Studded tires summary and winter bikes

d’Andre’s post yesterday’s about studded tires had a lot of good advice in the article and the comment section that I thought were worth summarizing today.  Below are the highlights of sage winter cycling advice I pulled from all the comments

  1. Studded tires, while not a magic bullet, greatly improve traction on icy roads.
  2. Good carbide studded tires like Nokians and Schwalbes while expensive, are worth the investment as they last 3-5 seasons or more
  3. Cheap studded tires like are generally not worth the money if as the studs wear quickly when riding on pavement
  4. Studded tires are NOT a winter riding necessity. You can certainly get around all winter on regular rubber bicycle tires. 
  5. If you want to save money but improve traction on ice, adding a studded tire to the front and not the rear works better than studs on the back and rubber on the front.
  6. Some believe skinny road tires work better than fatter mtb tires.  The couriers all run regular skinny tires all winter long and they get around just fine.  But others prefer fat mtb tires which ride over packed snow.
  7. All studded tires are slow in comparison to regular bicycle tires, but most agrees the 32mm Nokian A10s are the fastest of the studded tires out there.

Me on my way home yesterday, riding with Nokian A10 inspired confidence.

Many people also commented about their “winter bikes.”  That reminded me of back when cars rusted faster and people used to drive junkers in the winter so they did not expose their good cars to the salt. Perhaps my good bike would be many people’s junker, but  I ride my regular old lugged Schwinn all year round, but I add the Nokian A10s in when the Hank Aaron Trail gets icey.  The only special component I have on it that works really well for winter riding is the rear coaster brake and SRAM 5-speed internal hub.  The internal gears reduce maintenance to almost nothing and the coaster brake never fails when the rims get wet and slippery.

I would like to hear how many people tend to switch out their “good bike” for a winter commuter and why.  Is it to run mtb or cross tires or is it to spare the nice bike and its components from exposure to salt? Any special components you use for winter commuting? Feel free to email me (overthebars(at) photos your bike or you riding your favorite winter steed.  I will post them together.

And what I really want to know: Anyone commute on a Surly Pugsley?


About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
This entry was posted in Bicycles, bike winter, commuting, Equipment, Equipment Review and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Studded tires summary and winter bikes

  1. Russell says:

    Besides the studded tires, FULL fenders with a large front mudflap are a must! I’ve also started using KMC Rust Buster chains on bikes that get ridden in the winter when it’s wet. This chain is zinc-plated to greatly reduce rusting. I’ve also taken to waxing the chains – wax doesn’t hold the grit as much as oil.

  2. Jason Capriotti says:

    Thanks for another great post Dave.

    I switch out my “good” bike for the duration of winter, usually from the first snowfall or salting until the salt is washed away in early spring. The main reason for switching bikes is I like to do a lot of road biking in nicer weather, and don’t want to destroy my good bike/components in the harsh reality of winter. It can be a dirty, salty affair. The most noticeable effect is I’ve been needing to replace my brake calipers every 1-2 winters (which really does not involve a ton of riding if you compare it to non-winter riding).

    I also use the old bike in spring/summer/fall rain weather, again mainly to keep the new bike a bit cleaner, and also because my old bike has fenders. So I run a smooth/skinny set of tires in non-winter, and studded tires in winter.

    After mistakenly buying some cheap Innova studded tires that barely lasted one winter, I decided to buy some Schwalbe Winter Marathon studded tires a few years ago. They are similar to the Nokian A10s, but have two extra rows of studs towards the center; they perform great on ice. Deep snow, or the thick gray snow that I call “greasy snow” can be a bit tricky, but if you are smart it is workable. I have thought about getting some more aggressive Nokian Hakkapeliittas, but I would really only need them a handful of days out of the year.

  3. Mara Kuhlmann says:

    My husband and I switch out to our winter bikes only once the paths get snowy and that is to switch to our studded tires and avoid having to switch tires on our regular commuter bikes. When the paths clear, we may switch back to our commuter bikes for a few days between snowy days, so having two bikes simplifies that process.
    Reader above mentions full fenders. I would tend to disagree. I find that fenders get clogged with snow and can literally stop the tires when biking through snowstorms, so I opt not to use them. Biggest change for winter is adding more lights – side lights in the spokes, helmet light, in addition to normal front and back flashers.

  4. edh says:

    shiny italians simply hate road salt.

  5. Tim Keneipp says:

    I ride the same bike all year long for commuting and I bike all year. Lucky for me it has an aluminum frame so I don’t really have to worry about rust, on the frame. I do run the Nokian studded snow tires size 700×35. The tires are the only concession I make for winter commuting on my bike. If I could I would install and internal hub, so my gears would be less likely to freeze up as they did last night while I was downtown. So far nothing the last three winters in La Crosse have thrown at me has made stop riding.

    Thanks for the great blog!

  6. Dave Steele says:

    I’m on a “winter commuter” pretty much 100% of the time from December 1 to April 1.

    -I only have two bikes. One is a nice bike that is ridiculously versatile. I use it for commuting and for 80 mile rides out on the hills of Waukesha County. It’s the only bike I’ve ever bought brand new, and I want to have it last as long as possible. If that thing rode two winters it would be toast.

    -I like MTB for winter riding because I feel a greater sense of control on ice, snow and slush. My weight is firmly planted on the rear wheel, I’m more upright rather than leaning over the bars, so when I do fall it’s backward on by bum than forward on my face. I’m alright with the slow ride on an MTB with studs, because I really don’t want to be hot doggin’ on streets with snow, ice and slush.

    -I keep my bike parked outside 24/7 in the winter so that it’s always cold, not warm-then-cold, warm-then-cold. Since I’ve got my winter ride locked up outside during the workday I’d rather not have it be a “nice” looking bike.

    -Psychologically, there’s something about having a winter commuter that fits in nicely with the winter mindset. We really have two seasons in Wisconsin: winter and non-winter. In winter we do a lot of things that are all about “toughing it out” until Spring. Riding a slow, salty, grungy MTB makes me count down the weeks until I can break out the fun, zippy, clean non-winter bike.

  7. Aytan Luck says:

    If I owned a Pugsley, I would certainly ride it in winter. I rode one at Cory’s shop after the first snow and it was so stable. I tried Nokian studs last year and they certainly helped on ice, but I have to say that overall, I like a wider, larger tire.
    I started riding a 29er this winter and it is very stable. I can drop the pressure to about 30 PSI with definitely helps keep me upright. Because of the air volume in a tire this size, I don’t have to worry about pinching the inner tube riding over potholes. Lots of traction on uneven surfaces like hard packed snow. Also, lots of floatation on unpacked snow.

  8. Max says:

    I’m mostly a fair weather winter rider, and don’t have the luxury of a backup winter bike. My main year round bike is a basic Giant F-series straight bar road bike (or whatever they’re calling it these days), with Racelite Hardcase tires. They cut through light snow and slush pretty well, and roll over packed snow and ice smoothly enough as long as I don’t try any fancy maneuvers.

    It’s the lack of clearance for full fenders that’s my real issue lately. Anybody recommend a decent set of clip on fenders?

    I want a Pugsley bad, but it ain’t in the cards right now.

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  10. Bad Santa says:

    David that looks like a London Fog you are wearing, if so big ups.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      It is an old trench coat, but not London Fog. I have a few old rain and shines, but none as long as your. I am on the lookout at the thrift stores for the longer version thanks to running into you at the corner. Thanks for the idea!

  11. Samantha says:

    I had a similar discussion going on over on my blog as I weighed the pros and cons of adding studded snow tires to my WorkCycles Oma. In previous winters I rode my mountain bike year-round with no studs – I took it slow and didn’t ride when it was super snowy/icy. I got Oma this fall, and considered studs for the bike since the tires are larger (28 inches) and narrower than those on my old MTB, and I’m sitting more upright now. After talking to a few other Dutch bike owners and then riding after our first ice storm, I decided to buy a set of Schwalbe Marathon Winters. It is a slower ride between the studs and lowering the tire pressure, but they’ve been helpful on the ice – especially rutted icy side streets. I don’t ride on the lakefront trail here much in winter, but I know other Dutch bike owners here in Chicago who commute daily on the lakefront trail, and since it tends to get very icy they swear by their studded tires.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Thanks for the info Samantha. My wife rides our Oma, but she has less than a mile to work, so she is fine with just the regular Schwalbes the bike came with. Besides, I don’t need any extra reason to change that rear tire ;v)

  12. CJ says:

    I do switch to a “winter bike”, which is actually my backup bike, an older Giant Cypress. I just would rather not gunk up my newer, favorite ride, so I put some knobbies on the Giant as well as full fenders, but so far nothing else. It’s not as fast as my main ride, so probably helps me a slow down on the winter roads and trails! Trying to figure out how to mount a heater to it. 😉

  13. Jolie says:

    I pride myself on reliably riding as a commuter everyday. However I have been defeated entirely this winter by my abject primal fear of wiping out (again) I lost count of how many times I crashed this past spring, summer, fall – at least eight times – probably more. After our first measurable snow fall I was out riding again – a few weeks ago – I found myself riding very gingerly avoiding ice patches and the stretches of hard-packed snow/ice left on unplowed side roads that stretch out crushed and compacted from myriad car tires into thin streaks of black ice. My confidence was completely shot – I walked the bike rather than brave the lightning fast -totally out of control crash – I envisoned coming. Not fun – feeling very dispirited I parked my steed for this season and I have been walking the two miles to the Center each day. I really don’t believe in studded tires – on ice nothing matters – you put on your brakes and no matter what – you are going down – fast – and totally out of control. On busy streets with traffic behind you – this is a recipe for having your head crushed by an oncoming car.

    • daveschlabowske says:

      Please don’t feel too defeated. Winter riding is not for everyone. Don’t ride if you don’t feel good about it. But if you have the coin, studded tires make a HUGE difference on ice. I cannot say enough how big of a difference they make. I ride the Hank Aaron State Trail, which has big ice patches all over the place and the studded tires never slip. Certainly you still need to ride smoothly, without jerking the handlebars when turning on ice, but the carbide studs bite right into the ice and keep you upright. As I said, don’t kick yourself if you don’t want to ride in the heart of winter, that’s cool. Ride when you feel like it. But if you really do want to ride, you should try some studded tires. Maybe find a friend who has some and ride her bike before you drop the money. I ride a 56cm road bike and work downtown, but I also have a smaller mtb with studded tires on it. I’m sure you would fit the mtb if you don’t fit the road bike. If wanted to try riding my bike, I’d be happy to let you give it a go. I could meet your on the Oak Leaf Trail or the Beerline some time after work or during lunch. I am on vacation this week and next. Email me at overthebarsmke(at) if you want to meet some time.

  14. AH says:

    I now have a dedicated winter bike. My no salt on the road bike is a custom Waterford that I bought for myself on my 40th birthday (I’m tall and men’s bikes aren’t proportioned well for me). It is the most awesome bike, and I want to still be riding it when I’m 100. Last winter my husband and I set-up an old Falcon frame and added studded tires. I’ve been bicycle commuting for 27 years and would always stop once there was ice and snow and resume when it was gone. I started riding around the neighborhood last winter and it was a blast, but my husband rode this bike all the time, so I needed my own bike. Friends encouraged me to find a used frame and build it up, but I didn’t really have the time or inclination to do that. So I bought a relatively inexpensive hybrid bike from Ben’s that’s now outfitted with fenders and Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires. It’s so great! I like that I don’t really worry about this bike, and winter riding really does chase away the winter doldrums! My commute is about 20 miles round-trip — I ride from Riverwest to Wauwtosa and I often take the Hank Aaron Trail on my eastbound rides home. (I’ve noticed that the HAT isn’t completely plowed — any particular reason?) Also, there’s a man who works at the same location as me in Tosa that rides a Pugsley. The first time I saw it I was pretty excited because I’d heard about them too.

  15. D'nardo Colucci says:

    Once again, I’m so glad you’re back Dave!

    My winter ride is a 1983 Trek 510 converted to an Alfine red line 8 speed IGH. This is my second winter on 28 mm tires and I think they’re great. I may build a second winter ride with studs just for the “ice days” that force me to drive. But really that isn’t necessary.

    To answer your question about why I have a winter ride, my summer ride is a 1968 Raleigh Sports in mint condition and I intend to keep it that way!

    Over-the-bars fanatic,

  16. Jolie says:

    Hey again: I thank you for this thread because finding a good soluton to winter riding is really important to me. Dave thanks for the tip about the cargo bikes in chicago at Triple Lindy but I did find a way, way cheaper manufacturer at – for a platform tricycle at only around $850. I also found what may even be a better idea for me – There are bicycle stabilizer kits available at bike usa for only about $200 – Of course I will look like a dork – but at age fifty I am used to that!!

  17. Dar says:

    I used to ride the same bike all year around…Trek 830 MTB. Now that I have a stable of bikes, I tend to ride a road bike for commuting (until I recently discovered a frame flaw, it was a Giant Perigee…now I’ve got something I bought used on the cheap and haven’t hit the road with yet and don’t even remember what it was). The road bike is “nicer” and harder to replace cheaply, so I put it away in winter to avoid getting it salty, sandy and wet. Since I started using a studded front tire, that’s the only bike I ride in winter when there’s any snow or ice on ground…and it happens to be a MTB cause when I bought the tire that’s all I was riding. I would ride a road bike in winter if I had one to sacrifice and the studded tire to go on it. But most of my bike stuff is trash-picked, so it ain’t happening.

  18. Bad Santa says:

    I have noticed a few of these Pugsley’s around town, and I never see them with fenders. It seems a bit odd that anyone would ride and bike in this climate without full fenders. Also my “relief valve” if the weather gets awful is to grab a bus and use the rack on the front for my bike. My MTB tires at 2″ barely fit the rack, how is a Pugsley ever going to? It just seems like a neat looking but very impractical ride.

  19. Matt Weiss says:

    I haven’t done much winter riding, but I haven’t stopped riding so far during this unseasonably mild winter, and don’t intend to. For 20 years my only bike was a Specialized Crossroads hybrid, but that was stolen this summer, and I replaced it with a 2009 Jamis Aurora touring bike, which I find is either fun-but-still-practical or practical-but-still-fun, depending on how much I have it loaded down.

    For a number of reasons, though, I don’t want to use it all winter in Pittsburgh, where there are always tons of potholes, lots of rock salt, and plenty of hills to climb. I agree with you, Dave: I like the stability of a MTB over my touring bike. I like being more over my saddle than my handlebar, and not so far above the road. I imagine some knobby tires on my touring bike would be better for the winter, but the fat mountain tires just feel more solid and less likely to flat, and I don’t want to change/fix a tire in sub-freezing temperatures. I also don’t want to expose my Jamis Aurora to the salty slush of Pittsburgh’s winter roads.

    So I bought an old mountain bike–a lugged steel-framed 1993 Bianchi Ibex. It’s in great shape, and I hope to keep it that way, but for $100 or so, i’m less concerned about it than I am about my Jamis. I can’t put a full fender on the front very easily because of the mount for my cantilever brakes, but I have the splash-guard mounted over the down tube, and I have a rack on the back, and that’s working so far. I don’t much care if I get a little dirty/wet: I don’t bike in my work clothes; I shower and change when I get there. I’ve ridden my “new” winter/bad weather bike quite a bit these past two weeks (since I got it), and I like it very much. It’s not as fast as my touring bike, but that’s not the point. Nothing’s slower than sitting on the couch off my bike.

    As for studded tires, I think I’m going to buy a pair. Years ago on my hybrid, I hit some black ice and ended up with a bruise on the side of my butt/leg that felt even worse than it looked, and it looked BAD. Not to mention, I went down in the middle of the street. It wasn’t a busy street, but it might have been. I know more about riding on ice now, and I’ll be very careful, but any safety advantage I can find, I’ll take.

    It’s hard enough to get my wife to feel okay about me riding at night or in bad weather. She’s already a bit of a “bike widow,” given how much time I spend on my bikes. She doesn’t want to become an actual widow because of my bike, and she doesn’t want my kids to face that fate, either. I think it’s worth an investment of $120 (almost as much as I paid for the bike!) to be as safe as I can, for them, if not for myself.

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