If you want to bike through the Northeast winter, there’s only one piece of equipment you need to buy for your ride: Studded tires. They provide the essential grip for cycling on ice or packed snow, but vary markedly depending on your cycling needs. Here’s what you need to know.
Winter biking is great. Fellow AMC blogger Kristen Laine just detailed many of its highlights in her post Winter Bicycling with Kids and I can vouch for its fun and safety after riding year-round for three years in Anchorage, Alaska, and many other seasons in Massachusetts. (You can read a full overview of the clothing and equipment systems I recommend for winter biking in my AMC Outdoors Equipped article, Ride On!)
Studded bike tires feature hard metal studs embedded into the rubber tread, which provide ample grip for riding on slippery snow and ice. The number of studs varies, however, depending on the tires’ intended use, from more than 300 individual studs per tire to well under 100. So the key question you need answer is what type of winter riding you intend to do, and what type of conditions you’ll expect.
Urban/Suburban Commuting If you ride on paved, well-plowed roads where the biggest risks are patches of ice or hard-packed snow, then you only need studs toward the center of the tire. Models like the Nokian Hakkapeliitta W106 (106 studs, ~$60 each, pictured) or Nokian A10 (72 studs, ~$75 each) work well.
All-PurposeIf you ride on unpaved roads or paved roads that are poorly plowed, you will likely encounter icy ruts on your ride. These slippery troughs are often created by frozen tire tracks or underlying ruts in the dirt and can be difficult to escape unless you have studs close to the tire’s sidewall. Thus, for all-purpose, go-anywhere commuting and riding, you’ll want a tire with more grip, like the 240-stud Nokian Hakkapeliitta W240 (pictured at top, $69 each).
Extreme TractionFor riding icy singletrack trails, you’ll want maximum grip like that provided by the 294 studs of the Nokian Extreme 294 ($89 each).
Keep in mind that grip and rolling resistance are intertwined. The more studs you have, the greater the rolling resistance and the effort required to ride. As a general rule, try and select the fewest number of studs that best meets your expected needs.
Also, Nokian (a Finnish company) is widely considered to produce the best winter studded bike tires, though Schwalbe has recently upgraded their studded tires to match the ultra-hard, ultra-durable steel carbide used in the Nokian line.
Studded bike tires can be hard to find. Online is your best bet. REI has started carrying a limited selection of Nokian tires. Perhaps the best site I’ve found is from Peter White Cycles in Hillsborough, N.H., which stocks a full array of winter tires, plus provides a comprehensive overview of the options (pictures are courtesy of the site).
“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid