Alligator i-LINK Brake Cable Review

My circa 1999 Magura Louis disc brakes were starting to show signs of their age and needed to be replaced.  I decided to go the cost-effective and reliable route and replace them with Avid BB7’s.  Since I was going the cost-effective route on the brakes, I spent a little extra on the cables and went for the Alligator i-LINK brake cables.  They also have shifter cables, but as my bike is a single speed, I didn’t need any of those.

The cable housing is made up of a bunch of small aluminum bell-shaped segments that snap together, with a couple different end fittings for housing guides, etc.  Inside the aluminum housing, there is a polymer liner which runs from the brake levers all the way to the brake.  A PTFE coated steel cable runs inside the liner with some cable crimp ends and a couple of orange rubber sleeves to protect your frame.  The housing comes in a bunch of anodized colors but I went with black.  The aluminum links reportedly save a bunch of weight over normal housing.  Good for weight weenies, not a big factor for me.  Comes with very minimal instructions but who reads those anyways…

First thoughts..  a little weird… like my bike is sprouting antennae.  Easy to snap on and off to change lengths.  For someone who does not enjoy cutting cable housings, filing cable housings, and struggling to get the little end caps on over my mangled housing ends, it was a revelation!  Granted, those of you with proper tools may not have this issue but my motto is “Any tool can be the right tool.” and I plan on living up to it.  That orange thing in the pic by the headset is the rubber tubing to protect your frame.  I turned it inside out to hide the big logo.  The whole i-“your-product-name-here” thing is a little overdone.
Since the links are a little loose where they snap together, a strand will change length significantly if in tension or compression, so you need to keep pushing them together to get the correct full length.  I started with the rear brake and the first time I tried it, things felt good until I clamped down the cable and pulled the lever.  Friction was very noticeable.  I added a couple links to the rear section of the housing and the problem was solved.
The good news is that it’s really easy to add more links or take some off to dial in the length.  After I got it all put together I decided on a whim to flip my stem around which made my front brake housing a bit too long.  Normally (especially with hydraulics) I would have just lived with it.  In this case, since I also bought a jar of 100 crimp cable ends, it took me 5 minutes to pull off a few links and put it all back together.  This is with “help” from my 18 month old and 4 year old.  Fortunately the 100 cable ends in the jar are bright red so that got The Little away from her new favorite pastime of sticking her fingers in the spokes.

The fit between the aluminum segments prevents you from getting tight cable bends which is a good thing.  Due to the position of the rear brake boss and the frame routing bits, I ended up bypassing the last one for more direct routing.

I didn’t bother to install the end fittings at the brake and just ran the housing all the way into the boot and to the end of stop.  The liner can fit through the little end boot but I trimmed it off just before.  I figure this keeps water from wicking up between the cable and liner.  To cut the liner while the cable is inside use some wire strippers or you can score it with a knife and give a quick tug.

On the front brake I ran the housing on the inside of the fork.  It’s a more direct routing, and I’m less concerned over rocks and mud in my tires than branches on the side of the trail.
With everything installed, I went for a ride to try it all out and wear in the brakes.  I climbed up a couple thousand feet into the Santa Cruz mountains on a nearby road and came back down.  The housing was absolutely rock solid!  Of course that doesn’t help much when the brake pads are brand new, but after a couple minutes the BB7’s were feeling good.  I thought I might hear some rattling from the aluminum links but even with county “maintained” roads, I didn’t hear anything.  Maybe on bumpy singletrack, but with a rigid fork I probably couldn’t hear it over my own rattling brain.
First impressions: the i-LINK cables are a really nice product!  Once you get the hang of how it all fits together, installation is simple and easy to dial in.  Styling is probably a love-it or hate-it kind of thing.  Time will tell how they hold up.  The liner will probably be the first thing to wear out, but I’m not sure how long that will take.  The kit comes with enough extra fittings and housing that I didn’t have a problem running out of anything.
You can buy a decent standard cable set for less, but they are in the range of the more specialized mid-high level cables.  Nokon has a similar product but at a significant cost premium.  This being the world of cycling you always have the option of spending more…  for me, I feel like the extra $20 or so I spent over a standard cable set was worth was cost.
I’ll ride them for a few months give an update on how they are holding up.

  1. #1 by Michael on August 23, 2011 - 9:05 am

    Blake, welcome aboard and thanks for the detailed post.

    That Kurt guy forgot to tell me you’d be joining our ranks, but he vouches for you and I guess that’s ok.

  2. #2 by Blake on August 23, 2011 - 9:31 am

    Oh that Kurt guy… we go way back. Back to high school when I had just moved from Oregon and introduced Kurt to the novel idea of mountain biking in the rain!

    Anyways, thanks for the welcome and I’m happy to be here!

  3. #3 by Kurt on August 23, 2011 - 12:51 pm

    Sorry, Blake… World, World… Blake… Yes, it all started from papers being knocked upside someones head and some doodles of mountain biking and that rain thing…

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