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  1. #1
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    Hydraulic brake seal failure on winter commuter

    After 20+ years of year-around, full-time commuting, including thru real winters (snow, cold, etc.), I thought I had reached nirvana when I moved to hydro disc brakes. No more frozen cables or calipers, or iced over rims. Full brakes, all the time, no matter the condition. And low maintenance too.

    Perfect, right?

    Well, after 3 years, including 2 winters, I have had to replace the calipers twice due to salt corrosion of the cylinder after the seals gradually failed.

    I love the performance and reliability of hydro discs, but obviously I can't justify this replacement cost schedule. So, what I am wondering: are these seal failures just bad luck, or do these units require mid-winter maintenance to stay operational, or is hydraulic just a bad idea for regular winter cycling? The bike stoh is suggesting cable-actuated discs would be better since there aren't any seals to fail...but then, of course, the cables could freeze up (but they will melt out unlike rusted out cylinders which cost $100+ to replace). Does that make sense, or are they selling me a line?

    The background:
    - Avid Juicy 3 brakes on a hybrid commuter bike
    - I live in Ottawa where we get real winter ("World's coldest national capital"): -15C is a normal daytime high, with 2-3 cold-snaps of -20 to -30C; a **** ton of snow is also normal...20cm in a storm is not unusual, and a week or two rarely passes without at least a small storm that drops 5-10cm; winter is long here too, from late November to early April; the city uses a ton of salt...it isn't unusual to ride over small mounds of salt where the truck has waited at a light
    - I bike in all conditions, 5 days a week.
    - I get the bike fully overhauled every spring. Between these overhauls, besides lubing the chain, I don't spend much time on maintenance or cleaning.

    Be great to hear your thoughts to help me decide to stick with the hydros, or move to cable-pull discs.

  2. #2
    Senior Member yote223's Avatar
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    This winter in MN, I used Liquid Wrench brand chain lube with no prob. It is actually a liquified grease that has a "set up" time. I put enough of that in each cable sleeve that there was no room for water to freeze. Just sprayed it in and let it set. I gave each cable jacket about 3 doses. It helps if you position the cables so the stuff runs down inside. (loosen cables or reposition bike). I did this last fall and not a hitch.
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  3. #3
    PatronSaintOfDiscBrakes dynaryder's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stinkyclimber View Post
    or do these units require mid-winter maintenance to stay operational,
    Were you just riding the bike and not cleaning it? Bikes ridden in salt should be at least occasionally rinsed off. A poster over the in Commuting forum had an issue similar to yours with BB7's because he never cleaned the bike.

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  4. #4
    Senior Member wolfchild's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dynaryder View Post
    A poster over the in Commuting forum had an issue similar to yours with BB7's because he never cleaned the bike.
    Yep, that was me...I've also had problem with shimano deore hydraulic brakes. Leaking seals, had to rebuild twice. I think it was because I never cleaned my bike during winter, I would always wait until spring... From now on I will rinse the salt off regularly during winter. I prefer BB7's to hydraulics, they are easier to deal with, no messy brake oil/fluid.

  5. #5
    Senior Member chriskmurray's Avatar
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    Is the aluminum getting pitted or is it simply the seals getting worn? If the seals are the only problem, a rebuild kit is super cheap and very easy to do if you have access to an air compressor and an Avid bleed kit.

    One other thing you can do to help the life of the seals is to occasionally clean them with a q-tip and either DOT brake fluid or even better Avid makes a DOT grease that works great. The container is a touch spendy but it is enough that it would be a lifetime supply. https://www.sram.com/avid/products/d...se-brake-fluid

  6. #6
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    Thx folks. Some good intel. My takeaway: unless you want or can do frequent cleaning or maintenance, hydraulic discs are no good for winter. I just don't have the facilities or the interest to get my bike out of the cold to rinse it off, or to screw around with q-tips. I appreciate that others do, which is awesome - for you, hydros are going to work well. But for those like me who treat their commuter bike like a car - purely utilitarian, rather than a fun hobby - stay away from hydros.

    Thx again for the replies. Really helps to know it wasn't just bad luck or a poor product. User error!

  7. #7
    so busy... fatso's Avatar
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    I just finished my first full winter commuting by bike in NJ/NYC. I have BB7's, and the rear brake would freeze up below around 20F (-5C?). Not sure what I did - maybe got water into the mechanism while cleaning it (and I cleaned the bike regularly due to salt, etc.). Tried WD40 into the brake and chain lube, but the problem persisted. Didn't have the problem up front, though. Was thinking of going in the opposite direction and getting hydraulic brakes for next winter. Sounds like I need to be careful no matter what I do.

  8. #8
    Senior Member wolfchild's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fatso View Post
    I just finished my first full winter commuting by bike in NJ/NYC. I have BB7's, and the rear brake would freeze up below around 20F (-5C?). Not sure what I did - maybe got water into the mechanism while cleaning it (and I cleaned the bike regularly due to salt, etc.). Tried WD40 into the brake and chain lube, but the problem persisted. Didn't have the problem up front, though. Was thinking of going in the opposite direction and getting hydraulic brakes for next winter. Sounds like I need to be careful no matter what I do.
    Do you mean the pistons wouldn't come back to their original position after you squezee the brake lever ??...Maybe your spring tension and cable tension is too low. Too much slack in the brake cables is not good.. BB7's have and adjustable spring tension, there is a very small allen screw for making adjustements...Also keep your cables well lubed.
    Last edited by wolfchild; 05-01-14 at 06:24 PM.

  9. #9
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    I do no maintenance, no overhaul, except for the applications of the mixture LPS 3 + Boeshield T9 + ACF 50 (see this thread), most often months apart. I put the mixture on top of the salt, without bothering with any removal. If l lose paint somewhere, I just touch the area up with that mixture. I put the mixture inside the frame too. I have no rust to speak of. I have been wondering whether brake fluid might be acting as a a thinner as far as any protective substances are concerned, but I cannot find any mention of that issue on the web.

  10. #10
    so busy... fatso's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wolfchild View Post
    Do you mean the pistons wouldn't come back to their original position after you squezee the brake lever ??...Maybe your spring tension and cable tension is too low. Too much slack in the brake cables is not good.. BB7's have and adjustable spring tension, there is a very small allen screw for making adjustements...Also keep your cables well lubed.
    That's right - I'd have to manually return force the lever back to keep the brake from dragging. I'll check the spring tensions and lubricate the cables better going forward, not sure if either of them are the culprits, though. If the spring was bad, I'd expect problems at all temperatures - my problem of freezing brakes pretty clearly starts suddenly around 20F, and doesn't get much worse below (the brake sticks closed after using). After the brake has frozen I can manually return it to it's regular position with my hand or foot, and the cable moves into the housing fine; if the cable was frozen in the lining, I'd expect the cable to resist this. I clean my bike regularly in winter, using soapy water to wash things down, and thought I might have penetrated the brake. But I couldn't fix the problem. Never had any problems up front though. I did find a post on a forum somewhere mentioning problems with rear BB7 brakes in winter, but no details. At least I've got a couple more things to try to fix things next winter. Thanks.

  11. #11
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    Fatso, I run full length cable housing for my winter commuters. Do you store the bike indoors to dry after cleaning?

  12. #12
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    O rings could be shrinking in the cold ..Challenger shuttle explosion at launch, was attributed to the solid fuel booster section's O rings shrinking ,

    and that was just a cold morning in Florida.

  13. #13
    Sprinter linus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stinkyclimber View Post
    ...
    The background:
    - Avid Juicy 3 brakes on a hybrid commuter bike...
    You have a problem right there.

    I have seen many Shimano hydraulic brakes that didn't require any maintenance.

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