Occupying what is perhaps a niche too far for many, ice tyres aren’t necessarily the first upgrade that you may turn to when kitting yourself out for a winter of riding.
Mudguards, warm gloves, waterproofs, winter boots – all appear to come ahead in the list of what to get. We’ll happily shell out on a fancy waterproof jacket or a £150 pair of winter riding boots but when it comes to changing tyres for the winter, most folk will go down the mud tyre route, stick with their summer tyres or simply not bother riding. All of which is curious given that one of the easiest ways of improving the performance of a bike can be to change the tyres.
Ice tyres seem to occupy a lofty position of being only for hardened northern and Scandinavian types who think nothing of riding 100 miles in the tundra pre-breakfast before beating themselves with sticks, sauna-style and who sport manly beards of much bushiness. We’re British. We don’t need such things. We laugh in the face of snow and ice and besides, our superior handling skills mean that we can cope for those wintery days with ease. Except for car drivers for whom even a light dusting of snow and ice can send them into a Daily Mail-esque tailspin of indignation and finger pointing at authority. You don’t need ice tyres for the winter – but wanting them is a different matter.
Tyres for ice? Why bother? Well…
I first became aware of ice tyres when a friend turned up on a group ride with a set of the original Nokkian spiked tyres from Finland. They weighed a ton and the sound that came from them on tarmac was like a Lancaster taking off. Each of us was probably guilty of thinking ‘why?!’, right up to the point that we lay scattered like prone skittles struck out while our friend carried on up the trail, oblivious to the mayhem he had left behind.
Jump forward a few months and I found myself in possession of a set of Schwalbe’s top-of-the-line ice tyres, the Spiker Pros. Taking them out of the box, I was immediately struck by their heft, or rather lack of it. Despite featuring 361 tungsten carbide core spikes in each tyre, they weighed barely more than 700g which for a 2.25in tyre is a considerable achievement. A normal 29in tyre at 2.25 inches in diameter with reasonably deep tread which weighs this would be light in my book, so were any corners cut to achieve this remarkably low weight? Time would tell.
Fitting them to the Giant-branded rims of my test bike, the tyres mounted with typical ease which I have come to expect with Schwalbe tyres. Tyre levers not required. While they have the option to be run tubeless, for the sake of simplicity and not wanting to face being covered in what smells like Copydex come the inevitable puncture, I went old school (or should that be skool? Who knows?) and ran the tyres with tubes.
In order to bed in the spikes, the first ride out was restricted to tarmac on a cold but definitely not icy evening. Running the tyres at around 20psi in order to help ensure the spikes were properly seated was a little bit of a pain, but if it meant the loss of spikes would be minimised, I regarded it as a small price to pay.
All that effort…
Just like buying a brolly guarantees that it won’t rain, fitting the spiked tyres seemed to bring on an early spring. Fortunately, winter did put in a welcome appearance with suitable amounts of boilerplate ice-covered trails, sheet ice and hard packed trails waiting to unseat the unwary.
So how do they work? On the right terrain, bloody well actually. Their lack of weight means that they accelerate like a normal 29in tyre. At the risk of pride coming before a fall, I’ve given the tyres the beanz on wet sheet ice and have singularly failed to lose traction even when cornering reasonably hard. Riding up one particularly slippy climb where I encountered a walker in 12-point crampons, it was only when I stopped to put my foot down that I realised just how slidey the trail was as my foot skittered away from under me and I nearly crashed down like a sack of spuds.
It’s no exaggeration to say that with the Ice Spiker Pros, you can ride on proper winter trails with barely any reduction in speed nor control. On mixed terrain routes such as a winter descent of Ben Lomond where the trail varied between verglass, long sections of boilerplate ice and exposed bedrock, the spikes found traction wherever water had frozen.
On rocks, there was a certain degree of scrabbling for traction not dissimilar to the feeling of clambering over rock in crampons. A bit more caution was required than with normal tyres, with tell-tale scores visible where I had to brake hard. As you might expect, riding on this type of terrain contributed to a loss of studs on both wheels. Having ridden the cheaper but harder compound Ice Spikers, this is more of a problem for the Pros, as they shed studs at a faster rate than their cheaper steel bead variant although replacement studs are available.
On the road, the Pros are peerless when it comes to riding on black ice. With well over 300 studs per tyre, they ooze confidence in a way that tyres with a lower stud count simply cannot rival. Tyres with studs down the side only rely on traction being gained by running them at a lower pressure and in my experience tend to break out a little before regaining control. With the Pros, there is no such compromise.
If you regularly ride in proper winter conditions, the Ice Spiker Pros are a worthy addition to your tyre collection. The sidewalls have held up despite their apparent thinness and although the propensity to lose studs is an annoyance, the traction afforded on icy trails simply cannot be beaten. At £84.99, they are on a par with fat bike tyres for cost but if you prefer to ride through the winter without regularly falling on your arse, it’s a small price to pay.
|Product:||Ice Spiker Pro 29|
|Tested:||by CJ for two years|