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This response to another question provides a wealth of info on winter riding preparation, but doesn't mention any techniques for preventing cables, especially brake cables, from freezing.

Is there a particular type of lubricant that is especially effective in preventing frozen cables? Would WD-40 or the like be appropriate? What other techniques are useful?

  • Any measure you take is temporary if you can't prevent water from getting into the cables. WD-40 is a good "water dispersant", or one could dribble full-strength auto antifreeze down the cable housing. But, as I said, either measure would be temporary. It should also be noted, though, that "frozen" cables may not be frozen, but rather the lubrication may have stiffened up (this is especially true of some shifters). In this case a lighter lubricant can be effective. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 12 '16 at 13:26
  • It should be noted that a front brake setup popular on BMX bikes is one where the front fork and wheel can spin completely around, because the rear brake cable is connected with a swivel connection at the stem, and the front brake cable goes down though the stem. The front cable usually ends in U shape, with the open end of the cable facing up. Such cables virtually suck rainwater in, and in non-freezing weather they rust up rapidly. In freezing weather they would freeze up even more rapidly. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 22 '18 at 16:19
  • I had frozen brake cable on my gravel bike. Rear brake was giving up after few minutes of riding at -15. You know how I solved it? I just put a piece of paper in front of the caliper and attached it to the frame to cover from the incoming wind. Insulation of a certain kind could be a solution, both wind protection or maybe something to wrap around the cable housing. – Sapphire64 Nov 22 '18 at 20:51
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Frozen cables happen because you've got moisture in the cable and housings. This can happen fairly often if you bring your bike inside after they've been wet and then have it back out long enough for that moisture to freeze. Two things can help.

First, make sure your housing covers as much of the cables as possible. Second, use a cable lubricant, which will help keep moisture out.

WD-40 should not be used on brake systems, and should only really be used on your bike as a temporary lubricant (to remove seized parts, for example). It's primarily a solvent and a de-greaser. You actually want grease on your cables.

EDIT: I was having trouble adding a comment below to answer your questions:

I use TriFlow, which is a light synthetic. You'll only need a few drops at a time, so don't worry about buying in bulk.

The other lubricant you could try, and I've seen some people in bike shops do this, is a waterproof grease, the same stuff people use on their bearings and threads.

Generally, I look for light oils for my cables, as others tend to gum up in the housing, but they should be good in a pinch.

  • 1
    Cool, thanks for the tips. I'm guessing that dropping antifreeze into the brake cables is probably a similarly bad idea. My search for cable lubricant made specifically for bicycles was mostly unsuccessful except for this; are cable lubricants for automotive/boating/etc basically the same thing? Anything specific I should look for in a general cable lube to indicate that it would work well on a bike? – intuited Dec 26 '10 at 6:30
  • I did the tuneup at a community bike workshop; people there seem to favour MotoMaster White Grease, so that's what I used. I also asked the folks at the Mountain Equipment Co-op; they recommended Phil Wood Grease – intuited Dec 31 '10 at 7:25
  • MikeL makes a good point in that WD-40 is specifically designed as a water dispersant (that's what WD stands for). It would be effective at temporarily unfreezing a brake cable. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 12 '16 at 13:23

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