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Off Road Tires

In many instances normal mountain bike tires work fairly well for winter riding. Trail riding (often following snowmobile tracks) can be done with normal tires if you let some air out so that you are running at the lowest pressure you can get by with. For normal tires, this might be pressures down to 15 pounds, plus or minus a few depending on terrain and your weight.

It is possible with wider rims to get down to 5 to 10PSI At these low pressures, keeping the tire on the rim can be problematic. The tire wants to slip around the rim when riding, which can sheer valve stems. Many riders use a light rubber based glue on the bead to hold it in place. All Weather Sports reports that "based on observation of when and where tires at low pressure move on the rims, it's not because of braking. It's not from driving forces either. But they do move. And sometimes a lot in a short ride. Rubber cement hasn't proven itself strong or reliable enough that I'd recommend it anymore. We use 3M Fast Tack for all commercial work." These guys supply wheels and tires to many Iditasport racers.

Specilized Cannibal tireGiven a choice, go for the most open tread you can find, one with widely spaced lugs with sloped sides. Small closely spaced lugs or square cut lugs do not shed snow as well as open design. Those tires recommended for soft dirt work well in semi packed snow such as found on trails or snowmobile routes.

The upper picture shows an old Specialized with rounded lugs. Where the knobs attach to the tire they are joined by a small radiuses transition. There are no real tight spaces between the lugs. This tire did not tend to pick up snow, and the tread did not fill in with compacted little snow balls. It is a fairly soft tire and works well on moderately packed snow such as snow mobile trails and wind packed lakes.

Note: This tire, like many others these days, has a preferred "direction of rotation" that should be observed when mounting. Those big transverse ridges as seen on the lug in the center should face rearward when they are in contact with the snow for the back wheel and the ridge should face forward when in contact on the front wheel. This tire is pictured as it would look from the top if the direction of travel was to the right and the tire was correctly mounted on the front wheel. (Not all tires are directional.)

Richey Megabite 2.0 tireThe second is a Richie tire has tighter lugs with square cut bottoms. This tire is in very new condition, and it has been retired from my ICEBIKE because these smaller, tighter spaced lugs tended to fill with snow when the tire was run at low pressures. Its a great dirt tire, but snow is more exacting. Climbing a slight incline, it was easy to spin this tire out. It also threw a bigger rooster tail of snow, which indicated lots of snow was sticking to it.

Now, before you go out and trash your existing tires, let me say that these differences in tread are not show stoppers, and your existing tires may work just fine in off road conditions. Take them out and try them. If you find yourself slipping or spinning out a lot, consider new tires, but some tires will surprise you with how well they work, such as the Continental road tires below. Several ICEBIKERS report good results with some of the Ritchey line, so don't take my criticism of the above tire as a general condemnation of this company. See Sidebar.

Note: Your normal rims will work ok, as long as you don't let too much air out of the tire, say not less than 12-15 PSI.
For serious off road snow riding, extra wide rims and very low pressure tires are called for. The best of these is the SnowCat rim. This rim is VERY wide, nearly twice as wide as a normal rim, and not all bikes can accommodate it and not all tires will fit it. But when you find the right combination you will have a very wide low pressure tire that can float over slightly compacted snow, opening large areas to winter off road cycling.

My Ritchey Speedmax's were not up to the task of riding on ice - not surprisinlgy. So I bought a pair of Ritchey AlfaBite and OmegaBite tires. First time out was a frozen Sunday afternoon - it had been warm the day before, and since then all the slush had turned to ice on the trails.

These tires were more than up to the task. My confidence grew as the ride progressed. What's more, they work well enough on the road as well. Ritchey know's what they are doing.
Stephen Slayto

On Road Tires

Continental T&C tireOn road riding, such commuting, can be done for the most part on regular tires, although some work better than others. The real knobby dirt tires are not always the best for this. Often tires with an inverted tread pattern work better all around. They supply less rolling resistance when on gravel, ice, or pavement, and are reasonably competent in light snow. By reducing tire pressure they supply surprising traction on ice too.

At right is my personal favorite, the Continental Town and Country, which is available in Europe in a couple of widths, but usually only imported into the US in the widest width. This tire performs well on icy roads giving good traction in all but the slickest conditions. Why this is so, is unclear, but I have a garage wall full of knobbies that I don't use on the road anymore because the T&C is a do-it-all sort of tire. It even does ok off road, although its profile is too round for really soft stuff. Note the rounded bottoms of the sipes (cut out parts) that improve snow shedding.

If there is any snow cover at all, or if the sand-truck typically covers your route before you do, this may be the only tire you need. (Note that a light covering of loose snow gives more traction than hardpacked snow or ice.)

At about $25 each, they are not cheap, but I have never had one wear out despite over 4 years of year round use. This is not to say that this is the only tire that will do. There are other inverted tread tires, and even knobbies that perform very well on the road.

ICE Tires

If much of your winter riding will be on frozen lakes or ice glazed roads you can have serious problems of traction. In addition, falls on these surfaces can be less than enjoyable, unlike trail riding where you often will fall onto a layer of snow. A good Studded Bicycle Tire may be the answer.

There are at least two commercial brands of Studded Bike tires available. In addition, there are plans available for manufacturing your own, which can be cheaper and allows you to adjust the studs for your conditions.

Typically you do not need or want to run your studded tires all winter. For normal road use they are noisy and have increased rolling resistance. You can swap tires on and off as needed, but this is a time consuming task.

Far easier is to have a spare set of wheels which can be quickly mounted on those days you need the extra traction. A set of wheels can cost about 200 dollars, more or less depending on the free-hub/wheel that you have. Your rear wheel should be an exact match for your normal wheel or shifting problems will be the likely result. If you have the same rims on both sets of wheels, you will not have to adjust brakes every time you change wheels. To avoid these complications, having a separate bike reserved for truly icy conditions can be cost justified with only a minor amount of self delusion and convenient rationalization.

If you can only afford one studded tire put it on the front! As long as you can control the front of the bike you should be able to steer well enough to avoid most falls. For really slick (standing water on ice) You need studs all around.

Commercial Studded Bike Tires.


Nokian 296 High end Studded TireProbably the best (and most costly) available are the Nokian brand. These are available at several of the suppliers listed on our commercial pages. They are made in Finland, and some versions bear the name Nokia instead of Nokian. ("NO Kee Ahn").

These tires come in a variety of styles, and usually the number of studs is indicated by the stock number. Hence the "W296 Extreme" top of the line (pictured at right) has 296 studs. This tire is designed for serious off road use and is good in snow as well as on ice. Its cornering abilities are highly praised. The studs are very hard tungsten carbide, however, and these give good wear. Some users report 4 or 5 seasons of constant use. Independent Review Available.

These are fairly spendy tires ranging from about $100 to $130 (U.S. Dollars).

hakk300s.jpg (26063 bytes)As of 2001, Nokian has come out with a new tire that is lighter than the 296, and has a new stud design that also reduces weight.  This tire may surpass the W296 in the future as the high end tire in the Nokian line.

The HAKKAPELIITTTA WXC 300  (No, I can't pronounce it either). The rubber lugs are an abbreviated version of those found on the W296, saveing a little rubber and a lot of weight.

The tire has 300 studs that have an aluminum retainer and a tungsten carbide center "gripper".  (For an quick view of how studs are constructed take a look at the photos in our Stud Hardness article).  

studdetail.jpg (14483 bytes)Previously, all Nokian retainers have been steel. The new stud grippers are also covered with (aluminum probably makes manufacturing easier) which is expected to wear off in the first 50 miles of so of road riding, exposing the tungsten carbide gripper. If these grippers are anything like past Nokian studs, that's when the wear stops.

The aluminum retainers reduce weight some, but most of the tire weight reduction comes from the lighter casing. The lighter weight, 695 grams vs. 895 for the W296 will be welcome as studded tires tend to be rather heavy.  The tire is designed to handle 43psi, which means on road use can take advantage of lower rolling resistance of a firm tire, while off road performance can be enhanced by reducing pressure.

An independent review by Dave McElwaine, who supplied the two photos above is available on this site.

Nokian has other grades of studded tires. The W288 Mount and Ground, pictured at right is a good mixed-use tire, suitable for roads and trails. It has a 8 fewer studs than the extreme, and a less aggressive tread pattern. This tire comes in two versions, 288 studs, and 144 studs. (My advice: more is better).

Nokian has discontinued the 288 stud version of this tire (you may still find some in stores). They have substituted a 160 stud version.  Their web site does not make it clear wether the 144 stud version will still be available.  The 160 version has the lugs spaced slightly farther appart leaving a more open design.

Probably somewhat less capable in deep snow, this tire still delivers plenty of traction in rutted ice/snow where pre-existing tracks have been iced over and refrozen.

It can be found for as low as $75 if you shop around.

I have personally ridden this tire in heavy wet snow and light powder and felt it handled very well. It sheds snow quite well, you never see the "white tire" syndorme. On ice, its like being on rails!

Finally, Nokian makes a slightly narrower tire; the HAKKAPELIITTA W106. It comes in sizes as narrow as 37mm and is available for 622 as well as 559 size wheels. (700Cx37 and 26x1,9 for those not yet into ETRTO sizeing.

This tire is usually available for under $50.

This is a great commuting tire. It has two rows of studs and a good low-rolling resistance tread pattern. This is just the ticket for those unexpected patches of black ice on roads and trails. It will handle modest snow depth quite well. Independent Review by Peter Cole.

In addition, Nokian makes a wide range of specialty winter tires in a variety of sizes.  See their web site at the link above.

NASHBAR Studded Tires

Nashbar has had studded tires for the last few years.  In years past these have had problems with studs falling out, and accelerated stud wear. 

Beginning in 2003, Nashbar has worked with Kenda to produce a better grade of winter tires under the Nashbar Label.  These tires are available in two sizes (as of this writing), 26x1.95 and 700cx35.

The tires have nice large lugs, and an open tread pattern which should shed snow fairly well while providing good traction.  The studs are of a more flat-topped design than used by Nokian tires.  

The 26 inch MTB tires (50-550)  have 4 rows of studs, two inner rows of 70 each and one outer row on each side of 14, for a total of 168.  They are rated at 40 to 65 psi, but even at 40 psi they may be too hard for soft snow riding (little or no sidewall flex at that pressure), and you may want to run these tires at around 20-30psi, depending on your rims. 

There is an unstudded center ridge, which is useful for dry road riding.  Simply inflating to maximum pressure should (depending on total weight) keep most of your studs out of contact with the road except when cornering.  Lowering the pressure a bit will bring the two main rows of studs in solid contact at all times.

Independent Review Click Here...

Stud seating depth is good, leaving significant stud above the rubber.  Compare that to the largely ineffective IRC tires below. 

In addition to MTB tire, the Nashbar line includes a tire for cross-bikes.  This tire bears three size notations (700cx35c, 28x1-5/8, 36x622).  This tire is designed as a commuting tire for urban areas.  This tire is rated for 50-85psi, and has 90 studs.  Website claims 92.

This design is slightly more open than the Nokian 106, and slightly deeper lugged.  The studs appear to be the same type and seated identically to the 26inch tire.

Reports form Nashbar indicate that both models are selling fast.  The price (under $30US as of this writing) is very reasonable, and the quality appears to be quite acceptable. Kenda has a good reputation for bicycle tires.  Nashbar representatives said they did not design this tire for the Iditasport, but for practical winter cycling on icy snowy streets and trails. 

Independent Review, Click Here...  

IRC Blizzard

The IRC Blizzard tire has been around for some time It is less expensive than the Nokian, and less effective. Shown at right is the reason for this.

The IRC studs are too few, and set too low. There are only 56 studs. There is hardly any road contact. I found very little benefit to this tire over the T&C tire mentioned above. These aren't bad snow tires, they have a fairly open pattern and somewhat radiused lugs, but as Ice tires they just don't cut it.

Note that all stud holes are not filled. This is the way it comes. It is sort of skip-studded, in every other hole.

I tried to have a commercial tire shop add studs, they had none short enough. It could be that Nokian replacement studs could be used to improve this tire. Simon at All Weather Sports reports having re-studded an IRC Blizzard with Nokian studs. "Wore holes in my hands; I'll never volunteer for the chore again. But it was simple and it works." At retail prices for the studs, it would be a questionable project.


IRC has now introduced a new upgraded version of this tire. It was upgraded by (you guessed it) filling in the rest of the holes! They have also raised the studs slightly giving better contact. There are now 112 studs.

This should have been the case all along. Note there are still no studs on the edges. These are needed for turning.

This tire goes for around $55.

IRC Website is new in 1998.


innova.jpg (5687 bytes)A late arrival on the marked is the Innova tire, which is quite inexpensive, about CDN$32 in Canada.  There are some concerns about the durability of this tire, but for that price you could almost afford a new pair each year.  

It is an oriental import, and the actual manufacturer is now known, and the supplier (MEC) is not saying.

Its a fairly narrow tire designed to compete with the Nokian W106 (above).   The exact number of studs is unkown.

Home Made Studded Tires

You can manufacture a studded bike tire for far less than you can buy one. This usually involves installing screws through the casing, from the inside. This usually necessitates a tire liner (perhaps just a extra dead tube) to prevent damage from screws that back out, or abrasion from screw heads.

BriansStuds.jpg (8393 bytes)Home made studs are usually heavy, and prone to flats. However, most serious bike riders have the necessary spare knobbies laying around and with a few cheap materials you can have a lot of fun out on the lake.

Brian Buehner has a page where he gives detailed instruction for some SERIOUS off road tires.  These are designed to prevent sheet metal screws (studs) from backing out.


The following method is recommended by the Edmonton Bicycle Commuters Society:

This is what you need to make your very own studded tire:

  1. One tire. You need a tire with knobs big enough to support the stud. the stud as explained further down, has to be on the

  2. 50 (approx.) Robertson head #8 by 1/2" sheet metal screws (the square head, you'll thank me for this tip) for mountain bike tires (26inch) or #8 by 3/8 inch for hybrid tires (700c)

  3. Liner for each tire. This can be made by cutting the beads off an old tire, cutting out the valve and slitting along the inside of an inner tube or just buying a Mr. Tuffy tire liner.

  4. Baby powder.

  5. One sharp awl. (or a 1/8" drill bit)



  • Count the knobs and evenly spread out the 25 screws for each side.

  • Punch holes, from the outside of the tire, into the designated knobs. You can drill the hole, however, drilling tends to tear the fabric and thus weakens the tire. Caution you don't need a million screws in there! Too many screws just slows you down.

  • Use Robertson bit in the drill to drive the screws in the tire from the inside.

  • Put liner inside tire and make sure it covers the screw heads

  • Put a generous dusting of baby powder between the liner and the tube.

  • Mount tire on the rim (ouch! watch out for the points!)

  • Inflate to maximum pressure. Put the wheel on the bike (mind the points). Spin the wheel to make sure that the studs don't catch on anything.


You only need to stud the front tire to keep upright; however, if you stud the back tire as well, it's even better. One caveat is that these tires are only suitable for winter conditions. The difference between one studded front and no studded tires in phenomenal. When the bike is travelling straight the studs shouldn't be hitting the road too hard; otherwise, they will just wear out too soon. Don't worry, when the tire slips just a bit the studs will bite in. You rarely notice the slight side to side movement.

You don't need to stud the middle knobs since you only need the added traction when you are turning. The studs should touch the road enough to allow sufficient braking. The studs in the middle knobs wear out very fast and soon become useless anyway.

Stainless steel screws will last much longer, but also cost about 3 times as much. You can change screws as they wear out, your tire can survive several sets of studs.

Last Updated 02/01/04 05:38:38 PM