The Pros and Cons of Studded Bike Tires

studded bike tires featured image

To stud or not to stud?

At first glance, that seems like a question more appropriate for horse breeders; it is actually a valid question for bike owners, too. You have an abundance of choices regarding your bicycle tires, and studded bike tires are just one of them.

Thankfully, bike tires have evolved in many ways since we began our two-wheeled pedaling adventures back in the early 1800s. Improvements to bicycle tires have meant an improved ride in terms of safety, speed, and overall comfort.

Better bike tires mean better control in a wide range of riding conditions. Adventure seekers do not want to keep their bikes tucked away in the garage just because of rain, wind, snow, or ice. In fact, some cyclists find even more of a thrill in riding while bravely battling the elements. (If you are a warm-up-by-the-fire-with-cocoa type, you can probably stop reading here as you may never need a studded bike tire).

bike cover with snow parked on road

The evolution of bicycle tires is similar to the track we have seen with automobile tires, which also come in varieties geared specifically toward harsher weather conditions. And just as drivers make specific choices about how to care for and maintain their automobiles, outfitting your bike for your specific cycling needs is going to affect your successful (or not so successful) riding outcome.

You probably would not try to drive a compact, hybrid sportscar up an incredibly steep mountain road in the winter (or maybe you would—but we do not advise it). Similarly, it is ill-advised to jump on any “regular old bike” and try to ride it down a slick, icy path. That point takes us right up to studded tires, and we will tell you everything you need to know about them.

What Are Studded Tires?

When you hear cyclists talk about “winter tires,” they may be using the term interchangeably with “studded tires” (but not ALL winter tires are studded, and we will get to that a little later).

A studded tire for a bike has small metal studs on the knobbles that enable the tire to grip ice and avoid slipping and sliding around (or toppling right over).

Before we continue, we know some of you bike tire novices may be asking, “what is a knobble?” It is just as it sounds: a knobble is simply a small knob or lump.

“Knobby” tires are used in certain cycling environments (such as BMX Racing) and look significantly different than the average road bike tire, especially those used for speed racing.

It is important to remember and distinguish that the “stud” is the small metal piece (not the knob itself). A studded tire is geared specifically toward winter conditions (and not the muddy, off-road conditions so often associated with BMX).

The studs in the bike tire create traction as they “grip” the ice, enabling riders to cross an icy path without slipping (as long as they do it carefully). It is worth mentioning here that no bike tire on earth is “idiot-proof,” so careless cyclists can fall as a result of a poor choice at any time, in any weather.

Studded tires at least put you a step ahead in terms of safety by enabling you to grip the ice rather than sliding right across it.

Why and When Should I Use Studded Tires on My Bike?

Obviously, if your biking days are spent meandering down lush, tropical paths on a remote vacation island, you are unlikely to ever need studded tires. If you are a city commuter in a mild or warm climate, you are unlikely to use them, either.

However, if you live in a location that experiences a true winter, and if the ground inevitably freezes for some portion of the year, studded tires may be exactly what you need.

trees beside road in winter season

A studded tire is the best choice when these winter conditions will last for at least several months out of the year, in places where conditions can turn to freezing quickly and where you need to be prepared for weather shifts. Of course, you can still ride on them on dry, paved roads, if and when the ice melts.

A studded tire’s functionality is not “lost” outside of icy conditions: it will still get you where you want to go. However, these tires are designed specifically for icy conditions, which means they are less than ideal as a year-round tire or one you would want to use in the milder seasons “on purpose.”

A studded tire, despite how useful it is on ice, does have its disadvantages.

What Are the Disadvantages of Studded Tires, and Why Are They Not Used on All Bikes?

The disadvantages of studded tires are simple to state and easy to understand:

  • They are heavy
  • They are loud
  • They are (sometimes) expensive

Perhaps you are a cyclist with deep pockets, an uncanny ability to tune out distracting noise around you, and superhuman strength when it comes to lifting heavy things. If that is the case, “heavy, loud, and expensive” may not dissuade you from purchasing studded bike tires. However, most cyclists are bothered by at least one of these disadvantages, if not all three of them.

Studded tires are not practical for all bikes, and they are simply unnecessary for those who do not face adverse weather. Additionally, the bike you own may not even have enough clearance for the width of a studded tire.

Studded tires are not used on all bikes for these reasons, nor are they the only option for cyclists in wintry conditions (we will offer some alternatives a little later in the article).

Can I Use Only One Studded Tire with One Regular Tire?

A frequent question for those considering studded tires to ride on ice is whether simply outfitting their bike with one tire will do the job sufficiently.

This is an individual choice for each cyclist. You should consider the conditions where you live and your own level of comfort riding on ice.

For those who opt to use one studded tire only (perhaps to save money, or perhaps to increase speed, or perhaps a combination of both), you should use the studded tire on the front of your bike.

One studded tire on the front of the bike should give experienced cyclists enough extra stability to avoid a complete winter wipeout (keyword: “should.”). You would likely still feel some slipping on the back and loss of rear traction, but in general, the one-tire method works if that is the compromise you are looking for between safety and speed.

What Sizes Are Available in Studded Tires? Can They Be Used on Any Bike?

As we mentioned earlier, the bike you already own may not even have enough clearance for the width of a studded tire. This is important to check out before you start shopping for them.

macro of various tape measures

The narrowest studded tires are 32mm, so that will be your starting point for the clearance you need.

The sizes for studded tires are 20 inches, 26 inches, 27.5 inches, 650b, and 28 inches.

If yours is the average road bike, you may not be able to mount these tires; however, if you have a gravel, hybrid, or cyclocross bike, you are probably in luck.

man walking with his bicycle during snowfall

What Are the Weight and Pressure Specs of Studded Tires?

You are probably interested in the detailed specifications for those who already know a good deal about bike tires. And for those who care about speed on a bike, the weight of the tire is of the utmost importance. Here is the skinny (or “not so skinny”) on the weight and other specifications commonly associated with studded bike tires for winter riding.

The lightest studded tires weigh in at around 1.5 pounds each, and the heaviest choices will tip the scales at around 3 pounds each.

The wheel is the heaviest part of the bike, so every bit of the tire plays into that, even if a few pounds does not seem like a big deal. As far as cycling performance goes in “normal” conditions, the weight of the bike is a constant factor. For some cyclists, weighing the bike down with studded tires may be an unpleasant experience initially – even if it does mean a safer experience overall.

Tire pressure as it relates to studded tires is incredibly important to monitor as the studs will grip better when the tire has lower pressure. In fact, what might look a bit “deflated” to a novice could be the ideal pressure when it comes to studded tires, so they should be checked often to ensure they are not over (or under) inflated. The recommended range is going to be between 20 and 60 PSI.

Bear in mind that to go studded, you will also likely need tubes, as there are few tubeless studded tires available.

What Are the Price Ranges of Studded Tires?

On the low end, you may find a good studded tire priced at around $50, and up to the higher end, they will cost around $200.

Your budget for studded tires may be limited, but if you invest in studded tires for safety, we would recommend stretching to the highest end of what you spend and getting the best possible tire you can afford.

Even if you plan to order the studded tires online and install them yourself, it is always a good idea to check with your local bike shop for recommendations and advice. They can point you in the direction of the best options for the bike you already own and ensure you are ordering tires that will actually fit.

What Are the Alternatives if I Do Not Want Studded Tires?

Ever heard of walking?

Jokes aside, studded tires are not the only “winter” tires available for bikes, though they are arguably the best if you are going to regularly ride on ice.

parked bicycle on street in snow

In a milder climate where “winter” involves cold, wet weather and occasional snow, but not necessarily the constant threat of icy roads, you will be better served by what are known as “all-weather” tires. These are significantly lighter than studded tires but provide the grip you need on slippery roads

A few tires we recommend for “all-weather / year-round” are the Continental Grand Prix 4 and the Schwalbe Marathon Plus. Both of these offer great value without being incredibly expensive.

schwalbe marathon plus hs wire tire

What Do I Need to Do to Maintain Studded Tires and How Long Will They Last?

Most people who use studded tires put them on their bikes from November to March, and they can last for several seasons (or several thousand miles). There will be some variation among users, and as we pointed out earlier proper inflation is important to the overall life of the tire. We understand why based on the “look” of the tire, a cyclist might be tempted to overinflate it, but it should actually look a bit deflated for the best performance on ice.

Because you cannot go on looks alone, a good tire gauge is a must for any cyclist, whether you are riding on icy roads or cruising down warm, sun-filled highways. You should inspect your studded tires frequently and check the pressure often to avoid problems while riding on icy roads. And outside of the winter season, you should consistently inspect your other tires as well and keep the pressure in line with the manufacturer’s recommendation.

jaco bikepro presta tire pressure gauge

It is also important to “prep” your new studded tires by riding them on asphalt at a steady pace for 20 to 25 miles, with no sudden acceleration or braking. Do this before you set out on ice and especially before commuting in heavy traffic areas.

Studded Tires for DIYers: Getting Crafty

Some tire manufacturers offer a stud kit where you can install them on your own in a custom pattern. While this certainly sounds like something a handy (and crafty) cyclist might enjoy, we still recommend (you guessed it) letting your local bike shop inspect them for you.

And for those who would rather buy them studded and ready to go from a reputable tire company, our picks are covered below.

Best Studded Bike Tires for Cycling in Icy Conditions

Kenda Klondike

This tire comes in five different sizes, performs well on the road, and perhaps best of all comes in under the $100 price point.

Fitted with 168 carbide-tipped studs, the Klondike is designed to keep you out on the road no matter how frosty the weather may be.

kenda klondike bicycle tire

Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro HS 379

This tire is as convincing as its name, truly the “pro” when it comes to keeping you out on the ice. Schwalbe makes some of the best-studded tires on the market, and for those willing to spend a little more, the Ice Spiker Pro will not disappoint.

Boasting 402 studs per tire, the Ice Spiker is a beast when it comes to grip and durability. This is also one of the tubeless options for the studded tire market, with Schwalbe consistently leading the way when it comes to innovation.

schwalbe ice spiker pro hs 379

Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396

Another great product from Schwalbe is the Marathon Winter tire, which works best on ice with minimum pressure. These tires offer the winter cyclist assurance that icy roads can be tackled safely and without breaking the bank.

schwalbe marathon winter hs 396 bike tire

Other Ways to Get Your Bike Winter Ready

While prepping your bike with studded tires to tackle the ice is certainly important, it is not the only step you need to take before you head out to ride in the blustery days of winter.

Winterizing your bike involves prepping it in other ways and ensuring you are on top of key safety elements. Here are some of the steps that should be on your checklist every year as you head into the winter months:

Light it Up!

It is imperative that you have enough lights on your bike for visibility and safety with fewer hours of daylight. Even if you do not intend to ride after dark, the dark can quickly sneak up on you in the winter months.

If you commute to work on a bicycle, you should always be prepared because you might not leave the office before dark if the boss calls you in for a last-minute meeting.

Proper lighting on your bike (as well as reflective elements on your apparel) will ensure drivers see you and help keep you safe on your commute.

A rechargeable bike light set is a must-have for any cyclist, especially in the winter months. And if you really want to jazz things up, you can combine safety and whimsy with Activ Life LED Bicycle Wheel Lights.

activ life led bicycle wheel lights

Handle Your Handlebars

Our hands and feet can feel like ice blocks during the cold winter months, and hands gripping a cold handlebar can be incredibly difficult to keep warm. A good pair of gloves is essential for this reason, but you can also add extra tape to your handlebars, which will offer some extra insulation between you and that cold metal.

sram supercork bicycle bar tape

Give Your Brakes a Break

No, we don’t mean you should stop using them. But give them a “break” from the winter conditions and debris by cleaning and inspecting them regularly. The mud and the muck on wet, winter days can start to affect your brake performance over time, so it is an especially good idea to keep a close eye on this in the winter months.

Wear the Right Gear and Protect Your Skin

Even if you keep your bike in tip-top winter condition, your ride will be miserable if you are not dressed appropriately for the weather. Cycling gear is designed to keep you safe and warm while also minimizing chafing and discomfort.

Be sure to invest in a good winter bib when you will be on the bike for long periods of time, and be sure to have a warm hat or neck warmers if needed. Ensure all of these items fit snugly enough that they will not blow off in the wind (and possibly onto the windshield of a nearby driver!)

Do not forget sunscreen, even in the winter, and a heavy-duty moisturizer that will protect your skin from chapping. Lastly, take good care to protect your delicate bum. Hours on a bike seat can lead to chafing, so a padded bib helps, as does chamois cream.

With the right studded tires and our winterizing checklist, you should be able to enjoy cycling on even the chilliest of winter days.

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