Bike Winter Chicago – Studded Bike Tires on Dutch Bikes?

schwalbe studded bike tire

A week or so ago I was talking with some bike people here in Chicago who ride Omafiets year-round and the topic of winter riding and snow tires came up.  I have to say that I hadn’t really thought about it. I’ve been riding year-round for a few years, but until this year I’ve been riding on a mountain bike with 26 x 1.95 multi-terrain Armadillo tires which have been sufficient riding here in a city of fairly well-plowed and heavily salted streets. This year though, I’ll be riding my Omafiets with tires that are a little narrower and less knobby than those on my old Trek mountain bike.

Dottie from Lets Go Ride A Bike put studded snow tires on her Dutch bike and wrote about it last winter on her blog. Another Chicago couple I know that ride Dutch Omafiets are also fans of studded snow tires and directed me to Peter White’s excellent site that runs through a description of some of the best studded bike tires (Nokian and of course, Schwalbe). I should mention that these folks ride along the lakefront during the winter and it does get very icy along the lakefront path.  Some of the readers on Dottie’s blog who live in Minnesota and Michigan also spoke up in favor of studded tires but they didn’t mention if they rode Dutch bikes or not.

Jason Tinkey via his@jtinks account on Twitter replied that he had planned on getting studded snow tires for his Batavus but he never did. Instead he believes in the power of good brakes to keep you safe during the winter. I also chatted with the owners of Bear Bicycles. They are a couple of expats from the Netherlands who import their own version of Azor Dutch bikes to Dublin and sell them under the Bear Bikes name. Via a discussion we were having on Facebook they said:

Winters in Chicago can be fierce, I hear. To be honest: you’re testing new boundaries with Dutch bikes (way to go!), because studded tyres aren’t readily available in the Netherlands. Maybe that’s because Dutch city services seem to have infinite amounts of rock salt, which they spray on streets the way Santa hands out presents. When you’re streets get slippery, maybe you could try out your original tyres first? If you lower the saddle, wear boots with profile, and take care in turning; then you should be fine. Keep us posted on how it goes though. We’re very keen to learn more on your pioneering. Thanks!

I find it hard to believe that studded tires are not available, but perhaps they just don’t get enough snow to make it worth while.  A lot of people recommend keeping your tires under-inflated for better traction on snow and ice, as well as taking care to ride a little more slowly and carefully. All good advice, but I live on a residential side street that is not plowed as frequently as the main streets, and I ride secondary streets that while plowed and salted tend to ice over.  And any bike lane in Chicago almost always becomes the snow lane.  So I’m considering getting some studded Schwalbe Marathon Winter Tires.  I’ll probably head over to The Dutch Bike Company this week and talk to them about ordering a set.  I hear they are pricey, but I’ve spent good money on Armadillo and Schwalbe tires in the past and got more than my money’s worth in terms of zero flats and longevity, so it will probably be worth it.

Do you switch out your tires for winter riding? Do you ride a Dutch or other city style bike with studded snow tires? Let me know your thoughts!

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  • BikeBike

    Hey DingDing!

    Here is Calgary Alberta there are quite a few hardy souls that continue riding through the winter, and many of them (myself included) swear by studded tires.

    Why? Well, for us, we obviously get snow and cold temperatures due to our location however we also get “chinooks” (warm winds from the west) which can often melt the snow creating areas of shear ice and black ice once the temps drop below freezing in the evenings. Add to that the fact that the city does not plow residential roads and what you get is a crazy mix of bare pavement, ice, and packed snow/ice on the quiet streets. This combo of conditions can frequently defeat regular tires so many choose studded tires as a defence against the conditions.

    My own ride is a Batavus BuB 3-sp with Bobike Junior seat and I also have studded tires. As a previous poster mentioned, I will gladly take a slower ride in favour of more confidence in all conditions – especially considering I have to take my son to school everyday on our bike. Add in a load of groceries and things can get scary without studs.

    I guess all I am saying is that I think studs make sense if you want to be able to get on your bike all year ’round without thinking twice. Obviously if ice is not something you have to deal with then studs may be overkill.

    If studs are something you are considering, Schwalbe Marathons are the best tire going for low rolling resistance, good durability, and excellent traction.

    • Samantha

      Thanks! Seems like Dutch bikes + Schwalbe Marathon Winters are the way to go per most folks here. Chicago and Calgary have similar winter riding conditions too.

  • jnyyz

    I’ve been happy with my Marathon Winters. I figure that they will last a good number of years. Also, for most of my winter commutes here in Toronto, the roads are clear, but there are patches of black ice that are difficult to see, particularly in the shade. With the studs, the ice is no longer a concern.

    • Samantha

      Thanks for the info! I like the photo comparison on your blog of the regular Schwalbe tires and the winter tires – really highlights the differences.

  • Timoohz

    It sounds like you live south enough that the snow and ice melts and freezes often. This makes the ice smooth and slippery.

    Knobby tires help with snow. Those metal studs do not help you with snow, they are meant to grip ice. So if you have to cycle on the ice often, and the roads are not gritted, I recommend testing studded tires. For snow, knobs are enough.

    Here in Oulu some people cycle all year around with oma bikes and regular tires. Road bikers change to wider tires or studded tires. Our bikeway maintenance crews are good at snow removal and gritting though. Also the winter is cold enough that we do not get slippery, wet ice very often.

    Timoohz from very nothern Florida 🙂

    • Samantha

      I like your blog title – that is quite funny! Thanks for reading! While we’re not as far north as you are in Finland, it does get cold here and stay cold, though often it freezes and refreezes. But if they can ride Omafiets year-round in Finland, so can we! Send me a picture of you and your bike – or even a Finnish Omafiets !

  • Ash L.

    I’d switch out your narrow tires for a set of Schwalbe fat franks. They are wide but have the same puncture resistance as marathons. My 28″ wheels (is the what the Oma has?) on my Batavus normally takes up to 80PSI but on snowy/icy days I lower it to close to 30. The lower PSI helps to spread the surface area for better grip.

    If you don’t ride on a trail regularly I doubt you’d ever really NEED studded tires on Chicago roads. There are maybe 3-4 days a year that they’d provide an advantage and even then, it isn’t any advantage that riding straight and cautiously couldn’t match. There’s a discussion on this on the Chainlink from the last week or two that you can find for more perspective.

    • Samantha

      Yep, the price of the those studded Schwalbe tires makes me pause and wonder how many times a year will they really help me out? Some people I’ve spoken with say the same thing but also say that having the studded tires gives them a little more peace of mind. I get that too. I’ll go check out the discussion on the Chainlink too – thanks for the heads up!

  • DutchBikeVince

    To stud or not to stud? As a guy with two sets of Schwalbe Marathon Winter tires I’m clearly biased towards them. But why? I mean sure, a certain amount of “skill” can save you some painful experiences, but sometimes, when you’ve got two saddle bags loaded with groceries, and huge crate full of pet sundries up front, you just want that extra insurance. And just like Samantha noted earlier, the lakefront path can be treacherous. I find that sitting upright on my bike doesn’t do me any favors when it comes to being nimble. Neither does the 90 lbs I”m pushing around sometimes. But with the studs it’s all about the air pressure you put in there. Run them too high and they are pointless. Run them too low and you’ll feel it too much. Every rider has a sweet psi for the studs. And you’ll know exactly when you find it. When you do, you simply can’t deny that it feels a lot better on the icy hard pack snow.

    • Samantha

      Thanks Vince – I’ll be heading over to pay you a visit and check out some tires in person.

  • Amsterdamize

    The average amount of money the Dutch spend on a bike here is 750 euros, we just have crappy ones as asides :). It does snow quite a lot here, specially the last few years, so you’d think we’d need them. Nope, it is a combination of fairly well cleared paths & the Dutch pragmatism (& skill). The Cyclist Union is about to test studded tires. It’s the first time for them, so who knows, maybe there is a market.

    • Samantha

      Thanks for the info! Perhaps that’s it.. separate cycle paths that are well-plowed/salted could make all the difference. In contrast, in North American cities we generally ride on streets that if plowed, often see the snow plowed right into the bike lane.

  • Cherilyn

    I think you nailed the difference between Amsterdam and most U.S. cities: bike infrastructure. I’m sure there’s less snow and more care taken to remove it for the numerous cyclists. The other thing to consider is that folks in that culture don’t tend to spend lots of money on their bikes, so I can’t see studded tires being a priority.

    I definitely need studded tires in Montana. It’s sooo worth it!

  • Samantha

    Yes Cecily, I think the flat-terrain of Amsterdam and Dublin along with their temperate weather make these bikes very practical as-is, year-round in those cities. Chicago, while flat, has a more extreme climate – more cold, snow, etc., which means we have to adapt these bikes to our climate – same for you in your hilly city of Vancouver. And I can see why you might even choose not to ride one on snowy/icy days on those steep downhill rides. I haven’t decided on snow-tires or not. I know I came very close to sliding into the lake one winter evening and I don’t ever want to experience that again.

    Steve – what kind of bike do you ride in the winter with those 25mm road tires? Given the slower speeds we ride on our Omas, I’m not sure I’d want slicks.

  • Steven Vance

    Last year I rode strictly on 25mm wide road tires. Their tread is mostly slick. One of the two tires had some tread design, but for the most part, they were flat.

    I did this because the skinny tires “cut” through most types of snow. I avoided open grate metal bridges by riding on the sidewalk.

    I think before you order the studded tires you should just ride with the ones you have until they’re insufficient. Since you have hub brakes you can use the zip tie traction method. This is where you wrap a colorful zip tie around the rim and tire at each spoke.

  • Cecily

    Ah, lucky Chicagoans (and Amsterdamers) with your flat terrain. My ride into work is about 70% downhill – including a few very steep ones – and I’m deathly afraid of trying to coast down them in the snow/slush. Even though the city has said they plan to treat the major bikeways, the side streets that lead to these bikeways aren’t often treated. I think I’m going to have to put Elphie away on snowy days and try to find another way to the office.