Modifications to cycling equipment are interesting and exciting: we see frames, wheels, clothing, and components being updated and improved yearly. However, major changes to the riding experience because of these innovations are few. Every so often though, something revolutionary comes along. The seemingly age-old inventions of air-filled tires, derailleurs, clipless pedals, and computers were significant, allowing riders to ride with more comfort over rough roads, change gears without getting off the bike, pedal more efficiently, and accurately measure their speed and distance. Another revolutionary change I would dare to add to this list is studded tires, especially the Schwalbe Winter Marathon.
In the earlier days of my riding experience, I hand-made studded tires for simple winter commuting, mountain biking and even for the occasional ice-bike racing on Toronto Island. The task was worth it, supporting safe and quick cycling and offering unbeatable grip. But the custom-crafted process was long, arduous and resulted in heavy, bulky tires that were un-rideable on pavement.
I continue to be a year-round cycle commuter, dealing with all sorts of different weather. This time of year, freezing rain, black ice and ice covered with a dusting of snow become the most treacherous hazards. On non-studded regular tires slow, apprehensive riding over ice has helped me avoid crashing, with no guarantees. And don’t even think about turning!
Three years ago, I purchased 700C x 35mm wide Schwalbe Winter Marathon tires, a perfect fit for my cross bike with full fenders. Schwalbe offers winter tires in a wide range of sizes to fit a variety of different set-ups. The Marathon Plus has four rows of small steel studs embedded in the rubber treads/knobs, while the Marathon standard has only two. The two row studded tires are lighter, less aggressive, resulting in slightly less traction, but are more economical. When I first purchased my four rowed tires, I was concerned about them quickly wearing on my 25km pavement commute. To avoid having to change the tires regularly, I have two sets of wheels using the studs only when necessary. In the last few winters, with our icy GTA weather, has resulted in my using them for weeks at a time! Despite a good test to their longevity, three winters of commuting have shown little wear. They are steel beaded, not foldable, and are stiff in the sidewalls. I keep them at 60 psi and have had only one flat – a flat that was a result of lower PSI and blindly riding over a snow-covered curb or simply put, user error.
On first try, riding the Schwalbe Marathon Plus on ice is unbelievable. They have excellent grip in the corners, seldom slipping at speed. Even then, a slip is just momentary until the spikes dig into the ice and stop the skid. They are noisy and slower on dry pavement but safely traversing ice is worth it!
Studded tires have been a great innovation. The Schwalbe Winter Marathon Tires are well made and have been a marvelous contribution to the market. I’m still thoroughly impressed with them. Winter is a great time to ride. Studded tires mean you aren’t stopped when forecast is less than fair.
By Peter Morse