How do I determine what factors lead to a good all purpose city commuting winter tire? Does the rim matter?

I'd like to not have to worry too much about looking out for and avoiding black ice, mainly because I'm not sure you can even do that reliably?

I'll be riding on roads and bike paths but if I encounter an unplowed section, I'd want to be able to get thru the snow without too much trouble.

I am interested in NYC so please factor that into your reply if possible, although a general answer would be great. FYI in NYC in January there's 8 inches of snow across 4 days, and 4 inches of rain across 10 days. Average temperature is 26F low, 38F high.

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    Any reason why this has to be specifically for New York City? The same answers will apply for pretty much any city with snow, ice and bad pavement. – Neil Fein Nov 17 '11 at 18:39
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    @NeilFein I included that info because I figured winters elsewhere vary in terms of snowfall, rainfall, how the city reacts (salting roads, clearing bike paths), etc. But you're right a general answer would be better if possible. – bicyclops Nov 17 '11 at 20:35
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    Note that no tire will work on black ice. I have studded snow tires, which works great on thick ice or compacted snow that has turned to ice. Black ice is too thin for the studs to effectively bite into. The best you can do is a softer sticker tier, which will give a little bit of traction. Vigilance and a light touch is about all you can do on black ice. – Rider_X Nov 7 '12 at 20:41
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    Edited to make it less a shopping question. Some of these early questions were poorly phrased. – RoboKaren Oct 12 at 0:07

Your best bet for all around tire in the winter is going to be a cyclocross tire. They are made to race in grass, snow, on pavement, in sand, singletrack, and just about any way possible. They also have different types of treads for different conditions. You can't beat the Hutchinson Bulldogs, if you are looking for something more affordable, maybe the Maxxis Locust CX. CX tires offer low rolling resistance in the center of the tire, and have good grip on the sides. A less aggressive tread would be found on something like the Kenda Happy Medium. Give those a shot this winter and you shouldn't be disappointed.

  • +1 you can keep your Schwalbe, Continental and Vittoria: Hutchinson is where it's at. – Unsliced Nov 7 '12 at 17:25

Snow is some of the hardest stuff to bike through, and riding in eight inches of loose snow is either impossible or a real slog depending on what tire you use.

Not to try to dissuade you, but I personally find riding through any more than a couple inches of snow to be more hassle than it's worth. For anything less than 2 inches, I don't think that the tire really matters because a mountain bike tire will get good traction, while a road tire will exert more pressure per area and generally find the road under the snow. A road tire does offer less chance of recovery if you slip.

I set out about 4 years ago determined to ride through every day of the winter here in Toronto (which I think must have a similar winter to NYC). I had some days where there would be many inches of snow, and I had to ride in the tracks of cars, but I made it through. Riding on days like that just isn't fun.

  • A road tyre isn't going to cut through compacted snow, which is what you'll be facing if there's any amount of vehicular traffic on the road you're using. – David Richerby Oct 11 at 16:38

I have 700x32 Marathon Plus tires: hoping that they are a good general-purpose commuting tire.

They're said to be OK on rain. And riding during a snow storm (in Toronto) is analogous to riding in the rain: the tire goes through fresh-fallen snow to find the (wet) hard surface underneath.

Wet snow, even hard snow, packed snow, granular ice is one thing -- actual sheet ice ("black ice") on the road surface though is different, something else, much more slippery -- e.g. if you can't walk on it then you can't cycle on it, no friction -- for which I think you need studs (e.g. metal embedded in the tire).

The manufacturer (Schwalbe) also make ice tires. They have studs, at the edges of the tire:

  • At high tire pressure, the tire is on its rim and the studs are off the road.
  • At low tire pressure, the tire is on its edges and the studs are running on the road.

So you adjust your tire pressure to match the road condition, for example depending on whether you expect to risk ice that day. I haven't tried that, but it sounds clever and correct.

  • +1 on Marathon/Marathon Plus. I took to a sledging run on mine last year and I managed to stop at the bottom. That was on a 26 x 1.75 size. – ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Nov 18 '11 at 23:34
  • I've used them for years now and found them very suitable, also on e.g. on unpaved gravel. See also When does a Marathon Plus tire (not) need replacing? but in general I ride for years, tens of thousands of kilometres, without a puncture. – ChrisW Oct 11 at 9:49

I live in South Central Wisconsin and have been commuting year round (on roads with there fair share of pot holes and such) for 3yrs now and have found a regular old commuter tire works just fine. I favor the Serfas City Drifter 26x1.5. As far as 700's go, if you wanna pony up a little more cash I hands down suggest the Schwalbe Marathon Dureme. I just switched to this tire for touring and from January till July no blow out. These things are solid! No matter what, if you hit ice just right, your gonna have a bad time.

I ride pretty much year round in all areas of NY on a Motobecane, Immortal Ice frame, Velocity wheels, and hands down the best tires I've found for these messed up streets are Armadillos. Almost 7-years and never a blowout or any trouble. Unless I'm doored. Love them!

  • The original question seemed to me to be about ice, and snow. What can you say something about ice in New York, and about how your tires work with ice and/or snow? – ChrisW Nov 17 '11 at 22:53

I'm not sure what kind of bike/wheel size you have, but Compass's Steilaccom tire (available in 700c or 650b) seems like a high end, good option if you're committed to truly only having one tire year round for both pavement and snow.

I have a pair of cheap 32c knobby cx tires by Kenda I can fit on my commuter for when it snows, but in my past year of living in NYC, I never felt bothered to change tires for the relatively few times it snowed. I just plowed through it on 28c Panaracer Paselas, or if I didn't want to grit through it, just took the train.

If I'm going to have just one set of tires on my commuter, I'd rather have one that I enjoy riding 95% of time, rather than compromise my enjoyment just to be somewhat less miserable when it snows.

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