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Winter tires: fat or skinny

Old 12-28-12, 12:11 PM
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jrickards
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Winter tires: fat or skinny

I presumed that fatter tires would be better winter/snow tires to put more knobbies into the snow for grip but an article I read recently suggested that skinnier tires are better because they cut through the snow better. Winter tires tend to have deep spaces between blocks, somewhat like mud tires and I would have thought that the snow/mud properties would be similar enough to result in similar tire designs (rubber flexibility and studs excepting) and benefits.

What's your opinion?
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Old 12-28-12, 12:17 PM
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Skinny is great for cutting thru the snow, until you hit thick pack, or ice, then you're in trouble.
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Old 12-28-12, 12:31 PM
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The fat tires are for hard packed snow trails or unplowed roads where you want to stay on the surface and not bust through. Narrower knobbies are required for general loose snow riding so you won't plow but instead cut through and get traction below on whatever your tire can grab on to.
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Old 12-28-12, 12:34 PM
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as mentioned in the other thread about winter riding, there's no one-size-fits-all winter tire. different conditions in different areas warrant different tire choices. for me, i ride in the city, so cutting through snow isn't a common obstacle i face, but riding over black ice and hard pack that's turned into ice are common obstacles, so for me, studded tires are the way to go. i ride Schawlbe Marathon Winters (700x35). not fat. not skinny. just filled with a crapload of studs.
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Old 12-28-12, 12:38 PM
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Unfortunately in my opinion it depends entirely upon conditions. If you live someplace where snow tends to melt fairly quickly and you typically only get an inch or two at a shot then I'd say skinny is probably better.

The problem with the "skinny is better" theory is that once the snow is packed beyond the ability of the tire to cut through to a firmer surface, skinny becomes a liability.

I sort of split the difference. My "serious" winter tire is 40 mm. I also have a set of 35s that I'll sometimes use at the beginning and the end of the season. Last year we had very little snow so I used them all winter.

There are times though when a phat tire bike would be really nice to have but to me those are niche bikes that I can't currently justify the expense and space for.

Last edited by tjspiel; 12-28-12 at 12:43 PM.
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Old 12-28-12, 12:53 PM
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Originally Posted by tjspiel View Post
There are times though when a phat tire bike would be really nice to have but to me those are niche bikes that I can't currently justify the expense and space for.
i'm in the same boat. i'd love to get my hands on a Moonlander, but 2,000 bones on something i might use only once or twice a year, if at all? that's hard to justify.

i also lack room in the stable for any more bikes according to my fiance, so that's a non-starter until (and if ever) we move out of our downtown condo.

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Old 12-28-12, 12:54 PM
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My tires are Schwalbe Marathon Winter 26x1.75.
When there is a lot of snow I wish I had a more aggressive front tire because the MW's don't have a lot of grip on snow.
When the slush turned into ice I wish I had 26x2.0 because the ride is really bumpy.
It's all a compromise what you pick, like previous poster say, it's all a matter of the conditions.
Picking a different tire for back and front is not a bad idea in my opinion, I sort of wish I had.
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Old 12-28-12, 01:06 PM
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All I can say is that when I switched from 26" with MTB tires to 700c with cyclocross tires, it revolutionized and greatly improved my winter commuting experience.

My ride is over primary and secondary streets with get salted, in an area of the country that doesn't see a lot of accumulation of snow typically, although getting 6" from a single snowfall is not uncommon. What that means, then, is that I'm dealing with a day of fresh powder over tarmac at most, and a few days of slush and ice slurry with mostly soft plow ridges to cut through. For that kind of thing, the "cut" of 700x32 is brilliant, yet also allows me to roll efficiently most of the winter when the road is clear.

I would never consider going back to an MTB fat tire for that kind of riding. If I had to ride rough, bumpy, un-shoveled sidewalks where snow accumulated and frozen footprints trammeled a smoothed line, then probably the comfort and accommodation of a fat, low pressure tire would be the way to go.

So as has been said, "it depends."
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Old 12-28-12, 04:24 PM
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It's relative,, the 700c tires are a 35~38 width, so not that 'skinny'..
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Old 12-28-12, 05:14 PM
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My commute today involved ice, 2-3 inches slush, fresh snow, hard pack, and clear road. My Nokian Hakkapeliitta w240 tires did an admirable job in all conditions, the slush w/ some ruts offering the most challenge. After I bought them I biked on bare cement and was regretting the purchase, thinking a skinnier tire would have been better. I've reconsidered. The stability and grip of these tires gives me the safety I need being a bit older---I don't want to go down even if I'm a bit slower. I love these studded beauties, check them out!
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Old 12-28-12, 05:36 PM
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Around Seattle we have horrible snow clearing ability, so we get that awful, packed slush/snow that ices back over each night; so it's lumpy and skinny tires won't cut through it.
I've done commutes on that with 32mm and 33mm CX tires, with 35mm studded knobbies, and with 26 x 1.75 street tires (which just SUCKED! I got caught off guard by a storm while at work. No idea it was going to snow.)

If it came down to it now, I'd opt for my enduro bike: 6.5 inches of travel, 2.3" low pressure mudders, and super-low gearing. I won't get anywhere fast, but I'll get anywhere I danged well please eventually.
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Old 12-28-12, 06:14 PM
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Originally Posted by CliftonGK1 View Post
Around Seattle we have horrible snow clearing ability, so we get that awful, packed slush/snow that ices back over each night; so it's lumpy and skinny tires won't cut through it.
Exactly.

And here in Rochester where, besides a weekly snowstorm, we usually get some snow every single day in January and February, we have excellent snow-clearing capabilities. Skinny works better on our roads, with the possible exception of small side streets. I've never encountered conditions I couldn't manage.
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Old 12-28-12, 06:57 PM
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Studs for packed ice and 2.0 knobblies for snow/slush work best for me. Slick half way melted hard packed ice however has so little friction that even walking isn't easy.
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Old 12-28-12, 07:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Steely Dan View Post
i'm in the same boat. i'd love to get my hands on a Moonlander, but 2,000 bones on something i might use only once or twice a year, if at all? that's hard to justify.

i also lack room in the stable for any more bikes according to my fiance, so that's a non-starter until (and if ever) we move out of our downtown condo.

ya know, fatbikes are now being enjoyed for more than just snow. They're gaining popularity for singletrack, too. Just sayin'


My studded tires are 38mm, and as others have said, are great as long as the snow isn't a foot or more deep, and crusty. They're also great on hardpack and black ice. For me, they hit the skinny/wide sweet spot. FWIW my regular slicks are 50mm and also do quite well on hardpack.
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Old 12-28-12, 08:38 PM
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Originally Posted by jrickards View Post
I presumed that fatter tires would be better winter/snow tires to put more knobbies into the snow for grip but an article I read recently suggested that skinnier tires are better because they cut through the snow better. Winter tires tend to have deep spaces between blocks, somewhat like mud tires and I would have thought that the snow/mud properties would be similar enough to result in similar tire designs (rubber flexibility and studs excepting) and benefits.

What's your opinion?
Probably better to put that into perspective. You're gonna start to get pedal strike in 6 " of snow and that would be more of an issue than tire width. So when people start talking about winter driving they're usually talking about plowed roads where dealing with an inch of snow and a bit of slush is the norm. The other thing is that 'skinny'is relative. Whats considered skinny for a winter studded tire would raise a lot of hostility from roadies. 'Skinny' winter tires would be my choice in the city, but off-road I'll take a wider tire thank you very much!
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Old 12-28-12, 09:41 PM
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I have reached a happy medium running a 2.5" knobby up front and a 2" studded tire in the rear . I get the floatation up front in deep snow and plenty of traction on ice from the rear. My biggest issue winter commuting here is dealing with the frozen slush and car tire tracks and the big wide tire up front has made a huge improvement in that regard. And having at least a studded rear tire helps prevent rear end slide outs and gives extra traction when climbing icy hills. In a perfect world I'd have a Mukluk with studded fat bike tires maybe next year! But until then I am very pleased with this setup. And trust me I have tried several variations before the current setup! This works well, for my situation.


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Old 12-28-12, 10:53 PM
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I have 40mm Nokkians and they seem a lot better than skinny tires on snow packed trails and roads. Skinny but studded would be great on ice.. but I think the skinniest you can get is 32/35mm.

What amazes me are all the extremely fat-tire bikes that pass me on trails. What's with that? Low pressure and floating over everything.

Below is the guy who is riding to the South Pole.

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Old 12-28-12, 10:59 PM
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I just put on some fat for the winter. Of course, for me "fat" means jumping from 700x28 to 700x35 and "winter" means nine months of rain. There aren't many situations where wider isn't better if traction is your primary concern.
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Old 12-29-12, 01:09 AM
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My experience is that a wide knobby was more stable over ice, but would get stuck in deep snow where as the skinny knobby was less stable, but I could cut through deep snow easily. I used to run wide knobby tire rear and skinny knobby front. Now I just use skinny knobby tires and take it easy.
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Old 12-29-12, 01:35 AM
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700X35 studded work well on my trek 520. Wider won't work with my fender setup. We get much less snow now than when I was a grade schooler here in Misery. But my pet dinosaur seemed to get pretty good traction in those days. Come to think of it the neighborhood dogs kept silent as I rode by too. Ahhhhhh for the olden days.
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Old 12-29-12, 07:06 AM
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Originally Posted by jrickards View Post
I presumed that fatter tires would be better winter/snow tires to put more knobbies into the snow for grip but an article I read recently suggested that skinnier tires are better because they cut through the snow better. Winter tires tend to have deep spaces between blocks, somewhat like mud tires and I would have thought that the snow/mud properties would be similar enough to result in similar tire designs (rubber flexibility and studs excepting) and benefits.

What's your opinion?
Question? Fat or skinny. Answer? Fat or skinny.
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Old 12-29-12, 10:33 AM
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If I lived as far north as OP I would definetly be running fat tires. There's ton's of snow and very frigid temps in Sudbury, Ont.
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Old 12-29-12, 11:16 AM
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Originally Posted by wolfchild View Post
If I lived as far north as OP I would definetly be running fat tires. There's ton's of snow and very frigid temps in Sudbury, Ont.
LOL Hold on there! Sudbury also gets more sunshine than almost any other city in Canada - and they do have some pretty good snow removal equipment. Unless the OPs planning some outback excursion better suited to snowshoes - I can't see him needing anything more than the Nokian 240s I'm using in Montreal. Should I mention we just got over 40cm of fresh snow in one shot?

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Old 12-29-12, 01:06 PM
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For those who mentioned that a fat-tire bike would be nice but the cost in space and money would not justify it, here is a speculative idea. If I had the money I would try it, but I don't so I won't.

The idea is to get a Pugsley with disk brakes. Then, have a set of regular mountain-bike wheels set up to fit the same frame. I asked the local bike shop and they seemed to think it work. They did mention that one would need two rear wheels, but otherwise no problem.

Then, in the winter, use the regular fat tires. When summer comes, or when the roads are totally clear, switch the wheels to the narrow set. With disk brakes it should be a quick swap. One bike, all conditions. It sounds like a fun idea on the surface. I don't know what difficulties might lurk.
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Old 12-29-12, 04:22 PM
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In my experience, the only time fat tires have a small advantage in winter, is on uncleared bike trails where the snow has been packed down by fat tire bikes. In those conditions narrower tires will break through more often, but not nearly often enough for it to be worth switching over.

Any other snow is much easier to go through with narrow tires. I like 700 x 32 for winter and summer but with no studs. I've learned to ride over glare ice with them. (That took awhile and won't happen for everyone.) Ice does get me once or twice a winter when it is under snow and I don't know I'm on it. This is usually under difficult conditions at a slow speed.
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