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Studs on Bikes

My Old Farmers' Almanac says that winter arrives here at 2:35 pm on December 21 but I've put my studded tires on already. Not on my car, but on my bike. I've switched my knobbies for "studdies" for winter riding.

It's usually a great conversation item about how I ride in the winter. You can see the doubt in their eyes when I mention studded tires for the bike. "Really?", they say. "Where do you get them" is the next question, after they realize that I am not kdding them.

If you haven't seen them before, this is what mine look like. These are Nokian Extreme 296, the number 296 representing the number of studs in each tire. More studs than on my car tires.

I got mine from CycleLogic, 506-529-1101, ask for Norm. He uses them too.

But winter fun comes at a price. These little studs are each worth about 50 cents when placed into this fine tire. You do the math. So be prepared for a shock when you go shopping for them. In fact, they cost more than most top-end auto snow tires.

Sure, there are cheaper tires. But the experts on this topic at icebike.org rate these among the best. (Check out the ice tire reviews) And I've been using them for three seasons and so far, no missing studs and no sign of any wear. These boots are tough! The ride is a little slow with the extra weight, but they handle surprisingly well on bare roads, slick wet ice or crusty snow. Just keep the pressure a bit on the low side and they will grab and go just about anywhere. In fact, they grip so well that you have to be careful that they don't throw you off when you would normally expect a skid in summer conditions.

If you are cheap and handy, there are instructions on making your own studded tires at Icebike.org, but it looks like a tedious job -- let me know how you make out if you try it.

For road riding or commuting, you need studded tires if there is any ice at all on your route. Even on "bare" roads, you will invariably come upon a frozen puddle or trickle in your path. Even on mild days there will be frozen patches in the shady spots. You just have to look at a patch of ice and you're on the ground -- hard ground at this time of year!

For trail riding, it depends on conditions. If the ground is still a bit soft, you can ride through snow on regular knobbies. But if there is ice under that snow, even studdies can slip if the snow packs into the knobs. Bottom line: if you can't see what's under the snow, assume it is ice if the ground froze before the snowfall.

Riding on a trail off the the Frye Road, near St. Andrews, New Brunswick

Find yourself a hard packed road, and you can really fly with confidence. Some of the trails near here are even smoother in the winter, so its tempting to go faster than ever. Just beware that lurking under that soft layer of snow you are about to fall on could be a very hard, very cold boulder.

Snowmobile trails are a special treat when then conditions are right. Timing is everything. Check them out on the first cold day after mild weather, before they get chewed up by the machines. These soggy trails become just like pavement when the mercury drops.

Gravel or mud roads are different this time of year, too. The usually loose surfaces are not quite so loose, and your favourite mud bogs are now a pleasure to ride. Just watch out that your front wheel doesn't suddenly drop through thin ice -- these endos are really nasty.

A couple other things - salt on public roads can really mess up your components - if you can't rinse your bike off after each ride you may want to use an old bike as a winter bike. And if you splash through any water, your braking and shifting could end up non-functional. Keep things well lubed before you go.

Most tips on winter riding were learned the hard way. Check out some of the older articles on this web site, or the definitive site, icebike.org

Contributed by
Rick MacMillan
December 12, 2005

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