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Is there something I can spray on my brake cables to keep them from freezing up in cold weather?

I want something preferably that will not attract dust.

Brakes froze when temperature was 20 degrees F.

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  • 1
    can you be more specific as to what type of brakes and cable you are using? – John Burgess Feb 2 '18 at 18:41
  • Is it the front or rear brake that freezes? From the pictures I would guess the rear. – Rider_X Feb 2 '18 at 22:48
  • Do you store your bike inside/under cover or out in the rain? Keeping it dry means there's nothing to freeze. Fitting a mudguard/fender on the rear tyre and under the caliper will help a lot, as that will reduce the dirty water hitting the brake. – Criggie Feb 2 '18 at 23:56
  • I don't recall which brakes froze. My bike is uncovered. I don't think cover would help as it's very humid where I live. – fixit7 Feb 3 '18 at 0:05
  • If you feel a need to inject a liquid, lock deicer would be the way to go. This is generally an alcohol/glycol base with a touch of some sort of lubricant. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 3 '18 at 13:53
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They are likely freezing because water is getting into the space between cable outer (cable housing) and the cable inner (the wire brake cable). Water expands as it freezes, in doing so it takes up more space than is available in an otherwise the restricted system. Because the cable housing is relatively inflexible to expansion (it needs to be otherwise your brakes would be mushy) this ends up binding the inner brake cable causing your brakes to metaphorically and literally freeze.

About the only way to fix the freezing is to prevent water from getting into that space. Adding oil or grease will likely not be enough to displace all the water, and as the remaining water expands when turning into ice you are left with the same problem.

As a quick fix you can bring your bike into someplace above freezing and hang it so that the water can drain out of the cable housing.

A more permanent fix depends on whether or not you can fully seal the system against water ingress. This depends on the type of brakes you have and how the brake cable is routed. I have only ever experienced freezing of brakes in sub-zero conditions on a bikes that were using full length brake housing, with the rear mechanical disc brake was mounted on the lower chain stay with no real seal between the brake housing and the disc caliper. Rain water would slowly drip into the cable housing from the open end at the caliper and pool somewhere mid-chain stay. Then when the weather dropped below freezing the rear brake would freeze solid.

The only to prevent this is to have some sort of seal that prevents water ingress into the housing from happening (e.g., see below)

Mechanical brake caliper with sealing

If you have another type of brake system or a different cable routing from what is pictured above I would need to see a picture to try and diagnose how water is entering and remaining in your brake housing.

UPDATE

From your picture your cable boot on the rear brake appears to be dislodged. This will allow water to enter the system, where it will pool in the cable housing just after the brake noodle (see figure below).

Diagram showing issue with OP rear brake

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  • Yes, my commute bike gets very dirty due to the combination of very wet winters and riding a lot of gravel and dirt paths to avoid traffic. No, I will not clean it before the dry sunny weather returns. – Rider_X Feb 2 '18 at 19:20
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Wd40 might work and I'm sure you already have some so it might be worth a try

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  • WD40 won't help here sorry. Its possible a squirt of grease at the end of the outer could help to stop water entering, but OP needs to remove the water from inside the lowest point of their brake cable first. – Criggie Feb 3 '18 at 4:52
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I had the same problem, and poured a pipet of antifreeze into the brake lines with great results. I had to do the same with my bike lock which also froze.

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  • 2
    Antifreeze is toxic to plants and the environment as well as to animals and humans. Much better to boot your cables and prevent further water ingress. – RoboKaren Feb 19 '19 at 19:56

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