Giving Your Motorcycle's Hoses and Cables A Nice Finishing Touch

Instead of being unsightly, give your hoses and cables a look that is pleasing to the eye

Stainless cables or hoses with grommet
If you use uncoated stainless cables or hoses, you will probably need a buffer somewhere along its length. The Cobra-built Intruder uses a simple rubber grommet to hold the hose off the fender.Cruiser

Annoying, isn't it? The manufacturer of your cruiser went to great lengths to clean up everything in the front end. A simple polished-billet triple clamp is topped by gleaming handlebar clamps and little else since the speedometer was moved to the fuel tank. Minimal clutter interrupts the lines of the fork legs, thanks to carefully conceived headlight and fender brackets. And that big, ugly rubber brake line assaults the eyes like a monster pimple on the nose of a supermodel.

Don’t blame the manufacturers. They, too, are the victims of a federal regulation that requires brake lines to survive severe flexing gazillions of times. The only hoses that will meet that requirement are rubber. Never mind that rubber deteriorates and gets mushy so when you get into the brakes some of the lever effort is wasted expanding the hose instead of pushing the piston against the disc. Hey, it’s not the brief of government regulators to concern themselves with appearance. They probably like ugly things.

Galfer hose for Intruder 800
This Galfer hose for an Intruder 800 has a clear plastic coating running almost its full length, which prevents the hose from damaging the components it contacts.Cruiser

Yamaha, Suzuki and Kawasaki have attempted to do something about the problem by wrapping their brake and clutch hoses with brightly plated, springlike wire. This improves the appearance slightly and also armors the hoses against slashes and abrasions. They are difficult to clean, and you have to keep threading the ends around the end fittings when they pull loose, but they are a step ahead of plain rubber.

Braided stainless-steel lines—which are actually Teflon hoses encased in a stainless-steel sheath—are the answer. Besides replacing those fat, flat-black, rubber eyesores with thinner, shiny metallic pieces, they are much more resistant to possible damage in crashes. And because they don’t get mushy, they provide much better feel and power than stock hoses, especially after a few years in service.

True, stainless hoses can’t survive the severe flexing requirements of the government certification tests. But in real life, motorcycle brake hoses don’t have to be bent almost double. Properly routed, they simply must deflect a few degrees every time the suspension extends and compresses or when the front end is turned. Clutch hoses have even fewer demands on them.

Tapered chrome covers
Tapered chrome covers slip over the fittings on the ends of speedometer and tachometer cables that makes for a nice finishing touch.Cruiser

Nonetheless, there are some functional and safety concerns to be aware of when installing braided stainless-steel hoses or matching cables sheathed in braided stainless. First, you should replace all sealing washers when you install new hoses. Some manufacturers supply these with their stainless hoses, or you can get some stock ones from your dealer for a few bucks.

Next, be certain that the new hoses and cables are long enough to leave a small amount of slack at full extension. This shouldn’t be a problem with a stock motorcycle, but it may be more of an issue if you have added an aftermarket handlebar or another related component. This is pretty easy to check with a rear-brake hose but it is a bit more involved for the front brake. Check a front-brake hose’s length by lifting the front wheel off the ground. You should be able to turn the fork to the locks both ways without the hose or cable getting taut. The same drill and another lock-to-lock test with the front end compressed should be conducted to be sure that the hoses and cables are not being pinched or binding on anything. You can eliminate the compression portion for clutch cables.

spring-covered hoses for motorcycles
Even if you like the spring-covered hoses on some Japanese bikes, a stainless-covered cable is a visual improvement which better matches the hose.Cruiser

Braided stainless steel has one unique problem: It’s abrasive. That rough finish acts like a saw, and anything it rubs against will be damaged. And since a brake hose is connected to sprung and unsprung components which move relative to each other, the hose moves to some degree relative to each of them. This relative movement is usually greatest at the midsection of the hose. Vibration, especially the low-frequency sort common on big twins, also works hoses against nearby components. Over time, a moving braided-steel hose can cut through fiberglass and even steel, like on frames. Some of the problem can be avoided with careful routing, and the rest can be addressed with buffers on the hose or cable.

Roadracers, the first to use stainless hoses on bikes for purely functional reasons, covered the hoses with plastic spiral wrap. Although a few cruiser owners may find some styling attraction in colored spiral wrap, most probably don’t want to hide their shiny hoses in opaque plastic. Fortunately, spiral wrap is now available in clear, and a length of clear plastic hose over the stainless steel can also provide a suitable buffer. The Cobra Intruder we feature in this issue uses simple rubber grommets which hold the hoses off parts that they might otherwise grind, such as the front fender. Careful routing, perhaps using the stick guides, will also help. (If you are trying to tie a hose or cable to a chrome component, Custom Chrome sells chrome-finished cable ties.) Some companies sell stainless hoses with a clear plastic coating running the full length.

oil cooler stainless hoses
If your oil cooler doesn’t have stainless hoses, installing a set is a functional and aesthetic improvement.Cruiser

Naturally, after you have installed a stainless brake hose, you’ll want a matching clutch and speedometer cable. The same provisos about abrasion apply here. You can complete your exorcism of black rubber hoses by installing stainless-steel oil lines. Having seen a couple of bikes that deposited their owners on the road after a hot exhaust pipe burned through the rubber hose of an aftermarket oil cooler, we’d strongly recommend stainless hoses when installing an aftermarket oil cooler.

Finally, for those looking for something a bit less conventional, there are Kevlar brake hoses. These smaller-diameter hoses are available in colors to provide an original styling touch. Sold by firms like Goodridge and Indigo, Kevlar hoses have less of a track record and may not be endorsed for street use by their makers (or at least the manufacturers’ attorneys). However, they have a good reputation among racers and don’t present the problem of cutting adjacent components.

On many bikes, a brake-hose swap leads the list of aesthetic improvements, and in most cases it’s also a functional improvement. Many firms make cruiser-specific hoses with chrome end fittings. A set of brake and clutch hoses or cables should set you back less than $200. If your bike has stock bars, etc., one of the firms listed in our “Resources” box should also be to supply ready-made hoses or cables or both. If you can bleed your brakes, you can change hoses. Your eyes will thank you.