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The climate where I live is such that you may get snow or even true ice one day, but it will be dry gravel and tarmac on another. I understand that winter tires would not be ideal on these, but sometimes I would only know in the morning right before departure. Swapping both tires looks as too long and buying the second couple of wheels with disk brakes, cassette looks rather expensive.

I have used just knobby tires for a couple of years but studs may add safety when the ice appears.

Would it be safe enough just to mount winter tires for winter, even if there will be dry days with positive temperature as well? I see no reason why they should not work on gravel that is 2/3 of my road, but I have more concerns about tarmac. Do they brake acceptably?

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    I’ve only found really smooth, hard surfaces like polished cobblestones or tiles to be problematic, especially if the bike is unloaded and only the studs have ground contact (with your weight on the bike they tend to get pressed in). The main reason they are bad on dry ground is their very bad rolling resistance and the noise.
    – Michael
    Commented Sep 13, 2022 at 17:51
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    If your conditions are bad enough to need winter tires, Is there a reason you don't just have two bikes, one for dry conditions and one for snow/ice? Cold, damp conditions are very hard on a bike's moving parts, and you aren't going to be travelling at speed anyway (not if you value being able to stop!). A much cheaper (somewhat disposable) winter bike would solve the problem. Take the winter bike when the conditions are bad, and don't stress too much when bits wear out. And take the higher-quality dry-weather bike in good conditions when a faster ride is possible.
    – Graham
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 14:32
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    I never noticed a difference in capability when running studs on dry ground. I did notice a difference in expense. Those metal studs wear off quite quickly and studded tires are expensive. When I was commuting year round I had 2 sets of wheels that i'd swap onto the bike depending on the weather. My winter wheels were cheap/heavy ones from performance, probably cost a little more than one set of tires.
    – aaronP
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 20:48
  • @Graham I have the option to choose a bike without studded tyres in winter, and in fact our roads are more often ice-free than not. But the heaviest snowfall is often during the day, and an early evening frost can cause problems after rain. You'd really need to trust the forecast
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 5:46
  • @ChrisH True, but it's likely to be right more often than not. :) And those studded tyres aren't cheap. If the OP values convenience enough to be considering full wheels including cassette and disks, a second-hand bike for winter might be cheaper than those, especially since light weight and ultimate handling aren't such priorities when you're highly limited by your road surface.
    – Graham
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 9:15

4 Answers 4

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Oh yes they are safe.

Actually, they are safer in summer than they are in icy winter! It's often said that studded tires have bad traction on wet pavement, but actually the traction is far better than it would be on ice.

There was a time when I didn't have parking space in my workplace, so I parked my car few kilometers away and continued the journey to work by bike. Considering that I didn't have to ride many kilometers per day, it would not make sense to swap tires twice per year. So I used studded tires all year round.

However, if you use your bike a lot, then you obviously don't want to ride in summer in studded tires. You can consider this by considering the slowdown caused by using studded tires in summer and comparing that to the time it takes to install proper summer tires. It doesn't require riding a lot until tire swapping starts to make sense.

In any case, you shouldn't reinstall tires on wheels more than twice per year. When you install winter tires, commit to it and reinstall the summer times back only after winter.

Actually, it probably doesn't make sense to even swap wheels more than two times per year if you have two wheelsets (one for summer tires, one for winter times). Perhaps if there's a long period of forecasted non-icy weather in the middle of winter lasting weeks, you could consider temporarily using the summer wheels until you reinstall the winter wheels. But certainly you shouldn't at start of every day consider which wheelset is better for the day and install that wheelset. You should anticipate: use the wheelset appropriate for the season all the time.

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    All true for regular asphalt and roads. But the answer should come with a "but not on smooth hard surfaces such as tiles or metal!!" warning. Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 22:33
  • "In any case, you shouldn't reinstall tires on wheels more than twice per year." Care to explain this point? Apart from the effort involved, there should be no downside to more frequent. Unless one manages to damage the tire or rim, of course...
    – anderas
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 7:05
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    @anderas a tyre swap always incurs a risk of damaging rim and tyre at least a little bit, and moreso to either damage the inner tube or cause a mess and waste a lot of sealant liquid. Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 16:02
  • I disagree that tiles or metal are hazardous with studded tires. If the tiling pattern is regular, the tile gaps can cause a small sideways force but won't cause you to crash. You can make it feel a bit safer by riding diagonally across tiles. Even being very slightly diagonal helps. As for metal, I have ridden over metallic manhole covers with studded tires and have never found them to be nowhere as dangerous as ice.
    – juhist
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 15:45
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    Regular tires grip very well on dry metal, tiles, and granite. Studded tires can cause severe problems when cornering or breaking on those surfaces because only the studs make contact and they cannot grip at all. Hence one cannot use studded tires the same way the one would use regular tires in all cases. I agree that in most cases you can and the OP is well advised to keep them on. But the above special cases are relevant safety advice. I wish someone had told me about them before I wiped out hard wrongly believing I could ride studded tires just like non-studded ones. Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 15:21
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Solid-frozen ice

The studs are hard. They will penetrate a fully frozen layer of ice hiding under a dusting of snow. That's the whole point. They give you a secure ride in cold weather, and even if there is no ice almost everywhere on your route, it's the 5-meter concealed stretch of ice that can take you down.

Granite and cobblestones

The lesser problem is noise, but even if you don't mind the continuous clickety-clack of studs hitting the tarmac, you are reducing the area of rubber in contact with the tarmac. Most of the time you'll be fine. The contact will be good enough. If you do venture over granite, or over cobblestones, the studs will not help grip at all because they cannot penetrate the ground. Then you're just reducing the area of the rubber that contacts the ground.

Do they brake acceptably?

They do brake acceptably, but if you brake hard you will be prone to losing a couple of studs on every ride. You'll lose one once in a while anyway; just not that quickly. Also, if you look closely at the studs, you'll find that ice, snow, and tarmac leave them with no sign of abrasion, but after braking hard you will see sign of the tarmac acting like sandpaper on the studs.

Sand over the tarmac

Anyone who ever attempted to turn, even midly, riding on tarmac covered with a layer of sand has learned that rubber tires provide zero friction over sand. Here again the metal studs help by gripping the tarmac underneath the sand. Snow tends to attract dirt and sand, and when it melts in the middle of winter it tends to leave behind, if not a layer of sand, at least patches of dirt.

Time

The last point is yet another argument to leave winter tires on for the season, especially since it's tedious to switch the tires on the same wheels. Mounting summer and winter tires on different wheels saves time only if the rear wheels are exactly identical, since otherwise you'll have to factor in the time it takes to retune the rear derailleur.

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    I think losing studs counts as breaking :) High quality studs shouldn't really wear to flat, because they have a center part made of extremely hard alloy and softer sleeve that protects the hard part from cracking and wears down quicker to maintain the pointy shape.
    – ojs
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 8:21
  • @TobySpeight feel free to use the edit link and improve the post. As long as its not changing the meaning, or regionalising the colour of how words are spelt, edits to improve the post will likely be accepted.
    – Criggie
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 8:25
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    @Criggie, I will when I have sufficient reputation to make changes that small. Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 10:13
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    If you're cornering on smooth hard surfaces (such as metal, tiles, or granite) you will wipe out because it easily happens that only the studs will make contact with the surface. (On ice or tarmac the studs will grip just fine for cornering.) There's definitely a safety warning required for riding studded tires on such surfaces! Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 22:37
  • @user2705196 if that happens it sounds like your running them too hard - softer allows more rubber to make contact. Not that cornering hard on very smooth surfaces is a good idea anyway, especially if they're not perfectly dry
    – Chris H
    Commented Sep 16, 2022 at 5:48
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Studded bicycle tyres can be quite unsafe under some specific conditions:

  • Cobblestones
  • Smooth metal (such as drain covers, temporary ramps)
  • Any surface that is very smooth and very hard
  • All of the above x10 when wet

They also increase weight and rolling resistance, which makes you work a bit harder.

Many locales forbid motor vehicles from using studded tyres off-season due to environmental concerns (dust, degradation of road surface). Its arguable to what extent (if any) this concerns bicycles.

Personally I generally swap out my tyres in the summer, but its mostly to make my winter tyres last longer, and to make my bike go a bit faster. I consider the safety issues to be not serious enough on their own to justify swapping tyres.

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    No, using winter tires all year around is not the plan. It is more that apart cold and snowy days there are many above zero days here even in winter, and if this lasts longer all snow and ice just melts. The tarmac gets dry.
    – nightrider
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 8:28
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    I can endorse the "smooth metal" warning: I wiped out on a wet streetcar track, hazardous at the best of times but studded tires sure contributed. Tried to cross obliquely (not smart), front wheel skated out from under me and I was down like a clown, smashed femur. As with the OP's situation, this was a mild wet mid-winter day.
    – CCTO
    Commented Sep 14, 2022 at 14:31
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One huge factor of using studs year round is the fact that it's so noisy that people are already getting out of the way by the time you get within a hundred feet of them, and every time you go through tunnels it sounds like a warthog doing a stripping run and people are very well aware of your presence! safety first!

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  • Hi, welcome to bicycles. The question wasn't about noise, it was about safety. Please don't post comments as answers; when you earn some reputation you'll be able to leave comments. You might want to take the tour.
    – DavidW
    Commented May 20 at 2:27

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