Are brake cables and gear cables the same? If you’re new to the world of bicycles or haven’t dabbled much in bike maintenance, this might be a question that’s been lingering in your mind. In this blog article, we’re going to dive straight into this topic and shed some light on the matter.

To put it simply, brake cables and gear cables may seem similar on the surface, but they actually serve different purposes. It’s important to understand the distinction between the two, as using the wrong type of cable in the wrong context can lead to poor performance or even potential accidents.

Let’s explore the differences between brake cables and gear cables, and why it’s crucial to use the appropriate cable for each function. So, are brake cables and gear cables the same? Let’s find out!

Are Brake Cables and Gear Cables the Same?

Are Brake And Gear Cables The Same?

Although brake cables and gear cables may appear similar at first glance, they serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics and functionality. Let’s now delve into the details of each cable type to gain a comprehensive understanding of its structure and operation.

Brake cables, as the name suggests, are primarily responsible for controlling the brakes on your bicycle. They transmit the force from your brake levers to the brake calipers or rim brakes, ultimately causing the pads to move inward and apply pressure on the rim.

This action results in friction, slowing down or stopping the rotation of the wheel. Brake cables are integral to your safety and need to function effectively for reliable stopping power.

Gear cables, on the other hand, are part of the gear-shifting mechanism of your bicycle. They enable the transfer of mechanical force from your gear shifters to the derailleurs, which are responsible for moving the chain between different gears.

By adjusting the tension through the gear cables, you can smoothly and accurately shift gears, allowing you to find the most comfortable riding cadence.

Physical Differences Of Brake & Gear Cables

While brake cables and gear cables may serve different purposes, they also possess subtle physical differences that set them apart. Understanding these disparities can aid in identifying and selecting the appropriate cables for your specific needs.

Length and Thickness

The first noticeable physical difference between brake cables and gear cables lies in their length and thickness:

Brake Cables:

  • Brake cables are typically shorter than gear cables, as they are required to transmit force over a minimal distance.
  • These cables also tend to be thicker to withstand the higher forces involved in braking.

Gear Cables:

  • Gear cables are generally longer than brake cables, as they need to span the distance between the gear shifters and derailleurs, which are often located on different parts of the bicycle.
  • These cables are thinner in diameter compared to brake cables, as they need to negotiate tight bends and pulleys in the derailleur system.

Cable End Heads

Another visible distinction is the design of the cable end heads:

Brake Cables:

  • Brake cables typically feature barrel-shaped end heads, which are designed to fit snugly into the corresponding brake lever.
  • The barrel heads prevent the cable from slipping out and provide a secure connection.

Gear Cables:

  • Gear cables, on the other hand, feature a variety of end head designs, including cylindrical, mushroom-shaped, or barrel-shaped heads.
  • The specific design depends on the type of gear shifter and derailleur system in use.

Cable Materials

Both brake cables and gear cables come in a range of materials, each offering unique properties that enhance performance and durability:

Brake Cables:

  • Brake cables are commonly made from stainless steel, providing them with excellent tensile strength and resistance to corrosion.
  • Some high-end brake cables incorporate a PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) coating, reducing friction and enhancing braking responsiveness.

Gear Cables:

  • Gear cables are also predominantly made from stainless steel, ensuring strength and corrosion resistance.
  • Similar to brake cables, gear cables can also feature a PTFE coating, reducing friction and improving gear shifting precision.

Cable Housing

The cable housing is another crucial aspect that differentiates brake cables from gear cables:

Brake Cables:

  • Brake cables are typically housed in a reinforced and compressionless casing, designed to maximize power transfer and ensure immediate braking responsiveness.
  • The housing is often constructed using metal or a combination of metal and polymer materials.

Gear Cables:

  • Gear cables, on the other hand, use a flexible housing, allowing for smooth and precise gear shifting.
  • The housing materials can vary, including polymers such as nylon or silicone.

Interchangeability and Compatibility Of Brake & Gear Cables

Now that we’ve explored the physical differences between brake cables and gear cables, it’s crucial to discuss their interchangeability and compatibility. While there are cases where these cables can be used interchangeably, specific factors must be considered.


In certain situations, brake cables and gear cables can be used interchangeably, but this is not always recommended. Here’s what you need to know:

Brake Cables:

  • If you find yourself in a pinch with a broken gear cable, a brake cable could potentially be used as a temporary replacement, allowing you to continue riding.
  • However, it’s crucial to note that brake cables may not provide the same level of shifting smoothness due to their increased thickness and different cable head designs.

Gear Cables:

  • Gear cables are generally not recommended as substitutes for brake cables. Their thinner diameter and specific end head designs make them less suitable for effective and reliable braking.


When it comes to compatibility, it’s essential to match the appropriate cable type with the corresponding components on your bicycle:

Brake Cables:

  • Brake cables should only be used with brake levers and brake calipers. These components are designed with specific cable pull ratios optimized for brake cables.
  • Using gear cables instead of brake cables may result in reduced braking power and compromised safety.

Gear Cables:

  • Gear cables, as the name implies, are compatible with gear shifters and derailleurs, as these components are designed to accommodate the thinner diameter and cable pull ratios of gear cables.
  • Attempting to use brake cables in a gear-shifting system could result in poor shifting performance and potential damage to the components.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are brake cables and gear cables interchangeable?

Brake cables and gear cables are not interchangeable. Brake cables are thicker and stronger to withstand the force of braking, while gear cables are thinner and more flexible to accommodate shifting gears accurately.

2. Can I use gear cables for my brakes?

Using gear cables for brakes is not recommended as they lack the necessary strength to handle the braking force. It is safer to use brake cables specifically designed for braking systems.

3. What happens if I use brake cables for my gears?

Using brake cables for gears can lead to inaccurate shifting and compromised performance. Brake cables are thicker and less flexible, making it difficult for them to smoothly navigate through the gear systems.

4. Can I use the same cable housing for brakes and gears?

Cable housing for brakes and gears may look similar, but they have different requirements. It’s best to use brake-specific housing for brake cables and gear-specific housing for gear cables to ensure optimal performance and compatibility.

5. Are brake and gear cables made of the same materials?

Brake and gear cables are typically made of different materials. Brake cables often feature stainless steel or galvanized steel for strength, while gear cables commonly use stainless steel or titanium for their flexibility and smooth shifting.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, brake cables and gear cables are not the same. While both play an essential role in the functioning of a bicycle, they have different designs and purposes.

Brake cables are responsible for transmitting the force from the brake levers to the brake calipers, enabling the bike to slow down or stop. On the other hand, gear cables are used to shift gears, allowing the rider to change the resistance and speed of the bike.

Understanding the distinction between brake cables and gear cables is crucial for maintaining and repairing bicycles. Confusing the two can lead to improper functionality and potential safety hazards.

Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that the appropriate cables are used for their respective purposes. By recognizing the differences and using the correct cables, riders can enjoy a smooth and safe biking experience.

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