Monday, February 15, 2010

Stopping is Good

The worse the weather gets, the more useful it is to have your bicycle running properly. I usually have a few wonky things going on...a kickstand that I have to nudge back into place after riding over a bump, a shift lever that needs to be retightened every few months. I'm sure there are people who would spare no expense and effort fixing these things immediately, but they don't really bother me. I can work around it.

So, when my rear brake line started freezing up earlier this winter, I just used the front brake. It's not the safest thing to do, but not really a problem on dry pavement and moderate speeds. Then came the ice and snow. Riding with compromised traction AND compromised brake management was not okay.

Fortunately, I had just read an explanation of frozen brake cables and how to repair them, courtesy of Bakfiets en Meer. "Blue Belle" was particularly susceptible to this problem due to her brake cable setup: an exposed cable which uses short lengths of cable housing to route around curves. The cable gracefully follows the step-through frame, requiring an extra turn where the top tube meets the seat tube (see photo!). 
This looks neat and keeps the cable from snagging me. But it also creates a low point which collects water - hence the freezing problem. (Please ignore my scratched paint...)

I ordered new brake cables on (for 70 cents each!) since the old one was rusty and frayed at the end. I unscrewed the clamp at the rear brake, which allowed me to pull the cable all the way out, through all of the cable housing bits and finally out of the brake lever. As it came out of the low point section of housing, rusty water poured out. Yuck yuck yuck! I took all of the housing bits and squirted WD-40 oil through them until it ran clear. Then I reassembled it with a new cable. Hopefully the remaining oil inside the housing (and maybe a plastic bag in heavy rainstorms) will keep it from happening again. For now, I am frost-free and good to go.


  1. yep, you pinpointed a common problem with ladies' step-through frames-- that curved section collects water. it happens on raleigh step through frames as well.

    good that you replaced the brake cable. if i may suggest, take the job one step further-- go to your LBS and ask them to sell you a piece of quality teflon-lined cable housing to replace that elbow section. they should be able to cut it for you to just the same length (they sell it by the foot), and it should cost you no more than $2-3. the cable will slide much more smoothly inside the teflon lining, and shouldn't be affected as the outer metal housing rusts over time.

  2. Teflon cable housing? I'm intrigued. But would it still collect water?

  3. it would, but less. the cable fits more snugly in a teflon-lined housing, letting less water in. the old, unlined cable housing probably has a lot of wiggle room inside, also allowing in more water. another tip to reduce the amount of water that can get in is to dab a little bit of waterproof grease on the ends of the housing, to seal that gap. it helps shed the water off before the water enters.