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)?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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