You might think it’s impossible to ride your bike in the winter, either because of the cold, snow, ice, or all of the above. But in addition to winter cycling clothes to keep you warm, you can buy studded bicycle tires just like you can buy studded tires for your car.
Sound strange? It’s not. Studded bicycle tires mean you have a safe ride even with snow and ice everywhere, meaning you’re not stuck indoors on a trainer for half the year. So, what are studded bike tires made of, and what brands should you buy?
All About Studded Bicycle Tires
One of the biggest dangers for anything with wheels is black ice. You can’t see it until you’re on top of it, at which point you have as much chance of rolling right over it without incident as you do of losing control.
That’s why studded bike tires help you ride safely in the winter. There are some things you should know about them, though, before you decide whether they’re right for you.
How much do studded bicycle tires help, and how effective are studded bicycle tires for winter?
Studded bicycle tires work the same way snow tires for cars work. They have anywhere from 70 to more than 300 little metal studs that bite into the ice. The bite gives you the traction you otherwise wouldn’t have.
Because of that, you won’t slip and slide all over the place and risk falling (especially in front of a car if you’re on an icy shoulder).
Unfortunately, these aren’t the perfect solution. You get traction, but you don’t have the same traction you have on dry asphalt or concrete. It’s more like the traction you have while walking on a lightly sanded sidewalk. The grains of sand help keep you from slipping, but if you start running, they can roll, and you’ll probably end up losing control.
Some cyclists prefer studded tires on their front wheel only, but your best bet is to have them on both your front and back wheels. Even though your front wheel is your steering wheel, you use your rear brake to maintain control around turns and to come to a gradual stop.
The last thing you want is your bike to start fishtailing because your rear tire has no traction.
Finally, remember that studded tires work well for ice, but not for snow or rain. In snow, they’ll just sink, and in the rain, they’ll try and bite into the pavement, and you’ll ruin your tires faster than you can say “studded tires.”
Do you need studded bicycle tires?
Studded bike tires are heavier than your standard road slicks and mountain bike tires. More weight means you need to put in more energy to ride.
Consider this: Studded tires aren’t necessarily the best thing for your bike at all if you have 26-inch wheels. But for other sizes, you might be better off switching to a wider tire with pressure around 10 to 20 psi lower than usual.
If you have 700cc wheels, look for a tire with a design specific to wet, sticky conditions. That may include studded tires, and it may not. If you’re not sure, talk to the specialists at your bike shop.
In the end, though, you want what will work best for you. If you’re on a budget, find what’s closest to what you need that fits your budget.
How long do studded bicycle tires last?
These tires usually last you two to three seasons. If you use them all winter long, they won’t last nearly as long even on dry pavement.
Asphalt and concrete will wear down the studs in studded bicycle tires quickly. If you have carbide studs as opposed to steel studs, they’ll last longer. However, if you’re a full-time winter bike commuter, you can expect to buy new studded tires every one to three years.
To extend their longevity, try using them only when ice is present or likely to be present. Use your regular tires when you know your roads and pathways will be dry.
See what this rider has to say about his experience with studded tires.
How to protect shoes from studded bicycle tires
Protecting your shoes from studded bicycle tires doesn’t take all that much unless you plan to regularly run over your feet or step on your tires.
However, if you’re someone who makes their own winter bike shoes because regular bike shoes just don’t work in cold weather, be careful with what you use for uppers. You want something very durable and warm, whether you’re using studded tires or not.
Best Studded Bicycle Tires
So, you want to ride your bike in your favorite freezing climate, and you’re looking for studded tires. There are many of them out there, so we’ve narrowed the choices down to our favorite five picks.
Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 #11126448
Schwalbe is a well-known bike tire manufacturer, and the Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 studded tire is great for road bikes. They’re wire-beaded with studs that work best when you’re riding on ice.
Because they only have studs straight down the middle of the tire’s surface, they’re decent for ice but better for snow than other studded tires. They’re okay in powder, but once the snow packs after plowing or people walking on it, they work much better.
You’ll hear noise that sounds a little like you’re riding on gravel if you use these tires on dry pavement. However, they still ride fairly smoothly.
However, they don’t work well when snow is wet and heavy because that snow sticks to everything, including your tires. If you try riding in these conditions, snow will coat your tires, fill up the treads, and ultimately cover the studs.
- Suitable for ice and packed snow
- Lighter weight than other studded tires
- Reasonably smooth on dry patches
- You’re better off with fat tires if you plan on riding in deep or wet snow
- Best as “light to medium” winter tires
- Lose effectiveness in more than three inches of snow
The Arisun Sharktooth studded tires have studs and knobs arranged in a pattern that will grip not just ice but also give you more traction in snow and slush. These are fat tires, so you need the proper wheels for them.
However, since fat tires work better in winter conditions than standard-sized road tires, you’re better off with these anyway. You’ll also notice a considerable amount of resistance with these tires, but that’s because they’re fat and studded. You’ll always have more resistance on tires like these than you will with road slicks.
- Easy to mount on the proper rims
- More traction
- Built to last through harsh winters
- Noisier than mountain tires on pavement
- You might lose studs depending on the terrain on which you ride
- More expensive than other brands of studded tires
Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro HS 379
Another tire from Schwalbe, the Ice Spiker Pro, has small studs in most of the knobs on the tread. If you have a road bike and don’t want to switch to fat tires, you’ll probably do well with tires like these.
Perhaps one of the best things about these tires is that they come with specific instructions for breaking them in. You may not want to take them out on the ice or packed snow for the first time. If you break them in correctly, though, they’ll serve you well during the icy winter months.
They’re a little more expensive than other tires, but not as expensive as fat, studded tires. They grip well enough for tight turns, which is great if you want to do recreational riding in addition to commuting.
- You have solid traction riding on smooth sheets of ice
- They work reasonably well on partially melted snow
- Tubeless, so they’re easier to mount on your rims
- There is a break-in period, so you should buy them before you need them
- Only good to three inches of snow
- You can lose studs if you don’t break them in properly
Kenda Klondike Tire
If you’re looking for something that will fit your mountain bike with good clearance, then Kenda Klondike Tires are the tires for you. They have directional treads that help you shed snow and slush on the road or your favorite trails.
The studs are tiny but stick out from the treads enough to provide you with the grip you need to do your riding in both icy and snowy conditions.
Be careful, though. These tires won’t serve you well if you try and do some extreme mountain biking on a slippery trail. Studded tires are great, but even they can’t give you the traction you’d ordinarily have on a dry trail in the summer.
- Smaller than other studded tires, so you have better frame and fork clearance
- Tread helps shed snow and slush
- Can run them up to 60 psi
- May need to bring down tire pressure before riding on ice
- Studs wear out around 1,200 miles
- Work best with occasional use
Schwalbe Marathon Winter Plus HS 396
Schwalbe Marathon Winter Plus HS 396 is fantastic if you’re looking for a good studded mountain bike tire. Even if you’re not doing full rides, perhaps you use the winter to maintain your conditioning.
Regardless of what you do, you have an added security feeling when accelerating, stopping, and turning corners with these tires. Besides that, they work well both on ice and hard, packed snow. And they work okay on dry, fluffy snow because the studs will cut down to the ground and give you traction that way.
These tires are also useful for riders who are used to some drift when they turn corners. If you’re a mountain biker, you’re probably used to this, but be careful because the snow may still make your drift unpredictable.
- Cheaper than many other brands of studded tires
- Good shock absorption compared to other Schwalbe tires
- Slower than road slicks but not as slow as mountain bike tires
- Wire beads make it harder to mount the tire on your rims, and you’re better off using a mounting tool
- Work on ice and fluffy snow, but not wet, heavy snow
- You lose studs with higher air pressure
Ride All Year Round
The studded bicycle tires you decide on depend entirely on your needs and weather conditions. If your winters are full of ice and snow, then you definitely want studded tires, even if you’re only riding in those conditions periodically. That’s true regardless of whether you ride a road bike or a mountain bike.
Remember that these tires don’t work well on dry pavement, and you’ll give yourself a rougher ride. So, put them on when you need them, and then take them off when you don’t. And above all, enjoy your ride!