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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.) Nov 21, 2019 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. Nov 22, 2019 at 3:44
  • Aha -- that might make a difference. 😉 Nov 22, 2019 at 8:22

5 Answers 5

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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 Nov 30, 2010 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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Snow tires or studded tires are practically necessary when there's snow on the roads. On very bad days, only fatbike-width snow tires or studded tires work. On the very worst days, even those won't work and you have to resort to walking or to a car.

Studded tires are necessary on ice -- the smoother the ice and the higher the temperature of the ice (more close to melting point), the more necessary studs are. If you live in an area where roads are icy only occasionally, you may be able to just avoid riding on those icy days, or if ice is only very rare, by riding carefully on the ice and riding less carefully on pavement. However, there are plenty of people in areas where icy days are prevalent and who would miss riding a lot during those icy days.

Thick tires, such as studded or snow tires, perhaps even with a puncture protection armor such as Tannus armor, are necessary when the roads are covered with gravel intending to prevent pedestrians from falling on slippery ice.

Since most people won't want four kinds of tires (road tires, studded tires, snow tires, thick armor-protected gravel tires) and since some of those requirements may overlap (for example if riding on ice that has gravel distributed over it, you may need both studded tires and thick armor-protected gravel tires at the same time, and if riding on paths where both snow and ice occur, you may need both studded tires and snow tires), the best course of action is to choose a studded tire that works equally well on snow due to its tread pattern and put a puncture protection armor such as Tannus armor in it to prevent sharp gravel from puncturing the tire.

May car drivers use stud-free winter tires because cars tend to grind the pavement to dust, causing air pollution and health problems for sensitive people. However, this only works if some small percentage (at least 10% or so) of drivers choose studded tires because the studded tires make ice less smooth, increasing traction for stud-free winter tire users. Also cars do not depend on traction for stability due to having four wheels, and also cars are heavy so studded tires cause lots of pollution and pavement wear whereas bikes are lightweight and thus studded bike tires cause very little pollution and pavement wear. Due to these reasons, even if 90% of car users can get away with stud-free winter tires, you shouldn't do the same on a bicycle: you should use studded tires.

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  • are you implying that riding on gravel requires armoring because the gravel will puncture the tires, other objects mixed into the gravel will puncture the tire, or because the armoring helps with traction?
    – Paul H
    Jan 25, 2022 at 19:08
  • @PaulH If riding on the type of sharp gravel made from fracturing rock, that is distributed over pavement, when the snow/ice has melted and water acts as a lubricant, the gravel readily punctures each and every tire unless it is armored to a thickness larger than the size of maximum gravel fragments. Riding on gravel on sand roads doesn't puncture tires. Riding on dry gravel doesn't puncture tires. Maybe some other forms of gravel than those made by fracturing rock to prevent pedestrian injuries don't puncture tires. However, the gravel used for preventing pedestrian injuries on ice, punctures
    – juhist
    Jan 26, 2022 at 19:02
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There are not many icy days here but my boss has them on his fast 45 km/h E bike anyway. He says they are very good on ice and perfectly bearable on just dry tarmac, not that you cannot drive. I and others in the team up to now used wide knobbed MTB tires that are very good on fresh snow but on the ice where it is they require very slow and careful ride. If there is enough ice to cover hundreds of meters, gets problematic.

I have installed studded tires this winter on my bicycle (Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro 27.5x2.25). They are really very good and stable in icy conditions and hold well on snow as well. The only surface you need to care about a little bit is a long stretch of wet metal. These tires also good enough on tarmac as well but rather noisy.

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