Friday, October 17, 2014

Become a connoisseur of studs

I bought my first studded tires 11 years ago: Nokian Hakkaplitta W106 (they have 106 studs) in the 700x40 size. If there were other decent studded tire options back then, I didn't know about them. Those Nokians were heavy and slow and not much fun, but they did allow me to commute through the winter on streets and bike paths without any serious crashes. I also learned that winter riding involves a huge variety of surfaces conditions, and no tire is perfect for all of them.

Back when we had few options, we didn't have much need to scrutinize our studded tires. But now, we have lots of choices, and we can spend at least a few minutes over-analyzing. The classic type is shown here:
The top tire here is a Nokian Mount and Ground. The bottom tire is a Schwalbe Marathon Winter. The Nokian has a more open tread profile with tall lugs - this combination gives a good bite in snow, while being less likely to get snow packed into the tread. The Schwalbe has a lower profile tread and the lugs are more closely spaced. The benefit here is that the tire should roll more smoothly on pavement and hard ice. The common view among those who've tried both is that the Schwalbe rolls better/faster despite having more studs. If you are mostly riding paved streets and trails that are plowed but icy, the Schwalbes will probably be faster and more fun to ride. The studs on both tires have a square point with a sharp corner to dig into the ice. This type of stud works very well when new, but its performance diminishes as the corners get rounded off. Here's what they look like worn:
Don't pay attention to the rust, which is both inevitable and irrelevant. This is a Schwalbe Snow Stud, which was actually similar in tread pattern to the Nokian above. This tire started with square studs, like above, but it endured a couple winters of wear. It's subtle, but if you look closely, you can see that the sharp corners of the studs have been worn down and are now slightly rounded. It still works fine on smooth ice, but this tire failed me when I hit some uneven ice (common around here after snow and ice and car slop have been compacted together into rutted, cratered surfaces on the streets). I can't prove it at the moment, but I think I could have rolled that ice hump without an unplanned dismount if the studs were new and sharp-edged.

Here's what a 45NRTH Xerxes looks like. These tires have been in stock at HC since last year, so I'm not sure if this is still representative of the current Xerxes tire.
These tires are pretty lightweight and have a nice supple casing, and I would imagine that they roll much better than any of the tires I showed above. But the downside is that there aren't many studs, and the studs are not very sharp-edged (pre-worn?). I view this as a tire for road riders who wants to ride in spring and fall when the streets are clear, but have some control when they hit black ice. This would not be my first choice for serious winter commuting in Minnesota. But since these are 700x30, which is skinnier than most studded tires, these might be your only option if your bike doesn't have adequate tire clearance for something bigger.

Finally, this is the tread of a 45NRTH Dillinger (26x4" or 4.8"), but it's pretty similar to the 45NRTH Nicotine 29x2.35", which, in my experience, is an amazing tire.
These tires have a new concave stud style. The idea here is that as the stud corners wear, there is no center section to form the apex of a rounded dome (see the rounded/worn Schwalbe studs above). This means that the studs stay sharp even when they get worn. The sleeves of the studs are aluminum to save weight, while the points are wear-resistant carbide steel. These tires are expensive, but I believe they are the best available today. If you have a fat bike or "29er" to ride in the winter, these tires will handle a wider variety of winter conditions than any other winter tire on the market.

1 comment:

Mark Stonich said...

I've got a couple of winters on the Schwalbe Winter Marathons. 26 x 1.75 rear, 700 x 35mm front.

Being down on power compared to most people, I'm always concerned about rolling resistance. These do roll quite easily on dry or wet pavement or ice.