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Illustration by Douglas Scott
To Stud or Not to Stud
As fall weather shifts to bitter cold, wet streets can quickly turn from Jekyll to Hyde, throwing sheets of black ice under cyclists without warning. For a safe commute, hitting the road with the right tires is essential.
Today’s top tire manufacturers – from Schwalbe and Nokian, to Continental and Kenda – offer solid options for ripping over black ice without laying down your bike. While experienced ice bikers might elect for a single studded tire up front, front and rear studs are the best bet for a trouble-free ride. If you live on the arctic tundra, chances are your local shop has a solid selection of studded tires. If your local search comes up short, check out biketiresdirect.com and search for studded tires.
Studs are typically priced from $40 to $100 per tire and can more than double the weight of your typical slicks. Fortunately, with this weight comes added durability, as most modern studded tires now feature carbide studs for increased longevity. Even full-time winter commuters can expect more than two seasons of full-time riding. However, the increased pavement exposure will reduce the overall effectiveness of the tire over time. As such, studded tires should be used sparingly. I would suggest keeping them on an extra set of wheels.
If you’re more likely to encounter rain than snow, stick with slicks, which will ensure low rolling resistance and solid contact with the road. Unlike automotive tires, which push water through their rectangular tread patch at high speeds, a bicycle tire’s oval-shaped contact patch will push water to the sides, leaving the your bike stuck to the pavement. Bikes won’t hydroplane like automobiles, so tread doesn’t matter in a downpour. This being said, if you commonly encounter sand and dirt on the road, select a tire with shallow grooves for added traction.