Our long national nightmare is over—the Chicago area finally got some snow! A couple of months ago the local bike shop was able to score me pair of Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires for my Surly Necromancer Pugsley and this past week was the first time I was able to use them on snow (but they have seen a lot of miles on off-road trails).
The Dillinger tires are 4″ wide and weight only 1375 grams (a major improvement over my heavy Surly Nates). This lightweight snow tire has 240 aluminum-carbide studs that grips the ice and a tread pattern that gives the most amazing traction in snow you will ever find in a bike tire. This 26 x 4.0″ tire is available with a Kevlar bead with 120 tpi (threads per inch), and a wire bead version with 27 tpi.
The intended tire pressure range for this tire goes from 5 to 30 psi, but if you are riding on snow you probably don’t want to inflate them to over 10 psi, and on the ice I would drop them down to 5 or 6 psi. When riding on dirt and gravel off-road trails I keep my fat bike tires inflated to between 12 and 15 psi.
After our first snowfall I took my Pugsley out to Illinois Beach State Park (the “crown jewel” of the Illinois park system) so I could try them out on the snow, ride across a frozen pond and play along the shores of Lake Michigan. I rode my bike on surface streets from my house to the beach and on the pavement these wide tires are a bit of work (they grip the road too well). However, the moment I left the pavement and got on a snowy off-road trail it felt like I was riding downhill with a strong tailwind—these tires ride so smooth and grip so well on the snow that I don’t even have the words to describe it! On the way to the beach I followed a very sandy trail that has a couple of small bumps I hate—they are only a few feet tall but most of the time my mountain bike sinks in the sand and I almost come to a standstill. However, with the Dillinger tires I just increased my speed and rolled right over the bumps. I rode for several miles along the shores of Lake Michigan and in some places there was very little snow and in other places it was three or four inches deep (I’ve been in a lot worse before). For the record, riding on the beach with a couple of inches of snow cover was a lot easier than in the places that didn’t have much snow. In some places the sand underneath the snow was on a fairly steep angle, but even when riding off-camber the tires never slipped.
At the north end of Illinois Beach State Park there is a small pond that was frozen over and it had several guys out ice fishing near the middle of the pond (always a good sign). I rode across this frozen pond and was blown away by two things: how much traction I had and how little rolling resistance I experienced!
When I entered the park I noticed that there were tracks in the snow from two other cyclists on a trail in front of me—both tracks were from mountain bike tires and it appeared that one of them was studded. I caught up with a guy riding the non-studded tires first—he was a nice guy but was having trouble hold a straight line so I passed him. A little later I caught up with the guy on a mountain bike with steel studded tires—he was riding faster than the other guy so I pulled up next to him and chatted for a while. When I conversation was over I hit the gas and quickly dropped him. Both of these guys were younger than me and in decent shape so I am certain that on road bikes in the summer they would have dropped me, but a standard mountain bike snow tire is no match for a studded fat bike tire in the snow!
The Dillinger tires sells for around $250 with the folding bead (Kevlar), but the wire bead version is a bit cheaper. Unfortunately, since this tire is sold by 45NRTH (my least favorite cycling company in America) it means you probably won’t be able to get a pair of Dillinger winter tires till next summer. 45NRTH received a very small shipment of these tires from their suppliers in China and they sold out immediately—I only got mine thanks to the persistence of the folks at the local bike shop (they spent many hours on the phone tracking down a pair of these tires for me). 45NRTH wants to be a company the specializes in winter cycling gear, but so far their track record shows that they specialize in advertising products on their Website that they don’t have. A few years ago one of the political campaigns promised “hope and change” but the slogan at 45NRTH ought to be “hype and out of stock.”