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Aside from racing or riding across a frozen pond, under what conditions do you find studded tires useful?

I have never used them, and the worst I have had to do is take a day off when it is really nasty and icy. Maybe some climates or landscapes are more prone to the spontaneous formation of ice patches?

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    According to your profile, you live in Tucson, which averages about half an inch of snow a year. It doesn't surprise me that studded tyres are no use to you. (Yes, studded tyres are for ice, not snow, but near zero snow implies very little ice, too.) – David Richerby Nov 21 '19 at 8:36
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    @DavidRicherby yes Tucson is indeed fantastic for riding in the winter! Though when I asked the question I was living in Urbana, IL. – David LeBauer Nov 22 '19 at 3:44
  • Aha -- that might make a difference. 😉 – David Richerby Nov 22 '19 at 8:22
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I find them useful on the street during the winter. Here in Minneapolis it gets pretty cold and the streets can get pretty icy. Their studded-ness plus their aggressive tread pattern give me good traction in snow and on ice.

However, studded tires are really slow. The majority of the time, even in winter, there isn't much ice and I am completely fine riding on slicks. For days when its snowing and icy, I have a spare front wheel with a studded tire mounted on it. I'll swap that in for those days, leaving the slick on the back. Traction on the back is less than optimal, but it is a good speed/stability tradeoff. I can handle my backwheel slipping around, but if the front wheel slips I am going to end up on my face.

Also I did this when I commuted daily, so I didn't skip very snowy days. In fact very snowy days made me want to ride more.

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    +1 especially for the trick of keeping an extra front wheel handy – David LeBauer Nov 30 '10 at 15:33
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It depends on where you live. On many winter days there isn't much difference between the frozen pond you mentioned and the middle of the street around here.

Studded tires are definitely not a must for any winter rider, it's more of a if-it-fits-your-local-needs type of item.

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I got myself studded tires when my commute had ≈150 m elevation difference which went through a narrow valley with a grade of 15 - 20 %. I'm in western/central Germany, so temperature stays around freezing point most of the winter:

  • lots of frost cycles, meaning thawing during the day, water running on the road and freezing there in the night
  • a period of freezing temperatures may end by freezing rain,
  • also fog over frozen groud can create a black ice layer
  • if there's snow, it it will almost always stay slippery due to temperatures not far below 0 °C. It will probably also thaw a bit during the day and then often form black ice the next night.

    In contrast, I once spent a winter in Winnipeg. Due to the low temperatures, biking on the snow was fine throughout almost all winter (except a few days in January below -35 °C: the rear hub freewheeling mechanism froze). Studded tires would have helped during the week or two of thawing when we had water on top of ice.

  • They also help with frost on asphalt - but unless there's a lot of it and/or steep grade I'd say this can usually be managed without.

  • Things change a bit if you have a dog with the bike and thus cannot rely on not having any unexpected side forces.

All in all I'd say that if there isn't substantial grade or some local feature that is particularly prone to ice and cannot be circumvented, studded tires are not needed in most parts of Germany: while the above mentioned happens, it will affect only a few days each winter.

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