Schwalbe marathon winter tyre test

Studded tyresBack in September I picked up a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Winter tyres and put them to one side while I waited for the snow and ice to arrive. I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen this year so I put them in the loft a couple of weeks back. That small action was enough to kick sod’s law into action and about 3 days later I was seeing forecasts for a prolonged period of brass monkey bothering climate – so I retrieved the tyres and fitted them last week.

Fitting the tyres caused no real problems except that I forgot about the studs and cut my hands on them while pushing the tyre on the rim. When fitting the front wheel to the bike I had to fiddle around with the mudguard a little as there was barely any clearance between it and the tyre.

Schwalbe recommend that the tyres are run in for about 25 miles on firm ground to ensure the studs are properly seated. During this time hard braking and accelerating must be avoided as this can cause the studs to be ripped out. Last week had some ice potential so I was happy to cycle cautiously. I had read reports on various bike forums about people losing up to 10 studs in a short amount of time so I was expecting a few to go, but actually I only lost one stud from the front and one from the rear wheel in the first 60 miles of use.

The thing you really notice when first out with the new tyres is the noise. I was expecting some road noise but the sound of the studs hitting tarmac really does make a racket. I’ve seen various descriptions of this from rice krispies to fried bacon – all are excellent descriptions. After a week or so the sound does seem to ease off possibly as the studs are bedding themselves deeper or rounding off slightly. It’s also possible that after this time you just get used to the noise.

Only limited clearance with my SKS mudguards

Today was the first time I tried the tyres in snow following a large dump on Saturday night. Despite a reasonable amount of  thawing since, there was still quite a thick covering in places. In these conditions, I had reasonable control but still skidded around a fair amount, though  much less so than I would have with standard tyres. I think it’s highly dependent on the consistency of the snow – the tyres might grip to the snow well but there’s little you can do if that snow is not firmly packed and just moves around.

I think where these tyres will excel is when the conditions get icy as is expected later in the week.

Update: Well as expected we had a severe frost last night and the untreated country roads were particularly treacherous this morning. Much of my route consisted of sheet ice which was very nasty on some of the steeper slopes. The tyres worked brilliantly and I didn’t skid once! Given the conditions, I rode much more carefully than normal and I still followed the golden rule of not touching the front brake but I can confirm that marathon winter tyres do indeed work really well on ice.

You can expect to lose a few studs

While I felt completely in control I still didn’t feel at all safe. I came across several daft motorists whizzing down the narrow lanes as if there was no ice around at all. A few of them skidded uncontrollably the moment they touched their brakes which was particularly scary whenever they got anywhere near me. I found the best I could do when I saw an approaching car that didn’t look like it was going to stop to let me past, was to try to pause well in advance on the widest (or a non-icy) stretch of road to allow them to pass. It’s not always easy though and I did feel vulnerable.

These tyres have always sold out quickly in previous years when the weather got bad but I think the major online retailers must be planning their stock better as amazingly, there is still availability here and here.

What’s great about them is that they can be used fine in non-icy conditions. Schwalbe suggest pumping the tyres up to maximum pressure on days when ice is not expected and letting the tyres down to minimum pressure on the icy days. This works because the studs are located slightly off centre. When the tyres are pumped up hard, the studs have less contact with the road. Adjusting the tyre pressure each day depending on the conditions is much less of a faff than swapping tyres or wheels. You can simply fit the tyres at the start of the season when it first gets icy and leave them on until the daffodils are out in spring.

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