No matter the direction you’re going in a mountain bike – uphill or downhill – it will make noises. Some are pleasant like tires rolling, and some irritating like clicking and rattling coming from cables in and around the frame. While some noises are signs or a poorly-maintained bike, the ones discussed here are common but still can be drastically reduced or eliminated altogether. So, you’re in the right place if you’re wondering “How can I make my mountain bike quieter?”
Regular maintenance, limiting moving parts and additional damping are the three keys in making a mountain bike quiet. A worn-down bike with dry bearings will be loud and so will one with a lot of unchecked moving parts and accessories. This is why a silent bike is a sign of a looked-after one.
Chains and other moving parts are often the main concern, while cables are generally overlooked. However, noises like rattling, cracks and creaks can all come from cables or their hoses.
If you’re researching ways to quiet your bike cables, you probably also like the look of a clean, professional look on your bike. The noise-canceling solutions provided give you a good selection of different dampening properties and styles for different scenarios to choose from.
How to silence bike cables
Making cables and hoses quieter can be a bit of a dark art. They are necessary parts of key bike components like shifters, brakes and hydraulic seatposts. And especially with full-suspension bikes, those cables need some slack to move around.
5 Principles to silence hoses and cables:
- Smart cable routing to prevent contact points.
- Stop cables from moving.
- Dampen them if they still move.
- Keep them clean to avoid creaking.
- Or don’t have cables at all using wireless shifting and dropper seat posts.
While there are ways to remove some off the bike completely using modern wireless components, at least brake hoses will remain.
Additionally, bike frames come with internal or external cable routing, which both have their pros and cons. And both styles or routing can be the source of loud noises.
In any case, the methods to shield cables from noise are pretty much the same, slightly adjusted for the bike at hand. Let’s start with the universal ones before making the distinction between internal and external routing.
Re-route cables smarter
One way to stop cables from banging against other objects is to have them not cross over in the first place. The cockpit area is a hotspot for this! While most mountain bikes have their cables cross in front of the head tube, they can be re-routed if you got the tools and skills.
That being said, your options may be limited depending on the frame and components. Generally, external routing offers a lot more options for re-routing.
But definitely check the endpoints of each cable and hose like the pivot point at the banjo of the brake caliper or the last loop connecting to the mech hanger. For racers, number plate holders are going to be a major influence on what’s possible and best to do (apart from being a noise source).
The goal here is to have cable routing as direct as possible with as little loose slack as possible.
Sometimes the built-in routing loops are not enough or not in the spots where cables can be loose. For these instances, you can create your own, simple cable routing using a zip tie and a small washer.
Sure, it doesn’t look too professional, but it’s an easy and durable way to keep them secured in one location. I’ve done this all over my bikes where there is no other way to hold cables in place.
Add frame protection
I’m not talking about protective frame wraps here, which mostly used in areas with cables rubbing against the frame to prevent visual damage. This is about rubber tape.
Not often do you see it in areas where cables tend to bang against the frame. So it’s really underrated in this regard. Great for areas where cables run externally and close to the frame. It can be cut to the individual size of the area in need. Just push on the cable to see where it’s able to make contact with the frame and put some tape there.
Rubber mastic tape or velcro tape is something pretty much any mountain biker has used or at least seen before. Most likely around the chainstay area to reduce chainslap noise. Modern bikes usually have some sort of rubber protection there to keep the frame from getting damaged and your ears from ringing to the sound of the chain slapping between seatstay and chainstay.
And you can DIY the same using something like 3M rubber mastic tape. I got a 1″ wide roll once which has lasted me for years now, providing small patches for my bikes.
Bond parallel cables together
One way to prevent cables from banging against each other is to tie them together. At least the rear shifter cable and a brake hose run parallel on most bikes. And I wonder why not more bike brands bond those together in the first place. And not many bikers seem to do it themselves, although it’s so easy to do.
Let me introduce a couple of ways you could do it in minutes. From quick and dirty, to elaborate and tidy.
This is more difficult to apply and use since cables have to be disconnected. On the flipside, shrink wrap not only helps with noise damping but also with an overall clean look. Slot it over multiple cables and use a heat gun to let it shrink, bonding two cables close together to stop them from banging against each other. While shrink tube kits offer a wide variety of diameters, longer pieces of the same diameter like 1/2 is more useful on a bike.
One word of caution: Heat shrink tubing is not a very abrasion-resistant material and can get damaged in a crash. This is to be considered as the application is a hassle.
Self-fusing silicone tape
Rubber tape is one of the more expensive options, but also very rugged and easy to use. It’s primarily used to bond cables together without detaching them like you would with a shrink wrap.
Just wrap it around tightly and you’re done. This can be done in a tidy way as well, but requires a little bit of precision.
Cable spiral wraps
Usually known for managing cables of a different kind, spiral wraps are another way to reduce cable banging on a bike. They are a rubber loop for the cable and that can be cut and conform to any shape. Make sure not to get plastic ones, that would only rattle like crazy.
Cable spiral wraps like this 1/4″ hose are rather inexpensive and can result in a clean look, although it may be more difficult to do compared to the other two options.
And let’s not forget the OG of all bike hacks. Cable ties can be used by themselves and they can look tidy as well if done right with equal distance between them and all facing the same direction.
Tip #1: Route them in a figure of eight to stop them from sliding along the cables.
Tip #2: If you cut them flush with a cutter, flame the end of with a lighter for a second and it will be very smooth.
Improve external routing
For some other externally routed cables, especially along the frame, it’s sometimes not possible to tie them closely together. In this case, we can still secure them and restrict movement by attaching them together but at a distance.
One way to easily do this DIY is by using common cable end caps or small rubber hoses and some small zip ties. This is a great alternative to those rubber rings often used on external cable routings. This won’t slip down the cable.
The idea here is to use the rubber ferrules as bumpers between cables. This has a couple of other advantages: cheap, easy, quick removal and looks.
How to silence internal cables
Now, every solution up until this point can be used for bikes with internal routing in one shape or another. But bike frames that have cables and hoses inside the frame come with a unique problem: loud rattling against the inside that is difficult to combat.
Luckily there are two tried and tested solutions! First, the better, but difficult one.
Internal cable hose damping
This softer rubber or foam-like outer hose slots over the cable hose in order to stop it from banging against each other or against the frame. As it’s thin and only big enough for one cable, it’s great for internal cable routing! Most internal routing holes are wide enough for a thicker, dampened cable (which is why it rattles in the first place).
Those additional damping hoses are light, reusable, and the best bet against frames, that can’t be silenced otherwise due to their routing.
Bike component brands like Jagwire produce these bike-specific damping hoses for internal cable routing. This isn’t a quick upgrade tho, more of a bad-weather-day project as brake systems have to be re-bled and shifters re-adjusted.
The idea is to create one thicker portion on the cable, which presses up against the frame and the housing opening. A cable tailing secures it in position, rather than restricting movement and stopping it from banging against something. Some bikes come with a rubber grommet to achieve the same thing. But those can be hard to find and difficult to build DIY.
So, this can be done with rubber grommets, or – you guessed it – with a trusty old zip tie. While the grommets are friendlier towards the frame, they also move around a lot, making them obsolete.
I’ve used this as a quick bandaid fix before. And while it’s a definite improvement, there is no real alternative to using additional damping hoses along the entire cables.
Here are some of my favorite resources for mountain bikers:
- How to read MTB tires.
- Best car bike rack manufacturers.
- Bike rack security guide.
- Best action cams for mountain biking.
To see all of my current gear (including action cameras) and up-to-date recommendations, check out this resource I made for you.