Studded Tires for a 29'er

Mother Nature is a bitch. After she repeatedly insisted on dumping all of OUR snow in DC, where they don’t want it and don’t know what to do with it, things are getting pretty desperate up here in Northern New England. Cross country skiing has largely dried up; most of the trails are now sorry excuses for half-frozen ruts with leftover slush and ice. So, what to do? Well, if life gives you lemons and all that… enter: lemonade.

A good friend recently lent me his 29’er Kona full suspension bike mounted with a pair of Nokian Gazza Extremed 294 studded tires. I took that toy on a couple of laps on a local trail that I know well, and I was completely sold. Now that I’ve returned that schweet ride with the sexy rubbers, I realized that I had to get myself a pair of studded tires for my Felt 29’er Solo singlespeed. With the Nokians sold out pretty much everywhere (or ludicrously overpriced — like, >$100, which is what I’d expect to pay for studded tires for my Volvo, thankyouverymuch) I had opportunity to shop around and learn more. 

I could do my pseudo-scientific review of tires here, but I’ll leave it to to the pros. Peter White Cycling has a great rundown of everything that moves and shakes in the snow tire market, and can deliver pretty much any tire you could possibly want or need for your winter fun. have quite a selection, too — but most of the mainstream shops sell out of the kinky winter stuff early in the season and are now back-ordering until the start of the 2010/11 season. Basically it all boils down to this:

If you’re on a 29’er, there are a limited number of dedicated MTB tires from which to chose, but since you can fit 700C tires from road and cross bikes as well, the market opens up wider. The question really becomes: what are you planning on doing? If you have a hankering to ride that lovely bit of singletrack that makes you smile in the summer, then you’ll need something with real bite, like the Nokian Gazza’s or the Schwalbe Ice Spiker tires. If you’re commuting to work and you’re mostly on paved stuff that can get dodgy with ice, then you want lower rolling resistance, and there’s a whole slew of nifty tires avaialble to you.

Quality vs. price. Close to $200 for a set of winter tires can be a bit steep if you’re just looking to screw around. There are other options out there — Nashbar used to make a 29’er tire, but since a) the whole Nashbar/Performance universe is largely teh suck these days, and b) they seem to no longer sell that version, we’ll ignore it. Innova is the cheap-o option, and may do fine if you just want to try this out. It really comes down to studliness. No, I’m not talking about your testosterone level, I’m talking about the quality of the studs in your tire. Carbide is the gold standard — tough, hard metal that will stay sharp and pokey thru continued use. Anything else is really just for show and will wear down pretty fast, particularly if you run the tires on pavement. Do check out Mr. Ice Bike’s very scientific review of stud quality.

Once you have your tires, go ride! To learn more about the fun that can be had in the distinctly off-season season, check out IceBike (hasn’t been updated in forever; maybe he’s stuck in the snow somewhere) and start fantasizing about some of the more epic fun you could have, like this, or this, or even just a quick trip to Burke, VT to ride the epic Kingdom Trails. And of you decide you really want one of these, then you’re more of a kick-ass rider than I’ll ever be, and you should be writing this entry…