Snow! (and studded tires)

Yesterday I awoke to 25-degrees and snow. Luckily Chicago didn’t have any measurable amount of the white stuff, but it was enough to blow around on the pavement and set the tone for wintry weather to come.

snow_bike_lane

By the time I rode home the roads were completely clear, but as I approached a red traffic light and a fellow cyclist, I heard the recognizable chatter of studded tires on dry pavement. When we stopped, I had to verify that my ears weren’t deceiving me, “Do you have studded tires on your bike already?” Of course he did! His preferred tire? Nokian brand tires from a company in Finland. He seemed very confident in his decisions – both in brand and in having mounted them on his bike already.

My friend Dottie from LGRAB swears by her Schwalbe brand studded tires, which I’m sure will soon be back on her Oma for the winter.

So far I’ve managed to commute year-round in Chicago without studded tires, but each year about this time (when I see white snowflakes dancing through the air and patches of ice forming on the streets), I question whether or not they would be helpful. I am impressed by the seeming lack of rolling resistance that studded tires offer while on dry roads. Apparently the carbide studs used in today’s studded tires are much more durable than the steel studs manufacturers used to use. The bike commuter I met last night definitely rolled along at a speedy pace.

Questioning your own need for studded tires? Stay tuned… Our very own Just Ask Jack will soon be offering up more answers to your questions about studded tires.


18 Comments

  1. PhilGE December 2, 2010 5:11 pm 

    I’m sure my Nokian Hakapeliitta W240′ have saved me from falling many times – but I’ll never know since I haven’t fallen since putting them on. I did fall a few times in the past without them and that was before I was riding as often as I do now. This is now my third winter with them and the studs are holding up quite well. I live in a small city in northern Indiana and road conditions in the snow vary from well-plowed to not plowed at all and full of icy ruts.

  2. Jami December 2, 2010 5:31 pm 

    I think I talked to that same guy as well. He was wearing a yellow jacket and had black bike shoes (which discribes half of all commuters)

  3. Apertome December 2, 2010 6:08 pm 

    I’m no expert — I’ve only tried two kinds of studded tires, and both were Nokians — but in my experience, they have very high rolling resistance. You can still go fast, but it takes a lot more effort. Also quick turns can be tricky.

    I think the question is not whether they’re helpful (they certainly are), but whether they’re worth the money. I managed to get some used, fortunately!

    You also have to consider the winter conditions for your area. If you ride through a lot of snow/slush, the studded tires might not be as helpful as if you live somewhere that gets a lot of ice.

  4. Elizabeth December 2, 2010 6:16 pm 

    @Jami – you described him (and many other commuters this time of year). I like seeing folks in yellow (or at least more visible) jackets during these dark commutes. It was the same guy if we were both on Lincoln 7-8pm.

  5. anthony December 2, 2010 8:17 pm 

    I’m in Chicago and was also riding yesterday am; sorry, but anyone rocking studded tires yesterday is just an idiot. There wasn’t any accumulation to speak of, and all they’re gonna do is bash up the studs and take twice as long to get to work. Just a bunch of snow dust blowing around. Now when the snow is all packed down in Jan/Feb, that’s a different story.

  6. PhilGE December 2, 2010 8:37 pm 

    Anthony, I put mine on at the end of October to 1) get used to the extra rolling resistance and 2) be prepared for ice – can happen any time here. Big snow accumulation is not the issue. It’s the packed down light stuff – even small amounts – that turns intersections and blown snow/drifted areas into skating rinks. Then there’s freezing rain to face and, of course, pack melted or rutted and iced over snow. I’ve wiped out in all those circumstances from St. Louis, to Ann Arbor, to our small city in northern Indiana – all without studded tires. Since using studs two years ago I haven’t wiped out – at all. That means no injuries and no damage to my all-around bike. With these tires, I often feel more secure riding my bike in the winter than driving. This gives *me* peace of mind and has saved me $$ and pain (emo and physical). Safe riding to you, no matter what tires you ride on.

  7. Sigmund December 3, 2010 2:33 am 

    This morning it was 12 below freezing, so I’ve been on my studed tires for a while…

    I used the Nokian W240 (700c) for a while, but found the tire unstable, because I felt the tire “rolling sideways” over the studs quite often. It was pretty unpredictable.

    The Schwalbe Marathon Winter 40mm is a different story. Stable, low rolling resistance, but still has a good grip on glazed snow and ice.

    I belive the unstableness of the Nokian W240 is caused by the relatively tall (hight relative to width) rubber knobs that the studs are attached to, thus beeing an “unstable platform” for the studs, causing sideways movement.

  8. Sigmund December 3, 2010 2:35 am 

    By the way, I’m living in Oslo, Norway.

  9. Samantha December 3, 2010 8:02 am 

    I’ve been having the same discussion over on my blog – we’ve been talking about the pros and cons of studded tires on Dutch bikes, in Chicago. Schwalbe makes carbide studded tires large enough for most Dutch bikes (28-inch wheels). I haven’t purchased any yet – they are expensive. The consensus seems to be that in truth, you’ll only need them for 10-20% of the time in Chicago, so you either ride carefully or get the tires and have peace of mind knowing that you are prepared.

  10. bradley December 3, 2010 9:50 am 

    I’m not in Chicago, but Spokane, and I’ve been riding my studs for a few weeks now. Wouldn’t be able to safely ride without them since we’ve had nearly two feet of snow and a couple of freeze/thaw cycles that have turned the roads pretty slick. I thought I was riding either the Nokian or Schwabe, but it turns out the name on the sidewall is Innova. They are a bit slower than my regular tire, adding about 4-5 minutes to my typically 20 minute/5.5 mile commute. When it was snowing on Tuesday, with very icy roads, I ws able to scoot right by a number of cars going up two different hills.

  11. Jami December 3, 2010 2:13 pm 

    @Elizabeth- Yeah, I think that was him. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen you on Lincoln as well (I recognize your pink handlebars). You organized the Ride of Silence, right?

    Since I’ve begun biking, yellow has become my favorite color. I have yellow fenders and yellow helmet and usually have a yellow ortleib pannier. Lately I’ve been sporting a yellow jacket as well. It might be overkill, but I certainly like the color!

    I’ll have to say hello next time I see you.

  12. Iron_Man December 3, 2010 2:23 pm 

    I made my own last year using 1/4″ sheet metal screws, duct tape and an old set of tires. I mounted 25 of them evenly spaced in each tire, through knobbies. It worked really quite well. Most of my route does not get any kind of snow clearing performed and since last year was such a consistently cold year the snow on my route got packed down to solid ice and stayed that way for weeks. I was able to stay upright and recover on occasional slips, still riding with care though. I probably could improve on the performance by adding another 10 screws, but it was great.

    And in the minds of my coworkers I went from “crazy guy who rides in the winter” to “completely insane guy that rides in the snow and ice.”

  13. llama December 3, 2010 2:51 pm 

    I have been using Nokian studded tires for about 9 years now, and though I may move a bit slower, I do not end up falling in a slush puddle or in front of a car that has been tailgating me. I really enjoy riding in horrible weather and due to the nature of my business, the worse the weather gets, the more I get to ride. Winter bike got them added on today in anticipation for tonight’s snow. Yay for snow and a big fat weeeeee for good gear!

  14. PhilGE December 5, 2010 12:08 pm 

    I’ll get to test out the bike in snow again this week. Plenty of lake effect stuff floating down today and forecast for the rest of the week. Finally back in good health after a rough week recovering from stomach flu. :-)

  15. Dweendaddy December 5, 2010 9:03 pm 

    I rode studded tires last winter in CT and can say they were totally worth it – if only for a dozen or so days of need. The difference in rolling resistance was real, buy the added safety on ice was amazing.

  16. Paul December 6, 2010 12:30 am 

    Studded tires are overrated. Just another gadget that the bicycle business tries to sell to us.

  17. Mark E Madison, WI December 9, 2010 6:48 am 

    I keep a spare ‘cheap’ bike (early 90’s Trek 830 that was a freebie at the shop I work at), shod with Nokians. I hold off until the paths are well packed with snow/ice before getting the old war horse out. It is slow on dry pavement, painfully slow, but on ice and packed snow it is fleet and keeps me upright and keeps me on the bike. Depending upon the season, I may only ride it for a few weeks in mid winter, but it’s worth the safety. I am always surprised to hear the clatter of studs well before any foul weather comes. Just means they are working harder and wearing down the nubs.

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