Suomi (was Nokian) & Schwalbe Studded Tires
How effective are the studs?
To describe the stud's effectiveness, I'll use an analogy. Think about walking with rubber soled shoes on three surfaces; dry clean asphalt, glare ice, and glare ice that's been sprinkled with sand. On the dry asphalt you can run and make sharp turns without any concern about your shoes skidding. On the ice, you can only walk carefully, changing direction and speed slowly, lest you Fall Down Go Boom (that's FDGB for those of you, "in the know" so to speak). On ice that someone has nicely sprinkled some sand over, you can walk easily and perhaps even run. But if you do run you won't be making any sharp turns or trying to stop quickly, as you would on dry asphalt, since you know full well that those little grains of sand aren't glued onto the ice, and can roll if pushed hard enough.
Riding on ice with studded tires is like walking on ice that's been lightly covered with sand. It's pretty safe. You're not likely to fall unless you do something stupid. You're not going to have the same traction you would have on dry pavement. But you're going to have far more than you would with regular tires on ice. Keep in mind that there's ice down there and you'll be fine. Try to be a hero, and you'll probably pay a price.
Those awful defective tires!
Nokian and Schwalbe studded tires have a thick layer of rubber on the sidewalls. Very often you'll see small indentations in the rubber, caused by air bubbles in the rubber when it's liquid. These are not defects, the screaming epithets of bow tie clad tire collectors notwithstanding. Some folks buy tires to ride; apparently, others buy them to look at. It takes all kinds. ;-)
How to decide between models.
As you read through the descriptions of the various models, you'll notice that I recommend some for riding on the road, some for off road, some for pavement, and others for dirt. Some work better on plowed roads, some are better for getting out of icy ruts. It can be difficult to accurately describe the differences in performance between some of these tires. Take for example the Nokian W106 700x35 and the Nokian A10 700x32. Other than the obvious difference in width and height, these two tires are quite similar in performance, though they look different. The W106 has deeper tread blocks, which makes it better in deep snow than the A10 with its finer tread. But on clear asphalt, the A10 will have lower rolling resistance, again due to the tread. But how big is the difference?
Anyone who has spent much time on snow knows that it changes its consistency quite a bit between when it falls from the sky, until it finally melts away in the spring. Snow can go through many cycles of melting and refreezing. It packs down under its own weight, as well as under foot and the tires of cars and trucks. Snow at 29 degrees is very different from snow at 12 degrees. And these varying snow conditions affect the behavior of bicycle tires. You could have two identical bicycles and riders, one with the A10 and the other with the W106, and on Tuesday the W106 might work better on snow than the A10, when on Wednesday, the A10 could be better. Nothing has changed other than the snow, which has been on the ground another day, or perhaps has had another layer added overnight. There's really no way of predicting how two tires might compare all the time. And, the difference in rolling resistance, while real, isn't like the difference between riding a full knobby mountain bike tire and a high quality slick tubular sewup racing tire with silk casing. It's a fairly small difference. All studded winter tires are going to have high rolling resistance, compared with fast summer tires. A half hour summer commute can easily become a 35 minute commute on studded tires. And if I had to guess, I'd say the difference in riding time for that half hour commute, comparing the W106 and the A10 on clear pavement, would generally be more like a minute. So, yeah, it's real, but how important is that minute to you? Perhaps the added clearance between the tire and fender offered by the smaller A10 would be more important. Or maybe the greater distance between the road surface and the rim, due to the larger tire size in the W106 would be most important. If you're dealing with water covered potholes in Boston, it may well be. Only you know the answer to that.
Ignore the printed pressure ratings on the sidewalls of studded tires, and all bicycle tires for that matter. The tire manufacturers know that most people hold the erroneous belief that the higher the pressure, the better. So they base their pressure rating on some percentage of the highest pressure the tire will hold before blowing off the rim. But that doesn't mean that your rim will withstand the force placed on the sidewall by your tire at that pressure, or that the ride at that pressure will be better. I'll soon have a more complete explanation posted here. But for now, use the following as a rough guide to air pressure.
The skinniest tire we sell is the Nokian A10 700x32 or 30-622. 30 to 32mm wide. Use 60psi as the maximum pressure in this tire. The widest tire we sell is the Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro 700x2.25 or 57-622. 57mm wide. Use 30psi as the maximum for this tire. (I run mine at 25psi) As the tire gets fatter, the PSI must be lower. If the 57mm wide tire could hold 60psi, the rim's sidewalls would be subject to extremely high loads, and would soon crack, unless you were using an extremely heavy rim, which most people wouldn't want to use.
By the way, with no snow or ice on the ground, don't ride aggressively with studded tires. Just as riding hard will wear the tread blocks of regular knobby tires quickly in summer, it will do the same in winter, and the studs will be more likely to rip out of the tire. Take it easy on the clear patches.
By the way, with no snow or ice on the ground, don't ride aggressively with studded tires, even the W240. Just as riding hard will wear the tread blocks quickly in summer, it will do the same in winter, and the studs will be more likely to rip out of the tire. Take it easy on the clear patches. You can let 'er rip on the ice, but not on pavement or rocky trails. Stud wear and stud damage are two different things. The studs don't wear out, being carbide. But they can be ripped out.
If you are buying tires for riding single track in winter, and you need to save money, there is a way to do it. Get a very aggressive tire for the front, an Extreme 294 or Ice Spiker, and then use an Extreme 120, Mount & Ground or Snow Stud in the rear. You won't get quite as good grip while climbing a steep trail as you would by having aggressive tires front and rear, but if your trails aren't too steep, you should be just fine. The more aggressive front tire will still be there to get you through icy ruts. For the commuter riding paved roads, there really is no alternative to having the W106 or A10 on both wheels. So unless you're riding to work on rail trails, I strongly recommend you use studded tires on both wheels, not just the front.
About the studs
The studs in all Nokian and Schwalbe tires are made of carbide, which is a very hard material. The studs are quite durable. But it is possible occasionally for a stud to come out of the tire. This is most likely to happen when riding single track. On single track in winter you can get a mix of snow, ice and exposed rock. When climbing steeply or braking hard while descending, studs can occasionally tear out of the tire when you go over exposed rock. It happens rarely, and mostly it happens with heavier riders, say over 200 lbs. Losing a stud once in a while is no cause for alarm, it's normal wear and tear, and is not covered by the warrantee. With 294 studs in the Extremes for example, you'd have to lose a whole lot of them for the tires to perform poorly. And in fact, most riders will never lose a stud on the Nokians. But it can happen. Just keep riding, have fun, and don't worry about it.
And don't worry about the studs damaging your inner tubes. They won't. The tires are carefully designed to prevent the studs from puncturing the tube. The base of the stud is flat, like the head of a nail. So (to extend the analogy) the point of the nail is outside the tire to grip the ice, and the head of the nail is embedded in the tire casing. And, yes, you do need inner tubes with our studded tires. They will not work without inner tubes. And, you can just use your regular old inner tubes. You don't need special tubes for these tires. As tires age, the casing deteriorates, and then the studs can push through the casing. But it's not so much that the studs are damaging the casing, but more that the old worn out casing can't keep the studs in place.
The studs will not make the bike skid on pavement. If they did we couldn't sell them. They only help the tires to NOT skid on ice. They have no effect on pavement, except for a chattering sound.
Like all things, studded tires will eventually wear out. The casing may fail around a knob. Some knobs may break off. Some studs will rip out. The sidewalls will tear or shred. This happens to all tires eventually, these Nokians and Schwalbes are no different from other high quality tires. We could sell tires that would outlast your bike. But they would be too heavy and you wouldn't want to ride. So I suppose that would make them last even longer. When your tires wear out, you'll have lots of great memories of all those rides that wore out your tires. So when they wear out, don't get mad. Get another pair and go back out and ride some more.
One thing's for sure. Your winter tires with carbide studs will outlast any other studded tires available, at least those that use steel studs.
Getting off your bike!
So there you are, riding along on glare ice with good control. You start to think you're a hero. And then you have to stop. So, you grab the brakes, the bike comes to a controlled stop, and you put your foot down, just like in the summer. ZING! Your foot slides to the side, and you fall over doing a perfect Olga Korbut split. That's right, your shoe doesn't have carbide studs like your tires. So, unless you're a gymnast, be careful when you stop on ice!
27" & various other sizes?
There are no 27" tires available with carbide studs. Don't confuse 700c with 27", they aren't the same. Please don't call or write asking for 27" studded tires. They don't exist and since there are virtually no bicycles in current production using 27" tires, I would be shocked if any company would start making a 27" studded tire. Also, there are no 16" or 12" or 18" studded tires. To my knowledge, no studded tires exist for penny farthings, Tonka Trucks, Formula 1 race cars or baby carriages, although I saw a report on Fox News that babies have entered a class action suit in federal court against tire manufacturers claiming discrimination. So, stay tuned.
I Have a Racing Bike!
I'm sorry you have a racing bike. Really, I am. The reason I'm sorry is that nobody makes a studded tire that will fit on any modern road racing bicycle. Racing bikes typically come with 700x23mm (23-622) tires. If you look at the clearance between your tires and those parts of your bike that the tires come close to, you'll see that there is probably no more than 4mm or 5mm clearance at some points. And at the top of the tire, particularly where the tire goes under the front brake, you could have as little as 3mm of clearance.
Since the smallest 700c (622) studded tire is 32mm, measuring about 30mm tall and wide, there is simply no way that they will fit in most racing frames.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Do the studs really work?
A: No. It's hard enough just getting the lazy bums out of bed in the morning. Forget about work!
Q: How long will the tires last?
A: About two weeks, or two miles, which ever comes first, or last, or...
Q: I normally ride 700x35 tires. Will the 700x35 tires fit on my bike?
A: Absolutely not! But they'll make great wall hangings for your garage.
Q: Are you just kidding?
The Real FAQ!
Q: You used to say that only Nokian made good studded tires. Why have you changed your tune and are selling Schwalbe?
A: Schwalbe used to specify steel studs for their studded tires. Now they have carbide studs, just like Nokian, so I'm now happy to sell Schwalbe studded tires as well as Nokian. We've been selling many other Schwalbe tires for several years now (see my web page) and the quality is terrific. We've been very happy with the quality of the Schwalbe studded tires.
Q: Will the studs rust?
A: Yes, you'll get some surface rust on the studs, it's normal, and it has no ill effect on the studs. Just keep riding! ;-)
Q: Are replacement studs available?
A: No, unfortunately. I have loose studs here for installing in new tires that arrive here with a stud missing. But I have no studs to sell for replacement.
Q: How can studs fall out of the tire tread?
A: The main reason studs fall out is riding too aggressively on pavement or on rocky trails. You cannot use studded tires on dry ground the same way you would use summer tires. On ice, you can ride as hard as you dare without damaging the tire or losing studs. But when you reach a bare patch of ground, you must take it easy, lest the studs be ripped from the tread.
Q: Why do Nokian tires have a tag stating that you should ride the tires on paved roads for 30 miles before using them on ice?
A: It's because Nokian is very sloppy in how they install the studs, and doesn't take the time to ensure that every stud is fully seated in the tire tread before shipping it. With some studs partly hanging out of the tire tread, if you ride them hard, the studs can easily fall out. Riding them "easy" is supposed to help seat the studs. Of course this as all just bovine excrement, and those half seated studs can still easily fall out.
Q: My friend heard that studded tires will skid on roads without ice because the metal studs can slide on the pavement. Isn't that true and shouldn't I only use them on ice?
A: While it is obviously true that a tire made entirely of carbide would have precious little traction on asphalt, the carbide studs in bicycle tires, as well as those in automobile tires only protrude a very short distance from the rubber surface; one millimeter in the case of bicycle tires, and about 3mm in the case of automobile tires.
The studs are embedded in relatively soft rubber, so when the stud contacts pavement, it sinks back down into the tread, and only slightly effects the contact pressure of the surrounding rubber for perhaps 1mm in radius, leaving well over 99% of the remaining tread with exactly the same contact with the pavement, but with infinitesimally higher pressure. On the softer ice, the carbide stud sinks, not back into the tire tread, but into the ice.
Anyone claiming that studded tires have less traction on either wet or dry pavement only proves that he's never ridden a bike with studded tires, nor driven a car with them. They are perfectly safe on roads without ice. Were that not the case, tire manufacturers would have been hauled into court decades ago and studded tires would have been banned. While in the cycling world there is some confusion about the subject, in the automobile world studded tires are well known as the life saving devices they are. Since every driver knows that in a typical winter, you spend perhaps 2% of your time driving on ice, and the rest of the time on clear pavement, were there any truth to the notion of these tires being a danger, they wouldn't be available for sale, certainly not in our litigious society. There is nothing to be concerned about.
Q: Most days in winter there's no ice on the roads. Should I swap out the studded tires for regular tires when I know there won't be ice? Won't my studs last longer if I don't ride them on clear pavement?
A: No. You should put the studded tires on in the late fall and leave them on all winter. If the studs were made of steel, you would need to be concerned about wear. Carbide studs last as long as the rubber tire itself, so there's no need to worry about stud wear. And, you never know when water might find its way onto the road surface during the day, only to freeze after the sun goes down and you have to ride home from work. It's best to be safe. Leave your studded tires on all winter. Sure, they're a little heavier, and you can hear the studs chattering on the pavement. That's the price of added safety.
The Most Frequently asked Question of All!
Q: Which tire should I buy?
A: I'll try to boil it down here.
If you don't know what singletrack means, feel free to skip to the next section, and don't buy the Nokian Extreme 294, 700c Extreme 294, Schwalbe Ice Spiker or Ice Spiker Pro.
If you ride singletrack, you know that your tires need to have large knobs or tread blocks to give you traction climbing, descending and cornering on dirt, leaves and gravel. In the winter, you need the same type of tires you use in summer, but to deal with ice, you also need studs. The various Nokian Extremes and Schwalbe Ice Spikers have aggressive knobby treads, just like summer tires, but on many of the tread knobs, they also have a carbide stud. So these tires are for riding singletrack in winter. Just like in the summer, if you ride knobby tires on a paved road, your bike will roll slower than it would if you had a smooth tread tire. We have studded tires for riding on the road. So you don't need to use knobbies with studs on paved roads. Use knobbies on singletrack.
Dirt Roads and Paths that May or May Not be Plowed
Roads and bike paths that only sometimes get plowed are likely to have icy ruts. What's an icy rut, mommy? It's when snow falls, and a car or bicycle is driven over the snow, and then it rains or gets warm, and the snow starts to melt, and then the temperature drops, and the tracks made by the car or bicycle tires becomes a semi permanent fixture on the surface of the ice. If you ride your bike into one of these ruts, it's difficult for the tire to leave the rut. It might start to climb up the side but then it slips down to the bottom of the rut. In order to get out, the tire must have studs positioned towards the side of the tread, so it can grip the side of the rut, and climb out.
Tires such as the Nokian W240, Nokian Mount & Ground (M&G), and Schwalbe Marathon Winter all have studs placed towards the sides of the tread. The M&G has the least studs, and is least expensive as a result. The W240 has 240 studs and a moderately aggressive tread, almost as aggressive as a singletrack tire but not quite, and it therefore has lower rolling resistance when you are on clear pavement than a knobby would have.
If you ride mainly on plowed roads, but want to be safer in the event you do decide to go off on some unplowed trails, one of these tires is your best choice. Rolling resistance might be slightly higher than with a pure road tire like the Nokian A10, but if you do get into a rut, you'll prefer having one of these rather than the A10, or a W106.
If you only ride on roads that are regularly plowed, you'll never have to deal with icy ruts. If you never have to ride on rutted ice, you won't ever need studs towards the sides of your tires. You only need studs in contact with the ice when your bike is upright or just leaning in a turn. Turning doesn't require studs near the sidewall of the tire. So a tire like the Nokian W106 or Nokian A10 will be just fine. These tires are less expensive because they have fewer studs, and studs are expensive to make. While I haven't done a side by side comparison, my educated guess is that the W106 should give better traction when riding on new snow, or while it's snowing. But I suspect the A10 has lower rolling resistance when riding on clear pavement.
Studs only affect traction on ice. Studs have no affect on snow or dirt or pavement, either wet or dry. So when you look at the photos of the various tires, you're looking at two things: the rubber tread, and the location of the studs. They are two entirely separate issues, because the rubber tread has no influence whatsoever on ice, and the studs have no influence whatsoever on anything other than ice. So when I talk about one tire being better in snow than another, it has nothing to do with the studs, only the rubber tread.
This page updated: Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Peter White Cycles
Hillsborough, NH 03244
(C) Copyright Peter Jon White, 2002.