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Guide For Winter Bike Tires - Studded Tires and Fat Bikes

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Guide For Winter Bike Tires - Studded Tires and Fat Bikes

Old 09-23-15, 12:11 PM
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PaulRivers
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Guide For Winter Bike Tires - Studded Tires and Fat Bikes

Here's a breakdown of everything I know about models and options concerning studded tires and winter riding (geared towards commuting).

Studded Bike Tires I Recommend - Fastest to Slowest

45nrth Xerces (30c): if you only sometimes encounter ice on a ride.
Schwalbe Marathon Winter (35c): if you regularly encounter ice on a ride (like here in minnesota).
45nrth Gravdal (38c): might be better for routes with more rutted ice and more snow, being a little wider and having more aggressive tread. I haven't owned this tire so I'm not totally sure.
Fat Bike: If you want to be able to handle the widest range of winter conditions that you can on a bike. Rolls over rutted ice like it's nothing. Can handle up to 6-12 inches of snow. Drawback is they're definitely slower and much more expensive than the other options. (Ex Bike: Surley Pugsley)

Edit: Bikeforum member @corrado33 writes that he bought the 45nrth Xerces but felt they were not good even on occasional ice. He writes that at high pressure the studs that stay off the ground don't get a grip on ice until it's to late and he's fallen on them (around the same spot each time). At low pressure he feels they roll slowly and poorly. I'm waiting to see if other's have had the same opinion / experience. I can say from personal experience that the Schwalbe Marathon Winters have always had decent performance at low pressure and excellent performance at high pressure on ice, still rolling fine at low pressure (though a little slower), so that might be the safest choice. Thread:
https://www.bikeforums.net/winter-cyc...-terrible.html

Edit: Another bikeforum poster writes that the 45ntrth Gravdals are a great tire, a little slower but more stable than the Schwalbe Marathon Winters:
https://www.bikeforums.net/winter-cyc...h-gravdal.html

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Longer Info - you can skip this if you just want to make a quick choice.

45nrth Xerces
- Fastest thinnest studded tire for occasional ice.
- Studs don't contact ground at high psi (studs contact ground if turning or slipping).
- Studs contact ground all the time at low psi (for bad weather you can let air out of the tire for more traction, in better weather inflate to higher pressure for more speed).
- Skinniest studded tire available.
- Handles light or plowed snow ok (1-6 inches of unplowed unpacked fluffy snow).
- Not a great tire if you're constantly riding on ice (like in northern climates like Minnesota), tire will catch you but not solidly connect you to the ground on ice.
- $75 / $105, wire bead / folding bead (Freewheel Bike)
- 30c, 2 rows of studs (140 studs).

Schwalbe Marathon Winters
- Fastest rolling tire that lets you ride on sheer ice like dry pavement (in my experience you get around 80% of the grip you'd get on dry pavement).
- 2 rows of studs in contact with the ground at high pressure, 4 rows of studs in contact with the ground at low pressure.
- I'll ridden across hockey rinks almost like it was dry pavement, no slipping, no feeling of instability.
- Handles light or plowed snow ok (1-6 inches of unplowed unpacked fluffy snow).
- Fastest rolling tire I would recommend for states like Minnesota that have serious winters (this is the tire on my bike in Minnesota).
- $68 on amazon, $87 from Peter White
- 35c / 40c, 4 rows of studs (240 studs).

45nrth Gravdal
- A newer winter tire I haven't seen many reviews on, but it looks very interesting.
- Same thing as previous tires - at higher pressure fewer studs hit the ground (more studs hit if turning or slipping), at lower pressure all the studs hit the ground (but slower).
- Handles light or plowed snow ok. Haven't seen any reviews, tread pattern looks fine - probably handle a little more than the usual 1-6 inches of unplowed unpacked fluffy snow of the other tires.
- Might be better than the skinnier 35c marathon winter for icy uneven ruts on roads because it's a little wider.
- $85 / $115 from Freewheel Bike (27tpi / 120 tpi)
- 38c, 4 rows of studs (252 studs)

Fat Bike Tires
- The best you can get for winter riding. But the fat tire is slower, way more expensive, and still won't handle more than 6-12" of unplowed unpacked fluffy snow.
- Fatbike tires come in studded and unstudded versions. A regular sized tire (anywhere from 23c to 2") will usually slip on ice so fast you don't have time to react (the front tire). A fat bike tire is so fat it still won't stay upright, but goes down slow enough to let you react and get a foot on the ground - something I experience test riding on a frozen lake. You can also get studded fatbike tires, I've heard for commuting it's best to have the tire studded custom with about half half the studs on the fully studded tire as fully studded is overkill.
- Heavier and slower moving.
- Best bike for handling snow, can handle 6-12 inches of unplowed unpacked fluffy snow (way more than the 1-6 inches with other tires) - but it still won't get you through a snowstorm before plowing. No bike will. You gotta break out the skis, snowshoes, or be on a plowed road/trail for that.
- I see a lot of people riding these here in Minnesota.
- About the only really good bike for riding mountain bike trails in winter.
- A fat bike costs around $1,750 on average it looks like, a fat bike tire if bought separately cost around $120 (price of a Dillinger 4 120tpi), they can cost a lot more or a little less.
- Tire is 3-5 inches wide depending on model.

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Thoughts on other tires you might run across - again you can skip this if you want to make a quick easy choice.

Innova (Anything)
- Crap tires no one should buy ever. All other studded tires use carbide studs that have a reputation for lasting longer than the tire, Innova's use basic steel studs that wear down even with the tire somewhere around halfway through the tires lifespan, without warning leaving you with no studs. Absolute crap.

Nokian A10s
- A *cheap* tire for someone who doesn't want to ride in snow and ice, but wants to ride as soon as possible in the spring and fall, or lives in a warmer climate. The 45nrth Xerces would likely still be better, but this one is cheaper.
- Handles snow poorly (tread pattern grabs snow and collects it rather than shedding it, based on several users of the tire here on bikeforums).
- $54 on amazon, $65 from peter white.
- 32c, 2 rows of studs (72 studs, always in contact with the ground).

Nokian w106s
- A decent tire with only 2 rows of studs.
- Rolls a little slower than marathon winters.
- Lack of outer row of studs could be a problem for icy uneven stuff.
- Handles light or plowed snow ok (1-6 inches of unplowed unpacked fluffy snow).
- I used to recommend these for people who were looking for a cheaper tire, but with the schwalbe marathon winters now at the same price I'd get those instead.
- $65 from Freewheel Bike, $70.00 from Peter White.
- 35c, 2 rows of studs (105 studs).

Nokian w240's
- Nokian's tire for a full 4 rows of studs.
- Used to suggest it might be better than the 35c marathon winter for icy ruts and stuff on roads, but it seems like the 45nrth Gravdal might be a better choice at a similar size.
- Likely a little slower than the 30c or 35c tires.
- $70 on amazon, $100 from peter white.
- 40c, 4 rows of studs (240 studs).

Nokian Extreme 294 / 45nrth Nicotine
- 2"-2.3" tires. I was very disappointed with this size of tire when I bought a pair of the Nokians and put them on my bike. I don't really get where this size of tire would be useful.
- They're noticeably heavier, slower, and noisier than their smaller counterparts.
- At the same time they don't provide the benefits of larger fat bike tires.
- The didn't seem to be any better at handling snow than their skinnier counterparts - at least when I tired them vs schwalbe marathon winters after a snowstorm. When one bike got stuck on a section, the other bike would to when I came back with it. One section I made it through, I thought the marathon winters wouldn't - they did.
- Because they're so wide they slide around on top of the snow a lot, rather than biting through it to the surface beneath. But they're not wide enough to give you comfortable float like a fat bike tire does.
- Their might be a niche use for them I'm not aware of, but for commuting I can't find one. They all the disadvantages of a big tire (slow speed, high effort pedaling, high cost), but they aren't big enough to give you the advantages of a fatbike tire (float over snow, safer slower slipping on ice and slippery surfaces).

Continental makes studded tires to. They original went with plain steel studs (crap) but I've read all their studded tires are carbide studs now so they should be fine. I don't mention them just because I'm not familiar with them.

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Other Notes:

- 700c (road size) wheels are better for winter biking because they roll over small stuff easier than 26" wheels. (Fat bike tires labelled 26" are actually 700c in circumference).
- Decent quality winter tires have a reputation for lasting longer than their good weather counterparts because snow is less wearing on the tires than pavement is.
- Studded tires can make solid ice a complete non-issue. Problem is, that's not the only slippery surface for winter riding. There is nothing I know of that can eliminate all issues with loose unplowed uncompacted snow, or mixed snow and ice that leave you with a slippery surface (same problem cars have).
- No bike is able to let you ride across unplowed uncompacted snow. Same problem cars have. Fatbikes let you handle about 6-12" of snow, above that if it's not plowed or compacted from people riding over it, only skis or snowshoes (or a plane) will let you travel over it.
- The range of snow depth a bike can handle (1"-6", 6"-12") varies so wildly because snow can be pretty different depending on temperature and other factors. Really bad snow is bad with less of it, really good snow your bike can handle more of it.

Last edited by PaulRivers; 02-01-16 at 11:12 AM.
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Old 09-23-15, 02:08 PM
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Thank you, @PaulRivers. I got the Schwalbes mentioned above. They ought to serve me well. I'll let you know how they go.
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Old 09-23-15, 03:51 PM
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Well I just bought my first set of studded snows tires...Nokian W106 26"s for my older MTB-Based commuter, will only ride it when snowy and icy. After looking at Amazon sporadically for a couple of months I was going to go with the Kenda studded snows at $35/each, and had added them them my cart when miraculously the Nokian 106s showed up at $35/each. Bought those. Looked just now, can't find 'em at $35 again. I am STOKED for winter!
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Old 09-23-15, 04:13 PM
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Originally Posted by BobbyG View Post
Well I just bought my first set of studded snows tires...Nokian W106 26"s for my older MTB-Based commuter, will only ride it when snowy and icy. After looking at Amazon sporadically for a couple of months I was going to go with the Kenda studded snows at $35/each, and had added them them my cart when miraculously the Nokian 106s showed up at $35/each. Bought those. Looked just now, can't find 'em at $35 again. I am STOKED for winter!
Nokian w106's are decent tires like I said, for $35/each that's a steal (assuming they show up and are actual Nokians lol...). :-)
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Old 09-23-15, 04:26 PM
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Yes, I was a little nervous, especially after only one showed up, but I got a notice that the other has shipped. It looks right. Since the price was so low ($70 a pair w/free shipping!) if they don't measure up to my needs, I will try one of your higher recommendations. Thanks for such a comprehensive and reasoned list!
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Old 09-23-15, 04:42 PM
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Thanks for posting - this is very helpful guide!
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Old 09-23-15, 05:05 PM
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Good info.

I personally have my winter commuter with the W240 on the front and the W106 on the back. Works great! Couldn't be more pleased.
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Old 09-23-15, 06:32 PM
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Originally Posted by PaulRivers View Post
Schwalbe Marathon Winters
- Fastest rolling tire that lets you ride on sheer ice like dry pavement (in my experience you get around 80% of the grip you'd get on dry pavement).
Mine shed 30% of their studs in the first winter. Schlwabe (both schwalbe north america and germany) ignored my inquiry if that was expected behavior, which tells me it either is, or they don't care.

My current winter bike rides on Nokian W240s, 700X40 (42?). Work great. Heavy, slow, loud on dry pavement when the pressure is low.
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Old 09-23-15, 07:12 PM
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Those 45th North tires look really well made from the pictures that I've seen of them. If I ever see any at my LBS I'll grab a pair. Those skinny 30's could easily fit on my fixie frame and the 38's would fit on my fixed gear MTB. From my own experience I prefer narrower tires for winter commuting, I am not interested in very fat tires, they are too much work to keep the bike moving.
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Old 09-23-15, 07:25 PM
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I run the old Marathon Winter tyres on my Extrabike, the fixed gear (ice bike) has Nokian 294's, my Raleigh 20 and my wife's Breezer rolls new Marathon winter tyres and I have a Pugsley on stock Innovas for snow and winter trails and it does fine.

If you want to ride a fatbike in the winter get studs... the low contact pressure gives them less bite and they slip on ice faster than any smaller tyre.
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Old 09-24-15, 08:19 AM
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Originally Posted by dscheidt View Post
Mine shed 30% of their studs in the first winter. Schlwabe (both schwalbe north america and germany) ignored my inquiry if that was expected behavior, which tells me it either is, or they don't care.

My current winter bike rides on Nokian W240s, 700X40 (42?). Work great. Heavy, slow, loud on dry pavement when the pressure is low.
Thanks for commenting. Wow, that sucks. I would have contacted my credit card company and disputed the charge.

I have a pair that definitely has not lost more than 1 or 2 studs at worst (all studded tires lose a few). I remember hearing they had a bad batch. I can say that mine have worked well, and I expected Schwalbe has fixed their problem. Personally I've never heard back from a manufacturer other than Saris (who did nicely send me a replacement part which was great). :-/
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Old 09-24-15, 08:21 AM
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Originally Posted by wolfchild View Post
Those 45th North tires look really well made from the pictures that I've seen of them. If I ever see any at my LBS I'll grab a pair. Those skinny 30's could easily fit on my fixie frame and the 38's would fit on my fixed gear MTB. From my own experience I prefer narrower tires for winter commuting, I am not interested in very fat tires, they are too much work to keep the bike moving.
Fat bike tires are definitely more work and slower moving, but they can handle more road conditions. I don't own a fatbike either, because when roads get worse I just drive - they plow the trails here but it takes a day, city streets are plowed sooner so the car does better for that.

Skinnier studded tires are faster as long as the road/path is decently plowed, fat bikes handle more road conditions. It's a tradeoff. :-)
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Old 09-24-15, 08:27 AM
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Originally Posted by Sixty Fiver View Post
I run the old Marathon Winter tyres on my Extrabike, the fixed gear (ice bike) has Nokian 294's, my Raleigh 20 and my wife's Breezer rolls new Marathon winter tyres and I have a Pugsley on stock Innovas for snow and winter trails and it does fine.
I'm not commenting on unstudded Innova tires, but studded Innova tires are crap if you ride them on pavement at all. They work fine for a while, then their steel studs wear flush with the tire and suddenly you don't have traction on ice any more. They're crap. (Assuming they haven't moved to carbide studs but I couldn't find anything saying they did.)

Originally Posted by Sixty Fiver View Post
If you want to ride a fatbike in the winter get studs... the low contact pressure gives them less bite and they slip on ice faster than any smaller tyre.
That was the exact opposite of my actual experience riding on a frozen lake on sheer ice with a fat bike. The fatter tire slips much, much slower on ice, giving you plenty of time to get a foot down before the bike actually goes over - very different than a skinny tire which if the front slips you go down before you can react.
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Old 09-24-15, 10:01 AM
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I think I would enjoy riding a fat bike for fun but not for commuting. Goodness, my commute is 13 or 14 miles, depending on the route I take. Riding a fat bike for that distance? No thank you.
@Sixty Fiver's point about fat tires on ice is an interesting one. I hadn't thought of that. I don't have a fat bike, so it doesn't affect me.
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Old 09-24-15, 10:13 AM
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Originally Posted by PaulRivers View Post
I'm not commenting on unstudded Innova tires, but studded Innova tires are crap if you ride them on pavement at all. They work fine for a while, then their steel studs wear flush with the tire and suddenly you don't have traction on ice any more. They're crap. (Assuming they haven't moved to carbide studs but I couldn't find anything saying they did.)

That was the exact opposite of my actual experience riding on a frozen lake on sheer ice with a fat bike. The fatter tire slips much, much slower on ice, giving you plenty of time to get a foot down before the bike actually goes over - very different than a skinny tire which if the front slips you go down before you can react.
I just run the stock Innova (no studs) and like them for all around use... cheap studded tyres are a false economy when the studs wear out or fall out.

The physics of riding 4-5 inch tyres is that you have a wider platform which helps with stability but that comes with much reduced contact pressure (really easy to spin out), most folks I know who ride fatties in the winter roll on studded tyres and if they don't your skills need to be good for icy riding.

I save the Pug for snowier adventures and riding trails and usually ride the Extrabike as it is extremely stable... when the crap really hits the fan the Nokian 294's get to play.
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Old 09-24-15, 10:15 AM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
I think I would enjoy riding a fat bike for fun but not for commuting. Goodness, my commute is 13 or 14 miles, depending on the route I take. Riding a fat bike for that distance? No thank you.
@Sixty Fiver's point about fat tires on ice is an interesting one. I hadn't thought of that. I don't have a fat bike, so it doesn't affect me.
We go out and ride 25-30 miles on our fat bikes for fun and a lot of folks use them for regular commuting... they would only be considered slow if you time trial your commutes on a very lightweight bike.
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Old 09-24-15, 10:24 AM
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Originally Posted by Sixty Fiver View Post
We go out and ride 25-30 miles on our fat bikes for fun and a lot of folks use them for regular commuting... they would only be considered slow if you time trial your commutes on a very lightweight bike.
I suspect we have different points of view because of where we are. As you may know, we had some serious winter here last year, but it's unusual for us. Some winters, we don't even get snow. I think a fat bike is extreme overkill for commuting here and doesn't offer any added utility. Again, it looks great for fun but only for fun.
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Old 09-24-15, 10:26 AM
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I got the Nokian W106 tires for my commute. The bike path is plowed in Northampton during the winter, and so I was thinking that I only needed to worry about fresh snow and the black ice that is inevitable around here. The tires are terrific in both of those conditions, but I would get the Nokian W160 tires if these ever wear out. What I failed to take into account is the deeply rutted ice that forms at every intersection. For that, the studs on the sides of the tread are really useful. BTW, it is worth mentioning that you should make sure the studs are carbide-tipped, because they last a lot longer than plain metal studs. If I am not mistaken, all the tires mentioned on this thread so far are carbide tipped. But, for those new to winter studs, it is worth stating explicitly. Also, when you first get your new tires, you might want to inspect them and manually seat any studs that have not been properly seated during manufacturing. It should cut down on lost studs. FWIW
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Old 09-24-15, 10:30 AM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
I suspect we have different points of view because of where we are. As you may know, we had some serious winter here last year, but it's unusual for us. Some winters, we don't even get snow. I think a fat bike is extreme overkill for commuting here and doesn't offer any added utility. Again, it looks great for fun but only for fun.
If our winters were that of Portland I would not commute on the fatbike... wet and dismal rates something faster with fenders.

We usually have perma snow.
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Old 09-24-15, 11:38 AM
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I'd love to try cycling in perma snow. It sounds much more pleasant than the gunk we get here. I haven't been to Portland in the winter, but it doesn't sound as bad as it is here. We get many days above and many days below freezing. The snow thaws and refreezes. It gets super dirty. It's disgusting. Plus we get a lot of rain at just above freezing which is very cold. I suspect I would be less cold in Canada than I get here.
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Old 09-24-15, 11:47 AM
  #21  
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I might pick up a fat bike tonight off CL.

It's a lightly-used cheapo Mongoose walmart single speed fat bike that might be perfect to beat up this winter - $115

I live in Madison WI. Slush/snow/ice all winter. While the streets I would ride on are regularly plowed, my relatively flat 14mi (one way) commute involves some bike paths/trails that might not get the same attention from the DNR.

Is getting a cheap fat bike a dumb idea? Is a 28mi round trip commute on an SS fat bike a dumb idea? Please stop me before I do something rash
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Old 09-24-15, 01:29 PM
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Paul, the Nokian extremes are designed for off road mt biking. I have seen them used for commuting but I think they would be beastly. I use the Nokian Hakkapallittas' in 700 x 35. More tread depth than the marathon winters. 1 more point, I find a front suspension fork helpful with very rutted and bumpy bike paths, great for keeping the front wheel on track.

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Old 09-24-15, 03:24 PM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by Leebo View Post
Paul, the Nokian extremes are designed for off road mt biking. I have seen them used for commuting but I think they would be beastly. I use the Nokian Hakkapallittas' in 700 x 35. More tread depth than the marathon winters. 1 more point, I find a front suspension fork helpful with very rutted and bumpy bike paths, great for keeping the front wheel on track.
Thanks for commenting. Sounds like winter biking has worked out well for you.

Sounds like you use the Nokian w106's, like here:

Nokian Hakkapeliitta W106 Studded Tire - 700 x 35
Nokian Hakkapeliitta W106 Studded Tire - 700 x 35 - REI.com

On the topic of the 2" tires, I know they're marketed for offroad mountain biking, but from what I've been told the people around here (Minnesota) they're pretty poor for that to. I'm told Fat Bikes are much better. A 2" tire requires someone to compact the snow (often with snowshoes) before the trail is ridden, but a fat bike can usually ride it without doing that. All I can say for sure like I wrote is that I was very disappointed by their snow handling abilities which didn't seem significantly better than skinnier tires, but also added a floaty unstable feeling.

I find the idea of a front suspension fork very interesting. I've read that suspension's primary purpose was not comfort, but in trying to keep the wheel in contact with the ground at all times, and it seems like it would be nice for winter riding. I hesitate to suggest it though as I haven't personally tried it, and while I've seen plenty of rigid frames and fat bikes I can't remember ever seeing anyone here with a front suspension fork. It definitely could be a good idea that just hasn't caught on, in theory it definitely sounds very interesting.
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Old 09-24-15, 03:28 PM
  #24  
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Originally Posted by TenGrainBread View Post
I might pick up a fat bike tonight off CL. It's a lightly-used cheapo Mongoose walmart single speed fat bike that might be perfect to beat up this winter - $115 I live in Madison WI. Slush/snow/ice all winter. While the streets I would ride on are regularly plowed, my relatively flat 14mi (one way) commute involves some bike paths/trails that might not get the same attention from the DNR. Is getting a cheap fat bike a dumb idea? Is a 28mi round trip commute on an SS fat bike a dumb idea? Please stop me before I do something rash
It's hard to say. The last time I rode with a cheap walmart bike, the person riding it tried to turn around at the top of a hill, and had the metal on the stem shear off. No one was hurt, but it's a really odd thing to have break. Then I realized it was from Walmart...

The fact that it's a single speed is good for cost (maybe it's good enough quality for the low price), but I'd be very hesitant to recommend a single speed for winter riding. Not only do you not have different gears for hills, but changing road conditions also mean the same street could use different gears on different days.

Just my 2 cents off the top of my head.
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Old 09-24-15, 03:42 PM
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Originally Posted by tclune View Post
I got the Nokian W106 tires for my commute. The bike path is plowed in Northampton during the winter, and so I was thinking that I only needed to worry about fresh snow and the black ice that is inevitable around here. The tires are terrific in both of those conditions, but I would get the Nokian W160 tires if these ever wear out. What I failed to take into account is the deeply rutted ice that forms at every intersection. For that, the studs on the sides of the tread are really useful. BTW, it is worth mentioning that you should make sure the studs are carbide-tipped, because they last a lot longer than plain metal studs.
Yeah, that's another reason I didn't put the w106 on the recommended list (in addition to them costing the same as the schwalbe's) - getting grip on ice ruts. The Schwalbe Marathon Winter's 4 rows of studs is better for that, if you want something that has deeper treads and is more design to try to tackle snow it seems like the 45nrth Gravdal's would do that while also having the outer row of studs.

Originally Posted by tclune View Post
If I am not mistaken, all the tires mentioned on this thread so far are carbide tipped. But, for those new to winter studs, it is worth stating explicitly. Also, when you first get your new tires, you might want to inspect them and manually seat any studs that have not been properly seated during manufacturing. It should cut down on lost studs. FWIW
Yeah, all the tires mentioned in the first post have carbide studs - except the Innova's which I specially call out as crappy studded tires because they don't have carbide studs.
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