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Does anyone have any thoughts on use of winter (studded) tires, such as the Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires, on only the front or rear wheel (and with a standard tire on the other wheel)?

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  • Rear traction will be a problem.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 15:39
  • One is better than none, but its well worth buying two if you're in a place where studs may help.
    – Batman
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 22:36

7 Answers 7

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One winter tire is better than none if you're going to be riding in snowy conditions, so go ahead and throw it on. If you do end up running only one tire, you'll probably want it on the front wheel so you don't lose traction while cornering and so that you can maximize braking performance.

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    concur - you can often recover from a rear-wheel slip, but rarely can you save a front wheel washout.
    – Criggie
    Commented Nov 4, 2017 at 19:58
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Studded tires are of the greatest value on ice, and if you are riding on ice you want as good as traction as possible, especially on the front wheel. In patchy ice you can coast through at speed with no traction and not crash as long as you are not trying to steer, brake or accelerate. With a studded front that changes to lightly steering may not result in a crash.

I also like studded tires on mixed ice and snow, but for heavy snow I like mudders. A good knobby tire handles better in deep snow than studded does. My general purpose tire choice is a tire with a smooth center ridge and big knobs that contact as I turn or sink. I use such tires in every thing from 8" snow to rain and mud or dry roads. They are not the best choice for ice but the local climate is not known for ice (beyond the occasional patch).

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I have found studs on the front and a regular tire on the back gets the best trade-off of speed and stability. Two studded tires is just way too slow.

With a studded front, stability to avoid wiping out is there, especially in those obnoxious snowy ruts. Sometimes rear traction isn't great and your rear slips and sldes, but not often and when it does, you rarely wipe out.

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As I currently have exactly one schwalbe winter at home I've been thinking about this myself. I've come to the conclusion it's a bad idea for me. I'm mostly concerned about patches of sheet ice, and on those I want the front wheel to hold a line, but wouldn't trust it for much braking. I wouldn't brake hard and would brake more than normal at the back, less at the front. So I would want grip from the back tyre - it might fishtail if I get it wrong but it would still slow me down.

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  • Are you just guessing here? My experience is that front studs on ice sheets are capable of fairly aggressive braking without washing out. (Using Nokian Hakkapelitta 700 x 37c)
    – Alex D
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 22:30
  • @AlexJones as I mainly use them in case of unexpected ice my experience is rather limited, and I run them rather hard as recommended by Schwalbe for non-snow use. It just happens that the places that get ice patches are straight-ish, flat or uphill, and not prone to queues of traffic, meaning that I don't need hard braking. I don't fancy experimenting to find out how much grip the front wheel has, especially after scaring myself with a barely-recovered front skid on wet leaves recently.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 17:51
  • I actually did some testing in the end, and @AlexJ was right at least on white ice. With black ice typically being rather thin there's less for the studs to bite, and it's unpredictable so I was never able to test (or particularly willing to)
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 9:33
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I purchased my first set of Schwalbe Marathon Winter tyres after I destroyed the 28" back wheel of my Kalkhoff bike. I hadn't realised that the temperature had been below zero (°C) overnight (it's rare enough in the west of Ireland). As I leaned into a left turn I felt the rear wheel start to slide on ice. It then hit a dry patch and I managed to right the bike and save myself but badly buckled the wheel. I had to have the wheel rebuilt as it has an 8-speed Shimano hub.

I purchased the tyres for the next winter. I found them quite reassuring but a bit noisy - like riding on fine gravel all the time. The second set I purchased didn't seem to last very long. The studs wore through the tyre and punctured the tube several times. I felt as though there had been some deterioration in quality.

I would not recommend front tyre only.

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    Ireland isn’t known for its snow. Studded tires are meant to be run on snow not asphalt/road. Also they don’t do much of anything for black ice (what Ireland likely gets more of), as the ice is too thin for the studs to bite into. Winter tires without studs but with sipes (many small cuts in the tire) will work better on black ice as the siping creates lots of edges that can engage the imperfections on the ice surface.
    – Rider_X
    Commented Nov 5, 2017 at 1:02
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I realize I am way late to this thread, but I have extensive experience riding with (home made) studded tires during some of Denver's harshest winter storms and slickest morning commutes. First of all, riding a bicycle (road or mountain) during a snow storm while motorist are stuck in their automobiles creeping along at 5 to 10 mph is just fun as (bleep). I will often go for "snow storm rides" just for the fun of it and I am 54 years old. With that said - here is MY advice. If it's dumping, blowing sideways and the snow has already accumulated more than an inch, yes two studded tires are better than one because the lose of speed and efficiency created by the studded tires is out weighed by the need for 2 wheel drive. But if it's a sunny day and there are just a few spots that are icy or maybe an entire mile or two of the commute (I) always go front wheel only. The increased speed and efficiency is well worth the occasional and quite fun slip or slide. #experiencetrumpsopinion

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Short answer: That's a very bad idea. For a car it looks like this.

Let's first agree: on a 30 km route with 2 x 10 m stretches of black ice, the studs are a nuisance (noise, less efficiency) on the ice-free 29,980 m. You're tolerating the studs just to make sure you'll not go down on those 20 m.

Now, on those 20 m of ice, and assuming you chose to install the studded tire on the front wheel:

  • if you're neither braking nor turning, and you hear the cliquety-clack of the front tire studs hitting ice in time and start to coast (remember: your rear wheel will in a moment have no traction, and merely pedaling introduces a slight sway), you may be fine.
  • if you're braking, there is a very good chance the rear of your bike will spin out and that you will go down. Indeed, here you'll be (oddly) better off braking with the nearly ineffective rear wheel.
  • if you're turning (but not braking), the additional grip on your front tire will again make your rear tire continue in a straight line rather than turn behind the front tire.
  • if you're turning while braking, especially if you're braking with your front wheel, prepare for impact (unclip, attempt to take the brunt with your shoulder rather than your wrist, etc).

The video is not for a bicycle, but the dynamics for a car already illustrate it very well.

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