Technical > Wheels, Tyres and Brakes

Are winter tyres/spikes worth it for riding on frosty days

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I use Nokian (now called Suomi) Hakkapeliitta w 240 tyres in the 26" x 1.9 size for icy conditions. AFAIK the 240 in the designation is the number of studs. I found these tyres excellent for grip on black ice, which, although rare, is the main ice hasard here in southern Brittany. "Blitzeis" is even rarer here, the tyres worked OK the one time I tried riding on that, but it was very difficult not to slip when putting a foot down. Snow isn't very common here either, the few times I have ridden on that the Hakkapeliitta tyres coped very well with light snow and rutted frozen snow, but tended to clog on moderate depths of fresh snow.

For commuting they were definitely slower than my summer tyres (Marathon Supremes) but significantly faster than my dedicated off-road tyres (Hutchinson On The Rocks, a lightweight knobbly tyre with Kevlar bead). About 23.5 km/h on the Supremes, 22 km/h on the Hakkapeliittas and 19.5 km/h on the Hutchinson On The Rocks.

I didn't notice much difference in speed between the Hakkapeliitta tyres on my 26" bike and the "ordinary" 2005 model Marathon tyres on the 650B bike I used for commuting on winter days with no ice risk. Current model Marathons probably have better rolling resistance than the 2005 model.

One big difference is that the studded tyres are noisy, the studs make a high-pitched crackling sound and the blocky nature of the tread means these tyres hum like other off-road tyres when riding fast on tarmac. 

Typically, there would be ice or icy patches on the morning commute, but no ice in the evening. The studs on the Hakkapeliitta tyres are tipped with tungsten carbide, so were more hard-wearing than the alternatives available when I bought them more than ten years ago.

There is information on various Suomi and Schwalbe studded tyres here:

I am very wary when riding on ice here, even with studded tyres. When it gets slippery, the cars tend to slide about as very few are equipped with suitable tyres, and not many drivers know how to drive on snow and ice. That aspect might be less of a problem in places that usually experience icy conditions.

My folder is currently shod in Marathon winter studded.  If possible I won't use them at all, but if I really have to ride when it's likely to be icy I'll use it with extreme caution.  I used to have a MTB with studs just for those occasions, but didn't want to keep a bike just for that and had no other use for it.  They don't guarantee you'll stay upright, they just give you a better chance.  I used to laugh at falling over, the older I get the more it hurts and the longer to recover, so I try not to take too many chances.

I got my Schwalbe Winter studded tyres ‘for Christmas’ and fitted them today. Took a 20km ride with my teenage son to begin to bed the studs in. We have had 2 snow showers in past 48 hours but at just above freezing nothing settled. But 14 day forecast will see sub-zero temperatures overnight so fros and ice more likely as we move into 2021.

My first impressions over my usual Marathon plus tyres is that they are loud like my MTB used to before I discovered slicks. My ride saw me on smooth asphalt, small cobblestone paving and some concrete cast roads as well as paving slabs used on shared pavement/bike way.

Noise was bearable. Depending on surface it varies from wood fire crackling noise through deep fat frying noise or even the sound of riding over gravel. But not so loud that It disturbed.

Will try another 20km to finish bedding the spikes in tomorrow.
I’d thought about mounting them on my 28” derailleur bike so I could pick a steed each morning depending on weather. But given that derailleur sucks when snow is falling I reckoned the Rohloff is the right decision and not so sluggish that I won’t manage the 2x10mile commute if I don’t home office after Christmas holiday is over.

To compare, It did feel a little more sluggish at 5 bar vice the 6 of my Marathons, but ride time on 20km was only a minute longer than I’d have expected.
As for handling, no hard braking or cornering for first 40km so I took it easy. But if they allow me to ride through the winter staying upright then I think I’ll be happy to ‘suffer’ them.

I'm back on my daily commute since last week- shod with the Schwalbe Winter tyres previously mentioned. These are the 120 stud tyres and not the 240 stud version.

Tyres are already over 200km used, so I passed the 'wearing in' phase- and all studs are still in place.

The weather in the last days would have likely put me off riding after my broken rib experience 15 months ago, but I have to say that these winter tyres do seem to be pretty effective for the conditions I have experienced so far.

My 16km commute involves a number of different surfaces/conditions and prior to winter tyres I had an approx 10% longer winter commuting route to avoid some of the more challenging conditions. But I've managed to keep to my preferred regular route made possible by these tyres. A win of around 10 minutes each way back to my life  ;D

My route involves around 3km on smooth tarmac bike paths (can prove slipperiest conditions on my route) and 3km bike paths with paving slabs and occasional cobble stones. About 6km is on the road with the regular traffic- with 4km on tarmac and 2km on concrete surfaces. 4km is a shortcut through the woods on compacted permeable surface with lose gravel on top for the most part. In the winter or on wetter days this can get muddy and slippery in places enough to make it unrideable on my 42-622 regular Schwalbe Marathons road tyres forcing a 10 minute detour on some busier roads to stay upright.

Since mounting the Schwalbe Winter tyres I have ridden in freezing, icy, frosty, snowy and wet conditions (all in the last 7 days!) on my shorter forest commute route.
The tarmac bike paths still prove the slipperiest. The tyres hold well, but where I have had to stop for traffic lights I need to be careful not to slip when I put my feet on the ground!
The tarmac and concrete road surfaces tend to be less slippery as they are treated by local council, and these are mostly perfectly rideable. Where ice has formed on puddles, these have been approached with caution, but the spike have proven their worth in not slipping even then. The cobble stones (often on crossing with major roads in Berlin) are more of a challenge. The winter tyres/spikes do provide better road holding, but I am still cautious as there still seems to be less grip than on the other surfaces.

As for the forest. This was my no-go when wet or in snow on old tyres. But on icy mornings where the ground has been hard, this part of route was not just rideable, but even fun! On a clearing where 4 paths meet, it was often too slippery to ride, but the spikes kept me up when I saw an MTB with offroad tyres struggling last week. And for the homebound commute, where surfaces were muddy and previously unrideable for my 28" road tyres, I could navigate that stretch without having to slow too much or get off and walk. A huge win for me, especially when I overtook some younger adults pushing their MTBs on same stretch  :o

Worth it? For me, yes. I haven't had deep snow (1cm max which melted same day) but the 120 spike tyres have given me the confidence to keep riding through the winter. If you live in an area with more snow, then knobbly MTB style with more spikes might be more appropriate, but for city/town slickers who are mostly on road, these 120 spike Marathon Winter get a big thumbs up from me. My commute is slightly more sluggish due to tyres, but only a couple of minutes longer on 16km vs same route on Marathon Plus. But still quicker than my bad weather route!

I have no experience of other brands of spikes. But German bike magazines rated the Nokian and Continental spikes slightly better. However the price point of the Schwalbe (approx GBP 20 a tyre) effectively gave me 3rd best performer at half the price of the competition. And they are really pretty good for my needs!

Although  I haven't lost any spike yet, I combined my tyre order with a bag of spare spikes and the tool needed to fit them for approx a fiver more. If I had to order those separately at a later date, the postage would have cost about the same as the extra spikes! I ordered from who deliver to most countries if you cannot find locally.

Stay safe (and upright) in 2021  ::)

My dear wife has hidden my bike shed key untill the weather gets better.... nuff said.


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