Rumor has it snow is coming. Salt Lake City gets enough real snow to make biking fun. There is nothing quite like the exhilaration of gliding through six inches of powder without having to go up on the mountain. Watching the car traffic poke along as you cruise by makes it a bit sweeter.
Sometimes ice is hidden under that lovely snow. This is particularly true at intersections, where traffic patterns diverge. I once lost it coming downhill on 1100 East at 800 South. Ski gloves, pants and helmet softened the fall, but icy pavement is not very yielding.
I rode on regular commuter tires last winter. Curious about studded tires, I spoke with my friend, Benjamin Sondelski, about his winter tires. “I run Continental Spike Claw 120s in the wintertime on my 26-inch MTB commuter,” he told me. “Studs are on the outside tread blocks only, so none contact the road surface while riding straight. This provides a quieter ride and —in most conditions —better braking performance. The studs get involved when cornering for some security on ice and make a mean sound that tends to clear pedestrians out of the way.”
However, the transition into cornering on studs is squirrelly; you want to slow down while you’re still riding straight. “My next set will be Spike 240s that have a stud in each tread block,” Benjamin says.
Studs are little metal spikes that cut into the ice a bit. They are not sharp to touch, so you won’t cut yourself moving your bike. “Bicycles make the same trade off that cars do when running studs: improved traction on ice, but degraded traction and handling on most other surfaces,” he said. “Before studs, my wintertime spills were all on glare ice. I haven’t fallen since.”
As Benjamin noted, the 120 stud Continentals have just rubber, no studs, in the center. The 240s have studs in the center also. Winter riders in Colorado, Montana and Alaska have given positive online reviews of the 240 studs.
An interesting option for occasional winter riding is chains. They look just like the ones you put on a car, but are smaller (and a bit costlier). Of SlipNot bicycle traction chains ($80/pair from www.biketiresdirect.com) a rider from Vermont says, “They rock on hard pack snow and ice.” I’m guessing they would be a rough ride on clear pavement. The big upside: Just remove the chains and you have standard tires again.
I spoke with Jason at CycleSmith (250 S 1300 E) who told me they carry Innova studded tires, which are a more affordable option at about $50 each. I ordered a pair in a slightly fatter tire than I ride in the warm months. More tire width equals more stability (though more work to get places). My visits to CycleSmith have been great. I buy local for both economic and ecological reasons.
A quick recap: Ice slippery. Pavement hard. Falling near cars very bad. Fatter tires, more stability. Studded tires good on ice. Chains also good.
Jason and others say the tires tend to dry rot due to extreme temperatures. Getting more than one year’s use from a tire is unlikely. I’m going to store mine in the basement so they don’t get too hot. That might save them. Or I’ll just get new ones next year. Preventing one fall on ice will make it worth the cost of the tires!