Sunday, December 18, 2011

Colorado Winter = Studded Tires

Colorado winters are hard on the cyclist. Last year for the first time in 5 years I took the entire winter off of cycling. I decided to get a ski pass and do some cross training instead of suffer through another winter of cycling and indoor riding on the rollers. As much as I enjoyed skiing again, (it had been 15 years), it just wasn’t cycling... where my heart is. Worse than suffering through the cold, my cycling suffered horribly last year as a result. I never got my groove back until the cycling season was over -right as I was getting back into it, everyone was hanging their bikes up for the year, again. The years prior I always rode, many of the 15 degree days too, and I suffered. Well not this year. No more freezing to death, no more cold toes, and especially no more kissing the pavement when I miss-judge the snow and ice. Armed with some new winter gear and new Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 Studded Road Bike Tires I plan to ride all winter long. Never riding on studded snow tires up until this last Colorado snow storm I thought I'd take a couple ride photos and add a couple comments...

I choose the Schwalbe Marathon Winter in the 700x35c size. Each tire has 240 Carbide Studs, weighs a hefty 910 grams, 2-1/2 times as much as your typical cross tire. Recommended pressure of 38-85 psi, and the key to the versatility of this tire. It uses an extremely stiff and durable sidewall that enables low pressure that allow all the studs to make contact with the road and give you incredible traction. I mounted them on some cheaper spare wheels so could easily swap them back and forth with my cross tires/wheels. If I was a commuter, or as we get a little deeper into winter, they'll probably just stay on the bike. The nice thing about this tire and tread design is you can increase the tire pressure to the point where the carbide studs don’t make contact with the road, making them a little more friendly on dry roads. Head out in the morning when it’s dry and by the end of the day it's turned to shit!? No problem, drop some pressure and you're riding with a big old grin on your face.

So how well do they work? Holy shit is how, I can't express enough the confidence these tires inspire on the snow and ice! How about coming down Lookout Mountain in this at 25 mph kind of traction!! As a comparison it's probably equivalent to riding on a loose gravel road when on hard packed snow and ice. On sheer ice, put it this way, I would rather be on my bike with these tires than walking in boots with vibram soles.

Temp, 15.1 deg. You get some funny looks on days like these...

After a couple of rides, just like they had warned, I lost 5 carbide studs, all in the rear tire. I had read this in the reviews so when I ordered the tires I also ordered an extra bag of carbide studs. I couldn’t stand the idea of missing studs and I didn’t even own them yet. I passed on the install tool and thought I would just figure something out when the time comes. Well the time came and without the tool you're not getting replacement studs back in those tires, so either get the tool or make one like I did and make short work of it. I just copied the 'look' of the 'original' tool as best I could and it worked great. I used a piece of solid 1/4" steel from my shop, drilled a 9/64" hole in the end of it, ground a tapper down to the new center hole, hammered it into the proper shape and presto, cheap tool that works wonders for replacing studs.

If you ride in the winter and want to ride something other than your trainer or just on clear days, do yourself a favor and buy some studded snow tires. Looking for a good recommendation, the Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires rock!