In addition to studded tires for supplying winter traction there are also
bike tire chains and bike tire wires.
attach to the tires, while avoiding the bike rims so as not to interfere with the brakes.
The chains cross the tread providing traction in deep snow and ice. The wire variety
usually holds chunks of metal with teeth positioned over the tread.
These of course provide a bumpy and noisy ride on pavement, compared to
studded tires, which themselves are noisy enough.
However, some claim that bike chains provide better traction than studs in
thick snow and that brown compacted but un-consolidated squirming mass that forms when
cars drive over new snow but it is too warm for it to freeze to the ground. (Also known as
"Brown Sugar, Chocolate Mousse, Car Snot, etc.)
When on really snowy roads, you may not notice the bumpy ride caused by
Tire chains for bikes are far more lightly
constructed than those for cars. They also have the attendant problem that the tire
rims must not be obstructed because that would interfere with the brake pads. This
later restriction does not apply to Coaster Brake bikes or bikes with disk brakes.
the chain system is rather tenuously secured on the outer half inch of tire tread.
These can come off in sudden turns where there is
good traction, so they must be installed tightly.
The normal way to achieve the degree of tightness
that is required is to deflate the tire somewhat, install the chains, then
re-inflate the tire so that the chains are held securely. This of course means
that if you intend to do this on the road you have to have a pump.
||The model shown here, Quik Klaw Cleats by KoolStop uses a
long threaded barrel on one end of the "ladder like" set of wires and cleats and
a threaded bolt on the other end. There is one junction on each side of the
tire. These are usually just installed "finger tight" (no tools used) and
the the tire inflation is raised to lock them in place. This can be done with out removing
the wheel, but you have to carry a pump.
The cleats shown in the model above protrude about a quarter of an inch
above the tread. Bikes with brake bridges or tight fitting chainstays may have
clearance problems. Not all models have cleats this large, some are simply another
metal cord running across the tread.
Cleats tend to be spaced every 6 inches or so, and this produces a very
bumpy ride on hard ice or bare roads. So much so that you will want to take them off
as soon as possible. Cleat wear can be very rapid if ridden on dry roads.
When you do remove them, they are customarily rolled up and placed in your
panniers. The set show make a 6 inch diameter roll, rolling them tighter makes for
Other than the rough ride there have been other problems reported with
these devices. My local bike store owner reported that they sold only two sets last
winter, (different brands) and had trouble with both of them. One caused a nasty
accident when it came loose and seized the front wheel. This is apparently not that
There are several brands and bike shops tend to push
what they have (probably because they have had them for years and years and would like to
get rid of them). Monitor Traction Devices seem toe be the most widely
known. The Quik Klaw Chains at right are also sole by KoolStop.
I also found an interesting hint of another system at that is comprised of
hooks, which fit between the rim and tire, wrapping around the tire. When traction is
required, a chain is stretched from one hook to the other across the tire. The
site hosting this product is defunct, but ICEBIKER Bob Bagnall found that images were
located IBMs Patent Site and are
Home Made Chains
It is also possible to make your own tire chains for bike use. Not
limited to winter ice and snow, these are also suitable for mud and off road work.
This is best explained on the "Tread Online" site of Ramsay's Cycle (Cape
While probably inappropriate for public trails over delicate ecosystems, they should work
well on semi-frozen snow trails if your bike has the clearance to accommodate
What's Best, Studded tires or Chains
Chains are said to be better on unplowed roads and trails where there may
be 6 inches of uncompressed snow below your wheels, some of it trampled and uneven.
Others claim that the newest version of studded tires
do better in these situations and are lighter and less problematic.
I don't have an opinion, as my bikes have clearances that are too tight to
accommodate these devices, but here are some postings from Rec.Bicycles.Misc newsgroup
courtesy the Danenet
Bicycle Commuting Pages that deal with this subject.
Back when I owned no vehicle (insert favorite poor student story here) I commuted
year-round by bike. This included the winters from 1987 to 1993. Most of these winters
were in the Northern city of Edmonton where we have two seasons: Winter and July ;^)
After a couple of winters on my usual knobbies, I felt there had to be a better
solution to traction on ice and snow since I now faced a 24 km round trip to school and
back. I contemplated the (at that time) new IRC Blizzard, but it looked like the studs
were useless, and at $85/tire (boy, have they ever come down in price) I couldn't justify
the expense. The store offered me another solution: tire chains. I purchased one for the
front tire and decided to try it for awhile before deciding whether one was required for
the rear wheel.
Unfortunately, I have no recollection of who the manufacturer was. I can only describe
it. It was made out of a very durable metal, roughly the thickness of a wire coat hanger.
This wire was bent so that it consisted of about 1" to 1 1/2" long links and
about the same width. Where each link joined, the loose ends of the wire were allowed to
point outward by about 3/8" at both sides to dig into the snow. I say the metal was
tough, because these protrusions didn't bend over even after 2 (long) winters of usage
(est. 4000 km).
My experience with the tire chain up front was very positive. These babies stuck to the
hardpacked snow like you wouldn't believe! The main drawback was that bare pavement, etc.
was to be avoided because traction wasn't great (and it would probably prematurely wear
down/bend? the spikes). Also, there was greater rolling resistance.
One distinct advantage to having the chain on the front tire for me was the ability to
use the front brake. My rear brake was one of those under the chainstay mounted U-Brakes
which were popular in the early 80's. The front tire flung all sorts of gunk into the
brake cable housing where it was routed under the bottom bracket. I rarely ever had a
working rear brake!
I only ever recall one wipeout while using the front tire-chain. The rear wheel swung
out on me with no warning and I was unable to stop its momentum as it quickly swung about
in front of the front wheel. The front tire held its ground and the handlebars were
wrenched out of my hands. Eventually something had to give, and I went flying!
Overall, I was quite pleased with the tire chain and never got around to purchasing a
rear tire chain. Unfortunately after the second winter, the chain rusted up very badly
during the off-season (summer! :^) ). I was never able to find another chain, but I also
didn't look too hard since we had a few milder winters, I lived closer, I had a new bike
so rear brake freezing was no longer a factor.