Test: Studded Bike Tires

Pedaling through the snow and ice is easy. But staying upright isn’t always so simple. One solution is studded tires like the Schwalbe Marathons, which I rode all last winter, meaning from the end of October until May here in the mountain town of Mammoth Lakes, Calif. My commute is unique because it starts at about 7,900 feet above sea level and climbs more than 1,000 feet in five miles to my office. Ascending is slow and steady. The descent can be fast, and there are a couple turns that are a haven for black ice.

In places like Mammoth — where we had about 48 feet of snow last winter! — studded tires make a lot of sense. The Schwalbe Marathons include dozens of small carbide studs to bite through ice and snow for grip. They come in several sizes — from 20 × 1.6 to 700 × 40C — and have a design where the center part of the tire is left as a “normal” rubber tread for max rolling speed. The studs truly come into play when you lean and turn.

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Schwalbe Marathon studded winter tire

All last winter, riding the Schwalbe Marathons on both front and back, I crashed only once, and it was rider error: I dove into a turn like I was racing a crit on dry pavement. Even the Schwalbe studs could not handle that action.

At about $78 apiece, the Schwalbe tires ain’t cheap. And tipping the scale at almost a kilogram, they’re not light either. But both of these factors are a small price to pay for keeping you upright in the winter and off the (ice-covered) asphalt.

—Stephen Krcmar lives and rides at Mammoth Mountain, Calif.

Posted by HJ Schmidt - 12/30/2010 12:13 PM

I now commute on these tires (on a Bacchetti G20 recumbent, 20” front tire) from Saint Paul to Plymouth (MN), and second Stephen’s assessment. I’ve ridden on Continental studded (2 rows) in past winters, and have discovered the advantage of the 2 extra rows of studs. A few weeks ago, I was coming down a long incline (Martin Sabo bike bridge in Mpls) with a curve at the bottom covered with a layer of perfectly smooth ice. I was doing about 22MPH when I hit it, and my back end started sliding out. I was convinced I was going to go down, but just when I leaned over to a certain point before losing it, the studs got a grip and very gently (like a big hand from up in the sky) kept me in control. A similar experience a year before on the 2 row Continentals ended with me going down and sliding 50 feet on the ice. For hitting ice “straight and level” either set of tires does a perfectly adequate job, but if you know you’re going to be on the slippery stuff, the extra studs are worth the weight, price (and noise).

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