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I've just picked up some lightly studded tyres - winters aren't too bad here but ice can be a problem. The bike is a hybrid mainly used for commuting, with some early starts. Most of my route is theoretically salted, but not all and not always. I'm planning to mount them this weekend on the rims I've got, so this question is thinking ahead to when I put my normal tyres back on the bike. The bike in question is a hybrid set up with a not-easily-removable child seat, so must do duty all year round.

Does it make more sense to swap the tyres or the whole wheels?

I've thought of several reasons both ways. In favour of swapping wheels:

  • Rims, cassettes etc. wear out anyway, so I'll have to replace them at some point (the rims have >5000 km on them).
  • I can put the summer wheels back on if I'm going for a long ride on a warm day. (I now have other bikes for this so it's not an advantage any more).
  • Over the course of a year it's less work to leave the tyres on the rims (3 season tyres are marathon plus so not the easiest to mount, but not the hardest either).

In favour of swapping the tyres on the rims:

  • Save a little storage space.
  • Defer some costs.

and the two big ones:

  • Will I have to align the derailleur and/or brakes when I switch wheels?
  • What effect will running a new cassette on a worn chain have? Alternatively: when do I need to swap the chain if I'm running 2 cassettes of different ages.

What experience do people have of the last 2 points in particular? Is there anything I've missed?

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    You don't mention this but for me, an important factor would be the amount of time it takes to change a wheel, versus the amount of time it takes to change a tyre – PeteH Nov 26 '15 at 17:34
  • @PeteH Uh, "Over the course of a year it's less work to leave the tyres on the rims" – paparazzo Dec 4 '15 at 10:55
  • Many people have winter bike and a summer bike. If your regular bike has fenders, eg, that will be a problem with heavily lugged tires, especially in snow. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 19 '18 at 13:49
  • @DanielRHicks since I asked this question things have moved on a little. I've updated it to reflect that this bike has to work all year (fixed child seat) but I have other bikes. – Chris H Feb 19 '18 at 14:03
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My advice is to run one winter and decide in the spring.

You would want your nicer wheel to be your summer. Use this is an opportunity to buy a nicer wheel-set.

With spacers you can typically get two to align.

If is a hybrid you probably have a mid width rim. Rims take a ranges of tire widths. I would stay with same width unless you are making a big jump in tires sizes.

As for chain change it when it is worn out.

For me once I have a wheel off the bike a tire change out is only a couple minutes.

Once you wear out the current rim you may decide you want another bike with more gears or disc brakes. I would defer.

I know you say space is tight but consider a second beater winter bike. Maybe even a single speed. Road salt is hard on a bike.

  • Some good thoughts there. I do indeed have a mid width rim -- winter tyres are 35mm which is also what the bike came with, summer I run marathon plus 28/32.The bike is all-alloy and a few years old, but it really suits me so I'm unlikely to upgrade unless I end up commuting more than about 20km each way and go for a tourer. – Chris H Nov 27 '15 at 8:50
  • Sorry it took so long to accept this answer. In the end the question became moot for the back wheel anyway - the rim died (spoke pulled through) a few days before I was going to put the winter tyre on. Having bought one nice shiny heavy-duty back wheel I'm not buying another. – Chris H Mar 14 '16 at 10:38
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I'm assuming you have rim brakes, since you are asking about wear and aligning brakes.

  • Winter riding will wear out everything faster. The rims are going to be wet and dirty for most of the time, and the same goes for transmission. It might be a good idea to use any old equipment you don't care about as winter parts. The exception is that better hubs have better sealing. 5000 km isn't that much for rims, by the way.

  • Unless the rims are exact same width (or the rotor is aligned exactly the same) you'll have to adjust brakes every time you switch wheels. Possibly the derailleur too.

  • New cassette on worn chain will be noisy, wear out the cassette fast and skip if the chain is worn badly enough.

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One of the advantages of having winter wheels is that you can spec wider rims for the winter season. Fatter tires should be able to give you more traction in snow and mud. You can then switch to thinner rims and tires in the spring.

Your winter wheelset could be on the cheapside since you're not particularly interested in superlight wheels. You can often find very cheap used wheelsets on craigslist from thieves who steal wheels people upgrading to lighter wheelsets (if you buy the used as a pair, you lower the risk of buying hot goods).

But yes, you'll have to realign your brakes if your rim width changes or if you switch wheel brand/makes. But that's a relatively simple job - as is adjusting your derailleur (which might again happen unless you use the same brand/make rear hub).

You might as well have a dedicated winter chain to go with your winter rear tire/cluster -- or just replace your chain every spring. This'll prevent the excess wear on your winter chain from affecting your summer cluster too much.

  • Realign brakes and adjust derailleur is less work than swapping out tires? – paparazzo Nov 26 '15 at 18:42
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    For some reason, all studded tires I have had have been hard to install. Super stiff and either very tight (Nokia) or very loose (Schwalbe). – ojs Nov 26 '15 at 19:00
  • @Frisbee - it depends. If it's just a minor adjustment, then it would take just a few minutes to adjust the brake spacing and tweak the derailleur limits. – RoboKaren Nov 26 '15 at 19:40
  • So you say to change both the rims and the tyres :) – Alexander Nov 27 '15 at 6:38
  • @ojs -- We'll find out in a few days. But brake and derailleur tweaks are occasional maintenance anyway. I'd probably go for as much the same as possible, though maybe step up a level (if a better 8-speed cassette is available). I hadn't really thought about rim width, but as I've bought the winter tyres and they're compatible with the rims I run in summer, thats not too bad. In the general case that does sound like a good idea, as does a spring chain-change. – Chris H Nov 27 '15 at 8:54
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Offering a compromise solution:

I had a spare front wheel with a studded tire when I was broke and biking all winter (on a cheap 26" rigid MTB)

I still haven't run full studs four winters in to bike commuting in the upper midwest.

  • It's a very good point; a back wheel slide is often recoverable and there's not normally much braking power at the back. You almost certainly commute in worse conditions than me, as well. But with a child on the back affecting handling I'm less inclined to risk the back end sliding, though all the few bends I take with her on the back can be taken very gently as a precaution. The extra weight over the back wheel (~20kg) means a bit more back braking than normal riding is both possible and useful. – Chris H Feb 19 '18 at 14:08

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