Studded Tires – A Need To Know

Studded Tires on Ice For most of the country a bothersome season called winter tries to throw a wrench into training or commuting habits developed in warmer seasons past. Next to clothing, tires can be the most important key to winter riding success. Poor tire choice can not only make for an unpleasant riding experience, it can also be outright dangerous.

The most common style of winter tires are studded tires. Studded tires use steel or carbide studs that are molded into the tire casing to provide traction on ice and snow covered paths, trails, and roadways. They can vary in stud count from as few as 40 to as many as 300.

Stud Material

  • Nokian Studs Carbide: Carbide studs are found on the higher end studded tires from companies like Nokian and Schwalbe. Because carbide studs are much harder than stainless steel studs, they tend to have a longer life – especially if the tires are going to see a lot of use on dry pavement. To save weight some of the highest end tires will use a carbide stud with an aluminum base. These tires are usually good for a few seasons without the need to replace the studs, about 500-1,500 miles
  • Stainless Steel: Stainless steel studs are less expensive than carbide but are also softer so they will wear quicker if used primarily on dry pavement. Stainless steel studs are a great option for people who live in areas that get infrequent snow fall, only use the tires occasionally, or are primarily using the tires on snow or dirt surfaces. Generally speaking stud life is going to be in the 300-600 mile range depending on the surface area. 45NRTH, Innova and Kenda are the main brands that use these.

Rubber Compound

Side Profile of a Studded Tire When rubber gets cold it hardens, which means that it has less grip. Traditional tires tend to use rubber compounds that preform well at temperatures in which the majority of people ride, 60 degrees +. Studded tires generally use rubber compounds that preform well when the temperatures are below 40 degrees.

Because of the softer rubber compounds it is important to note that such tires ridden in temps above 40 will have noticeably shorter life spans than those used in cold temperatures only.

Nokian uses a special non-toxic rubber compound to help keep undesirable chemicals from leaching into the ground water through snow melt.

Tread Pattern

While tread patterns will vary by brand, they can mostly be divided into the 2 following categories:

  • Studded Commute Tire Commuter/Urban: These tires tend to have directional tread patterns which provide lower rolling resistance to get you to work on time. Ideally these tires are used on paths that are ice covered or have been plowed, leaving only a thin layer of snow. They also make great winter dirt road riding tires. Some of these tires like the 45NRTH Polara also use siping to grip the pavement even better. Other tires with this sort of tread are the Nokian Mount & Ground and Hakkapeliitta tires
  • Studded MTB Tire Off Road: When the mountain bike trails or deeper snow call your name, an off-road oriented studded tire may be just the ticket to cure a case of cabin fever. Off Road models tend to have larger, wider spaced lugs. They also tend to be wider overall – while most commuting tires are under 2″ (48c), the off road tires are 2.1″+  with high volume casings to give you better ‘float’ over loose surfaces. Nokian Gazza Extreme 294 and Schwalbe Ice Spiker are two popular models in this category.

Tire Care

Just like with your car, proper tire care is important for your bike tires as well. Proper care will ensure that you get the most out of the money spent on your tires.

  • Air Pressure: Keeping your tires filled properly is probably the single most important thing you can do to make sure that they will perform as intended. Typically, you’ll to want to run the tires at the lower end of the pressure range molded into the sidewall of the tire. Running lower pressures will allow the tire to flatten out over the terrain, giving you a bigger contact patch with the road. Keep in mind that lower pressures mean that you will have to check the pressure more often to avoid running the tire too low – which can lead to pinch flats.
  • Break-In Period: Unlike standard tires, studded tires need to be broken-in before they can be used to their fullest extent. A casual 30 miles (50km) or so while avoiding hard braking on relatively smooth road surfaces will set and sharpen the studs and minimize stud loss.
  • Stud Loss: Studded tires will loose studs due to friction or from studs not being properly set. Losing 10-15 studs over time is common, and studs can be replaced. Both Innova and Nokian offer replacement studs.
  • Tire Sealant: Unless your tires are designed with a sealant compatible compound, it is not recommended that you run sealants such as Stan’s No Tubes in your studded tires. The Sealants can wreak havoc on softer rubber compounds.

Other Tires

Studded tires aren’t the only kind you’ll see roving the frozen lands of the North during the winter.

  • Conti GP 4-Season Cold Weather Performance: Continental has been selling the Grand Prix 4-Season tire for a few years now. It provides the performance of Continental’s Grand Prix Summer tires in a rubber compound that is as well suited to use in January as it is in July. While it’s not a snow tire, it does have good wet weather grip – perfect for wet training rides in Coastal California or the rare sunny but frozen Sunday rides we have here in Michigan. The Grand Prix 4-Season also uses Continental’s Vectran Breaker technology for enhanced puncture protection.
  • Non-Studded Winter Commuter: If you live in an area that gets cold but sees little to no snow or in an area that has pathways that are cleared quickly, the Continental Top Contact Winter is a great choice. The Top Contact Winter tire takes advantage of Continental’s automotive snow tire technology. The softer rubber compounds along with increased surface area provide good grip on snow and ice without the need for studs. While originally only available in 700x37c, Continental has recently released a 26×1.9 version as well.
  • Surly Pugsly Fat Tires: There has been a saying in the automotive world for years: “There is no replacement for displacement.” The same can be said for Winter time back country adventures on a bicycle. Unlike other tire options, Fat Tires require, well, a Fat Bike. Fat Bike tires typically measure 3.7” and up, designed to be mounted on rims that are 65mm+ (A typical mountain rim is 22-24mm) wide. Most feature low, widely spaced lugs, but some newer tires such as the 45NRTH Husker Du and the Surly Nate have gotten a bit more aggressive in their tread design.
  • Trainer Tires: While these tires won’t been seen out on the streets, using an indoor trainer can be just the thing to clear your mind for an hour or two. Unlike riding on the road, the tire on a trainer continuously rolls over the same spot (hopefully), so there is much more heat created buy the friction of the tire against the roller. You will get longer life on a trainer tire than you will using a standard street tire and generate less noise, so you can keep up on reruns of Magnum PI while getting in a training session.

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