Bicycling On Ice: My Studded Tires

Studded Tire and Snowman

It’s that time of year again: legions of bike commuters are gearing up for winter and considering whether to buy studded tires. Well, okay, maybe just five or six of you.

So should you get studded tires?

I asked myself that question for weeks last year. My dithering abruptly ended on the morning my bike slipped from under me and I landed on my butt.

Many winter cyclists in Chicago seem to go without studs, sticking to the major routes that are well-plowed, but I prefer side street and the Lakefront Trail, which are often icy. Also, I appreciate having one less worry for winter cycling. Freedom from paranoia is a good reason to get studded tires.

I bought Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires. I have nothing to compare them to, but I am completely satisfied. They make ice feel like normal dry pavement; the traction is superb. They are supposed to maintain traction even when turning sharply or braking suddenly, but I try to avoid those maneuvers. The only time I have to be careful is on rutted ice because then the studs don’t have a lot of surface to grab.

The Marathon Winters are not snow tires. Although they provide traction on packed and icy snow, they do not help when going through deep snow. If I’m ever confronted with more than three inches of snow, I walk Oma (she – as a city bike – doesn’t handle well in snow generally).

A major reservation I had about studded tires is that I often ride on regular pavement due to well-plowed roads and breaks in wintry weather. This has not been a problem. The studs are loud, like riding over glass or pebbles, but there is not much rolling resistance. The Schwalbe tires can be inflated to the max to reduce rolling resistance even more because there are no studs in the center.

A New, Clean Schwalbe Winter

This week Mr. Dottie put on my studded tires for the season, the same set I used last winter. They are still in great shape. Only a couple studs are missing and some are a bit rusted, but that does not affect performance. His set is not missing any studs. I have never gotten a flat (actually, not on any of my Schwalbe tires, knock on wood). The tires were an investment, but should last me a long time.

The best resource I found while researching studded tires last year was an article by Peter White Cycles. For lots of straight-forward information on many different brands, check it out. I purchased my tires locally from Dutch Bike Chicago. I’m sure there are many local bike shops and online sellers out there.

Last Night

Any thoughts on studded tires or questions – please share!

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83 thoughts on “Bicycling On Ice: My Studded Tires

  1. HowardBollixter says:

    Congrats on your conversion. Like the Monkees said, “I’m a believer!” Or the Beatles. Foghat. One of those boy bands, anyway. We get quite a bit of snow and ice here and last winter I bought Schwalbe Ice Spikers, and was car-free all winter. Fan…tastic! Timid at first but they are rock solid and fun. The only squishy bits are during the thaws, nothing grabs slush very well, but being quite knobby tires they work as well as anything. Now if I could just solve the cold hands problem…

  2. Brian says:

    What metric size are they? Azor’s usually come with 47-622 (28×1.75), I ordered a 42-622 and am waiting for it to arrive, but am a bit leery about ordering another because of the price.

  3. Ira says:

    You make a compelling case but I prefer a 28mm x700c slick to cut through the slush. The weight and resistance is just too much. I’d be in your camp if I rode the LFP. An out-of-shape rider like myself needs all the speed they can get!

  4. Giffen says:

    Those look great. Major sticker shock though. I know, I know, you’re supposed to compare all this stuff to the cost of a car. :p But, I could never in my wildest and most warped dreams afford a car.

    • dottie says:

      At the time I compared them to the cost of public transportation – one tire cost the same as a one-month bus/train pass (which is where I would be without them).

  5. Okay, I will just come out and say it: I am really really really apprehensive about riding on snow and ice, precisely because everyone who has done it has had a “wiping out” experience. I know it’s terribly sissy of me, but I don’t want to fall off my bike :(( I cannot imagine not cycling, so clearly I need to think of a plan. These studded tires will doubtlessly be part of it. Now please someone reassure me that it is possible to get through the winter without falling!

    • Giffen says:

      For me, it seems like falling in the winter is not like falling in the summer. In the summer, I go much faster and pay little attention, so if I fall it’s sudden, unexpected, and I have absolutely no time to react. If I’m going over snow, I go really slow and constantly work the handlebars to keep upright. In this mode, I am very alert and ready to hop off my bike when it slips. So, though it may not be very comforting, I think that “wiping out” in the winter is a lot less bad than what you imagine.

    • dottie says:

      It is possible to get through the winter without falling. I wiped out before I had studded tires. I have not had that problem since. Also, at the time I knew I was pushing it: on a stretch of bike path that was clearly covered with a sheet of ice. I was going about 8 mph, testing to see how much my tires could handle. I did not get hurt at all when I fell. I don’t know why I thought I could ride on ice at all – probably from all those people saying studded tires are unnecessary. My husband hasn’t fallen in the winter.

      Your feelings are not sissy at all, they’re natural instinct. No one in her right mind wants to fall. I am always apprehensive riding in snow and the past couple of days have been stressful for me, especially as I get back into the routine. I am not a winter handling expert at all. Although everyone around here rides in the slushy bike lanes and assures me it’s fine, I am scared to ride in slush and will ride in the road instead. I prefer to take side streets and the bike path, even though that means encountering more ice and snow, because I don’t want to worry about cars on top of everything else. I go really slow (even slower than usual!). I try not to ride in fresh precipitation. Okay, I’ll write up a post about this soon. :)

      • Thanks for the reassurance, Dottie : )
        Some cyclists I know are very casual about falling, whereas to me it seems like something I want to avoid at all costs. The closest I have come so far was when I attempted to ride through a patch of deep wet sand near a marsh. I imagine packed snow will have a similar feel.

        I see what you mean about “slow falling”. My speed will definitely decrease once the ground is covered with snow and ice. Looking forward to more winter posts; they really help to get used to the idea vicariously!

        • cycler says:

          knock on wood, I’ve gone through three winters now without falling (hope I don’t jinx myself).
          That said, I don’t bike if cars are sliding around.
          I change my riding style a bit- I am more aggressive about taking the lane, but on the other hand, I don’t scoot up to the front of a line of cars at a light. I can just imagine the frustration of a car having to pass me in inclement conditions, only to watch me cruise up to the front of the line and make them pass me again. Maybe it’s imagination, but I think that people are more polite when I don’t lane split in general.

    • Scott says:

      I have over 8k miles on my dutch bike including two winters, neither of which involved snow tires, without a single fall.

  6. E A says:

    I guess I’m one of the 5 or 6 considering the studded tires, and I’ve thoroughly read ever word of Peter White Cycles page about studded tires and all the Nokians and Schwalbe tires he sells. I think the place I could most use the studs are in my alley – which ices over every winter since it’s not plowed. Gr. Often icy ruts develop. I just walk. It adds another minute or two to my commute, but it keeps me from wiping out. I cut through just a couple side streets on my way/from the arterial road and usually they are filled with more snow and tire ruts. I continue to debate and studded tires to either the green machine or el toro. We’ll see….

    Just today Noah at bikecommuters.com posted about cold fingers. Like him, I favor mittens all the way! (with those chemical handwarmers on the coldest days)

    • dottie says:

      I walk my bike down my alley even with studded tires. Too many ruts and potholes. I’m all about the peace of mind studded tires provide, but your a much more skilled cyclist than I am. I need all the reassurance I can get :)

      I am so mad at my mittens. Even with the chemical handwarmers and two glove lines (not tight at all, plenty of room for air) my fingers were dying yesterday. Grump. Maybe my hands are abnormal.

      • E A says:

        I know that “grump” all too well. And I’m happy to help you try to help your fingers. My doctor even went so far as to just tell me that some women just suffer from poor circulation, especially to the extremities. Gr.

      • Scott says:

        In fairness, it was cold as hell yesterday.

      • Doug says:

        Wool and natural fibers all fine and dandy for insulating. But aren’t necessarily optimal for all conditions. I making the assumption your mittens are wool? Sorry if I’m wrong. I think a good synthetic windblocking material is needed for windy winter conditions with a wool or polypro liner, plus the chemical heaters. Something like a OR or Mountain Hardware mountaineering mitten with gobs of insulation and windblocking material.

        • dottie says:

          My mittens aren’t wool, they are Gore-Tex goose down mitts from REI. These ones. I’m now considering getting wool mittens because wool has never let me down.

          This may have to become a new post of its own :)

          • Doug says:

            From my experience Gore-Tex is not that wind-proof (in fact I don’t find it very waterproof as weel). The goose down is great, but I’d suggest finding a better windproof outer layer than Gore-tex.

      • Sarah says:

        Are your glove liners fingered or mitten style? I find that having all my fingers next to each other, e.g. directly in a mitten, makes a huge difference. I think if I put them in a thin fingered glove and then inside the down mittens they would be colder than just directly in the mittens. I base this partly on the fact that my thumbs (which are obviously separated from the rest of my hand) are always colder.

      • Dean Peddle says:

        A long time ago a friend gave me a pair of Ski Doo Gloves when skiing. I have used them for years riding in good Canadian winters and I have never ever had cold hands. Problem is they probably won’t fit in with your wonderful style.

      • Step-Through says:

        Oooh, there are also those cool hand grip covers they sell in Europe. I think they are meant for scooters but would be great on bicycles as well. They attach to the handlebars.

  7. caroline says:

    Londoner here – didn’t even realise that studded tyres existed! I just abandon the bike here in the rare instance it snows. (London generally shuts down when it snows, anyway.)

    • dottie says:

      Howdy. That’s the problem for a lot of cyclists – it does not snow often enough to justify studded tires. I would do the same in that circumstance, take public transportation on the worst days. That’s what I do anyway, except the worst days in Chicago have to be pretty bad :)

      • Karen says:

        We can count on snow in Flagstaff since we are at a high elevation but we can’t necessarily count on a lot of snow at one time. Right now we have a lot. Right now, I’d love some studded tires but must look at the cost since the cost of livning here is high and wages are generally low. Hopefully, I can swing it.

        With respect to gloves, I just purchased some NorthFace ski mitten. So far they have kept my fingers very warm but I have not yet biked in them so we’ll see. Hoping to test them out this week if the streets are free of ice.

  8. Zweiradler says:

    I have never felt the need for studded tyres, because I just walk my bike if I encounter frozen snow or black ice (it’s only a few days a year). Cycling on fresh snow however isn’t a problem, I have even fun doing it. :)
    But your thoughts on studded tyres are very helpful, thanks for sharing.

    Nico

  9. I checked out the Schwalbe website. They have a new Ice Spiker Pro tire out now in addition to the Marathon Winters. The Winters run around $65 a piece. The Ice Spikers run about $99 a piece. A little pricy, but they look awesome!

  10. Mr. BikeBike says:

    One option to deal with cold fingers is to get a pair of pogies for your bike. Pogies are covers that go over your handlebars and controls and you put your hand inside wearing, usually, lighterweight gloves. Here is an (heavy-duty)example – http://lobstergloves.com/expedition-pogies.php They are a great solution if you ride in really cold weather.

    One thing to keep in mind when riding in snow is that a skinnier tire performs better than a wide tire. The ultimate is a skinny tire with studs – they cut right through the snow and get down to the hardpack where the tread/studs can get to work.

    One other thing to consider is your tire pressure. When its really slippy, lower your tire pressure so more of the tire contacts the ground. This can make a huge difference.

    Finally, dont be afraid of winter cycling. It is a lot of fun, is great for your fitness, and you will stay quite warm. I was out the other day in -27c here in Calgary and was actually sweating at one point near home. One of my favorite parts of winter cycling is the funny/concerned looks you get from people/motorists – priceless!

    • nuliajuk says:

      If a skinnier tire is better than a wide one, wouldn’t you defeat the purpose by lowering the tire pressure to have more tire contact?
      Given that packed snow tends to be full of bumps and ruts, I’m thinking the more mountain-bikish the tire is, the better.

      • dukiebiddle says:

        I suppose it would depend on if your chief concern is snow or ice. The ice is a concern all winter, while the snow is a concern the morning after a snow.

    • dottie says:

      Pogies … cool! Looks like it might be a bit hard to signal, but maybe they’re easy to get out of.

      • Sarah says:

        I tried these once – signaling was fine. The problem was braking after I signaled! I couldn’t get my hand back in there soon enough to brake. So you could just not signal… I really enjoy communicating with my highly-reflective glo-gloves that I wear over my regular gloves. They’re really bright and effective – they may have saved me from getting run down by a truck one time. So signaling (keeping the cars away) is important enough to me that I prefer good gloves to pogies.

  11. alice says:

    This is interesting, as I live in a place that only gets about 4 days of snow and many be a handful of icey days I don’t use them myself. They look well worth it in a colder climate though! It is really dangerous slipping when cycling amongst traffic, I saw a guy slip up and get run into last year (he was ok but it was scary).

  12. alice says:

    Ps. As MrBikeBike says above lowering the tire pressure helps when it is slippy, I do do this on the few days when it is icey/snowy a year.

  13. somervillain says:

    dottie said “Freedom from paranoia is a good reason to get studded tires.”

    ah, this sounds like risk compensation to me. a healthy does of paranoia in adverse weather conditions is a *good* thing, in my opinion. that said, if one doesn’t get lulled into a false sense of security, then i think studded winter tires are a very good idea. i’m toying with this idea, as well– this will be my fourth winter commuting season in the boston area, and i’ve never had them. i’ve never had a fall, but that may be in part due to a heightened awareness of the physics surrounding me and my bike when i’m riding on streets whose surface i’m not entirely sure of. black ice is not a big risk when you are going straight, and the only force on your tires is perfectly vertical. where black ice is a risk is when you are braking and making turns– these are two situations where there is a lateral component to the force exerted between your tires and the ground (my geeky engineering background rearing its ugly head again). if i’m riding on wintry street, i’m going very slow and trying to maintain a “zen-like” forward movement with no abrupt turning or stopping. since this isn’t always avoidable in real life, studded tires can in fact be a good safety measure (but again, only if you don’t think that they will make you immune to ice).

    • dottie says:

      I agree that people should ride safely in adverse weather. For me, studded tires is a part of that. My paranoia is not healthy – it’s so extreme that if I did not have studded tires, I would never ride in snow.

  14. nuliajuk says:

    When I used to do a lot of cross-country skiing, I was one of those nuts that went out even at -30 C. What worked well for me, for the hands, was angora/wool blend gloves under boiled wool mittens. Angora is incredibly warm, and fully washable, Unfortunately for the guys, it’s usually only offered in women’s sizes.
    I was always told that if you keep your core (upper torso) warm, the hands and feet take care of themselves. That doesn’t work for everyone, but the theory is that your heart will draw blood from the extremities when your core temperature threatens to drop.
    I’ve been looking at those Shwalbe Marathons and debating whether to get a pair. I’m impressed that they have sipes – something used in the best winter tires for cars!

  15. miss sarah says:

    Ironically, people tell me that I don’t need studded tires. I DO have a vintage raleigh that I used as a beater bike. I’m thinking of just pimping it out for winter and leaving it that way all the time. I wish Don were as “jump to it” with fixing stuff on my bike as Mr. Dottie is! You lucky lady:)

    S*

  16. Doug says:

    With our climate in Northeastern Minnesota, studded tires are a must have. I’ve been using them for 5 years now and can’t imagine riding through the winter without them. If you buy good tires with carbide steel studs, they will last many years. Popular believe says you can’t ride on dry pavement with studs because you’ll wear them down. That is wrong! Carbide studs will go thousands of miles without showing any wear. Sure we have lots of ice and snow, but I’d say 90% of the winter riding I do is on dry streets between snowstorms. Dry streets with lots of ice patches here and there. My current pair of Nokians have nearly 2,500 miles on them and have many miles to go. I’d recomment Nokians, Schwalbes or Kenda’s if you’re thinking of getting studded tires. I’ve used both Nokian’s and Kenda Klondikes. My next pair of studded tires will be some Schwalbes because right now all my summer bikes have Schwalbes and I love ‘em.

  17. […] Last week’s Ballona Creek Gateway opening included an announcement of the planned Mar Vista Greenway. Lance commits to two more years. Traffic author Tom Vanderbilt suggests that cyclists should consider the Adopt a Highway model for bike lane maintenance. Cycling fashion dilemma: to wear a day-glo vest or not? Denver re-writes its bike laws to conform with the new state laws; Tucson Bike Lawyer notes that it’s now legal to ride to a bike rack on the sidewalk. The police can’t — or won’t — keep cars out of NYC bike lanes, but maybe a bunch of clowns will. New York’s DIY bike lanes have already been painted over; the alleged artists reportedly will plead not guilty. UPS is making some holiday deliveries by bike. Austin struggles to find consensus on the city’s first bike boulevard. A Utah cyclist is under arrest for groping another rider. London’s Evening Standard reports work has begun on “Mayor Boris Johnson’s bike hire scheme;” no bias there, huh? An Indian student is murdered by his friends after buying a new bike. Some friends. Finally, it’s 13 degrees in Chicago, and cyclists are still riding — even if that means riding on studded bike tires. […]

  18. i need to get my boyfriend some of these! he slipped off his bike on the ice the other day. do these make it slower to ride in general, though?

  19. Step-Through says:

    Two notes:
    – It only snows once a year or so in Atlanta, but I always ride in it. I just use my usual smooth-ish street tires and have not had an incident yet. Years of driving in snow up north probably helps.
    – nuliajuk is right – warmth in your extremities is produced in your core. Bundle up your head and torso (including groin area) and warm blood will magically flow to your hands and feet. Good circulation does help, obviously. Make sure you are well hydrated (affects blood flow rate) before going outdoors. Also, you can improve blood flow to hands and feet with certain yoga poses.

  20. Scott says:

    “[T]here is not much rolling resistance. The Schwalbe tires can be inflated to the max to reduce rolling resistance”

    What psi do you use? It says max 70psi on the website which is quite a bit lower than the schwalbe marathons. I’m not too enthusiastic about riding around on what feel like underinflated tires all winter.

    • Dean Peddle says:

      I’m also interested in what PSI you find the best. I’ve purchased a set of Marathon Winters this year but have not tried them out yet.

      • dottie says:

        Ha, I have no idea. I rarely ever mess around with my tires on Oma, including putting air in them. Usually I’m riding around at or below the minimum until Greg puts air in them for me and then I complain that the ride is too harsh. So, I can’t help you there, other than to say that my tires never feel underinflated to me.

        • Scott says:

          Yeah, I let my tire pressure get down way too low all the time. If you’re not racing around everywhere, it isn’t so obvious until you get really flat.

  21. Tad Salyards says:

    I’ve also had good luck with my Nokian (Finnish) studded tires. They’re a must for winter riding. After making the switch I shudder to think of the risks I was taking before studs.

  22. donna says:

    Some people actually ride on ice for fun. Check this out

  23. Ann says:

    You have the option of making your own studded tires, too. I did that this year. There are 2 popular methods. The first uses 1/2″ sheet metal screws installed from the inside with the sharp point outwards (use around the edge of the tire, not the center, to reduce rolling resistance–you’ll also need to use a liner between the tire and the tube). The other method is the one I used and it involves putting 3/8″ hex-headed sheet metal screws into outside knobbies at an angle so you don’t puncture the tire. Fully inflated, there’s no rolling resistance with my home-made studded tires. However, once the studs are needed, I can reduce the PSI so that the studs grip.

  24. sara says:

    Truthfully, I am less worried about me falling than me falling while commuting by bike with my kids and having THEM fall. We have no grand plan about commuting by cargo bike this winter. I am very open to riding with them in cold temps. I will likely not ride with them in the ice/snow.

  25. xander says:

    thanks for sharing this.. i’m going to get a separate pair of rims and studded tires soon.. but its still only 2 degrees here in Toronto!

  26. David says:

    I’m up here in Madison, WI. We got 18 inches of snow last week when you folks only got rain. Then we have been in single digit temps. I’ve been riding to work with my innova studded tires. They were $40 for both on Craigslist. But they are steel only, and are wearing away fast on clear pavement. I think I might buy at least one Nokian this weekend.

  27. […] I think there was only one day when we called customers to postpone our pick ups. Most of us have studded snow tires on our bikes as well as all kinds of crazy clothing to deal with different situations. For me the hardest part […]

  28. […] Bicycling on my Ice Studded Tires […]

  29. I didn’t know they made studded tires for bicycles.

  30. Brian says:

    I’ve had my Schwalbe Winter tyres on my Azor for about a month now and I can’t say enough good things about them. I live in northern Michigan so we have a lot of ice and snow, and these tyres are truly confidence inspiring. I can now just cruise over icy patches without a thought of my bike sliding out from under me, they are expensive but probaby a lot cheaper in the long run than a broken hip, arm, or noggin. If you must ride in the winter I’d suggest you get a set of these.

  31. John I says:

    I bought Schwalbe Marathin Winter tires
    for my wifes bike and she loves them.

    I turns a nervous ride into a fun ride.

    By the way, great website!

    John I
    York, UK

  32. Gary Daniels says:

    Having given up my car in exchange for a bike in 1970 because of my concern for the environment, my years of experience and cycling in all kinds of weather has been quite a memorable experience. After 40 years of cycling I decided this year to give studded snow tires for my mountain bike a try. I did a lot of research and checked out what tires were available, since the City of Colorado Springs doesn’t plow any residential streets unless there is over 6″ of snow. I avoided narrow tires because whenever your in deep snow the tires sink down into the snow making it difficult to steer. The tire that I decided upon was the Nokian 296 studded tire from Finland. Each tire has 296 knobbies and studs. They run a little slow on dry payment, which is why I head for the ice and snow whenever possible. When the roads are completely dry I ride my tandum. For ice and deep snow Nokian 296 is the way to go

  33. Phelps says:

    I’ve been active in ice sports all my life. Hockey, speedskating, iceboarding (windsurf rig on a spec. designed board), Nordic skating, and now, icebiking. It’s completely different from road or singletrack, a feast of textures. One tends to ride at a leisurely pace, not wanting to overheat, because one is dressed for the cold. Lake Champlain has always been the best place for icesports, and is a great place for icetouring on a bike. The Marathon Winter seems to be the best for this application. You get about ten degrees (from vertical) of grip and a couple more of recoverable slide, but it encourages finely tuned cycling skills. It’s good to get comfortable with the limits of traction, so that one can relax and not be locked up in fear. Where else on earth can one ride with his eyes closed?

  34. […] in the snowy, icy winters, those of us in the south should have no issues   Check out these posts about winter cycling  from Dottie at Let’s Go Ride a Bike.  She makes it sound so […]

  35. Bobby says:

    I bike to work all winter, too. I’m in the ‘burbs north of Detroit. I made my own studded tires. I got some #8 sheet metal screws and some old mtn bike tires. Then I drilled pilot holes though the knobs. Then I screwed the screws in, from the inside to the outside, so the points stuck out of the knobs(like Mad Max) and the heads are inside the tire. It looks totally bad-ass. Then I put good duct tape over the screw heads so the screw heads wouldn’t bother my tube. I put more screws on the rear tire than the front. I also put a few more to the center of the tread on the rear tire. My out-of-pocket cost was only $5 or so, since I already had the spare tires, the drill, and the duct tape.

  36. […] from Lets Go Ride A Bike put studded snow tires on her Dutch bike and wrote about it last winter on her blog.  Another Chicago couple I know that ride Dutch Omafiets are also fans of studded snow tires and […]

  37. […] studded tires on wet ice letsgorideabike.com […]

  38. […] My Schwalbe Marathon Winter review from 2009 […]

  39. Tinker says:

    You need a Surly Pugsley with room for a 4″ tire, and interchangeable wheels, front to rear, rear to front. I think they use these to run the Iditarod course after the sleds/dogs finish each year. (I don’t know about you but I have no ambition to take a header on Yellow Snow.) One wheel fixed, and the other a Single speed? Or maybe you take the rim and build it up as a 3 speed or 9 speed, and if it doesn’t get you up that hill, swap it for the front. (Technology is fascinating, isn’t it?)

    With one of those babies you don’t need studded tires, but its still nice to have ‘em.

    Continental makes good studded tires, too, though I prefer Schwalbe Marathon Plus or Extreme, at least Big Apple Liteskins.

  40. Pam says:

    Try ski gloves for the cold hands. I have down filled ones that keep my hands toasty. Get fully adjustable ones. Mine have velcro at the wrists to get them on and off easily and a cinch strap I can pull to keep the wind out. They are warm and have a leather palm to help me grip the shifter.

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