Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Silence of the Studs

I put the studded tires on too early (as usual) due to my paranoia of hitting a patch of ice and going down. I don't mind riding them on dry pavement. In fact, when they are new it helps get the studs to fully set making them less likely to pull out as I ride through the winter. Since part of my motivation to ride is for fitness, riding on tires with a higher rolling resistance, especially those with studs, just makes for a better workout.

Eventually our first bit of snow arrives and I head out to roll over that patchwork of snow and ice. I look forward to the first snow ride of the season as it marks the end of fall and the beginning of the winter riding season. It’s one of my favorite rides of the year.

Riding studded tires on dry pavement sounds like an old 78 phonograph record with the sound turned up and no music. As I roll around the trails, I don't often need to ring my bell or to alert folks with a polite "On your left". Most pedestrians turn around to see what in the heck is coming at them and give me plenty of room. I like to think it’s to insure my safe passage but it’s just as likely they are making sure they don’t get rolled over by an errant bike. Safely past, it’s just me and my old 78 spinning along down the trail.

Until I hit a patch of snow...

Then those studs become deadly silent. No sound what so ever. Road tires on dry pavement have a certain smooth hum, a supple sound track of soft rubber gripping the pavement. Mountain bike tires sailing down a hard-packed single track sound like an old man's slippers on a sturdy wooden staircase. A syncopated, soft padded dance step.

Studded tires on snow make no sound. No sound at all.

Being accustomed to the reassuring audio cue that my tires are providing a connection to whatever surface I am rolling over, the silence is deafening. It's the same silence one hears when a pebble tossed into a well has yet to hit the water. Time suspended, waiting for the echo of that distant plop.

My late fall rides have that old 78 as a constant sound track so I anticipate it being there. My ears strain to pull it in but all I hear is the winter quiet surrounding me. It finally ends when the studs once again find direct purchase on bare pavement and the old 78 spins up again. But the sound is short-lived lasting only until I roll over the next patch of snow. Then it’s quiet again. The snow brings back the magic of winter biking and wraps me in a suspended silence.  


  1. Great piece -- I can hear it

    ...or not hear it....

  2. What brand/size studs are you using? I've heard Nokians are quite nice.

    The Michelin slicks were rather, uhhh, slick this AM on the frozen bike path. (Too lazy to change wheels this morning.) Normally I just bust out the cross bike for commutes like this.

  3. Old Bag: Thanks, it is a sweet nothing...

    AH: I'll bet the slicks were a bit tricky on the frozen bike path!

    I have Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 tires, 700 x 40 on my commuter 29er. These are an upgrade from the Schwalbe Snow Studs HS 264 I used last year and they worked OK but had a very squirrelly ride so I picked up the Marathon Winter tires which have more studs and ride like a touring tire. First time I rode them I kept checking to see if the rear tire was going flat because the ride was so smooth but they are just that smooth and that's at the full 70 lbs. The only down side of these tires is the cost and they sell out pretty early in the season so if you are thinking about them I would recommend moving quickly.

  4. I have yet to get studs and since last year I did not need them except maybe once, I am torn as to whether I should spend the money on a set. We shall see. 2 years ago with almost no snow, there was no need. Last year there was more snow and this year is shaping up to be another 2006, cold and no snow

  5. Right now the Fat Franks handle the "snow" just fine. I've slipped a bit around corners, but no biggie. I should probably let some of the air out of 'em to increase the surface area