Road Cycling Wheels For Winter Riding
Can you use your carbon road bike wheels during the winter? Should you use training wheels for the offseason? Which wheels are best for winter riding?
These are all great questions, the answers to which depend on factors that include your weather during winter, snow control methods (if you get snow), temperature range, your brake type, etc.
Let’s look into each factor.
Our Thoughts On Race Wheels & Training Wheels
I think it’s important to say that as a brand, we promote using your FLO Wheels all the time, unless there is a specific reason not to.
The term “race wheels” came about when carbon wheels were first being made and could not withstand wear and tear, so the wheels were only used for racing. Additionally, they were often expensive tubulars, and gluing them on is time consuming and difficult.
Today, FLO Wheels are built specifically to be used every day. We recommend that you train and race on your wheels for a couple reasons:
- Familiarity. You want to be as familiar with your wheels on race day as possible. Each wheel you ride handles differently. The more you ride a wheel, the more comfortable you get with it. When you’re racing, the last thing you want to be thinking about is your wheels. You want them to feel like an extension of your body. The best way to do that is to ride them all the time.
- Cost Per Use. You want to get your money’s worth. Racing is, on average, 2% of your riding time, so if you are going to buy a nice set of wheels, you might as well ride them for training, too!
Defining Winter For Road Cyclists
Let’s define winter as meeting one of the following criteria:
- The area gets snow.
- The area is very wet, and sand is used to manage winter conditions (snow/ice) on the roads, like the Pacific Northwest.
Disc Brakes Vs. Rim Brakes For Winter Cycling
There are two main brake types for wheels: rim brakes and disc brakes. When you use a disc brake wheel, there is very little reason to worry about winter riding. Rim brake wheels are a different story. The main issue with rim brake wheels during the winter is excess friction between the brake tracks and the rim surface. Let’s discuss this further.
How Snow Control Methods Affect Cycling Wheels
There are two main methods for snow control: salt and sand.
Salt: When salt is used, it dissolves into the snow and produces little to no friction when the salt water gets on the rim surface. However, undissolved salt can be problematic if it gets on the rim surface and brake pads because the salt will act as an abrasive agent and cause wear.
Sand: When sand is used for snow control, it mixes with the snow and provides grip for tires. When a carbon wheel rides over wet, sandy roads, the sand sticks to the rim surface and the brakes. When the brakes are applied, the sand acts as sand paper and wears the rim surface quickly, potentially damaging the structure of the wheel.
Temperature range isn’t a huge issue for a carbon wheel. For more on the make up of a carbon wheel, check out this article. Keep in mind, when the temperatures are expected to drop below freezing, the roads will be salted or sanded. Tire pressure and temperature is a different story—more about that below.
Which Road Tires Are Best For Winter Riding?
Tire selection during the winter depends on the road surface conditions. If you are riding in an area with little to no snow, you can continue to use your normal tires. Our favorite is the Continental GP 5000.
If you ride in a snowy area and snow control measures are used, consider a tire that has more grip. Rougher surface conditions due to debris will also wear tires faster. This article by our friends over at Cycling News lists a number of good options: https://www.cyclingnews.com/features/winter-road-bike-tyres/
Tire Pressure For Winter Cycling
Tire pressure is affected by temperature. If you air up your tires inside your home or garage that is warmer, say 72-78 degrees (Fahrenheit) and then go ride in 10 degree weather, your tire pressure will change. We wrote about tire-pressure change in temperature here.
Our recommendation is to take your bike outside before your ride. If you let it sit for 20 minutes and then air it up, your tire pressure will stay much more consistent. As you ride, your tires will naturally warm up due to rolling resistance, but it will not change your pressure enough to matter.
Maintenance During The Winter
Winter is the most important time of year for maintaining your wheels. When there is sand or salt on the road, you introduce abrasive agents that can prematurely wear your wheels. Between rides, we recommend the following maintenance for rim brake and disc brake wheels:
Wipe the brake track clean and clean all debris from the brake pads. Water on a wet shop rag works wonders.
Wipe the rotors clean and clean all debris from the calipers and brake shoes. A hose can be a good option to get the debris from the caliper and rotor area. A shop rag with water works wonders on the rotor.
The Best Road Wheels For Cyclists During The Winter
Based on all of the information provided above, here is what we recommend:
- Disc brake wheels are great—and recommended—for winter riding. Make sure to clean them regularly, and select a tire that will fit your environment.
- If you have a rim brake bike, start with assessing your environment.
- If you ride in an area with no snow, and salt or sand are not used, then your normal set-up is fine.
- If you are in an area where it snows, it’s wet, and salt or sand are used, we suggest riding a different set of wheels to use for the bad days. An aluminum-rimmed wheel can be great for this since aluminum will wear in a friendlier way (as well as being friendlier on the wallet). You may also want to consider a disc brake bike. While the upfront cost may be higher, over the long run it can end up saving you money since you are not prematurely wearing wheels out.
FLO 77 AS (Condition Depending)
Special Note About Cycling In The Pacific Northwest
When it comes to wheel wear, the Pacific Northwest provides an environment unlike any other I’ve ever experienced. This area has long, wet seasons, and in most places sand is used for snow control. This creates the perfect conditions for essentially creating sand paper for rim brake wheels. The worst wheel wear I see comes from this region. Below are a few pictures of extreme wear on an aluminum wheel, and on a carbon wheel. In some cases, this can cause a wheel to fail. Make sure you check your wheels on a regular basis. It can be easy to forget that rim brake wheels will eventually wear out. While brake pads take the majority of the wear, the brake tracks do wear over time.
Properly preparing for winter is really dependent upon where you live. Heeding the advice of this post can save a set of wheels if you ride in a wintery wonderland.
If you are considering getting a new bike or wheels for winter, our Trade-In Program may be a good fit for you. Trade in your old bike or wheels and received a gift card toward your FLO purchase + 20% off.
Here are the questions we often receive from road bike cyclists, especially those living in harsher winter climates.
While many seek the shelter of Zwift, RGT, TrainerRoad, and other indoor cycling platforms in the colder months, there is always a group of riders who simply love riding outside no matter how frigid the thermometer.
Other Winter Road Bike Wheel FAQs
Can I use my carbon wheels during the winter?
Yes you can. Carbon wheels are often great for winter riding but there are things you must take into consideration when riding outdoors during the winter months.
Riding during the winter months can often leads to wet conditions or winter roads. Salt and/or sand are spread on road surfaces to melt ice or to create better grip. In areas like the Pacific Northwest, this leads to dirty roads that deposit sand on the RIM SURFACE and brake pads of a rim brake wheel. When the brakes are applied, the sand acts like a sand paper on the brake track. This is why many riders have winter wheels. The affect is the same for carbon or alloy wheels. If you find yourself in an area like the Pacific Northwest, it’s one of the only reasons we recommend alloy winter wheels to preserve the brake tracks on your carbon rims. If you do not have a specific winter wheels set, then you may need new wheels more often if you have rim brakes.
Are disc brakes or rim brakes better for winter cycling?
Disc brakes are the best choice for winter cycling. Disc brakes do not make contact with the rim surface and therefore prevents the rim surface from being worn down by winter grit between the brake pads and brake track.
Can you put winter tires on a road bike?
Yes. Any tire that will fit your frame can be placed on road bike or gravel bike wheels. Your only limiting factor will be a tire that is too narrow for the rim.
What special maintenance do I need to do on my wheels in winter?
Most maintenance is the same year round when taking care of wheels. Making sure to keep your wheels and brakes clean is the most important.
Winter conditions often create a dirty bike quickly. Dirt can build up quickly on deep section rims and can affect the aero performance. Dirt and excess debris alter the rim shape and rim depth leading to altered aerodynamics. For the weight weenies out there it also makes the whole bike heavier. If dirt build up is excessive on the wheel and brake pads, braking power can be affected.
Our hub bearings are sealed cartridge bearings. This means as long as the hub has a good seal you will not need to service the bearings until they are worn out. You can tell your bearings need to be replaced when they stop spinning smoothly. A good hub seal ensures that the debris does not enter the hub.
Another area where dirt can enter the wheel is the freehub. Where the freehub body makes contact with the hub, there is a seal. Make sure the freehub is securely in place to keep out debris.
If you have a wheel that has fairing, spoke holes will be cut into the rim profile. This allows the spokes to pass through where they connect to the rim. This is common for a carbon + alloy wheelset. With this type of wheel design be careful not to swamp the wheel in deep puddles. This can lead to a rim full of water that needs to be drained by removing the tire and rim strip.
How much will winter tires reduce performance?
This will depend on the aerodynamics and rolling resistance (Crr) of the tire. Most winter tires have a more aggressive tread and will have a protection layer in the tire layup for puncture resistance. The extra tread hurts aerodynamic performance and the protection layer increases Crr.
Road riding in the winter can create rough roads. Since a road bike tire uses a high pressure tire they create a small contact patch with the road surface. In order to create more grip during the winter, tread patterns are often more aggressive on winter tires. If you have a moderate winter you can often use wider tire of the same model you use for summer riding. To increase ride comfort and grip on the rough terrain, you can use lower pressures in your tires. Good wheels will be optimized for lowering Crr by having a wider internal width. The wider internal rim width creates a wide external width which will be more aerodynamically efficient with wider tires. A narrow rim will not be aerodynamically efficient with wider tires like a wide rims. Even deep section wheels will have this issue if the tire is oversized for the rim. While most riders think wheel aerodynamics are related to how deep a rim is, it’s a combination of width and depth that make a fast wheel. This is one of the reasons we offer many rim depths in the FLO wheel line up.
When using low pressure for grip during the winter, make sure not to set the tire pressure too low to prevent pinch flats. Our wheel pages all have tire pressure recommendation charts.
You may find studded tires when searching for tires. However, the best winter bike tires for competitive road bikes and gravel bikes will not have studs. These tires are often too wide and may damage your frame if they make contact with the fork or rear triangle. Use caution if you are considering studded tires.
Some riders will use a smaller tire on the front wheel vs the rear wheel. In our opinion using the same tire size on the front wheel and rear wheel is ideal. Once you have the right wheels and have an aero tire with great Crr, using it on both wheels is ideal.
What type of road bike wheels are best for winter?
The best road bike wheels and the best gravel bike wheels for winter are disc brake wheels.
Disc brake wheels are best wheels for winter since braking does not damage the rim. If you are considering a disc brake bike for winter, there are two disc brake options. The first is Centerlock and the second is 6-Bolt. While you can still find both, Centerlock is becoming the standard. Additionally, there are two hub spacing and mounting options. Originally road bikes with disc brakes used quick release skewers with 100mm spacing for the front wheel and 135mm spacing for the rear wheel. Newer bikes are using thru-axles with 100mm spacing for the front wheel and 142mm spacing for the rear wheel.
Should I run tubeless or tubed wheels in winter?
Both options are great for winter. While we are huge tubeless fans at FLO, an inner tube will work.
The FLO All Sport and Gravel wheels have rims specifically designed to make our wheels tubeless ready/tubeless compatible. Tubeless compatibility was a major design consideration for these wheels to ensure tubeless setup is easy. Our new wheels now ship with tubeless valves and rim tape. Both are quality components that should make going tubeless easy.
If you plan to use tubeless tires with FLO Wheels here are a few pointers.
- A floor pump is recommended for rim safety reasons. If the tubeless tape is installed incorrectly, and a compressor is used, it’s possible to explode a rim. The high volume of air that enters the tire passes the tape and enters the rims cavity. This large volume of air explodes the rim. Many people will set the air pressure on the compressor thinking this will keep the rim safe. However, its the volume not the pressure that causes the issue. Alloy rims do not have this issue so be careful when working with a carbon wheel.
- Tubeless tyre installation can be challenging. Tubeless tyres are tighter than tubed tires which leaves people feeling like tire installation is impossible. The wider rims and wider tyres can leave you snapping leavers. If you have
Will my tubeless sealant freeze and be ineffective?
Unless you are in extremely cold temperatures your tubeless sealant should not freeze. Most tubeless sealants are rated to -20 degrees F (-28 degrees C).
The compound used is formulated for low temperatures. While the viscosity may change, sealants should still perform in winter conditions.