Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Once More with Feeling: the Return of the Winter Tire Dilemma

Snowy Streets, Cambridge MA
After last year's mild winter, this holiday season caught us off guard with a bountiful snowfall. My two ridable transport bikes at the moment are a Brompton and a 650B prototype mixte (more on that soon). The mixte sports 42mm Grand Bois Hetre tires, and so I thought it would be a great idea to ride it in the snow. After all, the Hetres ride so nicely over unpaved, uneven terrain. Crusty snow feels kind of similar. I took to the streets. 

Here I will pause to admit, that despite 3 previous winters of cycling behind my belt, I had never before ridden on roads that look quite like what's pictured here. There was never a need to, since our neighbourhood usually gets plowed and salted pretty thoroughly. Typically the streets look more like this - with snowbanks piled high on the sides, but the travel lanes mostly cleared. This time around, maybe on account of the holidays, they had not cleared the snow all that well. I got to experience the real deal. 

Snowy Streets, Cambridge MA
The snow on the roads created terrain of three distinct categories. There was the even, packed snow. Riding on it felt similar to riding on post-rain dirt roads, nicely packed and kind of softish. The Hetres handled well there. There was the crusted-over snow, uneven and slippery at times, though not outright icy. This too felt manageable. And then there were the occasional stretches of deeper, slushier snow. I expected it to feel similar to mud, but it was way more slidey and my front wheel kept fishtailing. Still, overall I thought that the tires did fine. There were only a few stretches where I felt uneasy, and I attributed that to a lack of confidence. 

So I got home and uploaded some pictures of my snow ride, planning to comment on how decently the Grand Bois Hetres handled. But promptly the pictures received feedback from others to the opposite effect, warning that these tires ride poorly in the snow. The fact that I happily rode them and felt they were fine strikes me as funny - in a concerning sort of way. Ideally, I'd like to be able to tell the difference between lack of traction and lack of confidence.

Snowy Streets, Cambridge MA
And so, once more the Winter Tire Dilemma is upon me. Naturally, everyone is suggesting studded tires. This is my 4th winter commuting by bike and I have yet to try them. Partly this is because they are expensive and I cannot seem to commit to a wheel size. I am riding 650B now, but in winters past I've ridden 26", 28" and 700C, and who knows what I'll be riding next winter. I am also convinced that getting studded tires and mounting them on my bike will activate the Umbrella Carrying Principle, ensuring that I will not need them. 

Finally, the very fact of having gotten through 3 winters without them makes me question whether I really need studs. Winters here aren't really that bad, and tires with some tread seem to do pretty well. The Schwalbe Marathon Plus are the husband's favourite for city slush and snowy paths alike, and they are even available for the Brompton's wheel size. The performance-oriented Continental Top Winter IIs also come highly recommended. Knobby mountain bike tires are another popular choice. One issue, as I understand it, is that no tire is equally good for both snow and ice. Studded tires help with ice, but not snow. Tires with heavy tread help with snow, but not ice. This winter, my commutes cover longer distances and more remote areas than previously, so a good winter tire is worth considering ...though with all the choices and factors involved, I suspect spring might come by the time I decide. 

77 comments:

  1. Just a brief note--I rode studded tires in Wisconsin and seriously needed them a couple of times when traffic pushed me hard to the right. Hitting glaze ice/black ice is very, very bad. Even worse is having to run over uneven flows when there's a semi on your left (the one that forced you onto the uneven flows). For these events, nearly any studded tire (I was running Nashbar-branded Kendas at the time) is worth its weight in precious metals or herbs.

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  2. Moderate knobs on the sides to give grip when you slide, semi-slick down the centre to keep moving at any speed, lots of width and pressure as low as you can go without flatting. When I need studs I don't ride. Sloooow, noisy and twice the rolling resistance. What I really want for winter (and trails): Surly Krampus.

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  3. I live on the South Shore and get similar conditions, though streets are clear here now. I like the Schwalbe Marathon winter studded tires. Yes, they are slower, but it is colder, so slower with more effort keeps me warmer. These tires love the conditions pictured and I feel comfortable and relaxed riding them. Previously...not so much. I also had to make the size choice, as I was only buying one set, so I have a dedicated snow/ice bike. Heavy, deep, unplowed snow is where these tires won't go, but maybe because I am not strong enough to pedal that hard.....I tend to bog down.....not an issue on roads anyway, that was off-road. I know they have saved me, though without them I am less likely to venture out onto the icy roads anyway. I like Icebug shoes too, so maybe I just like studs in general and hate falling. With them I feel like I am loose and relaxed, moving normally, not tense and hesitant.

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  4. I think around here studded tires are about 95% demoralizing, 4% comforting, and 1% necessary. This is on a per-hour or per-mile basis; most of the time they are unnecessary and you know it, sometimes you are not sure, and rarely they are absolutely necessary. I've been using them for 6 or 7 years.

    You do sometimes need them; if you are on the (unsalted) Minuteman Bike Trail you need them when the thaw-freeze is just wrong, or when the plow misses some spots or is used too late. A friend of mine riding to work in Boston went down on ice and broke his collarbone; he now uses some pretty ridiculous studded tires (Nokian something Extreme; I use W240 now, for a while I used W106 and it was not bad).

    In my experience, you need them less in the back, but they are still helpful there. I've tried several varieties over the years, and tires that are terrifying on the front (as in, you hit ice, and the front end starts to wander) are completely acceptable in the back (these were Schwalbe Snow Stud -- Marathon Winter is fine, the Snow Studs put their studs too far outboard and then expect you to change inflation with changing conditions. Yeah, right). The Snow Stud vs Nokian 106 comparison tells me that sometimes they really are necessary, because both tires are also plenty knobby for snow traction.

    The main other reason to have them is if you want to know that you could just hop on the bike and go, and not say "oh, this is not really a good time". My car is old and crappy (and this morning, the windows were iced on the inside), I'd like my bike to be reliable. Lots of people just choose not to ride in conditions that would make studs a really-good-idea. With studs, the only real limiters are deep unplowed snow, and (of course) idiots in cars who insist on driving without traction.

    Studs also give you the option of "looking for trouble"; two years ago it was very snowy and Lexington botched their plowing of the bike path, and it was pretty much all ice after Arlington. That year, I also rode out on Spy Pond, though the surface was slushy enough I might not have needed the studs.

    Current plan (as of this year) is that I bought a spare front wheel (including magneto and disk rotor). It gets the newest studded tire, and it comes off the bike when the ice is melted to extend the life of the tire. Rear gets the tires I don't like (Snow Stud) or the old and worn tires (the studs lose their edge, and also get displaced slightly outboard). This way, the bike is only 50% demoralizing most of the time, AND I extend the useful life of my expensive tires.

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  5. I prefer cyclocross tires on my sloppy weather bike, generally Ritchy Speed Max, though I have used various others. I've had little use for the metal studded tires, but have had some falls when hitting glare ice unexpectedly so perhaps this is the winter to invest in a pair.

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  6. My tires, the Finnish Nokian Hakkapeliitta (love the name), have both heavy tread and studs, and seem to work as well as possible on snow and ice. It is still a pain, especially when the rut-filled snow hardens overnight, or when the road is seriously icy as in your picture. I would ride on the snowier part on either side of the really icy center.
    That said, snow/ice riding skills improve a lot with practice. Once you get out a few times I think you'll find yourself growing more confident.

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    1. ~70 years of year-round biking with slicky summertires, but on this winter i put almost by force Nokian Hakkapeliita studded tires on my 85-year old fathers citybike.
      Later positive emotions were powerful...

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  7. Maybe should not talk, living as I do in semi-tropical Chicago, but going on 8.5 years without a car, I do not need studded tires.

    There may have been a few days where it snowed during the morning or afternoon commutes. Otherwise the city does a good enough job removing snow from the streets that studs are just going to be hitting pavement.

    Arguably the city does too good a job clearing snow. There have been evenings where I spend more time cleaning salt off the bike before bringing it in to the apartment than I did riding on the commute.

    More distant suburban and rural roads are a different matter. Sommerville and Cambridge appear pretty built up to me.

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  8. My commuter is a fixed gear with 700X34 Specialized Captain CX cyclocross tires. They're light, and you can pump them to 100 psi, or you can ride them at 60 psi and have great snow traction. I took them out after our first snow, and it handled slush, snow, and road-packed snow without slipping. Matter of fact, I don't think I had a slip once. Not much helps ice, but honestly, I take mostly main roads that are either snow covered or clean, so I guess I don't worry as much about ice as I would normally.

    Something else to keep in mind is that, as 650b is still kind of a weird size, it commands a pretty penny as far as price (I've been going between 590 and 584 as a conversion size for one of my bikes - chose 590, because everything is cheaper). If you did have 26" or 700c, it'd probably be (marginally) cheaper, even though those are still $80ish I think.

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  9. I rode year 'round in Boston and always had (at least) a studded tire on the front through the winter.

    The thing about studded tires is you don't need them roughly 95% of the time, but the difference when you do need them is serious enough for me to not question using them. Its true that studs slow you down and make noise, but so what? Its only for a few months.

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  10. For roads like you show in these pictures, I use Schwalbe Ice Spikers. They have 304 studs per tire, and aggressive knobbies. They are also made of softer tire rubber similar to a car snow tire and stay supple when cold. Also, they don't throw studs like a cheaper tire will. It is worth noting that they grip significantly well on both snow and ice, particularly when run at about 35psi or so. Since I ride all the time all winter in all weather, I bought them (26inch size for my mtn bike) figuring that even though they are expensive, a knee cap costs more (heh).

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  11. I have two bikes that I use for daily transportation. One has studded tires in winter, the other does not. I feel ready for anything.

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  12. Hetres are probably the worst tires for slush or ice; Every bike I've ridden with a smooth tread pattern has done poorly in those conditions, though I've not actually tried Hetres. I've been tempted each winter to get studded tires, but as dr2chase said, they really only benefit you about 1% of the time. The rest of the time it's just dead weight and high rolling resistance. If you're used to riding on high quality, supple, smooth rolling tires and make the switch to studded knobbies, the difference in feel is like suddenly pulling a trailer, or so I'm told by those who use studded tires.

    I'm not convinced of the need for studded tires. I think I've found my "sweet spot" for winter tires: an aggressive shoulder tread with a smooth center ridge. This allows for a smooth ride without the vibration of knobbies, but enough bite, especially around turns. The Scwhalbe Land Cruiser fits this bill, but it's only available in 26". When I was riding a 26" mtn bike in winter, these tires served me well. I'm still trying to find a 700x28C equivalent for my current winter rider.

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  13. If you had disk brakes, the solution might be tire chains. You can quickly put these on and off as needed. But nearly all of them interfere with regular brakes.

    I live in the Philadelphia area. We have a lot less snow than Boston, but our streets are not as well plowed and salted. The worst situation is after a few days of thraw/freeze and you have black ice everywhere. So I do use studded tires. I have them on their own wheels so I can swap them in and out as needed. They help in ice and heavily crusted snow and a few other situations.

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    1. It's the same for me--each year, I think about studded tires and don't do it, for the reasons stated--the amount of time you really need them is actually fairly small. I thought about it a little harder this year because I need new tires anyway. I hadn't thought about chains, and I do have disc brakes--I may look into that. Thanks for the tip.

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  14. I commute along a mix of roads and paths was really glad to have studded tires for the Charles river path and bike lanes this morning.

    They are totally demoralizing as Dr2Chase noted. The silver lining is that every winter I feel glum about not getting any stronger, then feel like a superhero when I switch the tires out in Spring.

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  15. I live in Manitoba (Canada) and have been commuting by bike year round for 20 years. I have tried just about every option in that time and the absolute best is 700C hybrid tire with studs. A skinny tire is the best as it cuts through the snow easiest and the studs are there if there is ice under that snow.
    That said I just got a Surly Moonlander and it is very capable and makes every ride fun, but its far too nice for a commuter.

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  16. Velouria, the thing I discovered, cycling here in the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound, is that low/lower-trail bikes handle a bit better on snow/ice than high-trail bikes like my 1983 Ritchey, my "winter commuter" bike. That sucker is one slippery bike due to its 69-degree steertube and fork without enough offset to compensate. Took a nasty fall on a very straight but icy road last winter, making me forever leery of riding on snow with that beast.

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    1. My subject sample is limited to 3 low trail city bikes (the mixte pictured here, my Brompton, and a vintage Austrian bike) vs a dozen or so mid/high trail city bikes. In treacherous road conditions I have been most comfortable on the low trail bikes, so I am inclined to agree. That said, I know others who feel the opposite, finding low trail bikes too unstable for winter.

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  17. I've ridden year-round in all sorts of conditions (including up in Watertown, NY where "winter" seemed to be about 9 months of the year) and never NEEDED studded tires, but sometimes thought it would be nice to put them on one of my bikes.

    Mostly I ride my fixie in the winter, which seems to give me a bit more control on crud. Of course, I also take my fixie mountain biking, which means I'm kind of stupid and a bad example when it comes to "choosing the right tool for the job."

    But more seriously, while you can swap tires to match conditions, unless you have an unlimited wheelset budget you can end up spending more time swapping than riding, which is no fun, so if the Hetres work well for you in most conditions, I'd probably just leave them on and be prepared to walk the bike over the absolute nastiest patches. Then I'd say "also put some 700c studded tires on your fixed gear and go to town!"


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  18. You would ride that nice new bike in salt slush?

    The safe bike in icy conditions is a kids BMX bike. You can put your feet down. If you fall you don't fall so far. Variable #1, #2, and #3 that determines how bad you get hurt is how far did you fall. In any case the only saddle position for any bike used on slick roads is low as it can go. The stable position is down. I mean, once you're sitting on the ground you're real stable. As close to that as possible with the wheels turning.

    A low saddle will not slow you down. An ambulance ride will slow you down.

    Are you wearing postman's studs on your boots? If you don't feel you need them to walk why do you need them to ride? And if you do slip on black ice the only place studs will do any good is on the boots.

    If a kid's BMX is just too much the good winter compromise is a Chicago-built Schwinn Breeze. I recommend the Breeze for any gender 'cause the low crossbar makes it easy to step off and drop. Bendix coaster brake, low-temp grease, and add a front sidepull. Maybe you don't need lowtemp grease for Boston. Carry your stuff in a backpack. When it gets sloppy anything carried on racks will just be slimed.

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  19. You don't need special tires, you need a special vehicle:

    http://tinyurl.com/agl8pzy

    I had to sell my Ken Rogers, so I was able to ride it only one winter and a mild one at that, but I can tell you there is a huge thrill in being able to deliberately aim at ice patches while pedaling at normal speeds. Of course, 25 mm road tires on a left-wheel-drive machine aren't the best for traction, but they do a lot better than 25 mm road tires on a bicycle in the same conditions. If I had to ride regularly in snow and ice, I'd be on a BRT (British Racing Tricycle).

    Here's a retired Brit who put over 12K KM on his trike across 12 months in Denmark:

    http://pedal-trikes.blogspot.com/

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    1. Awesome. I think we have the answer to what I'll be riding next winter!

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    2. Nice Bike! However, a velomobile like the Flevobike Orca or the Sinner Mango has much better weather protection and needs less maintenance. These velomobiles are ideal for winter riding and could even be used as a car replacement all year round.

      Wim

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    3. Trike drive wheels are much easier to chain than bike drive wheels. Studs in a trike drive wheel give traction with many fewer drawbacks than when the same tire is directly under the saddle.

      If you only chain or stud the one wheel it is still possible to throw the trike into fabulous loops and glides on frozen ponds.

      It is also possible (only when the black ice is extensive) to go into 3 wheel drift in traffic or on a hill without the sort of 'control' that you can have by dropping a bike and stepping away.

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    4. Hi Wim

      The best velomobile was Manfred Curry's Landskiff Stadtlimousin. Leather upholstery and laprobes. Propulsion was provided by a chauffeur/pro athlete. All the little problems being discussed here become simply the chauffeur's responsibility. Hopefully the chauffeur is also a skilled mechanic/restoration artist/engineer. When I win the lottery......

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  20. I've been riding about bi-weekly in northern Minnesota on a cheap mountain bike with Nokian W240's. Pretty deep tread and 240 tungsten carbide studs. For the stuff I've been on around here they are a game-changer. I ride on back roads, busy roads, forest roads, and trails. The tires are good on solid ice, packed snow (with or without ridges; the studs are distributed over a wide surface), shallow new snow, slush. They're slow on pavement, but I ride fatter tires most of the time anyway. Worst surface: new partially-packed snow (driven on once or twice by cars but not solid yet); that's probably the stuff that Pugsley tires are good for, but I'm not sure anything really handles it well.

    The problem with winter riding in a place like Bemidji (and most other places with heavy-duty winter) is that the surfaces are so varied on any given ride - you can get a good helping of just about any possible condition on any given ride, so generalist tires are probably the best compromise.

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  21. If you have a spare set of tires, or even if you don't, you can stud them yourself. There is a great thread about it at bikeforums.net. My tires are skinnier hybrid tires, and completely slick with an inset pattern of tread. I rode in the snow decently last winter with only 5 falls completely un-studded. But, that's very risky and one of the last falls I landed hard on my hip and was sore for week.

    This year, I tried out studs early to work out the kinks in last year's studding attempt. Two old tubes as liners works for me. I used lath screws since my tire is smooth without any knobs to give the screw any extra rubber to keep it more stabilized- lath screws have a wider flatter head on them.

    I just took Zoomie with two studded tires on an utility adventure pulling a trailer! The studs helped with rear wheel traction where before the tire would just start spinning and I might get nowhere. That happened in deep snow or very icy spots. Otherwise I might consider only the front tire with studs.

    Handling with the studs feels "odd". There is something different about it compared to no studs. Maybe the extra material on the sides of the tire makes the bike resist any sort of lean? It's something I quickly get used to and can't identify after the first trip.

    For me, the choice is clear- studs give me the ability to ride instead of spinning out or constantly sliding.

    I wish I had extra tires though. When I decide I don't need the studs anymore I just remove them (just be careful and make sure no wires inside have broken), but doing that takes a little while. It would be easier to just mount a tire already studded and then be able to swap to the normal tire as needed.

    http://i303.photobucket.com/albums/nn158/redeyedtreefr0g/Bike/IMG_20121231_160152_zpsc968012e.jpg

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  22. OK, just saw that someone mentioned tire chains and were apparently being completely serious, Googled bicycle tire chains and sumbitch, there they were. Tire chains.

    I like to go ride my MTB around in the snow on days when we get a good storm and everything screeches to a halt, it's gone in a day or two usually so you have to go quick. I usually have two or three good opportunities in a whole winter. To get up in the morning and climb on my bike to go ride to work through that... All you people up there are like gods to me.

    Spindizzy

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    1. When I lived in the lake effect belt we'd get several feet of snow at a time and when the plows would come through the end of the driveway could end up a 7-foot wall of snow. The way I saw it carrying the bike over the drift and riding a few miles to work instead of digging out first thing in the morning was the LAZY option ;-)

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    2. "Googled bicycle tire chains and sumbitch, there they were." "

      Oh nothing surprises me anymore. Off to buy chains for my new snow trike.

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  23. i made a set of diy studded tires out of pop rivets. they were awful and squirrely on the roads BUT i started riding them on the frozen lakes and ponds around me in Maine and that was awesome fun...it was some of the most fun i've ever had on a bike... on the roads, not so much.

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  24. As to the extra cost of studded tires, the time to think about getting a pair is in July. REI closes out Nokian Mount and Grounds at under $30.00 each. The rural roads in Michigan where I ride glaze over from light drifting of the snow after the plow and salt trucks come through. Mount and Grounds with 160 studs get me to the store safely under these variable conditions

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  25. Bertin753, try a Longstaff trike, both wheels are driven thru freewheels, limited slip diff, after a fashion. Longstaffs are significantly less terrifying than regular barrows.
    I did see a Pugsley out on the snowy trail, girl was having great fun.

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  26. If urban winter (snowy, packed snow the point of being ersatz ice, and icy) conditions were an issue for me, I would get a current Cannondale Hooligan for the nimbleness, the low step over, the IGH (because rear ders are vulnerable in snow), the disc brakes, and the sizing for adults unlike BMX bikes. Then I would worry and experiment tires (maybe knobby on the front, studded on the rear?? Vice-versa??) Oh, and the price of those bikes.

    I have an 8 and fortunately only worry about keeping my face and fingees warm...doesn't snow this place.

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  27. I ride studded mountain bike tires all winter in Minneapolis (pretty real winter here) and they handle very well in just about everything. They are Nokia Mount and Ground tires (1.9) and they are fairly knobby. I've yet to take a spill in the two winters I been riding them,though I don't push my luck, particularly in traffic. You'd love 'em. I think they are $50 at REI.

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  28. Many interesting responses here reflecting different riding styles and climates. I do think it's important to distinguish recreational snow riding from winter roadcycling from riding around the neighbourhood from long distance commuting. The same solution does not necessarily work for all, including choice of bike, tires and drivetrain.

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  29. This is New England, for god's sake! We don't need no freakin studded tires, we plow the freakin roads! I doubt there are more than 2-3 days in the average NE winter where anyone might even consider studded tires. If you get off on changing tires frequently, fine, knock yourself out. I ride 35 mm Panaracer Tourguards year round on the North Shore. They work fine in snow and, with care, on ice.

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  30. So, the Hetres handled the snow and ice fine? I have seen some blog postings of people riding their hetres in snow, but had also read about the lack of traction. I've never tried studded tires, and I would only need them once or twice a year, and if roads are cleared why bother? I did ride in proper deep winter with mountain bike tires and was fine. You have to ride more carefully, but that is all.

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    1. I genuinely thought they were fine, but more experienced riders disagree. So, reader beware.

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  31. There is one 650b sized studded tire made by nokian

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    1. Yup. I might try them just for the sake of reviewing them and understanding what they feel like. But, the Umbrella Carrying Principle...

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    2. Borrow 'em, then give 'em back before the umbrella gods take any notice... :-)

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    3. Please do it...I would be able to ride under your umbrella, as I am not that far away! That's my primary reason for putting them on my bike anyway.....then, since the roads are clear, I just ride another bike. See....I have not put them on yet this winter....tomorrow!

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  32. Schwalbe winter for me really did the trick with snow. I previously rode on plowed major streets and felt that drivers were pretty aggressive towards me. Because there's less road space and more uncertainty regarding cyclists' behavior, my driver friends say. And it's true, as bike lanes vanish under snow piles, there is nothing but the middle of the road. Because my commute includes a good deal of back roads, parks and dirt roads, I tried studs this season. Totally worth it. The only situation they could not handle was 6 inches of sloth and then 6 inches of sloth frozen rock hard over night. Other than that, my country rides in the snow were magic. Like cross-country skiing on two wheels. After all, it's an investment that will last for a while. And the Schwalbe have studs only on the sides; on pavement you just pump them up real good and the studs hardly even touch the ground.

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    1. Googled those just now. If 26 x 1.9 does it for you one of the discount houses has them available for under $30. Regular price does not seem too high either.

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  33. Snow and ice is the one thing that pretty much grinds my cycling to a halt. Can't really justify money for another bike b/c it's only a week or so that roads are too scary for this timid rider, so I end up doing a lot of walking and bus riding. I'm impressed with those posters who manage to continue cycling!! kudos.

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  34. I'm curious if you have had any issues with fenders during snowy rides. Do you find the tight clearances an issue?

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    1. Yes. I will save this for another post.

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  35. I'm with the co-hab; marathon plus tires have always done the trick for me. They're my go-to commute tire, regardless of road conditions, and typically my first choice for snow/slush/ice here in the Jersey suburbs of Philly.

    I'd worry more about all-weather braking in those conditions. I love rim-brakes, but i tend to go for something with drums/coasters in those conditions. (Discs work well, but salt is murder on disc componentry in the long-term-- plus they're queaky.)

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  36. I'm heading into my 6th year of car free existence and I don't use studded ties in the winter. As long as I am careful I haven't had any trouble in the snow. If it's really icy I will walk to work though. I just can't see getting studded tires for perhaps what really amounts to snow on only a few days - a week at the most. If we had a lot of snow then perhaps I'd consider it.

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  37. I live in Western Mass on the NY border. It's snowy and icy here; however the roads are well cleared, and I don't move over to the shoulder if someone wants to pass me, until I KNOW that there's room enough for me not to ride on icy / hard pack. I have a few sets of studded tires, but unless I'm riding on trails, they're way overkill for the daily rides / or fun rides on weekends. They turn a light bike into an anchor, ie uphill...and since it's 70% uphill here that's a considerable amount of time and energy lost! Better to choose a good line all the time.

    And for the few days when one is caught out in the snow...ride in the middle of the road, keep the lights on etc (and as always...a MIRROR is a better safety device than studs or a [sic] helment.

    Like that old advert said, ' designed to drive AROUND the obstacle not into it.'

    However, lighter traffic here makes it easer to do this than in urban areas I'd think.

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  38. I ride studded tires (marathon winters) on the 'big white bike' in Somerville since I have precious cargo. And I reliably ride my bike in most weather conditions, so I expect my bike to be similarly reliable.
    I have a pair of 650B Nokian A10s from my Raleigh Sports that hasn't been riden for the past two years. You are welcome to borrow them for a few months. They are 40mm wide, so should fit in place of the Hetres easily.

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    1. Thanks Brian! Hadn't realised you converted your Sports to 650B, that's so neat.

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  39. The Nokian A10's are a good bet. I've been using them for several years here in Michigan. There is enough tread to help with the snow and studs along the outer edge to control slipping and turning in icy patches without being a complete pain on wet or dry pavement. The Finns have their own metric standards, all the Nokian tires I have used measure 3-5 mm smaller than their nominal size when mounted.

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  40. I had my first ride in the snow on Saturday night, when it snowed in Boston. Unfortunately, it seems that nobody makes a winter tire in the 650A size, so I was just riding on my regular Kenda tires. Definitely a rather scary experience, and I actually lost control and crashed into the guardrail while riding in the bike lane on the Harvard Bridge on Mass Ave, crossing into Cambridge. Fortunately, I felt the fall coming, put my weight to the right so I wouldn't fall into traffic, and there wasn't much traffic in the immediate vicinity, anyway!

    After that, I did the whole rest of the ride home in 1st gear, with the snow essentially keeping my leg iced, where it'd hit the guardrail.

    I looked up winter tires for my size after getting home...why doesn't anyone make them for 650A?

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  42. Interesting topic and something I've been thinking about and experimenting with the last few weeks too. That is since we've received snow here in Central Oregon. I don't have the years of winter riding experience like some of your readers do, but I am finding out and agreeing with your husband that the Schwalbe Marathons do a pretty good job in a variety of conditions. Yes, they can feel a bit unstable on ridgy ice covering roads as well as the some of the heavier slush. But I've kept them on after initially thinking I would put my knoby mountain bike tires on. Anyway, good luck in your pursuits!

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  43. I live in Northern Minnesota, and the studded tyres i have are cheaper but the studs do help on ice. They are Innova 28" X 1 5/8" and they are like skinny studded mtn bike tyres, the have studs, knobs and they are like a road tyres as well. Here's a link to a picture to see what i'm talking about: http://www.biketiresdirect.com/product/innova-tundra-wolf-studded-snow-tire
    they are a cheaper type of studded tyre but they work in a pinch. They're some studs missing, i got them used, but they do grip. I'm going to buy a stud replacement kit, they are fairly cheap. I like them but i would recommend investing in a better pair if you are a bike commuter.

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  44. It would be interesting to see how the Brompton copes with the snow (with or without special tires). I love your blog by the way! Carlton, Brompton owner (in snowy Toronto)

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    1. Do you ride yours in Toronto? You'll have more luck testing it in real-life snow conditions there than in Boston I think.

      I've been riding mine for the past couple of days, but the roads have been plowed better now. Just have to watch out for patches of crusty snow and ice. What I like about the Brompton is how maneuverable it is in those conditions. The Kojaks are too slick though. If I end up riding it through the winter, I'll get a set of Schwalbe Marathons for it.

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    2. Yes, I ride it all the time although since we had snowfall I am giving it a rest as there is so much salt everywhere...and also I am originally from the UK where everything grinds to a halt with a few millimeters of snow. I am thinking about upgrading my tyres too, I have the standard Brompton ones at the moment.

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  45. I have looked into studs, but no one seems to make studded tires that fit any of the tires on my bikes (26" and 28") However, the person who commented above about chains has got me thinking about using my DL-1 as a "snow bike"- Chains probably wouldn't interfere with the rod brakes on the rear, and the hub brake on the front wouldn't be a problem. putting chains on would be infinitely easier than changing out tires, even if they did exist in my bikes' sizes.

    hmmm, off to see if tire chains exist in 26" or 28"....
    Didn't ride today because of a nasty upper respiratory infection (gollum, gollum) but saw at least 10 bikers this morning out in the 10 degree weather!

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    1. Have you tried replacing the Delta Cruisers with Marathon Plus tires in winter?

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  46. For less cost than tire chains or studded tires, some people have used zip ties to give their tires more traction. Unfortunately, like the tire chains, it has the same problem of being unusable for bikes with rim brakes. http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2010/12/zip-ties-snow-tires/

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  47. I used to commute in college and grad school in Cambridge. One year, I made the old screws-in-knobbies DIY studded tires. They were so inefficient until the screws wore down that I only rode them for one season. For the rest of my time I left my slicks on the MTB and took the bus for the couple of days that it took for the roads to get clean enough to ride again. I just didn't find the trouble worth it. I also lived and studied on a very convenient bus line, and could walk 45 minutes if need be.

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  48. I have to say that the photos of that bike against the dazzling snow are gorgeous!

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  49. I suggest to consider your typical winter season and try to imagine the worst scenario that you'll be stuck out in trying to get home. Peter White has a great page on studded tires; worth a check if anyone hasn't been there yet.

    They don't plow my immediate neighborhood, and one winter in the dark coming home from work I upended at 3 mph on sheet ice from the afternoon melt. Slow speed and caution did nothing in the dark when I couldn't tell what was ice and what was just wet pavement. I bought Winter Marathons after that, which totally solved the sheet ice scenario, and works very well on snow-pack with icy transitions to pavement like your photos too. It is a compromise tire like most of them; it is terrible in 4 inches of snow, or especially deep slush, but is tolerable on dry pavement. I can walk around the two intersections which collect deep slush on the couple of days a year it builds up, and I'd rather do that than to try and commute on dry pavement with Nokian Extreme 294's. Dedicating a second bike as a snow bike might be another solution which could hold very aggressive tires. But your route and weather will be different than it is here just north of Denver, so your normal tires with a slight reduction in air pressure may be good enough to get you home, only you can decide.

    And +1 on the photos in the snow, those are beautiful!

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  50. Considering the cost, frequency of use, likelihood they'll be needed throughout the ride, and installation / removal time, I think I'd call a cab. I know this isn't the strict cyclist thing to do.

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  51. I found knobby tires on the MTB sufficient for a number of years in PA & DE, but after 2-3 falls each year finally bought studded tires (Nokkian W106). They were great to have on the days they were needed. (I suspect Boston may be more serious about snow removal, since there is so much more than in this area. Its also possible I just got tired of a few falls each year after 25 years of commuting).

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  52. Other studded tire/ice info -- they're much more useful in the dark. It's a good deal harder to tell ice from puddle then. When not sure if it's ice or not, braking with the rear tire is recommended, because it's easy enough to go into a skid if it's ice.

    Slow speeds don't necessarily help; if you're making large wheel movements to stay upright, you can unstick yourself from the ice. Other problem comes on uneven ice; if you lose forward momentum and step on the pedal to "go", you may unstick, and find yourself not going, and half-sliding.

    They're somewhat less demoralizing on the second day. I run over snow lumps and small ice lumps to amuse myself. No need to ring the bell, either -- pedestrians always hear you coming.

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  53. Very interesting post, for me in Spain the choice it`s easier, the winter is not so hard but i enjoy this read

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  54. I haven't read through all the comments, but I just started using spiked tires after more than 10 years of refusing. Although they suck on pavement, they are amazing in ice and light snow. In fact, with spiked tires I don't have to slow down at all vs my normal summer speeds under most conditions.

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  55. Did some MTB DIY studded tires a few years back and it was a blast--riding hard pack snow like the wheels were on rails is a good time.
    As far as 'road' snow riding goes, I think it's a bit of an open ended debate here--personally I'd prefer slicks/studs on pack and ice, on roads that get a load of traffic, but heavier tread or knobs on loose snow or loose over hard pack if it were less traveled routes.

    As much as I'd hate to dissuade anyone from a tire buying spree, (it IS fun,) I'd mention a few square inches of difference in contact patch size or a reasonable tire pressure difference will likely be as/more noticeable than a tread change in many conditions...

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  56. I prefer cyclocross tires on my sloppy weather bike, generally Ritchy Speed Max, though I have used various others. I've had little use for the metal studded tires, but have had some falls when hitting glare ice unexpectedly so perhaps this is the winter to invest in a pair.
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  57. For bonafide ice and packed snow I use a set of DIY studded mountain bike tires. I use these tires once or twice a year typically. Almost not worth the effort of setting them up, but if you have some old knobbies laying around anyway... They have really amazing traction on treacherous roads but don't roll so fast.

    Otherwise use the widest slick tire you have at the lowest pressure you can get away with.

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  58. Studs only work when the tire is hard, check air pressure often, it will differ if u fill indoors (warmer air). In winter, leave bike out side, and the brakes will work best.

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