I bought my first pair of studded tyres about two years ago, and specifically for use on my eMTB. The grip in the Swiss winter snow, and particularly the fully iced roads was immense, and big smile inducing. These particular tyres, made by Schwalbe and called the Ice Spiker Pro have been on and off the eMTB over the last two winter seasons and the studs don’t appear to have worn at all. This year, I’ve put them on my (unassisted) Genesis adventure bike, but more of this and the inclusion of a second set of these tyres and my Cannondale Freeride later.
I’m no different to anyone else when it comes to just accepting the great stuff that we can easily get today, maybe even taking it for granted, and ranging from anything from a heated pair of socks to a pair of studded winter MTB tyres. I thought I’d find out a bit more about the studded tyre and it’s evolution. If you’re reading this and have lived in a very snowy place all of your life, you’ll have to forgive my ‘low-lander-naivety’ in not knowing much history about the subject.
It turns out that studded tyres have been around in one form or another since the 1930s. Modern studded tires first commercially took off in popularity in the 1950s in Scandinavia where they were obviously used to increase traction and safety on icy roads. The Finnish tyre company Nokian has a long history of studded tyre manufacturing and development, and there’s a link to their company history below, which also covers the birth of the winter tyre. Nokian has also pushed the boundaries of studded tyre design with the creation of the winter tyre that has retractable studs. A push of a button in the car is all that is required to either pop out or retract studs in the tyre. It’s an amazing innovation and you can watch the video in the link at the bottom of this post. Incidentally, there is a law in Japan prohibiting the use of studded tyres, which has been in effect since the 1991-1992 winter. This is to prevent the dust pollution generated by studded tyres as the metal studs wear away.
On a similar theme to this last point, back in 1971, the Province of Ontario in Canada banned the use of studs in tyres, or ‘tires’ as spelt in Canada and the USA, as the authorities claimed that the studs were responsible for making ruts and holes in the tarmac, which then filled with water and froze, making the roads slippery. There was obviously some big reaction to this ban from residents, especially as drivers using the tires got fined if they were caught. The ban was eventually lifted in 2004 when research had shown that studded tires were not wholly responsible for the road damage, and also because the latest studded tyres from Scandinavia were proven to barely damage road surfaces.
Studded tyres are used by less drivers in very cold climates these days as the technology used in the manufacture of winter or snow tyres has improved massively. The main issue with the first generation of winter tyres was that the rubber compound went harder as the temperature dropped, which made the tyres less grippy and prone to sliding, hence the use of studs. Today’s winter and snow tyres have a softer compound that maintains the enhanced winter grip and does not harden with lower temperatures.
Moving away from studded car tyres to the studded bicycle tyre, you’ll find that the studs in tyres are usually made of tungsten carbide steel, and the number of studs varies according to the tyre size and profile. Here’s a quick ‘pros and cons’ of using studded tyres on a bicycle:
Firstly, you’ll get the most grip and safety that you’ll ever have on a bike in a snowy and icy winter. When riding off-road where the winter ground has thawed slightly so the surface is slippery but the underlying ice remains, studded tyres work brilliantly. These tyres are obviously quite heavily armoured and more puncture resistant that a standard tyre. Grip varies according to the number of studs fitted in the tyre, and some of the larger tyres can have up to 300 studs per tyre. Tyre wear is slow as long as excessive use on tarmac is avoided. They can last several winters as long as they are stored correctly during the months that they’re not being used. These tyres shed snow and ice really quickly so the treads do not ice up at all.
They are much heavier than a standard tyre due to all of the extra metal and thicker rubber, as well as being noisier on tarmac, more expensive than a normal tyre, and sharp if you run over your friend who has just fallen of his/her bike in front of you.
Tyre pressures are key to getting the best out of studded tyres. You can run with a little less pressure in them than usual for a good contact patch enabling as many studs as possible to claw into the icy or soft snowy surface. For the rides where you need good traction and less rolling resistance, you can increase tyre pressures so fewer studs make contact with the ground. This also reduces stud loss when studs get snagged occasionally in the rough road surface, although it is possible to get replacement studs and a fitting tool.
You can actually make your own studded tyres and it’s sometimes a cheap way to re-use a worn tyre. There are loads of how-to videos on YouTube showing how you can make them. You can actually manufacture a studded bike tyre in your shed for far less than you can buy one, although they might not last as long, or be guaranteed obviously. Sustainability points are available for doing it this way though, and using old tyres with a worn, but open tread pattern works really well apparently. A basic shed build usually involves installing screws through the casing, from the inside. This also necessitates a tyre liner glued on the inside of the tyre and on top of the screw heads by using an old inner tube. This will prevent damage from screws that back out, or abrasion from screw heads. Home made studded tyres are usually heavy, and prone to flats. However, most serious bike riders have the necessary spare MTB tyres laying around and with a few cheap materials you can have a lot of fun making a pair. The number of screws that you put in is key. Caution: You don’t need a million screws as they’ll just slow you down. Fit the longer screws in the side treads and the smaller ones in the centre to get the best pattern approach. You can also buy a tyre stud gun and a big bag of studs quite easily. There’s a video link at the bottom of this post to show how to stud your own tyres.
Instead of adding studs to a tyre, it is also possible to get snow chains for bicycle tyres, and some people even make their own snow tyres by strapping loads of zip ties around the rim and the tyre. Fatbikes obviously have an increased amount of grip over a normal MTB due to 4” and 5” tyre widths, and it is possible to get studded tyres for fatbikes, so that would be interesting to try out.
Back to my experience with studded tyres. I wrote a post (link below) about the studded tyres on my ebike, so I won’t cover that here. Obviously, the motor assistance makes a difference on an eMTB. However, I’ve been most impressed with the increased ability to get up, down and across snow and ice terrain on a non-assisted (traditional?) MTB. The Genesis adventure bike that I mentioned earlier has seen some epic, freeriding fun with the studded tyres. However, the Genesis and eMTB bikes both have 27.5” diameter wheels. What I wanted to explore was a studded tyre on a ‘vintage’ MTB that has smaller and narrower 26” wheels. As luck would have it, Schwalbe make the same Ice Spiker Pro in a 26” version, so I naturally got some.
I used the term freeriding above to capture the spirit that these tyres encourage on a winter ride, and the ideal vintage bike to put the 26” studded tyres on is of course, a Cannondale Super V Freeride. Fitted, and glinting in the daylight, these tyres give the Cannondale an even more meaningful and purposeful look, so I switch the clipless pedals to safer flats (I don’t seem to be able to get my feet out of clipped pedals fast enough on ice when balance is lost). This Cannondale Freeride is a 1997 bike and as you’ll see from the photos of it, has spent most of its time in a garage and not being used. However, used it will get in this latest part of its life.
As a summary of my studded-tyre-ride on this Cannondale Super V MTB, you will expect and predict me to say that it was the…. ‘best grip ever, improved safety and speed when on the brakes going downhill, tyres held no snow or ice, Cannondale created an iconic MTB, the Freeride forks worked great with the tyres on all terrains etc etc’, but that would be boring and predictable wouldn’t it. It is worth mentioning though that the Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro tyres, 2 new tubes and the Volvo Cannondale Team sticker kit (from Improvepart in the sidebar) actually cost the same as the bike, so it is possible to get a really good ice and snow bike put together quite cheaply.
What is also of merit to note is that ‘the average cyclist’ has 3.7 bikes in the shed. Some have less, some have more and the collectors can have 30 or more. There’s always been, and still is, the search for the ‘ultimate-do-everything-bike’. From an MTB perspective, the now known ‘enduro bike’ is the closest to the title. However, it’s not necessarily the right bike for street/gravel to downhill is it? Nope! So, maybe we’re looking at the bike wrongly. What I’ve identified implicitly here, is that the tyres that are on the bike are what can make or break its flexibility. Let’s assume that I have only one bike that I will still be able to get parts for in 5 years time (unlikely) and a set of tyres for ice, rain and mud, hard pack, and sticky trials riding. I’ve potentially got the answer to less bikes in the shed, less parts in the cupboard, less outlay and more money left over to buy a motorcycle or knitting machine or something that will fill the space of where the other 2.7 bikes would have stood. Also, if the bike is made of aluminium or steel, it can be re-cycled when it needs replacing in 5-ish years.
The bike industry is currently saying that by 2030, the ebike market alone will be $120 billion and that’s in relation to its current market size of $41 billion. That’s a good growth curve for the ebike category, but bearing in mind that an average cyclist changes his/her bike every 4 years, it means two new bikes for each of us by 2030, and if you haven’t got an ebike yet, statistics show that you are likely to have one by 2030, so be prepared, and importantly, you’ll still need/should have, a pair studded tyres if you live in a place with cold winters.
Finally, have you heard the story about the man who wanted to be re-incarnated as a stud? When he woke up in his new life, he found himself stuck in a snow tyre somewhere in Canada?. Anyway, If you have never ridden on studded tyres and live somewhere which necessitates safety and winter Freeride grip, try some studded tyres or even some studded tires, and you’ll see what I mean.
Here’s the link to Nokian Tyres history https://www.nokiantyres.com/company/about-us/history/
Here’s the link to the Nokian retractable studded tyre innovation http://youtu.be/qNXL2EEscuE
Here’s the link to one of the many DIY tyre stud video https://www.redbull.com/se-en/how-to-make-your-own-studded-tyres-bike
Here’s the link to my first post of the Schwalbe tyres on my eMTB https://diaryofacyclingnobody.com/thunderbirds-are-go-on-ice-tyres/
All photos by the Author
2 thoughts on “To stud or not to stud. This is THE winter tyre question!”
I’ve used studded tires on my bikes, off and on, since 2008. That was the year where we had a “good” winter here in Portland, Oregon. Two-plus weeks of snow/ice on the streets. The studded tire worked good for a week, then the snow became too deep/too banked to make any bicycle riding (short of a fat bike) impractical.
I was impressed with the studs and have made sure to have some available if needed. But over the past few years I haven’t put any on my bikes. “Real winter” happens infrequently here, and if it does, it’s for a day, maybe two. Having studs was useful for those one-two day events when I had a job that never closed due to weather (hospitality) so I needed to get to work, no ifs/ands/buts. Nowadays I “work from home” and have a grocery store a few blocks from my house, so on stormy days I can just walk.
Studded tires on cars are contentious here in Oregon. A lot of people put them on during the “legal” season of November through March, in the off chance we have a day where it’s icy. They do chop up the road, and they are just less efficient for the driver when it’s not icy (which is 98% of the time.) There’s occasional talks about bans, but the studded tire industry is too big to allow that to happen. It’s funny though: I grew up in a state (Connecticut) where snow/ice were regular occurrences, and no one had studded tires. I didn’t even know it was a thing!
Oh yeah, before the angry Canadians come to comment, Canada has provinces, the US has states. So it’s the Province of Ontario. 😉
Hi! Thanks for the comment with your stud-experience. Also, I’ve updated the post regarding the ‘Province’ bit. Thanx again! Guy
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