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When putting a new tire on a bicycle, there is usually a note somewhere on the sidewall showing the direction the tire is supposed to rotate when you are on the bicycle. However, the last time I changed my tire I already had the tire mounted on the rim and inflated before I remembered to check for this marking, and it turned out I had it backwards. Rather than take the tire off and do the whole thing over again - or leave the tire to rotate "backwards", I opted simply to put the wheel on backwards, as it was the front tire and there did not seem to be anything dictating which side of the bike the quick release had to be on.

I have ridden about 20 miles so far without any issues, but I am wondering, what, if any, are the long term consequences of either this approach (riding with the tire backwards from the standpoint of the rim being backwards with respect to the quick release being on the opposite side from the back tire), or simply riding the tire in the opposite direction as labelled on the tire. For the latter, I am wondering if it really makes any difference, because in my case I had to really search for the direction indicator as it was barely discernable.

I'm riding a road bike (touring geometry) and the tire itself is a long-life, hard casing type, as opposed to soft "performance tire" types which get flats more easily but are supposed to handle better.

  • See this answer. For some tires there is a difference in traction with tires one way vs the other. This is mostly relevant in dirt or mud, vs dry pavement. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 14 '13 at 16:35
  • possible duplicate of Which way do I orient my bike tire's tread direction? and why? – amcnabb Nov 14 '13 at 17:20
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    One minor point: It's not ideal to change the orientation of a tire after it's been run a substantial distance (maybe 1000-2000 miles for a bike tire) since the tire tends to "take a set" based on it's rotation direction, and reversing the direction pulls the cords in the opposite direction. This isn't a major issue -- the effect on tire life is slight -- but it's something to think about. – Daniel R Hicks Nov 14 '13 at 23:03
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If it's a road tire, i.e. a slick, it makes no difference. The tire direction marks are usually printed on road tires because mechanics are so used to looking for them, that the makers may as well put them on there so as not to confuse or waste the time of the installer.

http://sheldonbrown.com/tires.html#direction

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  • Ah thanks that explains it. There definitely is no tread (pattern) on the tire, but I wondered if maybe something in the underlying layers didn't like being stressed in one direction or something. – Michael Nov 14 '13 at 17:26
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    As a non-performance related consequence, you may invite some scrutiny/critique from cyclists with more attention to detail. – Akshay Nov 14 '13 at 19:10
  • in addition some MTB tires are made to be reversible, and many run the front one way and the rear the other for additional traction in dirt, rolling resistance is generally effected but the positive traction outweighs this in some applications – Nate W Jun 30 '17 at 20:29
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I've seen some nearly-slick tires with small grooves designed to channel the water. If you put them on the right way, the water tends to spray in a low arc. It turns out if you put them on the wrong way, the water tends to spray up more. I found this out the hard way: I was sprayed in the face continually during a commute after it rained. This is irritating but only an issue if you ride on wet roads without fenders.

Other slick tires don't seem to have grooves like this. I assume they put the direction indicator on the tires regardless for people who like to be sure they're putting the tire on the "right way".

You are right that you can flip the front wheel either way on the front without issue (unless you have disc brakes, obviously). The convention is to have the quick-release on the left to match the rear, but there's no functional reason to do that. You can also flip the front wheel without flipping the quick release by removing the QR skewer and inserting it the other way.

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  • I found out something on my trip last week -- many folks try to get the logo on the hub "facing forward". After repairing a flat the bike mechanic put my front wheel on backwards (with the lever on the right) due too the orientation of the hub lettering, and only corrected himself when he noticed the odometer magnet was on the wrong side. I'd never paid any attention to the lettering. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 21 '14 at 11:36
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Long term consequences are doubtful. From my mountain biking experience, mounting a tire directionally backward just hurt your traction as it wouldn't clear mud/operate as designed, but once it was returned it worked properly, and it didn't hurt the tire any.

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    Actually, some tires are designed to be run both ways, with the "reverse" direction offering more/less traction due to the knob orientation. Some people do this anyways, especially if there's no mud or adverse conditions. – Aaron Nov 14 '13 at 18:33
  • That's true too, not to mention the 'non-directional' tires. The ones that are designed like that usually have arrows going both ways ('Front'/'Rear' perhaps) or no arrow at all, so I assumed we were talking about the single direction arrow only. – Ehryk Nov 15 '13 at 0:33
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Sometimes it matters and sometimes it doesn't. Some tyres are designed to be mounted in either direction, some tyres are designed to be mounted one direction only and some tyres have opposite directional arrows depending on if the tyre is on the front or the rear wheel.

enter image description here image from https://www.sefiles.net/merchant/1267/images/site/tires_tires_tires.jpg

Any tread on a tyre is there to clear water, mud, debris etc and will work best when mounted the way the manufacturer suggests. As a rule of thumb, the wider the tyre and the more of a deep tread pattern there is on a tyre, the more it is going to matter which way it is mounted.

'Mud' tyres need to clear lots of mud off the tyre and bite into the soft ground and can lose traction if they get gummed up. Slick and semi-slick narrow tyres are normally designed to roll fast on smooth roads/timbers so the tread hardly matters.

There is an answer on this site with a great quote from Schwalbe tyres about when it does and doesn't matter which way a tyre is mounted: https://bicycles.stackexchange.com/a/52074/38558

So there will be no damage done if a tyre is on 'backwards', but depending on the design, the tyre can work optimally if it is fitted the way the designer intended. You can earn style points though if the wheel is dressed neatly, i.e. any writing on the hubs facing forwards or to the drive side, tyres mounted according to directional arrows and tyre logos aligned with the valve stem.

Meanwhile, most rims do not care if they are facing one way or another, but of course rear wheels care about which way round they go, and front disc brake wheels must be in the right way around too. Some carbon rims do have a texture on them to enhance braking performance, see image below, so must be built and fitted the right way round.

Zipp 303 Firecrest directional carbon wheel rim image credit https://www.bike-components.de

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I can't think of an actual physical problem this would cause. Most folks run the lever on the QR on the left, but that's just convention as far as I know.

If you want you could just unscrew the nut end of the QR and flip it around, then your tire would be going the 'right' way and the QR lever would be on the correct side as well.

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  • This will work for the front wheel, not the back, and only if you don't have disc brakes. – Benzo Nov 14 '13 at 17:51
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    @Benzo If you have disc brakes, you can't put the wheel on backwards in the first place. Not without remounting the caliper, which for my disc brake bicycle wouldn't be possible; not sure about others. – Josh C Nov 19 '13 at 15:48
  • Obviously there are multiple contingencies where you can't just flip the wheel around. I was just answering the question as the OP wrote it and specified that it was for the front wheel of a touring geometry road bike. – Kevin Nov 19 '13 at 16:02
  • I understand. I was just clarifying, for the more generalized scenario. – Benzo Nov 19 '13 at 16:05
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    It'll work for the back if you have a flip-flop hub :-) – armb Nov 19 '13 at 16:19
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Regarding the question "from the standpoint of the rim being backwards" (not tire) the answer is none that I am aware of.

Clearly on the rear with drive train or disk brakes this is not an option.

I have never seen a rotation indication on a (non drive) rim or hub. I have bought new wheels and in the box the skewer was separate with no directions regarding which direction to install it.

According to vclaw a dynamo hub can have a direction and it is marked.

Doubt it is a factor on a bike but in a car with radial tires typically they tell you not to switch direction (rotate some side only) as it breaks down the belts.

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  • With "fancy" wheels there's a very slight chance that there could be an interaction between rim and hub such that spoking would not work out if the rim were reversed vs the hub. But this would only be a possible problem if the hub and rim were originally sold as a mated pair. – Daniel R Hicks Jun 20 '14 at 21:41
  • I meant mated pair of rim and hub -- that they are designed for each other and share a non-symmetrical spoke pattern. (I have a degree in engineering too, BTW.) – Daniel R Hicks Jun 21 '14 at 2:25
  • Rim and hub - that is for the wheel builder. If it was designed to spin in one direction I trust it would be marked. – paparazzo Jun 21 '14 at 6:48
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    Dynamo hubs usually have a marked rotation direction. They will probably work backwards (and still generate electricity), but it seems with some models there is a risk of the hub unscrewing itself. – vclaw Jun 21 '14 at 8:50
  • @vclaw I did not think of dynamo. Can you think of any regular non drive hub that is direction specific? The nature of bearing seems like they should spin both ways. – paparazzo Jun 21 '14 at 9:31
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Let's start at the outside and work our way inwards.

Most tyres don't care which way they rotate, although as others have said it may be beneficial to keep it going the same way for its lifetime.

It might be slightly better for the fatigue-life of the spoke holes in the rim, the nipples, the hub flanges and the spokes if they are always put through the same load cycle as the wheel rotates; but my strong suspicion is that with correct (high) spoke tension the difference will be minuscule. On a rim-braked bike the the braking surface will fail first; on a disc-braked bike you'll destroy the wheel on potholes/cobbles/rock gardens before these are a problem.

I can't see any issue at all with the hub shell, bearings, axle, or QR.

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If you ride it backwards long enough the tire can fuse to the rim. Thats what happened in my case at least. I had ridden hundreds of miles with the rolling direction backwards and when I went to take the tire off of the rim to replace the tube it was as if it was super glued to the inside edge of the rim. The only way I understand it is that because it was backwards it caused some sort of friction that made it stick to the the rim over time... so I wouldn't recommend riding with your tire backwards for long periods or that could potentially happen to you.

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    I would suggest that the link between the tyre being installed backwards, and the tyre bead becoming stuck is not proven. Perhaps it got stuck for another reason? – Swifty Apr 3 at 18:30
  • Did you have a tubeless setup? More likely the sealant did its job by sealing small air leaks, causing a glue-like effect. – Criggie Apr 4 at 0:00
  • I can't think of any other reason that a tire would fuse to a rim and it wouldnt be appropriate for me to ask for any reasons on here. This is the only time I have had a tire get remotely stuck to a rim and it happened to be when I put the rolling direction backwards on the rear tire. I even changed a tube at least one time with that tire and it was in the right direction and it came off perfectly fine (without a lever because you really shouldnt need one of those) I'd be happy to give you the tire and rim and you can ride it and create the same conditions to disprove it. – jake Apr 4 at 3:33
  • And no it is not tubeless. It is tubeless ready though which I suspected may have played a role in what happened which if it did it would be good for people to know that so they don't put a tube on a tubeless ready wheel with the tire in the wrong rolling direction. Again this is the only speculation I can make because it makes the most sense to me given all the information and it is really frustrating because the wheel had the best engagement of anything I've ridden, so I hope it doesn't happen to anyone else – jake Apr 4 at 3:46
  • I do find some tubeless ready tyres get super grippy to the rim; for starters they're fine tolerance items to achieve a good seal and some do seem to get sticky. I have even experienced what you describe with one bead which could not be removed from the rim. It's an interesting phenomenon, but I can't see the link with tyres being backwards and exacerbating this. Rather than a speculative and dodgy guess, it might make a great question for you to ask instead - why do some tyres become so stuck to the rim that they are impossible to get off? – Swifty Apr 4 at 15:50

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