If you've been a TriRig reader for any appreciable length of time, you'll probably know that I have a taste for some of the more exotic equipment out there. It's just a whole lot of fun to geek out about the latest and greatest from big names and fringe brands alike. My love of names like Lightning, Tune, and Dash betrays my need to tinker and explore the finer things in life. One area I haven't previously discussed is that of segmented housing. For a long time, the biggest (and perhaps only) name in segmented housing was Nokon: their little aluminum beads slide onto a liner just barely smaller in diameter than the beads. To install them, you had to meticulously put the beads on - one by one - then carefully trim, compress, and run cable. They were a bit of a pain, but had a few distinct benefits, including lighter weight, more precise shifting, and the ability to navigate circuitous cable paths without issue.
In recent years, a couple other names popped onto the scene, including Bungarus, Alligator, and finally - and this one is a BIG deal - Jagwire. With the increased competition, you'd expect to see these systems improve to some extent. And they have. In this article I'm going to detail the use of Alligator iLinks and the brand new Jagwire Link Shift. Before we get into the merits of each system, however, I want to talk generally about what they share in common, and why this type of housing is so ridiculously awesome.
So, what's the big deal with segmented housing? What does it offer that standard housing does not? To really understand the answer to that question, we first have to understand how standard cable housing is built, and why. Shifter housing is meant to be compressionless - that is, no matter what kind of tension is put through the cable by virtue of the installation or actuation of a shift, the length of the housing needs to remain constant. For shifting, that's of paramount importance, because without compressionless housing, you wouldn't get accurate shifts. Traditional housing achieves its properties by using a bundle of steel strands oriented in the same direction as the central axis of the housing. It works great to minimize compression, but makes for a slightly weaker housing that could be split by excessive force. If you use shifter housing on your brake cable, braking forces could potentially cause the housing to split open and fail. That's why brake housing uses strong, thick wire that spirals around the central axis of the housing, instead of running along it. That design lends greater strength, but is more susceptible to compression. That's not a huge issue for brake cables, because an extra mm of brake throw due to compression probably won't yield a noticeable effect on the braking process. On the other hand, if your shift throw is off by a mm, you could easily wind up in the wrong gear. That's why you only want to use shift housing on shifter cables, and brake housing for brake cables.
Still with me? Let's recap. Traditional shift housing yields very precise cable movement, but it's weaker; traditional brake housing yields less precise cable movement, but it's very strong and can handle braking forces. Make sense so far? As you may imagine, this is where our segmented housing comes in. The great thing about segmented housing is that it's very strong AND compressionless. The little aluminum segments, small and light though they are, are perfectly capable of doing everything you need. Even better, segmented housing exhibits less compression than traditional shifter housing, AND it's stronger than traditional brake housing. The upshot is that with segments, you can design a single housing type that works for both applications, and is superior to the traditional counterparts of either type.
But that's not where the story ends. Oh, no. First of all, because these little links are made of aluminum instead of steel, we're shedding some weight in the process. It's not a whole lot - maybe 30-50 grams over a whole bike - but it's worth noting. When I built Liberty, Alligator iLinks was my housing of choice to keep the weight to an absolute minimum.
In addition, segmented housing has the potential to make tighter bends than traditional housing, and cannot kink in the process. That ensures that your snazzy new housing will maintain its lovely strength and precision characteristics even if you choose to snake it through some really gnarly cable path en route to your frame manufacturer's ill-placed rear brake of what-have-you.
But I haven't even mentioned my very favorite part about segmented housing, which is a feature that deserves its own heading.
The Undo Button
Perhaps the greatest advantage of segmented housing is the ability to non-destructively set the length of your cable run. If you've spent much time trying to run cables short, in order to better hug the frame, stay out of the wind, etc, you've probably cut the cable too short on occasion. That's frustrating. But with segmented housing, you can set and reset your cable length as many times as you like, by simply adding or removing links until you perfect the length for your particular application. That's simply awesome.
With that said, let's take a look at two examples of segmented housing that have come through TriRig HQ in the last couple months: Alligator iLinks, and the brand new Jagwire Road Elite Links. Hit the jump for the review.