Review: Alligator iLinks + Jagwire Road Links
Dec 5, 2013
article & images by Nick Salazar
My first experience with Alligator's segmented iLinks housing was when I used it for the brake lines on Project Liberty, where it performs wonderfully. Like other linked housing products, it consists of a series of alloy tubes that nest into one another, and sit atop an inner plastic liner. Where the iLinks shine is in the fact that the nested housing segments actually click into one another, and stay together even when the housing is removed. This makes them really easy to size and install. Because the links are small, it's tough to separate or join them by hand, so you might want to bust out the needle-nose pliers.
One drawback of the iLinks' nested shape is that when running through narrow spaces, they can tend to snag a little bit, and if you aren't careful, they'll separate. I experienced that while running the iLinks through the Alpha during Project Liberty. The solution, as usual, it just to proceed slowly and carefully, without forcing things. It can also help to compress the links from both ends while running it through a bar, to ensure you have a tight column of housing that can't be so easily separated. The truth is, this complaint is a very small one, and is a pretty normal part of the installation process.
Alligator makes iLinks in 4mm and 5mm versions - the former is for shifter cables only, saving you another few grams of weight. But the 5mm housing will work for both shifters AND brakes, and if you're planning to use iLinks for shifters AND brakes, I'd recommend just using the 5mm stuff everywhere. That way you'll have extra links that work wherever you need them, rather than having one more little part to keep track of.
Jagwire Road Elite Links
Just a few days before Interbike 2013, I learned that that Jagwire was getting into the segmented housing game. When I heard the news, my jaw dropped. Could it be true? The entry of Jagwire into this segment is big. After Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo, I would guess that Jagwire is the biggest seller of housing in the domestic market. Just a guess, but I can't even imagine who else might take that title from them. With Jagwire teaching consumers about what the Links are all about, the platform has a chance to really take off. Perhaps in a couple years, we'll even see one of the 'big three' offer a segmented system of their own.
Jagwire has been making housing products for quite a while, and they know what they're doing. They've been developing their own segmented housing for some time, and now their Road Elite Links are ready for prime time. They're closer in appearance to Nokon than to Alligator, with a roughly cylindrical shape, and no protrusions at each segment. They don't click together. Instead, they're sized such that they remain on their inner liner via friction. It's brilliant, and works really well. The concept works similarly to Alligator's iLinks, in that you can easily size your installation without having to worry about links sliding off the liner. Alligator does it by letting you size without the liner, and Jagwire lets you do it by preventing the links from falling off the liner in the first place. Both are (in my opinion) superior to Nokon as far as ease of installation goes.
Functionality is roughly the same. You get virtually the same tight cable arc, the same smooth functionality. I'll suggest that Jagwire's Road Links, while they are the newest comer to this space, may be the most refined product yet. It's got the backing of an industry fixture, and support is likely to be good (at the very least, there should be multiple avenues to get that support, whether from the manufacturer itself, your local shop, or someone in-between like a distributor or rep). While the iLinks have been my go-to solution since I put them on Liberty, I'm very excited to see the competition, especially when it's this good.
Housing links aren't all smiles, of course. They're more expensive, they can present a learning curve for people who don't immediately understand the concept, and maybe they look weird (particularly the Alligators). But for my money, there's nothing better. I don't plan on using anything else whenever it's possible for me to use either of the systems reviewed above. I'm willing to explore other segmented housing brands like Bungarus, but wherever I can avoid traditional housing, I plan to do so. I think that's about the highest praise I can give.