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Winter Cycling: Studded Bike Tires

Note: This is the eleventh installment in a series of articles on winter cycling. I hope to have the entire series finished by late November and then publish it as a free PDF book that you can download from this website (the working title is, A Guide To Winter Cycling”).

Even if you own the best cycling clothing that money can buy, your bike ride is going to be miserable if you attempt to ride in the snow or ice with the wrong tires. It’s not just about having tires with a good grip—they also need to be pliable in extremely cold temperatures and be able to shed snow. I haven’t tried every winter cycling tire that is on the market, but I have used enough different brands to offer a few suggestions for those who might be new to winter cycling.

Innova Steel Studded Bicycle Tires

Innova Steel Studded Bicycle Tires (Pattern: IA-2901)

If you are new to winter cycling and not sure how much you are going to ride this winter, I would suggest you get a pair of Innova 26 x 2.1 snow tires—these mountain bike tires are definitely an “entry-level” grade. Unlike the more expensive tires that use carbide studs, the Innova tires use steel studs, so yes, they are going to rust (see the photo above). However, the Innova tires are at least half the price of Nokian or Schwalbe tires. Innova snow tires have 268 replaceable steel studs and an aggressive tread. While it is very common to lose a few studs during normal use every winter due to friction, the best I can tell I didn’t lose a single stud in over 500 miles of use during the first winter I had them.

While the side of the tire says the maximum air pressure is 60psi, I would recommend you never go above 50psi—and if you are riding on a lot of ice I’d drop the pressure down to near 40psi (the minimum recommended pressure). At 60psi the studs don’t grip the snow and ice as well. These tires are made with a standard rubber compound which means they are not very flexible in cold weather. These tires retail for around $72 each. If your local bike shop does not carry Innova tires, you can usually find them on Amazon.com.

Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Snow Tires

Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Snow Tires

If you are looking for a top-of-the-line tire winter mountain biking tire I would suggest the Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Tires. These tires are made with a special winter rubber (durometer 58A) and are intended for extreme winter riding. This tire has large knobs for a great grip in mud and snow, along with 304 studs to keep you steady on the ice. The studs are made of aluminum and have sharp carbide pins—these pins should last for the life of the tire. Each tire weighs 750g (25.45 ounces). I bought a pair of 26″x2.2″ tires, but similar tires are available in other sizes. The recommended tire pressure is 29 to 65psi. I keep mine at around 40psi for winter riding and they are great in snow up to about two inches (5 cm) deep.

These tires are easy to install, but before you take them out in the snow for the first time you need to break them in by riding on hard pavement for at least 30 miles. The pavement helps seat the studs properly into the tires and roughens up the tips a bit for a better grip on the ice. The large tread pattern (knobs) on this tire provide wonderful traction in mud and snow, but they do require some extra effort on pavement because of their high rolling resistance. One thing that all studded bicycle tires have in common is that they are loud. How loud are they? Let me put it this way: You better hope that when the Zombie Apocalypse occurs that it happens in the summer, because if these tires are on your bike when it hits you are going to attract the attention of every walker and biter within 30 miles (it is a well-known fact that Zombies are attracted to loud noises).

Now for the confusing part: Nokian Tyres PCL is headquartered in Finland and is known throughout the world for their fine car and truck tires—they operate the world’s only permanent winter tire testing facility. At one time Nokian Tyres PCL manufactured bicycle tires, but not anymore. Today they license the Nokian name to Suomi Tyres LTD (another Finnish company). The Nokian Hakka WXC 300 tires are actually manufactured in Taiwan and are distributed in North America through Quality Bike Products (QPB). Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Tires retail for $120 each at your local bike shop. They are also available from the REI Website and in some of their retail stores.

Anytime the snow is over 2″ deep I’ll be riding my Surly Necromancer Pugsley with 4″ wide tires. Like many of the early Fat Bikes, my Pugs came equipped with 3.8″ Surly Larry tires on the front and 3.7″ Surly Endomorph tires on the back (often called the Larry/Endo combo). These tires are great for folks who are lucky enough to ride on groomed snowmobile trails and hard packed (consolidated) snow. Those of us who ride on loose and unconsolidated snow usually find this tire combination somewhat lacking—the Larry in the front is prone to washouts (especially if the path is off-camber) and the Endomorph in the rear often loses its grip in loose snow. Fortunately, Fat Bike riders now have a couple of great choices for winter cycling tires.

Surly Nate Bicycle Tires

Surly Nate Fat Bike Tires

The Surly Nate tire is 3.8″ wide and fits 50–100mm wide rims. The Nate has a large and aggressive knobby tread pattern that offers unbelievable traction in unconsolidated snow. While these massive tires have more rolling resistance than other fat tires, I’ve still been able to get my Pugs up to over 20 MPH on the pavement. I’ve also been able to cut a trail through five inches of fresh snow without any trouble—even on off-camber sections of the trail. In addition, I’ve been able to climb snow-covered hills while standing up out of the saddle—something I could never do with the Larry/Endo combo. The Surly Nate is available with either 27tpi or 120tpi (threads per inch). Higher tpi tires are usually lighter, more supple and more expensive. Lower tpi tires are generally heavier, more durable and offer better flat-resistance. The 120tpi Nate has a Kevlar bead and weighs around 1350 grams, while the 27tpi wire bead version weighs a bit over 1700 grams.

The first time I rode with the Nates was on a 35 degree day on an off-road trail that had snow and ice in the shady areas and several inches of mud and standing water in the areas exposed to direct sunlight. When I started my ride I could see the tracks left by a mountain biker who had started out on the trail before me that day—the tracks turned around after about 30 feet! However, I was able to ride for over 30 miles on this muddy trail and my Nates didn’t slip a single time (but they did throw a lot of mud).

The 27tpi Surly Nate tire retails for around $80, and the 120tpi version is around $120. You should be able to find these tires in the Men’s Department of your local bike shop. Once you get your hands on the Surly Nate tire, make sure you look for the Easter Egg (hidden message) just above the bead of the tire. In case you can’t find it, it says, “Deep Fried Meat Fueled Natepocalypse” (I am not sure of the best way to translate this into English).

45NRTH Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires

45NRTH Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires

If you are looking for the ultimate Fat Bike tire for winter cycling, look no further than the Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires from 45NRTH. 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 26×4″ tire is available with a Kevlar bead with 120tpi (threads per inch), and a wire bead version with 27tpi. The intended tire pressure range for this tire goes from 5 to 30psi, but if you are riding on snow you probably don’t want to inflate them to over 10psi, and on the ice I would drop them down to 5 or 6psi.

The first time I rode on these tires was at Illinois Beach State Park 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 while 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 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.

45NRTH Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires

45NRTH Dillinger Studded Fat Bike Tires

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. 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.

Warning: If you ride in the winter eventually you are going to come home covered from head to toe in mud, slush and snow. You will then find yourself standing out in your snow-covered backyard with a water hose and scrub brush trying to clean your bike. Your neighbors will never understand the smile on your face. In fact, I am not certain of the source myself. Does the smile come as a result of the fun you had on the ride, or from thinking about those poor guys riding their trainers in the basement because the weather is “too bad to ride in”?

 

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Bontrager LT2 700C Hardcase Plus Tires

A few months ago I bought a new Felt F65X Cyclocross bike and it came stock with Vittoria Cross XG Pro 700×32 tires (150tpi). Those tires looked like they would shed mud extremely well, but I was concerned about how well they would handle glass and road debris (I live in the Chicago area and broken glass is everywhere). After looking at several cyclocross tires I finally settled on a new set of Bontrager  LT2 700C Hardcase Plus Tires.

Bontrager  LT2 700C Hardcase Plus Tires

Bontrager LT2 700C Hardcase Plus Tires

The Bontrager  LT2 700C Hardcase Plus Tire is lightweight and has “triple flat protection.” Since I live in an area with a lot of broken glass on the roads I used to get a lot of flat tires, but that problem has almost entirely ceased since I put Bontrager Hardcase tires on several of my bikes. This tire is intended for use on paved streets and packed light trails. While not a true cyclocross tire, it does shed mud fairly well. Bontrager claims that the tread on this tire will last 50% longer than standard tire treads—I have put over 1,000 miles on this tires and they still look like brand new!

Bontrager  LT2 700C Hardcase Plus Tires

Bontrager LT2 700C Hardcase Plus Tires

The recommended tire pressure for the 700x35c tire is between 60 and 80psi. I am a larger rider so I keep the tires at 80psi when I’m on the road and 75psi when I’m on the trails. I am sure there are other tires on the market that would work just as well as these, but I have to tell you that I love these tires! One of my favorite off-road rides is a 60-mile route on the Des Plaines River Trail in Lake County, Illinois. The trail follows the Des Plaines River and is mainly crushed limestone—but when it rains it gets pretty muddy. In the past few months I’ve set several new personal time records on this trail and I think the Bontrager tires are part of the reason (the new Felt F65X didn’t hurt either).

The Bontrager  LT2 700C Hardcase Plus Tire retails for around $45 and is covered by Bontrager’s unconditional 30-day performance guarantee (you’ll be satisfied, or they’ll take it back).

 
4 Comments

Posted by on September 8, 2013 in Bicycle Tires, Product Reviews

 

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Serfas RX Short Finger Cycling Gloves

I always suggest that cyclists buy their gloves one size larger than what feels comfortable when they are trying them on at the bike shop. In the winter you need a larger glove because the extra air space in a full-finger glove provides a micro-climate of warm air that will keep your hands warm (tight gloves in winter will also reduce the circulation in your hands and make them very cold). On hot and humid days you need larger gloves because after a few hours on the bike your hands will swell and the fabric in the gloves will be soaked with sweat and the gloves will be very difficult to get off your hands. Fortunately, Serfas has the RX Short Finger Gloves that are not only easy to remove (even when totally saturated with sweat), but also provide a very comfortable grip! While I’ve bought at least six pairs of these gloves in the past five or six years, the folks at Serfas were kind enough to send me a new pair for review (I needed a new pair for the photographs—no one wants to see my well-worn gloves).

Serfas RX Short Finger Cycling Gloves

Serfas RX Short Finger Cycling Gloves

Serfas RX Short Finger Gloves were designed by physicians to reduce the pressure on the nerves and arteries in the hands and they succeeded in their goal! As far as I am concerned the gel padding in these gloves is perfect. I know a few cyclists who prefer gloves with little or no padding, but I ride over a lot of rough roads and without gel padding my hands will start to cramp after a few hours on the bike.

Serfas RX Short Finger Cycling Gloves

“Easy Off Loops” on the Serfas RX Gloves

One of the coolest things about these gloves is the “Easy Off Loop” that allows you to slide the gloves off easily, even when they are soaking wet from a long ride in the rain. The Serfas RX Short Finger Gloves are machine washable and I have been able to get nearly 2,000 miles of use with every pair. These gloves also have two pieces of reflective piping on the fingers—if you are riding at night and use hand signals for your turns the headlights of cars behind you will reflect off of this piping and make it easier for motorists to see you.

Serfas RX Short Finger Cycling Gloves

Note The Reflective Piping On The Fingers

I’ve gone riding with these gloves when the temperature was over 100 degrees (with a heat index of over 115 degrees Fahrenheit) and these gloves never made me feel like they were heating up my hands. In fact, my hands are cooler with these gloves than just about any other glove I’ve tried. I use these gloves with both road and mountain bikes, and in sunny weather or rain.

Serfas Men’s RX Short Finger Gloves are available in five sizes (S, M, L, XL, XXL) and come in four colors (Black, White, Blue or Red). Serfas Women’s RX Short Finger Gloves are available in four sizes (S, M, L, XS) and come in either Black or White. These gloves retail for $29 and I buy mine from the local bike shop, but they are also available from the Serfas website and from Amazon.com.

One last thought: If you live in an area with high humidity you really need at least two pairs of cycling gloves so you can wear one pair while the other is drying out.

 

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2013 Felt F65X Cyclocross Bike

I would like to introduce you to the newest member of my family, a 2013 Felt F65X Cyclocross Bike (I haven’t even named her yet). Cyclocross bikes look a lot like regular road bikes, but allow for fatter tires so they can have better grip on the ground—they also have greater clearance on the forks so mud won’t build up as quickly. Cyclocross races usually take place in the fall and winter over a course that includes pavement, off-road trails, hills, man-made obstacles and mud. This particular from of racing has been around for over 100 years and is usually associated with countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and France, but is growing in popularity here in the states.

2013 Felt F65X Cyclocross Bike

2013 Felt F65X Cyclocross Bike

The 2013 Felt F65X Cyclocross Bike has an aluminum frame with a carbon fiber front fork. The drivetrain has SRAM Apex DoubleTap shifters, a compact 46/36T crankset and an 11-28T cassette with a SRAM 10-speed chain. This bike also has Felt CXR disc rims with stainless steel spokes. To protect you in foul weather, this bike has Felt All-Weather sealed slick brake and derailleur housings.

2013 Felt F65X Cyclocross Bike

SRAM Apex DoubleTap Shifters

Traditionally, cyclocross bikes have used center-pull cantilever brakes which give a lot of brake pad-to-rim clearance that reduces drag when you are riding through the muck. However, disc brakes are becoming more common on cyclocross bikes, and the Felt  F65X uses Avid BB5 disc brakes with SRAM Apex levers. One other note: the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) used to ban disc brakes in cyclocross races, but that ban has now been lifted.

2013 Felt F65X Cyclocross Bike

AVID BB5 Disc Brakes on the Felt F65X Cyclocross Bike

Even though this bike weighs 21 pounds it feels very light and handles like a dream on both pavement and off-road trails. You don’t have to be a cyclocross racer to enjoy this bike—in fact, a lot of the purchasers are commuters who have to travel over both pavement and off-road trails just to get to work.

There were three things about this bike I did not like—the Felt SL Saddle, the Felt Gel Velvet Tape, and the stock Vittoria Cross XG Pro 700c x 32c tires. The stock saddle was lightweight, but it felt like I was sitting on a brick, so I replaced it with a Planet Bike ARS Standard Anatomic Relief Saddle (I have this same saddle on all of my bikes). The handlebar tape was not very comfortable so I asked the guys at the shop to re-wrap the bars with Lizard Skins DSP Bar Tape (my favorite bar tape). The Vittoria Cross XG Pro tires were probably OK, but since I live in an area with a lot of broken glass on both the streets and trails I replaced the stock tires with Bontrager LT2 700C tires (hard-case tires with triple flat protection).

Until a few days ago the 2013 Felt F65X Cyclocross Bike retailed for $1859. However, since the 2014 models will be hitting the showroom soon, I was able to pick up this bike for only $1399.

I purchased my 2013 Felt F65X Cyclocross Bike from Zion Cyclery in Zion, Illinois. In fact, I’ve bought my last seven bikes from them—I don’t even bother shopping around for a better price anymore. If you live in the Upper Midwest you really need to check these folks out. They keep anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 bikes in their store (depending on the time of the year) and they have six full-time mechanics who work all-year long (that is very rare in our part of the country). Thanks to their reputation for building high quality Fat Bikes the mechanics now have a lot more work to do in the winter than they used to!

Important Update Notice (9/6/13): This bike comes stock with an Ashima 6 Bolt 160mm Air Rotor (disc brake rotor). This rotor is great at shedding mud, but I was having trouble with the whole front end of my bike shaking every time I applied the front brake—it was fine on smooth roads at low speeds, but this is a cyclocross bike and I love to go fast when I play in the mud. The problem is apparently common when you have a disc brake on a carbon fiber fork. The guys at the local bike shop suggested that I replace the Ashima Air Rotor with a beefier Avid G3 CS Clean Sweep Disc Rotor—this rotor has more metal and does not shed mud as well, but it stopped the problem I had with the front end shaking.

 

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Cyclocross: Training and Technique, by Simon Burney

Cyclocross: Training and Technique

Cyclocross: Training and Technique

When I hear the word cyclocross my mind immediately conjures up a picture of a cyclist, covered with mud from head to toe, throwing their bike up on their shoulder climbing a hill that mountain goats wouldn’t attempt. Cyclocross races usually take place in the fall and winter over a course that includes pavement, off-road trails, hills, man-made obstacles and mud. Cyclocross has been around for over 100 years an is usually associated with countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and France, but is growing in popularity here in the states. The folks at VeloPress recently sent me a copy of Cyclocross: Training and Technique (third edition), by Simon Burney, and if you are even slightly interested in cyclocross you need to get a copy of this book. In fact, even if you have no desire to participate in a cyclocross race you might find this book useful—especially if you enjoy riding year-round in inclement weather.

Cyclocross: Training and Technique starts by giving a brief history of cyclocross races, and then explains the equipment necessary to compete. Cyclocross bikes look a lot like regular road bikes, but allow for fatter tires so they can have better grip on the ground and greater clearance on the forks so mud won’t build up as quickly. The book also covers the basics of training, along with a section on the techniques and tactics of cyclocross racing. Near the end of the book there is a chapter on how to stay healthy—avoiding viruses, proper treatment of injuries, nutrition, hydration and recovery.

I mentioned earlier that you don’t have to be a racer to benefit from this book. The chapter on Techniques and Tactics will benefit anyone who rides in bad conditions—mud, sand, snow, rain, ice and over rocks and roots. I ride all year long and in all weather conditions, but every once in a while something will surprise me. A few weeks ago I was riding in the snow on an off-road trail and had to dismount because a busy beaver had cut down two trees and they fell directly over my trail! The trees were too big to bunny-hop over, so I had to pick up my bike by the down tube and climb over them—something any cyclocross racer wouldn’t have given a second thought about doing.

trees cut down by angry beaver

A couple of trees cut down by a beaver!

Cyclocross: Training and Technique, by Simon Burney, is published by VeloPress and retails for $19, but you can find it on Amazon.com for around $12. This paperback book is well illustrated with photographs throughout and has 230 pages.

 
15 Comments

Posted by on February 25, 2013 in Book Reviews

 

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