from an online retailer for .99c a piece on throwout a year or two back, enough for me and my mates for years…

  2. Rod

    I’ve used this exclusively on my road bike for 4 seasons now. Extra bonus for using it on cable/hydraulic disc brakes. Huge difference.

    Bonus – on my road bike, I change cables while the housing stays ok – normally I swap both both but after a crash that required cable changing I noticed that they also stay good longer.

    Jagwire makes a pretty good set of compressionless housing as well. And that one seals better, good for the rigours of CX.

  3. Jh

    I’ve been using alligator I-links for years and will also only use compressionless housing. It definitely makes a significant and noticeable difference in braking performance. I also like it for shifters.
    Now when will we get some close up images of that bike?!


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Housing for indexed shifting is compressionless, which is why it has lengthwise strands, rather than wrap. Brake housing never made the switch, and as a result you get that slightly mushy feeling when you pull the lever hard even after the pads meet the rim.

  4. Kimball

    I’ve heard the compressionless housings are very stiff and difficult to bend sharply enough where they exit the shifter (brifter) and then follow the curve of the bar. Padraig, what was your experience?

    1. Rod

      Yes, they are stiffer. The Yokozuna much more so than the Jagwire I use. The bar hasn’t been so much of an issue, though I avoid sharp bends aywhere – if it’s unavoidable I’ve setup TT bikes with linked housing. I have a team mate on a smaller frame that was having issues between the cable stop and the rear brake- so stiff it kept pushing the brake off centre. Couldn’t make it work. That guy is competent so I take his word for it.

      These cables require a bit more careful measuring.

  5. 5TooManyBikes

    No fitment for Campy 11 speed! Or do you have a work around? Otherwise works so well on my SRAM bikes! It is the best cabling system, period.

  6. Aki

    I’m going to hazard a guess and also some thoughts.

    My first set of Nokons corroded like mad (shiny plating). The latest set I got (black and blue anodized), maybe 5 years ago, are going strong, no signs of chipping/flaking/corrosion. I replace the wire every now and then, leave the liner and Nokons in place.

    With 1.1mm gear cables + White Lightning for lube the compressionless thing is great. The rear derailleur feels like it’s an electric derailleur. A couple times, including installing on a friend’s bike, I thought I forgot to put the cable through when it was in fact all hooked up. On a front, with the stronger spring, that’s not the case, but it’s still better than stock. For brakes they’re great but I notice a benefit most with the rear derailleur.

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