I normally run with Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires (35c) on my winter bike. Last spring I decided I wanted to be able to take my mountain bike out in the winter, and be able to bike around when it snowed, so I picked up a pair of Nokian's wide mountain bike studded tires, the Nokian 294's.
The Schwalbe Marathon is a 35c tire with a reputation for being fast (for a studded tire) and good in snow. The 294 is clearly a mountain bike tire 2.1", 26", a big knobby thing.
Living in Minnesota, it snowed about 6 inches tonight. I had missed getting out this weekend, and really wanted to get out and get some exercise. So I put the Nokian 294's on my mountain bike and headed out.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that...well, that they *also* totally sucked in snow. Was planning on biking on the sidewalk for a while - yeah, lol, that wasn't going to happen. The tires couldn't get any grip. I'd barely be able to keep the bike going half a block, and at a pace around "jogging" at that, and finally I'd be unable to keep enough momentum to keep the bike going. Biking on the street where cars had packed down snow was easier, but it was still dicey - the tires slid all over the place. I'd be going straight, then suddenly the bike would dart to the left or right. I eventually went back and got my regular winter bike and rode it around (with the Schwalbe's), and here's what I thought -
Recently Plowed Road in front of my place - there was maybe a couple inches of snow.
8/10 Nokians - they were fine.
10/10 Schwalbe's - they felt like they had more grip and they were definitely faster.
Unplowed Road (like most roads around me) that had had some car traffic which flattened a lot of the snow -
4/10 Nokians - I was surprised to find that they slid around *way* to much. I mean, there was no one else on the road, so it was ok. But they were far to squirmy and unpredictable for feeling safe while riding alongside any sort of regular traffic. It's hard to describe - it's like you'd be biking straight one second, then the next second the back of the bike would suddenly swing out behind you, or the front of the bike would dive one way or the other.
3/10 Schwalbes - These weren't nearly as different from the Nokians as I had expected. They also squirmed around, but it was a different feel - they felt like in some ways they had more grip on the snow, like with the Nokians there was a lot of sliding but with the Schwalbes there was actually something to grip onto. And believe me - there wasn't really anything to grip. I watched, and the tire was not making contact with the pavement, the snow was just to thick. Unfortunately for them, this increased feeling of grip was entirely offset by the fact that the tire also had a feeling like it was obviously skinnier and less wide and had less traction. It's kinda hard to describe...in the end, both the Nokians and the Schwalbes were pretty terrible.
6/10 Nokians w/rear suspension - At some point, I realized that I had locked out the rear suspension on my full suspension mountain bike. I thought "Hey, might as well try turning it on". I flipped between having it on and having it off at least 4 times - each time I found (somewhat to my surprise) that my ride became slightly slower, but easier and more predictable. It was just a...more steady and pleasant ride than with the rear suspension off. After all the talk about how rear suspension isn't needed, I was really rather shocked that it actually helped. However...while it made the bike's handling a little more comfortable and predictable, it *almost* steady enough to ride alongside traffic with - though...not quite. Better - but not quite better enough.
Downhill on previously partially plowed sidewalk - the sidewalk had been sorta plowed at some point, but probably not plowed to the actual concrete so there was probably old snow left over on the bottom, then 6 inches of new snow on top.
Nokians - 2/10. Fairly impossible. I'd get 20 feet and be unable to bike any farther - I'd have to get off the bike and walk. It just wasn't physically possible to bike through it.
Schwalbe - 1/10. Same thing only slightly moreso - just couldn't make it further than 10 or 20 feet without walking.
Nokians + Rear Suspension - 2/10. Just as impossible.
I took a picture of the snow with my cell phone - it doesn't look like much, but it was enough to force me to walk the bike with either tire -
Uphill on previously partially plowed sidewalk
Same thing for all tires, only worse. Couldn't even get 20 feet.
Uphill on sidewalk that was probably totally plowed off (by the person who lived in the house by it) before the storm
Nokians - 4/10. Was able to power through it for the most part. Not sure it was really any faster than walking though.
Schwalbe - 4/10. I was actually pretty shocked when I plowed into this mess - and I found that the Schwalbe's were barely able to plow through it - just like the Nokians.
Nokians + Rear Suspension - 5/10. It was still tough, but seemed every so slightly easier with rear suspension. A little slower probably, but also a little easier and more predictable. Still sucked...just a little less, lol.
Over snow on a path people had kinda trampled down
5/10 Nokians + Rear Suspension
Again, basically the Nokians and the Schwalbe's had a similarly difficult time getting over it, though they both did it in the end. Nokians + Rear Suspension were a little easier, though no cakewalk either.
Flat sidewalk by my place
6/10 Nokians + Rear Suspension
For some reason on this snow I was able to plow through it somewhat more predictably, again I was pretty surprised that the Nokians didn't do better, the Schwalbes didn't do worse, and that the rear suspension, while it made things a bit slower, also helped made the ride steadier and more even. I was able to plow through this stuff for a while without the bike suddenly weaving way to one side or the other.
So I guess my point is -
1. The Schwalbe Marathon Winters have a reputation for not being able to deal well with more than a few inches of snow. But the much larger Nokian 294's - they didn't actually do a much better job either. I don't know that I would tell someone to buy them instead - for real snow there wasn't that much of a difference, for light snow the Schwalbe's were noticeably faster.
Frankly, I was kind of shocked that this was the result. I had expected that the 294's would be much better than the Schwalbe's for handling snow.
I've been told by someone on the forum who lives here in Minnesota that the Nokian 240's were actually the best in his opinion...wonder if they might work better than either of the ones I tried. It might make sense - not big enough to be floaty like the 294's, but big enough to have more grip than the Schwalbe's. It's...just so weird...
2. Rear suspension did make a small but consistent and noticeably improvement in handling and bike predictability when trying to ride through snow. It was a little slower to...though you know, I haven't added air to the rear shock in months (since it's winter)...hmm, maybe I should do that before saying it's definitely slower...
3. The whole ride I kept thinking "maybe if I had a Pugsley this would be a piece of cake". But - here's another post from a Pugsley rider in Minnesota who tried to ride out the same storm I did -
The Pugsley is not invincible...I was able to ride some sections, but it was just a giant battle for traction, so I ended up walking a lot today.
I'd love to hear from other people who have had similar, or different experiences...or suggestions for any way that I could bike after it's snowed more successfully...