There are many theories, and it depends a bit on whether you want to cycle all
winter or only most of it.
The best all-weather is studded tires. Peter White
has a good description of the pros and cons of various Nokians. In terms of studs, I would suggest:
- Avoid Innovas at any cost: slippery rubber and non-lasting studs;
I had bought one 2 or 3 years ago and kept it on the bike less than 1 week. Induces a lot of vibrations in the handlebars and very slippery in front (more than a simple knobby); decent on the rear wheel for added traction, though (not worth the expense unless you already have it).
- Schwalbes are good (from listmembers' comments): available at MEC and a few other places; only in 26" AFAIK
. Good tread, good grippy rubber, but it seems the studs don't last that long. Still half the price of Nokians, so a good buy.
- Nokians. I broke down and bought 2 Nokian Hakkapeliittas 106 last year. For city rides, the 106 (or 160) are more than enough. The tread is aggressive enough to eat well in snow, hard snow, ice... and the studs are made from carbide. Last year, I had a Nokian in front and and Innova behind; no studs left on the Innova and the Nokian still looks brand new. Some have reported 8-9 year use out of them. Problem: $80. Another problem: availability. Last year, the only shop who wanted to order them was Le Yéti, on Saint-Laurent Blvd (corner Fairmount). Still, IMHO, if you decide to ride with studs, it's either Nokian (or Schwalbe) or nothing.
As they say on http://icebike.org
, if you have only one studded tire, install it in front. Not as effective as 2 studs, but it keeps your front wheel under control in icy ruts.
Knobby Cyclocross Tires.
I find that almost as good as studs. It's also much less expensive and more useful for all-around cycling. The knobs eat snow fairly well and give very decent traction. Two places where that doesn't work:
- On blare/black ice, where only studs work to a point
. Basically ride conservatively, don't lean, don't brake hard... Still less intimidating than driving on ice.
- On snow/ice that was packed unevenly and froze in place; frozen tire ruts, for example. If you can ride in the melted stuff or further away, you are OK. I find such conditions happen 1-3 weeks per winter max. and careful/slower riding helps.
. The key point is: they have to be narrow to cut through the snow.
Slicks work only when asphalt is wet/warm rather than frozen, and when the snow is light enough or liquid enough to be chased away by your tires. In Montréal, it works with fresh snow, before cars pile it (i.e. riding at midnight in flurries)... or 3-4 days after the snow, when they pick it up. (the snow spread on the road is above so much salt that you still have a grip on pavement).
It also depends a lot on the rubber compound; I have no problem with Continental Top Touring tires (in "decent" winter conditions), but I have learned to stay away from very slippery IRC Tandem tires.
Last Winters, I had:
- My touring bike used year round for long distances and for pulling the kids; usually not in the worst conditions: Top Touring 700x32 front; Vittoria Cyclocross 700x37 rear (more thread helps me climb when I pull the kids);
- My commuter bike has been with Specialised Cyclocross knobbies 700x37 for 3-4 winters. In December 2003, I installed 1 Nokian Hakkapeliitta and 1 Innova.