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With cars, and above a certain latitude, it's common to own one set of wheels (with fancy/light rims) for summer and another set (with ugly/heavy rims) for winter.

So far I stop cycling from mid-November to mid-March. I am now considering continuing to cycle through snow season. The 700-23mm tires are clearly not an option. I am also now rather partial to drop bars, and so I am contemplating buying a cyclocross bike rather than using my mountain bike over winter.

This begs the question. With a cyclocross bike I no longer have any need for my mountain bike. But why would I bother keeping a road bike if I have a cyclocross bike? They are both of similar weight (just under 10 kg) and as a bonus I'm aiming for 105 components, an improvement over the Sora on my road bike.

I could change the tires twice a year, but I could take a hint from cars and do better: Buy a new set of (lighter) rims plus 23 mm tires for the summer. The cyclocross rims seem to be heavy anyway, and so there is another justification for doing this. Switching from summer to winter would then be a (relative) breeze. It's understood that I would need a second cassette.

Why maintain two bikes for summer/winter rather than two complete sets of wheels (as with cars)?

As a (very) amateur bike mechanic this would have the added advantage of reducing my maintenance burden.

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  • 4
    Where are you located and how are the roads maintained in the winter? If you have salty slush to deal with that will be hard on components, and you might not want to subject a new bike to that.
    – DavidW
    Aug 19 at 3:25
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    Road oriented gravel bikes or "endurance" road bikes might be better for what you are looking for (if your goal is just to have a road bike with larger tyres). Cyclocross bikes are tuned to be raced on cyclocross tracks (with specs regulated by the UCI) where "long fast stretches" are more the exception than the rule. I don't also know what size you want to install for winter, but keep in mind there's a limit on tire width set by the UCI, so frames might have less clearance than on gravel bikes. They are also have a very narrow range for the gears, compared to a typical road or gravel bike.
    – Renaud
    Aug 19 at 5:55
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    If you want a car analogy, a more suitable one would be that you want both a sports car and a tractor, so you buy a SUV that sort of does the job of both
    – ojs
    Aug 19 at 9:18
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    begthequestion.info Aug 19 at 13:12
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    @Affe I started editing this question to add the details you mentioned, but then found that that discussion takes us too far out of the two-wheel-sets discussion. I asked separately.
    – Sam
    Aug 19 at 18:06
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Winter riding is hard on a bike - I have to do weekly maintenance when it's a period of wet riding. It's good to have N+1 options.

If you're serious about riding in the snow, then the snowbike would likely have mudguards/fenders, some lighting suitable for the darker/shorter days. You could go further and fit the snowbike with handgrip warmers and pogs/barmitts, and have additional waterproof loadspace.

Your "summer" bike would have none of that - some small Daytime Running Lights, no mudguards, it would be more svelt and fun to ride.

Winter riding exposes your bike to

  • Grit (spread on the road, or just appears)
  • Salt (if your area salts the roads)
  • More-frequent potholes (they breed in winter, due to the waterlogged ground)
  • Cold
  • Rain/water/ice/snow

All of those things degrade the bike a bit faster, which is why winter bikes tend to be heavier - a thicker rim will take longer to wear out from grit in the rim brake pads. Even disks aren't immune, though being higher they tend to stay cleaner.


If you can only afford winter tyres, that's a good start. You might choose studded tyres if your route gets ice (black, refreeze, or any other sort) If you only get snow, then wider softer MTB style tread without studs may be more suitable. Check with a good Local Bike Shop for locale-specific advice.

Winter rims might be better, but there's fiddling of brakes and gears when you change for the season, and who knows if next week will make you change back.

Two bikes is the most versatile, but the most expensive to acquire. However the maintenance is spread out twice as far per bike, presuming your riding distance is constant. This is a slippery slope though, with a shopping bike, folding bike, scooter, a spare road bike for training/trainer, a cool vintage bike, ... all in the future.

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  • 7
    Storage can be a problem. Depends how much the partner dislikes bikes in the bed room....
    – mattnz
    Aug 19 at 8:04
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    if partner interferes with n+1, then the correct number of partners is n-1 :)
    – Andy P
    Aug 19 at 9:03
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    According to 'The Rules' the number should also be s-1 where s is the number where the partner moves out.
    – Carel
    Aug 19 at 11:51
13

With cars, and above a certain latitude, it's common to own one set of wheels (with fancy/light rims) for summer and another set (with ugly/heavy rims) for winter.

Agree, at least in Finland we do that. However, my winter wheelset has neither ugly nor heavy rims. The rims are exactly the same alloy like the summer rims. The main difference is that there are studded tires on them.

So far I stop cycling from mid-November to mid-March. I am now considering continuing to cycle through snow season. The 700-23mm tires are clearly not an option. I am also now rather partial to drop bars, and so I am contemplating buying a cyclocross bike rather than using my mountain bike over winter.

This depends on what days do you plan to ride and how quickly the roads are plowed.

On non-plowed roads I'd say nothing except a fatbike is an option. Even a mountain bike with 60mm tires could get stuck. A cyclocross bike or gravel bike might have clearance for perhaps 40mm-45mm tires and they are way too narrow. Also on non-plowed roads you genuinely benefit from the additional control of a flat bar over that of a drop bar.

However, on plowed roads a cyclocross bike or a gravel bike with studded winter tires is the fastest option.

If you plan to ride every day, I'd say you should have both a fatbike (with studded fatbike tires) and a cyclocross/gravel bike. The fatbike for the worst days and the cyclocross/gravel bike for most days. If you have freedom to consider on what days you ride, then it's very easy money saving to just omit purchasing the fatbike.

This begs the question. With a cyclocross bike I no longer have any need for my mountain bike. But why would I bother keeping a road bike if I have a cyclocross bike? They are both of similar weight (just under 10 kg) and as a bonus I'm aiming for 105 components, an improvement over the Sora on my road bike.

You are thinking wisely. If you have no use for mountain bike, sell it.

If you have no use for road bike, sell it.

I could change the tires twice a year, but I could take a hint from cars and do better: Buy a new set of (lighter) rims plus 23 mm tires for the summer. The cyclocross rims seem to be heavy anyway, and so there is another justification for doing this. Switching from summer to winter would then be a (relative) breeze. It's understood that I would need a second cassette.

You need a second cassette and also second set of brake discs if you use disc brakes.

A recommendation for the winter wheelset: use studded tires, and if you have to ride on locations where they distribute sharp gravel to prevent pedestrians from falling on ice, put Tannus armor as well so the gravel doesn't puncture your studded tires.

Why maintain two bikes for summer/winter rather than two complete sets of wheels (as with cars)?

The main idea, I think, is that a summer bike may not be optimal for the worst winter days. So maintaining a summer bike for 95% of days and winter fatbike for 5% of days might make sense. But if the winter bike is anything other than a fatbike, it generally doesn't make sense since a cyclocross or gravel bike is the optimal bike for plowed winter roads, and a cyclocross or gravel bike is a very good bike in the summer as well.

As a (very) amateur bike mechanic this would have the added advantage of reducing my maintenance burden.

Not necessarily. The maintenance is caused by kilometers ridden, and on winter, they can also use salt to prevent water from freezing and forming ice on the roads. This subsequently causes salt water that rusts your components away. So the winter kilometers cause more maintenance burden and therefore it might be best to use a bike on the winter that you don't bother becoming rusty and dirty. However, if you consider bikes an item that should be ridden instead of something that should be maintained in showroom condition, then this isn't an issue for you.

1
  • I'm highlighting here maintenance is caused by kilometers ridden as a reminder to myself.
    – Sam
    Nov 17 at 19:29
6

I think it depends a lot on your local conditions. How cold does it get? How often/much does it snow? How well are your roads maintained? Do the authorities do a good job of clearing/gritting them?

Here on the east coast of Scotland, it doesn't snow too much, but it is a very wet climate, which combined with freezing temperatures overnight, icy roads are very common.

This in turn leads me to have two winter bikes.

My primary winter bike is a single speed mountain bike - if conditions are icy, I'll choose the MTB and avoid roads as much as possible. Dirt trails tend to be less prone to freezing, and when you do slip and fall, it's usually a softer landing than a road.

My second winter bike is a cheap cyclocross bike fitted with mudguards - I use it when I'm sure there won't be ice. Every ride it comes back covered in salty/gritty water and mud which causes the components to wear quickly, and ideally should be cleaned every ride. The reality however is that I don't want to be cleaning bikes by torchlight when I'm tired and cold, so this is where being cheap is important - I don't worry too much about wear and tear because the entire bike cost less than a high end groupset.

To summarise - I'd definitely recommend a dedicated winter bike unless you have unusually clean/dry winter conditions and/or have the time/dedication to clean your bike after every ride.

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It’s a good idea and I used to do exactly that when I was still a student and didn’t have the money or space for a second bike. After all, a cyclocross is pretty much just a road bike with more tyre clearance. Depending on the specific model this can also be true for gravel bikes.

I used 4 different sets of tyres throughout the year: Conti GP4000s 23mm tyres for the summer, Michelin Mud2 33mm for fall and spring, Nokian Hakka W106 35mm studded tyres for winter and Vittoria Randonneur Hyper 35mm for traveling.

I also changed between road bike pedals + shoes in the summer and MTB pedals + shoes in the winter.

For traveling I installed a rear rack and third bottle cage holder.

I later got a second wheelset but quickly found out that it’s actually not that simple to swap: Different rim width meant that I had to re-adjust the rim brakes, different rear hub and cassette meant I had to re-adjust the rear derailleur. So it was still a hassle to change from e.g. studded tyres+wheels to cyclocross tyres+wheels multiple times each winter, depending on weather conditions.

Today I have a nice carbon road bike in addition to the cyclocross and it makes life much easier.

Edit: What I would do differently today: Wider tyres and more gear range. The rims, brakes, fork and frame are pretty much limited to ≤35mm tyre width. For “soft” mountainbiking and traveling on rough surfaces a 42 or maybe even 47mm width would be nice. At some point I replaced the 50/34 compact crankset and 11–28 cassette it came with with a 46/33 and 11–34 cassette but a sub-compact crankset with 30t chainring would still be nice.

Edit2: As others have pointed out, it won’t really reduce maintenance because a single bike will simply wear down twice as fast compared to two bikes.

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    Current "low-end" cyclocross bikes are indeed close to road bikes, but "better" models have diverged somehow: they share more with gravel bikes than with road bikes (1x transmission, and often lower range and a bit faster). I have the impression that market has evolved, cyclocross became a niche for the people willing to participate to races and less expensive bikes are now labeled as gravel bikes. That being said, it's true that the differences are minor, but sometimes a detail can be penalizing (the most constraining being probably tire clearance and transmission).
    – Renaud
    Aug 19 at 14:43
  • Good points. Don’t get a bike with 1x transmission and don’t get a cyclocross which is limited to 33mm tyres. And if you ever plan on carrying luggage make sure the frame has eyelets for a rear rack.
    – Michael
    Aug 19 at 19:06
2

(I upvoted @juhist because I think that's the clearest thinking so far, but I have enough comments to add that I'm constructing this answer too)

Basically, my advice, based on decades of upper-Midwest winter rides, concurs with @juhist -- buy a fat bike if you want to ride deep unplowed snow, and a gravel bike otherwise.

More comments on desirable features below...

Tires

Consider not changing.

I ride 700x28 all winter without studs, same as summer. They penetrate through most snowfalls right down to the road in a way that mountain bike tires cannot.

I do not employ studs because they reduce traction on dry roads, especially in turns. I would rather fall at low speed on a snowy day than at high speed on a dry winter day.

Our roads are usually plowed and usually salted. Sometimes they are unplowed and I have found that I can make it through snow up to about 6 inches deep (I weigh 95 kilos / 205 pounds). If car traffic has tamped the snow down I have to avoid those ruts because the crud in them is not so forgiving as undisturbed snow.

Fenders

If you ride in early November and late March, you probably already know the importance of fenders. It's likely obvious to you that your winter bike must have the clearance to admit them.

Full fenders are nicest, as argued by the late, great Sheldon Brown.

Gears

Consider hub gearing or a single-speed setup. My maintenance efforts in winter dropped tenfold once my bike no longer had derailleurs. A chain that does not have to shift can be beefier, and more resistant to grit.

If you convert all the way to fixed-gear, you will appreciate the "extra brake" when the real brakes get wet and icy.

Brakes

Go with mechanical disk brakes or maybe rim brakes. My experience with hydraulic discs is that they are not rated for Midwest cold, and sometimes fail. Rim brakes can be surprisingly good, but you have to keep the pads in good shape, and "pre-squeeze" to squeegee water off the rims before you try to stop.

Pedals

If you step onto snow during your ride (like at a stoplight), your cleats are liable to jam up, so you may prefer flats.

I still ride MTB pedals and cleats, and just clear them when I have to. For cold riding with cleats, winter cycling shoes are much nicer than fiddling with shoe covers.

Visibility

You're riding in the dark a lot more, so good lighting and reflective gear is important. A lot of cyclists I know have been buying jackets from Showers Pass, but there are lots of other great choices too.

Rack

If you carry much of anything, using a rack and pannier will lower your center of gravity, improve handling, and be more comfortable. This is true in summer also, but arguably more important in winter.

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  • SRAM hydro brakes with DOT fluid should work better in the extreme cold than Shimano. Don’t cable brakes have problems with cables freezing in place then?
    – MaplePanda
    Aug 19 at 18:47
  • Welcome to the site - that's some great relevant experiences. Do you rinse the road salt from your bike at any time? Having seen rust-belt cars, I can't fathom why salt is still in use, but that's another question for another site.
    – Criggie
    Aug 19 at 20:29
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    @Criggie I never rinse the bike. The northern Midwest gets cold enough that it is imprudent to leave hose bibs connected to the water supply. It would also risk the cable freezing as mentioned by MaplePanda. As it stands, I only get a frozen cable once every 5 years or so.
    – Brian B
    Aug 20 at 17:02

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