In Defense of Studded Tires

I must say a few words about a post on Copenhagenize that ruffled my feathers. I’m a huge fan of Copenhaganize, but the internet is all about criticizing people for every little imperfection, so I’m taking issue with one small part of one post in the Copenhaganize archive. The post is called “Cycling in Winter in Copenhagen” and starts out nice enough until this part:

“And no bicycle studs were harmed in the making of this blogpost. I never see them here and wouldn’t possibly know where to buy them.

When you have as much urban cycling experience as the people of Copenhagen or a city like Amsterdam, you are pretty much trained to cycle in any weather. I’ll just let my fellow citizens do the talking…”

He then shows numerous photos of Copenhageners riding along in the snow, a beautiful and inspirational sight. However, look closely and you will notice that every picture shows the bicyclists physically separated from motor vehicle traffic.

Photo (c) Mikael Colville-Andersen

May I submit that the use of studded tires by people like, ahem, me has a lot to do with the high risk of serious injury that comes with a slip? As in, if I were to slip on ice during my work commute, it is more likely than not that a car, truck or SUV would immediately run me over.

I am not a fearmonger, but hundreds of huge, speeding vehicles pass me within a couple of feet every day.  I have a good idea of what would happen if I were to fall beside one of them. A lot of my cycling friends in Chicago feel okay riding without studs, but I prefer the peace of mind that comes with them, along with the ability to ride on any day and any route, regardless of the weather or the city’s thoroughness in plowing.

My bicycle route: unprotected bike lane full of ice, directly next to heavy car and truck traffic

A calm part of my bicycle route, where unfortunately SUVs love to squeeze by me

Moreover, cycling experience does not prevent one from slipping on ice. I have lifelong experience walking, but I still slip and slide on icy sidewalks. Ice is slippery.  Mikael himself has acknowledged “some slip-sliding moments and fishtailing” while riding his cargo bike in the snow.  Sure, I don’t mind slip-sliding or even falling when I’m on the lakefront bike path, but a cavalier attitude about such is not advisable when sharing the lanes with cars.

I’m certainly not telling everyone to buy studded tires or advocating for laws requiring their use or creating stickers announcing “you’d look studlier in studded tires.”  But in defense of those who use studded tires, I’m pretty sure such use is not based on lack of urban cycling skills or the general inferiority of goofy non-Danes.

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89 thoughts on “In Defense of Studded Tires

  1. Well said Dottie. It can be argued that with good infrastructure, calmed traffic and good snow removal, there’s no need for studded tyres. But for many people studded tyres give you more route options and maneuverability. It’s pretty cool to be able to go right over ruts and frozen snow drifts.

    For the time being, I’ve decided to forgo studs. For me, they’re only useful a few weeks a year and only in a few places. I’m ok with just slowing down.

    However. In the future I might decide I need to look (even) studlier. I find the buzzing sound entertaining too. :)

  2. George says:

    Nice, I wondered about the remarks about studded tires when I read them today. Riding in snow is something I don’t care to experience. Living in Clovis, California makes it unlikely that I ever will.

    I am often puzzled by the divisions between cyclists that I read about in the world of blogs.

    • T T Beauregard says:

      George, you said a mouthful. Besides cycling I have many other interests and participate in their various communities, but none is as fractured and vitriolic as the cycling community. In the eyes of one’s fellow cyclists it’s not enough merely to be a cyclist – you must ride in the right way or for the right reason. It’s almost as if one is worse for cycling without deference to a particular agenda or ideology than if one didn’t cycle at all.

  3. Josh King says:

    Good post – and you’d be even safer in that quiet stretch of your commute by taking the lane and not giving the SUVs a chance to try and squeeze by. I have a similar stretch and there are too many things – pets, doors, children – flying into the road to risk being squeezed into the door zone.

    • Dottie says:

      You make a good general point that I agree with about cyclists staying out of the door zone. As I’ve discussed many times before, I ride outside the door zone.

      Nevertheless, on the road pictured above, there is still room for a driver to squeeze by me without giving the legally required 3 feet distance. Cars will drive up on piles of snow on their left side to do this. For many reasons based on my personal experience riding in Chicago, I choose not to deliberately take up the whole lane to prevent cars from squeezing by me, although an argument could be made that doing such would be safer – but I do not ride in the door zone.

      • philippe says:

        It has also a lot to do with tbe fact that Copenhagen bike lanes are snow plowed asap by dedicated crews. Ridind in fresh snow is not a problem. Riding on iced and rutted old snow is just unreasonable, and there’s no training for that, even for those awesome danish super bikers. That’s simple physics : Ice is slippery. You can’t corner or brake on it.
        I also suspect that Chicago got a lot more snow in a typical winter than Copenhagen (but I may be wrong), and that you could teach him a lessons or two…
        late november and december has been pretty unusual in all Europe, with record snowfalls of heavy and wet snow. Usualy our winter are dryers than yours.
        MCA loves a little chest thumping from time to time. Ans he has a few irrational dislikes, like Pedelecs.

        • Exactly. Studded tyres are pretty much unnecessary in Copenhagen due to infrastructure and snow removal, and I’m sure this is the point Mikael is making. Details like this reveal just how car-centric most of the western world is. It’s not just a matter chest-thumping, it’s also a good reminder that political priorities really do affect people’s day-to-day lives.

  4. Melanie says:

    I grew up driving on mountain roads in mountain snow. My driver’s test took place in the middle of December on small town roads that were often reduced to one lane due to ever mounting snowbanks on each side. I KNOW how to drive in the snow… but I still feel a whole lot better driving a vehicle with snow tires on. (I would also feel a whole lot safer if others had on their snow tires so that I know that they won’t be skidding or sliding into me either).
    *I know… I used the d-word on a cycle blog (I’m sorry) but it’s the same idea. Experience does not necessarily equal safety.

  5. Stephan says:

    Beyond all the posturing about, whose city has the best cycling infrastructure or the most adept cyclists or the worst winter, I know that nothing brought me more confidence, joy and ease than having a set of studded tires on my Bakfiets during the Chicago winter. I sometimes would make a point to venture out late at nigh during the peak of a snow storm, because I could go anywhere and it was really fun to bomb around through the snow. Even though only a small percentage of riding conditions ever really required studs (ice on un-plowed/un-salted streets or the waterfront trail), I came to love them. I rode my bike every day, yes, every day all winter long, regardless the conditions.

  6. Brent says:

    I enjoy copenhagenize.com, and appreciate its distinctive voice, but I sometimes sense smugness, or at the very least, incomprehension of the practical and political rigors of cycling elsewhere. I don’t know exactly what to attribute that to, for its author travels widely, and has lived abroad, so he should have some sense of them.

    For what it’s worth, the Danish cycling reputation was a bit tarnished in my eyes this past summer, when about thirty kilometers south of Copenhagen the path ended and I was forced onto a busy road, U.S.-style. It was only in northern Germany, that relatively unheralded countryside, where I found better paths, nearly everywhere I went, even on the remotest of roads, and great signage. Of course, nothing compares to the Netherlands when it comes to cycling. Nothing at all.

  7. Cecily says:

    Colville-Andersen takes some pretty pictures, and he’s done a lot to increase awareness of transportational cycling, but really, so have you. Plus, he’s a bit of a prat. Yes, cycling infrastructure is fantastic and perfect in Copenhagen, but those of us in North America have a long, long way to go, and he doesn’t seem to want to get that.

    • Yes, and he doesn’t seem to want to get that our far more dangerous conditions make helmet wearing a good idea. Try disagreeing with C-A and you’ll see a very rigid personality emerge.

  8. Nicolas says:

    Studded tires should be a matter if personal choice, trading increased safety on snow for a bit more weight and cost. Jus like helmets, whatever works for you as Long as you don’t tell me how i should ride. Actually i even respect studded tire use more, as it signals an understanding that active safety features are more important than passive ones.
    Tip for snowed-in cyclists who don’t want to bither with studded tires: zip ties. Look it up!

  9. LC says:

    I agree with you Dottie (and all the other comments). I enjoy reading both Copenhagenize and CopenhagenCycleChic, but the subtle (sometime obvious) smugness of the tone of the articles does put me off. I have been to Copenhagen in the winter, with snow, and it’s a sight to be seen. The bicycle lanes are snow-plowed even before the roads are. Cycling is en-mass, meaning that the shear number of cyclists on the road, segregated cycle lanes and years of this kind of infrastructure means that cars respect cyclists. Cycling in Copenhagen with snow felt safer than cycling in Manchester, UK, in summer!

    When I read their articles, as much as I do find the images and aspirations of that kind of transport cycling well, inspirational, I tire of the indirect message that Danes are brilliant at it and everyone else (minus the Dutch) are neanderthal men (and women)… when we will have that kind of infrastructure (and we are working on it!) and we won’t be forced to ride on ice, over potholes etc then perhaps we will be as chilled and relaxed about cycling in snow as the Danes :)

  10. Kim says:

    In places where snow clearance on roads is less that reliable, riding a bicycle with studded tyres can be a more reliable way of getting around than driving a 4X4, as as this post from Carlton Reid shows… ;-)

  11. Mikael says:

    Well, you can please some of the people some of the time but not all of them all of the time. Great with criticism, although I roll my eyes in the general direction of the name-calling in the comments.

    The point I made was one I’ve made before; when you have spent almost every day of your life on a bicycle since you were a child, you gain a certain level of experience.

    Indeed, safe, separated infrastructure is a key factor in any bicycle culture. Copenhagenize and Cycle Chic both aspire to encourage people in emerging bicycle cultures to lobby the powers that be for the implementation (or often RE-implementation) of such infrastructure. As opposed to the fatalistic “can’t do shit about it” attitude I often experience.

    Interestingly, studded tires are a new trend this winter. They’re ‘all the rage’ on the blogosphere this year whereas they have hardly been mentioned previously.

    This focus on Copenhagen and Amsterdam is unfair. There are now dozens and dozens of cities experiencing high levels of bicycle traffic in Europe, with Citizen Cyclists taken to the snow-covered streets, in lieu of bicycle infrastructure. Perhaps a broader perspective is in order instead of directing criticism at one chap in one city.

    • Mikael – Yes, but you are not just “a” blogger; you are considered by many to be an authority on “cycling culture”. The “cycle chic” blogs are now a trademarked franchise under your guidance, and you offer consulting services to governments. Functioning at that level is bound to open everything you say to scrutiny.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      You had me until the last sentence. I don’t really see the root of the umbrage, though. I thought you were just describing how people in a place with proper infrastructure cope. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t consider using studs if I winter rode in the street in a place like Moscow or Chicago. I would, and strongly so.

    • Dottie says:

      Thanks for providing your perspective, Mikael, and being a good sport. I don’t like to parse words too much when it comes to blogs, as a great benefit is the ability to write quickly and publish often and a blogger can’t always be thinking about what feathers he or she may ruffle (don’t I know!), but I think the “no studs were harmed” line was definitely a jab, even if a tongue in cheek one.

      So I figured I’d point that out in a constructive manner, create more discussion and drive a little extra traffic to Copenhagenize (although I assume most LGRAB readers are also C readers), which is how the internet thrives. :)

      The discussion here is just an indicator of your popularity and influence, although some may forget that you’re a real person who may read comments they write.

    • philippe says:

      Re studded tires being the fad du jour, I’ve noticed that too in France. People are talking about it a lot (some even buy them…). One explanation is probably the insane amount of snow we had in Europe this year. Many cities are very ill prepared to face such conditions and, yes, even experienced rides had a hard times.
      Actualy, whiule I’m not interested in studded, I’d love to give “regular” winter tires a try… The kind that Continental makes for way too much €.

    • Jazzboy says:

      I think that this winter’s studded tire “trend” can be an indicator of an increasing number of cyclists riding in the snow instead of storing their bikes until spring. Therefore, from a cycling advocate’s point of view, it should mean good news.
      Probably, the cyclists I am mentioning, live in (north american) cities with little or no cycling infrastructure and are in massive numerical (and vehicular weight and speed limit) disadvantage with their european counterparts otherwise they wouldn’t need to be some kind of “ace of the handlebars” to take the slippery streets confidently without studded tires.

  12. Miss Sarah says:

    Agreed! Sometimes words and photos can’t describe how brutal Edmonton winter streets can be. Sure, it depends on the day but I prefer to have my studs too. I rode one winter without and it’s certainly possible… But I prefer the relative guarantee that I will be able to grip and go.

    Riding with studs makes my winter riding more timely, same with using a mountain bike. Sometimes i actually have to get off and carry the bike for portions. Mountains of snow!

    S

    • Carolyn I. says:

      I think studs are important especially since the roads aren’t kept up as good as in Europe. Sometimes it takes days for stuff to be cleared and sanded.

      I do not have studs, but plan to get some for next winter.

  13. a good point well made. And anyway, half those Danes smoke while they’re riding. They can keep their condescending advice :)

    • I should add, I have never in my life cycled on snow. Sounds awful. Bringing sports cycling thinking to bear though, my sense is that money spent on “ideal” equipment, can only add to ones enjoyment of an otherwise potentially miserable, and (in Dottie’s case), lengthy commute. I’ll further add, that I know nothing of the smoking habits of Danish bike riders. I was kidding. I’m a kidder (a Get Smart quote, for anyone who remembers all Siegfried’s lines)

  14. I don’t use studded tires in Boston, simply because they are not necessary here – the snow gets plowed off the roads and winter cycling is mostly a matter of navigating around snowbanks. I have never cycled in Chicago and don’t presume to know what it’s like and what tools I need in order to feel safe about it. All of our experiences are different, and context-based. I like to handle situations my way, and let others decide how to handle theirs.

    The funny thing for me, is that every time I post about winter cycling on Lovely Bicycle, some readers will always ask me why I don’t get snow tires. I explain that to me they are unnecessary in Boston, but sometimes the feeling is that they know better. Same story really.

    • LC says:

      You are absolutely right! It’s the “I know better” stance that I feel it’s counterproductive (and I don’t just refer to this article case, I mean in general)… like you say “all our experiences are different and context-based.”

      When the snow turns to ice here in Manchester (albeit for a very very short time) I just don’t cycle. I am ok with snow, not ice. It doesn’t feel safe and the brevity of the snow/ice period means I don’t see the investment of studded tires as worthwhile for me. On the other hand I wish, and am hopeful, that slowly but surely the local authority will get the gist and provide better for cyclists (and pedestrians) during snow.

  15. Steve A says:

    I wouldn’t know where to get studded tires here around Dallas either. ;-)

  16. Timoohz says:

    Who would lift the tail of the cat if not the cat herself? Copenhagenize is a propaganda site for marketing Copenhagen and cycling. Mr. C-A wants to promote cycling in everyday clothes with a simple, practical bike. No special gear should be used. He blogs from that point of view.

    So take his advice with a grain of salt. Pun intended :)

    • cycler says:

      Timoohz have you ever read this site before? What do you think Dottie and Trisha are trying to do, convince us all that we need spandex and armour and neon flags to bike somewhere?

      And a European city bike is in itself a piece of “special gear” in much of the USA. It’s sites like LGRAB that have helped promote the vast expansion in availability of such practical bikes in the last couple of years.

      • kfg says:

        My European city bike was made in . . . Chicago.

      • Timoohz says:

        I’ve read both blogs. But have you read them if you have not noticed a certain difference in their tone and point of view? :P

        As to “special gear”, I was talking about it in the Copenhagenize sense. It means anything except office clothes and a rusty old bike, right? Otherwise it would not be everyday cycling in everyday clothes. ;-)

  17. Gary says:

    I’m with you. Thought all the same things.

    Plus, strict liability for the motorists changes a lot of behavior. The motorists is always at fault in a car-bike crash.

  18. RJD says:

    Thank you Dottie. Having been put down in another prominent bike blog for advocating studded snow tires, I was very pleased to see a credible, experienced bike blogger say that these tires are at least an option. For those that don’t need them I say great, don’t use them. Don’t need them in Boston – great. But don’t assume that some of the less urban parts of greater Boston are groomed as well as the Boston/Cambridge axis.

    And while my emotions are still up, why is Mikeal so defensive? He has ample standing in the community to take a little point of order from LGRAB that, for some, studded tires may be useful, without diverting the discussion to why his blog was singled out. Lets just admit that Dottie has done a service to those who use these blogs to learn.

    One final point, I detect a subtle reverse snobbery / role reversal from some of those who advocate for more accessible bicycling – like through use of street attire rathe than feeling obligated to don bike specific clothing. Rather than allowing that studded tires are an option, the same advocates tell us that the “serious cyclists” they know don’t use ‘em. And they have their facts wrong. I say street attire and studs if that is what works for you.

  19. Mr Colostomy says:

    Copenhagenize is written in a tongue-in-cheek style, if Mikael criticises something I do myself, I know he isn’t suggesting I’m stupid for doing it, more that it is stupid that the environment I live in has been designed in such a (motor-centric) way to make me feel (rightly or wrongly) that I have to do it; That it is stupid that where I live the motorcar has taken over so completely that people feel the need for helmets, or high-visibility clothing, or cycle-specific clothing just to go to work or special tyres for snow.

    For example I live in the UK, which has a very backwards approach to bicycles and bicycle infrastructure. When it snows, I might want to use studded tyres because if I fall I may be mere millimeters away from a car passing unsafely close. I don’t feel that Mikael’s wish was to criticise this desire on my part, rather he is criticising my government’s decision to let things get the the stage where I fear being crushed by a passing car if I fall in the snow, because they have not provided proper dedicated bicycle infrastructure where it is needed.

    I always get the feeling when reading Copenhagenize that Mikael isn’t saying “Look how good we’ve got it, suckers,” he is saying, “This is how a city should be for cyclists, I want to share with you how things can be when governments design towns and cities around the needs of all people rather than just for motorists, if it can be done here it can be done anywhere.”

    • LC says:

      *nodding* Taking things with a pinch of salt is very important, to keep a light-hearted attitude to life, but words are powerful and similar to Lovely Bike I agree that blogs like Copenhagenize are now seen by many as an important and authoritative voice on cycling culture, and what it’s said and how do resonate far and wide, so keeping a thought on how words can be perceived is still important… as well as remembering to take things with a pinch of salt, like you say. A bit of a balancing act, to try and avoid alienating people.

    • Dottie says:

      I agree that the Copenhagenize post was pointing out how safe infrastructure makes winter cycling possible, but that was not the entire message. As Mikael stated in his comment above, he was in fact pointing out how Copenhageners are skilled at riding in all weather due to their experience.

  20. cycler says:

    Give me separated infrastructure and strict liability and all kinds of things become unnecessary. Substitute “Helmet” for studded tires. and your article could read exactly the same.
    Sorry, don’t want to inflame the conflict, I just wouldn’t worry about falling and hitting my head half as much if I weren’t having to worry about panic stopping or taking evasive action over a potholed street because Mr Magoo “didn’t see me” or was talking on the phone.

  21. Lee says:

    I don’t care what anyone says or does, I am happy with my own choices. I agree with you completely though, and had the same response when I read the original comments on Copenhagenize. Come here and ride the street war that is suburban US cycling on a daily basis. Living a little south of Boston, we can have completely clear streets, but with slick frozen puddles on the side of the road and lots of them. Hit those while a car is next to you and goodbye! They are everywhere on my rides and I LOVE my studded tires. I also LOVE my Icebug studded shoes. Put them together and go out and play on the frozen ponds while everyone else skates. Ice bicycle polo or hockey anyone? WOOHOO!! Who cares what someone else thinks, does your equipment fill your needs and are you having fun?

  22. Melissa says:

    I feel this way about lots of cycling tools and gear – your studded tires, or wildly expensive bicycles, helmets or technical athletic fabrics. One great thing about cycling is that you can come just as you are on whatever’s in your basement and be just fine. Another great thing about cycling is that people have invented ingenious solutions to nearly any problem, danger, discomfort or inconvenience you can imagine. Anything that makes you feel more safe or comfortable or stylish or generally happy is good for you.

  23. I do 99% of my cycling on Boston-area streets, and don’t feel the need to use studded tires on my bicycles, because the streets are not only plowed, but heavily salted, which prevents ice buildup. However, if I were to have to commute on some of the Boston-area bike paths, I would definitely use studded tires. The paths are not salted, and a lot of ice forms. I don’t think a person’s level of cycling experience should dictate whether they need studded tires; it should be determined based on road conditions and cyclist comfort level. Note that “comfort level” and “experience” are distinct terms.

    Despite Copenhagenize’s comments, almost all studded bicycle tires manufactured today are from tire companies of Finnish, Swedish or German origin– the same general region of Europe as Denmark. Slightly ironic?

  24. BikeBike says:

    Could it be that studded tires “are all the rage this winter” due to more people choosing to ride year ’round?

    Here in Calgary, it appears that is exactly whats happening based on anecdotal evidence and the numbers of studded tires bike shops (including us) are selling.

    And if thats the case – hooray!

  25. Stephen says:

    This all sounds like chicken-or-egg to me. Sure, if American cities had great bicycle infrastructure (including specialized bicycle lands snowplowed before the car lanes–it boggles the mind!), we wouldn’t need specialized clothing, helmets, studded tires, Klingon pain sticks, etc. I’m cool with that. I don’t wear spandex anymore, and I love riding w/o a helmet on quiet streets. But the fact is that we are not Copenhagen, and until our tax rate and government power is such that we can afford such an extensive bicycling infrastructure (and have the political willpower to implement it), then studded tires and helmets are the only rational response. American want good bicycle infrastructure, but not many bicyclists want to trade injury or death for it.

    That said, I still enjoy Copenhagen Cyclechic, even if it’s just eye candy…;-)

  26. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Amsterdamize, Sabinna Den, Steve Lassiter, bradley hanson and others. bradley hanson said: RT @letsgorideabike: New post: In Defense of Studded Tires http://bit.ly/gaqyYQ [...]

  27. Bill - Iowa City says:

    I’ve ridden bikes my entire life, just like those in Copenhagen. And with that…ice is ice. And there have been times when I’ve been riding in slow, total control and in a split second, I’m on the ground. No amount of skill prepares one for that. Even professional cyclists fall on “wet” roads. Although I’ve never been to Denmark, I’d be willing to bet that there’s more than a few mishaps by the “experts” on the fresh snow.

    I check Mikael’s sites, and I’m inspired by the winter photo’s of his fellow citizens. That said, like previous posters, I detect a certain smugness, and my way only mentality. But, it’s his website…it’s his right.

  28. Cam says:

    Studded tires probably would have prevented me from falling off my utility bike last Tuesday. I was going downhill on light, packed snow and had to brake fairly hard to avoid hitting a pedestrian. I was already going at a snail’s pace so I only got bruised but I’m more nervous now. And yes, “I’ve spent almost every day on my bicycle since I was a child” but I no longer live in flat northern Europe.

  29. Coreen says:

    I’ve biked through many Edmonton winters without studded tires because I didn’t think they were necessary, and I can see how it would be a barrier to someone who hadn’t cycled in winter to think that they *had to* buy an expensive studded tire or two to ride in winter, when on most days, any bike would work.

    I got my first studded tire four years ago, and I’d never go back to riding in winter without at least one. Winter’s too long here to forgo a piece of equipment that makes such a remarkable difference to the quality of the ride. I wonder if Mikael has ever tried studded tires in icy winter conditions?

  30. Annalisa says:

    FWIW, my friend has been in a graduate program in Copenhagen for the last 2.5 years. This year they are having terrible problems with ice – lots of thaw-freeze cycles, coupled with copious amounts of snow – and according to her, many of the paths in Copenhagen outside of the downtown area have NOT been maintained, making it really hard to ride to and from the train stations (especially since it gets dark before 4pm). But she says the same thing: It’s easier to ride there, even on the ice, because she is separated from traffic. If she falls, she falls, but she’s not likely to get run over.

    As for studded tires in Boston – I agree that most of the time they are not necessary, but there have definitely been times where I’ve wished I had them. I ride a significant amount of hills on my route, and the downhills can get squirrelly.

  31. [...] People for Bikes encourages you to keep riding this winter, while Dottie defends the use of studded bike tires. Dave Moulton looks at smoking and cycling; the only thing I find more absurd than texting while [...]

  32. I loved this post; you make a good case for studs, and I’ll get some the next time I wind up in a place with too much snow. I wish had known about them years ago as I would have been able to ride in much different conditions.

    I find it interesting that even in the age of the internet, there are technologies that are available in some places and not in others even though it makes no sense why they are not everywhere.

    Studded tires are one example, the only other that comes to mind at this point is a vending machine for beer. When are we going to get those? :)

  33. julie says:

    Wow. Now tire choice is political :) I live in the Boston area and am on the geographical border of the need or don’t need stud tires. I even talked to the guy in my local shop and he said I’d be wasting my money on studded tires because of the routes I ride. However, a slight change in commute route/location and they’d be worth it.
    I’m still grateful that the studded tires are so much more readily available these days. I stopped winter riding years ago because of the unpredictability of black ice and this will be my first year since then to make a go at regular winter riding. If I had had easy access to studded tires back then I may have been more willing to attempt year-long riding rather than stop once the ice came.
    Even so, this year I am planning to bike throughout the winter without studs. I also have another 10 years of cycling under my belt and more appropriately-fitting bikes and umpteen amounts of gloves, hats, and thick wool socks to brave the season. On the rare occasion that the weather beats me, I have the back-up of the bus since the MBTA buses have bike racks so I don’t even have the worry of being stranded.

  34. SM says:

    Well said Dottie.

  35. Treesounds says:

    Some of riding in the winter is pyschological, I think. I see people fly by me very fast in snow covered ice. I don’t care if they have studded tires, some don’t. It’s a confidence thing.
    Here in Wisconsin, there are sometimes conditions that even studded tires aren’t going to keep you from falling. But it is nice to have that grip on smooth icy surfaces.

    However, one could get throught winter cycling in most cities, with no studs. If, they wait out after each storm, for clearance of the roads. Major roads will be passable without studs and hopefully a warm up occurs. While back roads can stay awfully rutty for weeks.

  36. david...no the other one! says:

    Maybe we could print up fender stickers saying, “Got Studs?”

  37. Alan@EcoVelo says:

    Dottie,

    There’s certainly no shame in using studded snow tires. The implication that somehow a person is less of a bicyclist because they use studded tires is silly. A studded tire is just another tool like a racing tire, a knobby tire, a crescent wrench, or a screwdriver.

    Thank you for being such an inspiration by getting out there and braving the icy Chicago streets… studded tires or whatever!

    Best regards,
    Alan@EcoVelo

  38. Iyen says:

    I’m sorry, but anyone who’s paid attention to Mikael for some time must have noticed that he has an extensive, if subtle, sense of humor. You don’t have to take everything he writes and its implications literally. Have we really gotten to the point where every blog posts needs an disclaimer and a politically-correct explanation of meaning?

    • Dottie says:

      I’m sorry, but anyone who’s paid attention to my blog for some time must have noticed that I don’t write post after post criticizing everything Mikael writes and its implications, or any other blogger for that matter. There is a whole world out there that does not reside in extremes, where reasonable and valuable discussion of differing viewpoints abounds. Welcome.

  39. BB says:

    In Minnesota we don’t see pavement for months. Not to mention Iceholes. (potholes only with layers of snow). Simply because we don’t want to spend the money on side streets where bicycle want to ride.

    December 5 was the last time I rode on pavement going to my friends house. (some cities do a better job on side streets).

    You go Dottie!

  40. nowhere says:

    Well, here in Vancouver the majority of the population has spent much of their lives as drivers and with all that urban driving experience they learn to drive in any weather without thinking it necessary to do anything so foolish as to equip their cars with silly things like special snow tires, or even studded snow tires just because it’s winter….. Anyone care to guess how that works out for them? And for me when I get stuck behind them halfway up a hill as they go sideways, backwards, pretty much any way but forwards.
    Though at least with a bike if it gets impossible to ride it, it’s a lot easier to push.

    • Dottie says:

      That’s what I was thinking yesterday as a driver who pulled up next to me at a stop sign started slipping and sliding. If one of those mother effers slides into me, I’m going to be pissed.

  41. EH says:

    My “bike guy” told me that studs are really *only* for biking on ice, and that if you bike on non-icy pavement on studded tires, the studs will get stuck in the pavement and will be pulled off the tire (considering how expensive these tires are, that’s a real issue). He further advised that, if you are biking primarily on roads that have been salted and see a fair amount of car traffic (and are hence slushy but not frozen), wide, knobby tires are all you need. This is my first winter biking and I have to say he’s been right so far. But people should do whatever it takes to feel comfortable. BTW, I commute in Ontario Canada, so it’s not as though we don’t get “real snow” here!

    • I had Hakkapelitta A10 studded tyres one whole summer because I couldn’t be bothered to switch back to summer tyres =) No problem with studs falling out.

    • Dottie says:

      Glad to hear that your first winter biking is going well! Ontario has some interesting winter weather, I’m sure.

      Your bike guy is wrong about studded tires on dry pavement, unless he was talking about old, cheap versions with metal studs. It’s a myth that dry pavement will rip carbide studs out, which is what the good ones are made with now, including my Schwalbe Marathon Winters. I ride on dry pavement about 80% of the time and after 2.5 winters on the same set of tires, I’m missing only one stud. My husband isn’t missing any studs on his set.

    • low says:

      I was hoping this issue would come up.
      Steel studs will wear down because they are not harder than pavement. Carbide studs will outlast the rubber tread on the tires.
      It is important to “set” the studs before you brake to hard or lay down a fat skid.

      Another issue worth addressing… studded tires aren’t that effective in snow. They are made for ice. I have ridden with knobby tires and studs and I can’t say the studs have done anything in hardpack or loose, light snow. If the tire cuts down to a surface like asphalt or ice the studs will grab on, but if you are riding through snow and your tires are hitting snow… you’re still going to fishtail. In those conditions it is crucial that you take the whole lane and go a comfortable speed because it would really ruin a nice commute to slide sideways under an SUV’s tires. At least this is the case where I ride, Mpls, MN.

      Schwalbe Marathon tires are what I run too, Dottie.

  42. Doug says:

    I’m a big fan of Mikael’s writing and agree with much of his philosophy on bike culture, but I do find it ironic that someone with such libertarian views would criticize you for what amounts to personal preference.

    As you mention, it’s not as if you are scaring riders by lobbying for a “no bikes without studded tires during winter” law. If you feel more comfortable riding with studded tires, do it. I’m not sure I see why anyone would criticize you for making a private, personal choice that at the end of the day, keeps you on the road.

  43. Daniel says:

    Mr. Colville-Anderson is an advocate for making cycling an every day activity. I am in complete agreement with him on many points. However, he is insistent that keeping tires properly inflated, wearing weather-appropriate clothing, and other useful items are not necessary. And he is right. They are not necessary. However, each of those items can make cycling safer, faster, cleaner, more enjoyable, etc. Each rider should evaluate what is necessary for their use. I choose to use studded tires because they let me ride in areas that are unmaintained by the city, like where waves have crashed down on paths and the water frozen into ice sheets almost impassable by those on foot or on bicycles without studded tires.

    Mr. Colville-Anderson tends to imply that “one must not” do or use some particular items instead of leaving the statement at “one need not”. The implication is subtle, perhaps accidental, and perhaps I am misreading sometimes. However, in the case of studded tires, I think it was rather clear.

    Dan.

  44. Dick says:

    As a fellow Chicagoan, I make no apologies for using studded tires this winter. Even with studded tires, icy patches still present handle bar gripping alarm, some pulse pounding and slight cooling of body moisture release. If I couldn’t use studded tires, I was going to find ‘training wheels’ for stability.
    Until our ‘forward thinking’ local politicians realize that neighborhoods will be safer when more people get out of their cars and onto bicycles, their feet AND public transportation to move about our great city, we are the choir that continues to sing over the din of horns, brakes and accelerating cars and truck on our mutually shared thoroughfares.
    BTW have any of our mayoral hopefuls put forth any ‘forward thinking’ ideas to improve the state of cycling the street of Chicago?
    Dick
    Dick

  45. Mike says:

    Dottie, your point about the cyclists in those photos being separated from traffic is a good one, but there’s another thing of note: there are no inclines in any of those photos, either. Chicago is flat, like Copenhagen, and so is Winnipeg (where I live), but there are plenty of cities that get snow and ice, and have hills, too.

    I really don’t think it’s helpful to imply that one needs to have a lifetime of experience cycling in order to ride safely and easily on snow. Whenever someone asks me about it, I always tell them that it’s not as difficult as it seems, and I’m not being disingenuous. I was quite surprised at how easy it was the first time that I rode in the snow, and I’d like to encourage other people to try it, too. Even in a place where there is essentially no cycling infrastructure (certainly compared to Copenhagen), it is surprisingly easy and pleasant to get around on a bicycle in the winter (though it does depend on where one needs to go).

  46. SM says:

    “Sure, I don’t mind slip-sliding or even falling when I’m on the lakefront bike path, but a cavalier attitude about such is not advisable when sharing the lanes with cars.”

    The most valuable statement that I think came out of Dottie’s post is the one above. I personally have never ridden with studded tires, but I do know that if I was as religious about commuting in winter traffic I would definitely rides with studded tires. My experience in riding trails, and less travelled roads with mountain bike tires in a significant amount of snow and ice is that the potential for the bike to slip is not just a myth. Because I don’t have studded tires I stay away from riding in extreme snow conditions because I learned the hard way. Frankly, I don’t see the post as criticising, but as informing less experienced riders to let them make an educated choice based on the type of road conditions they travel. From the research I have done the studs do help keep the bike upright though not 100 % full proof. I’ve read on other post where it was stated that studs do not help at all on icey roads. I have seen studded tires ride completely through shear ice.

  47. Amoeba says:

    Whether or not one chooses to ride on studded tyres is a personal choice. In countries with cycle friendly infrastructure; properly cycle-aware motorists and with policies that ensure clear cycle routes, studded tyres may well prove unnecessary. If the cyclist lacks confidence or any of the prerequisites are lacking, use those studs!

    Mikael Colville-Andersen is very influential and I believe his influence is extremely important to the normalisation of cycling, but nobody is perfect and I believe he is mistaken in this case.

    • Amoeba says:

      I would like to emphasize that I believe Mikael Colville-Andersen’s influence is extremely beneficial to cycling. Long may he continue to educate the movers and shakers about the numerous benefits and humanising effects of increased levels of cycling upon communities.

      No he isn’t perfect or infallible, but then, who is?

      • Hendrik says:

        What a fuzz about these tires. If you feel safe on studded tires, why shouldn’t you put them on? Better go ride with studs than stay home or take the car, no?
        Tires make a huge, huge difference for grip, comfort and efficiency of any bike. Ask sportsriders you seem to dislike (they’ll be on your side for sure!) and the cyclocross riders in particular.

        • Dottie says:

          I’ve never said or insinuated anything about disliking sports riders. There is a difference between advocating for a certain type of riding and disliking all other types of riders.

          • Hendrik says:

            I’m both sports- and daily rider. That might create an over-sensitiveness for comments on sportsriders :-)
            Both types have a lot of common interests by the way.

  48. Great discussion. Seems like everyone’s in agreement with most things. Nice to see a civil discussion online. :)

    I think it’s so funny how people keep saying that studs wear down on concrete.

    I’m not an expert, but don’t all tires wear down? I know that they meant that they wear down faster, but hey, if you have mixed terrain, you still want to have better traction, IMHO.

  49. I saw that too Dottie and I have ridden a few times this winter on streets thick with ice and no studded tires. Very tricky if not impossible at times. I know what I can expect from too many drivers here and it’s not accommodation. I simply can’t afford serious injury. I certainly don’t live in fear of being injured but I see the cars sliding on the ice – ours was all over the road a few weeks back from making a turn on to a not very well plowed or salted road.

  50. adventure! says:

    I know I’m late to the party on this one, but my $.02:

    I do own a studded tire to be used for my front wheel. Here in Portland, our winter weather consists of rain and above-freezing temps, so I barely have to use it. But a few times a season, the temp will drop to at-or-below freezing, so the damp ground will turn to iced ground. Which is what happened Tuesday night. And I wouldn’t want to be riding on anything but studs in that condition!

    When we do get significant snow here (maybe once a season), the snow can sit on the ground for days, especially on side streets. (Plows? Ha!) So once cars drive on those streets, we get either packed-in snow or iced-over packed-in snow. When we had Snowpocalypse (2 1/2 weeks of snow and freezing weather) in ’08, studs meant the difference between bicycling and walking/taking the bus. And when it snows in Portland, buses become unreliable.

    Studded tires are not always the appropriate tool for all winter conditions. But when they work, they work.

  51. Chris says:

    You are so right. Studs are awesome. Who likes to slip on ice?

  52. tyre changer says:

    When it comes to winter mountain bike riding, snow and ice seem to go hand and hand. And if you’ve got ice, you need studded tires. The options are limited and expensive. Do you want 29er tires? Fat tires? Good luck, I haven’t seen anything close to a 2.3″ width or bigger in any tire diameter. Fat tires at low pressure give you grip and float in the snow. The studs handle the ice.

  53. tyre changer says:

    When it comes to winter mountain bike riding, snow and ice seem to go hand and hand. And if you’ve got ice, you need studded tires. The options are limited and expensive. Do you want 29er tires? Fat tires? Good luck, I haven’t seen anything close to a 2.3″ width or bigger in any tire diameter. Fat tires at low pressure give you grip and float in the snow. The studs handle the ice.

  54. Margo McCann says:

    In the winter riding a bike can be just as dangerous as handling a car. I think putting winter tires on your bike is important. I have researched Nokian tires prices for this winter so I can still enjoy my bike and be safe.

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