Q: I’m new to cycling and have become fascinated by old racing photos. So here’s a dumb question: Why do bikes in those pictures have cables sticking out of the brake levers? — Amanda Q.
COACH FRED: For most of cycling history, brake levers were designed with the cables making graceful loops from the tops. Then in the early 1980s, aerodynamics moved to the front of bike design and the first levers with hidden cables appeared. Cables were routed through the rear of the levers and under the handlebar tape.
Besides being more aero, it eliminated the problem of accidentally snagging the cables while riding, and it made the front of the bike look cleaner. It also introduced an additional hand position, with the palms resting across the top of the levers where the cables formerly exited.
Some riders still prefer the old-school look of exposed cables. And it can be easier to replace cables when the housing isn’t under bar tape.