Studded tires for winter cycling

I’ve done a lot of winter cycling on icy roads on various tires, and I can’t emphasize enough what a difference studded tires make. Studded tires are the difference between dangerous and hesitant riding to confident cycling and maneuvering.

Epon in Chambana, Illinois posts video of himself with his Schwalbe Marathon studded winter tire in action. The video shows the capabilities of studded bicycle tires on glare ice and frozen ruts.



20 years ago, the only commercial option for winter cycling was expensive imports from Finland. Even today, Nokian tires like the Nokian Hakkapeliittaare favored by experienced winter cyclists, and these days are available for about the same price as similar tires from Continental and Schwalbe.

My only experience is on Nashbar studded tires, which are just re-badged studded tires from Kenda. They’re about 20% less expensive than Nokian, Conti and Schwalbe because they have fewer studs and use software steel. The softer steel wears down more quickly if you ride on a mix of clear pavement and ice conditions.

Fewer studs means a little less traction, but on mostly clear roads with patches of ice in shady areas, those low stud count tires work well. Higher stud count is helpful if you ride along frozen ruts. Think of the slush at an intersection that freezes overnight, and that’s what high stud count tires are made for.

Some studded tires have a very open tread, which are designed to bite into and shed snow. These tires are good for trail riding where you’ll encounter deep snow. For city riding where ice and slush is more typical, less aggressive tread might be better. If the roads and paths in your area are cleared and you only need to deal with the occasional icy patch, the least expensive tires with low stud count should be fine. Otherwise, the general purpose tires like Epon’s Schwalbe Marathon Winter are just about perfect.

Studded tires are available in “road” bike diameters as well as mountain bike 26″ sizes. The “700C” tires are very wide and will only fit on cyclocross bikes and 29″ mountain bikes. I think the narrowest I’ve ever seen is this Nokian Hakkapelitta 700×32, which is still too wide for a typical road bike.

13 Comments

  • December 15, 2010 - 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Have you seen this blog? The guy has 4″ studded tires.

    http://mnbicyclecommuter.blogspot.com/

  • December 15, 2010 - 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Have you seen this blog? The guy has 4″ studded tires.

    http://mnbicyclecommuter.blogspot.com/

  • Andy
    December 15, 2010 - 8:17 pm | Permalink

    I get asked all the time if I use studs. Since there’s so much salt on the roads here, they would actually get less traction though. They are great for icy conditions, but on pavement or snow they don’t help much.

  • December 15, 2010 - 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Would having studded tires help prevent flats? I have been riding my hybrid w/o studs, and all of a sudden this week, I get 2 flats, one on each wheel on different days.

    Are knobbed tires better for that? Thinking of getting a mtn bike for winter riding.

  • December 15, 2010 - 11:22 pm | Permalink

    Carolyn,

    Can you say what kind of tires and do you know the type of flats you’ve had?

    Bike tire flats are often ‘pinch’ flats, which happen when the tube is pinched between the road surface and the rim. This happens because the tire is underinflated. You can tell if you have a pinch flat by their very characteristic double puncture snakebite appearance.

    Wider mountain bike tires seem to be more resistant to pinch flats, and in my experience big knobbies means more rubber to help prevent punctures from broken glass and other sharp road debris.

    I absolutely *hate* flats in cold weather — especially in extreme cold. In addition to ensuring I have fully inflated tires, I use tire liners *and* “Slime” type sealant when riding in extreme cold.

  • December 15, 2010 - 11:38 pm | Permalink

    My first flat was a pinhole sized one, so something on the road for sure. ( I had taken that one to bike shop near where I work and they changed it for me)

    I just changed my most recent flat now, and nothing poking through tire and no snakebite appearance. I am thinking it’s another pinhole sized flat as the tube has a little air in it still. Maybe a sharp pebble or the like poked it, as the city uses fine gravel along with salt to make the roads safe for cars.

    I use Kenda Commuter tires that came with bike and they are still in good shape. They are not quite as inflated as in summer because of snow and ice on the ground. I heard it’s better to ride in winter like that. I was THAT close awhile back to buying good studded tires for it, but I am leaning towards buying a dedicated winter bike.

    I have not had a flat till now.. I biked 379 km this summer on a tour and not one flat! I was so lucky! :)

  • December 16, 2010 - 1:20 am | Permalink

    Dude, we must be totally on the same blogging wave length…..we posted about studded tires today as well. As always, you’ve got it all covered…..nice post.

    Darryl

  • December 16, 2010 - 4:04 am | Permalink

    … or they’re the difference between “Ack! I can’t ride at all!” and “okay, I’ll poke along” :) I’m thinking he might have been the one who rode by me when I was goin’ out to get the bus… in which case I don’t feel nearly as weenified. He’s a master with the right gear…

  • December 16, 2010 - 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Twenty years ago, I made my own studded tires (winter in Vermont means lots of time to do stuff like this) and then rode them down my frozen stream. It was great fun once you get your gear dialed in and aren’t freezing.

    Not much call for studded tires out here though! Maybe some pontoons instead (just kidding, I don’t ride muddy trails anymore, darn this conscience!).

  • December 17, 2010 - 8:01 pm | Permalink

    They absolutely do help on pavement and snow covered pavement. Traction goes away in an instant and studs are key.

  • Jamesmoore80
    December 19, 2010 - 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I bought a pair of Nokian Hakkapeliitta W240’s this week. I’m following the instructions of riding them easy on pavement for 30 miles to ensure all the studs are seated properly. Once I’ve done that I’m looking forward to more confident riding this winter. A big plus that I noticed: my 29er tires were too wide to fit on the bus racks, but these 700c * 40mm fit great

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