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So there are various and sundry videos showing how one might create studded bicycle tires. This example is good, but you have many more choices. However, I am a city commuter, and traction will likely be next to useless if my brakes fail.

If water were to freeze on the rim, it will drastically reduce the coefficient of friction between the rims and the calipers, aka: pray. Hard.

It is very easy to imagine a situation in my climate where brakes do basically freeze. We have wildly variable winters, we can have 60+ degrees one day and it will be freezing the same day next week. For example:

A.) the temperature drops to below freezing over the course of a ride, to freezing; water spray on the rim turns to ice, which isn't so easy to squeegee off.

B.) The bike is stored outside. What was once moisture on the rim freezes over as the temp drops. There is now an invisible layer of my ice on my whims. I try to apply the brakes, then I die.

C.) I ride through slush. Barely melted snow as well as ice sticks to the rim because of tension forces. Thin layers freeze, especially if I have to stop for any period of time in any depth of snow.

D.) Exceptionally well-packing snow starts forming layers on the rims.

I don't know if I could rate the likelihood of these, but any case where slippery stuff is stuck your rims is, y'know, basically a nightmare.

Anything I can think of that would adhere to the rim and change the freezing point of water on it is either horribly corrosive, will reduce the friction itself, or I don't trust it to stay on under all the snow and ice and water that isn't making a trip under the calipers.

I suppose there are mechanical options, but anything I can think of would be abrasive (ie, mount a blade to move in with the the rubber pads. The more sparks, the better :P)

So I ask: does anyone have any realistic way of keeping caliper brakes from freezing over during a temperature change or long ride?

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    You've got the wrong problem for most environments - the problem is moreso water getting into your brake cables and then the cable freezing so your brake levers don't work.
    – Batman
    Dec 19, 2014 at 12:24
  • A disc brake on a car is like a rim brake. I have gone through many a winter and never experienced this ice forming phenomena you describe on either my bike or car.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 19, 2014 at 14:29
  • This is a common problem where I live. It's not a "wrong problem" any more than all the questions looking for water proofing solutions are wrong. A disc brake on a car is similar to a rim brake in some ways, not others. Like the fact that bike braking surfaces are not afforded the protection of a hub cap or rim. Additionally it's rare that you would drive a vehicle in snow deep enough to cover/touch your braking surface. Dec 19, 2014 at 18:31
  • Regarding B - just don't. There's got to be some way you can store your bike better than outside. Inside is much better. Even under a tarp would be slighty better than standing in the rain and weather.
    – Criggie
    Jan 1, 2016 at 22:36

2 Answers 2

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For A, C, and D, which are variations on material freezing to the rim during a ride, frequent light braking will do a lot to help - so it becomes much more of an issue on the open road than around town. The brakes are quite good at removing anything other than a smooth skin of ice - so we want to stop that forming in the first place. In these conditions you really want to be braking earlier and more gently than in more benign weather as whatever you do about your tyres they will have less traction on some of the surfaces you're likely to encounter (what's good for ice isn't great for snow and is bad for wet tarmac, etc.). Don't forget that to freeze water you don't just have to lower its temperature but remove the latent heat, so if your rims are close to freezing point water won't freeze onto them quickly. If the temperature is lower the snow won't really melt and packed snow won't adhere in the same way as ice - you'll have less-effective braking at first but not too bad.

If you seriously want a mechanical solution I would suggest rigging something like a toothbrush lightly brushing the rims at all times to prevent anything accumulating,

Your B is the worst case as you would get just the sheen of ice that you really don't want. But you can test the brakes by spinning the wheel before you get on it, then try to remove the ice. A plastic scraper may be OK on aluminium, and (warning - I've not tried this and brands will vary) car windscreen de-icer tends to be isopropanol - which wouldn't be a bad choice for cleaning your rims at other times (I have lock deicer in a much smaller can). Some makes may have other things in that you wouldn't want anywhere near your braking surfaces. You can also try to leave the brakes and rims dry when you park the bike.

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I think this question is similar to what can I do to my road bike so it handles rock gardens better. The real answer here is disc brakes. This problem is extremely common here in both the fall and spring. I personally found that the far worse situation was the ABS effect that happened when you grabbed the brakes hard and had only sections of the rim that were clear. You end up with stutter braking that makes the bike very difficult to control (especially when it's unexpected).

I strongly recommend disc brakes to anyone cycling in below freezing conditions. Rim brakes have all the problems you mentioned above beyond often being less effective as the rubber hardens at colder temperatures.

Many people will tell you that disc brakes are unnecessary for non-technical riding. While its true that the stopping power generated by rim brakes under optimal conditions is fine, inclement weather can quickly make rim brakes perform sub optimally (or worse). Disc brakes tend to be far less effected by these swings. I spent my first several months suffering through winter commuting with rim brakes. Eventually I bought a set of disc brakes and a wheel set that together cost more that the entry level bike I put them on. I never recommend a bike with rim brakes to anyone that is thinking about winter commuting here in interior Alaska.

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