As if biking in the winter isn’t hard enough, imagine your lock freezing, leaving you stranded, and wondering how you will get home and out of the cold!
The last thing you want to do is be forced to abandon your bike and take a taxi home. But how can you get the lock unfrozen? Is there a way?
Thankfully, there are tried-and-true methods for unfreezing frozen bike locks, and many require materials you either have around the house or may carry with you.
The best methods for unlocking a frozen bike lock are:
- Good old fashioned water
- Chain oil
- Commercial deicer
- Hand Sanitizer
- Petroleum jelly
- A lighter
- Your breath
But before we look at how to unfreeze bike locks, let’s consider the causes of frozen locks to understand how to unlock a frozen bike lock.
What Causes a Bike Lock to Freeze?
When your bicycle is locked on a sunny winter day, solar rays cause moisture to build inside the locking mechanism. As the day fades and temperatures plunge that moisture freezes. The ice inside the locking mechanism prevents a key or dials from opening the lock.
The key to unfreezing the lock lies in melting the ice inside. Luckily for cyclists frozen out of riding their bicycles, many products can melt this ice and get them back on the road.
Good Old-Fashioned Water
Since water created this problem, you might not think of it as the ideal solution. However, hot or boiling water will melt the ice that has you stuck out in the cold. To make this work, you’ll need to pour the hot water into the lock mechanism and allow it a few moments to melt the ice.
Remember, the moisture inside the lock came from a small amount of water, so the hot or boiling water will quickly overwhelm it. However, once the hot water cools, it too turns to ice, so you need to be prepared to unlock the bike as soon as the ice melts.
Of course, unless you can immediately bring the lock inside, the water you poured on the lock mechanism will freeze. As a result, you will need to bring your lock into a warm place and thaw it out completely.
Winter chain oil is something every cyclist has in their toolkit (or should). This oil is specially formulated for wet conditions. It displaces moisture, a property that allows it to melt ice in the locking mechanism and free your bike.
Be sure to use wet oil. This method should unfreeze your lock in a few minutes.
If you have no chain oil handy, try a commercial deicer. Since they are sold at most any convenience, grocery, or auto store, they are easier to obtain in an emergency than boiling water or chain oil.
Apply the deicer to the lock mechanism and, in a few minutes–Voila! You have unlocked a frozen bike lock.
You may have gotten used to carrying hand sanitizer around in the COVID era, making it a potentially convenient substance you can use to unfreeze your bike lock. Even as the pandemic fades, this time has taught us that hand sanitizers can prevent all types of illnesses, so having it on you is a great idea.
As you may know, alcohol has a lower freezing point than water. You may have noticed that you can store high-proof alcohol in the freezer without freezing. Because hand sanitizer contains high quantities of alcohol, squirting some on your key and then putting it in the lock should unfreeze it. Alternatively, for combination locks, apply it directly to the locking mechanism.
Petroleum jelly is another substance that melts ice. Like deicer and hand sanitizer, you can find it readily in convenience stores and pharmacies. As with hand sanitizer, apply to the key or directly into a combination lock locking mechanism.
Lighters have other uses than lighting cigarettes, you know. In the case of a frozen bike lock, they provide the health benefit of getting you out of the cold. Apply the flame to the key, turn the lock, or hold the flame directly to a combination lock’s mechanism.
If you lack any of the above resources, you can always resort to your breath. Enough hot breath applied to a frozen lock will melt the ice. Apply breath to the key or lock itself for at least a minute, and then try to unlock the bike. Repeat if necessary.
This method is a slower way to unlock a frozen bike lock and may not work in frigid weather or if the ice is extremely thick (such as after a storm). If this method does not unlock the bike, you will need to acquire one of the resources listed above.