Cast your mind back to October 2005, when the Met Office were forecasting the hardest winter for a decade. Me and a mate decided to order in some Schwalbe Ice Spiker tyres from a German website ( £54/pair including postage) to keep us ridng through the white stuff. Four months on, having seen out what’s probably just been winter’s last gasp, here are some thoughts on how they performed.
The Ice Spikers are 2.1in tyres with a wire bead, stiff sidewall, aggressive tread – and 304 tungsten steel spikes! Not a mere 300, mind – that’s 304, count ’em… The studs only stick out of the tyre by a millimetre or so, but that seems to be enough to do the job. I don’t intend waxing lyrical about the subtle ride characteristics of this (or indeed any) tyre, but it’s worth noting the following points:
- You have to break the tyres in by riding 25 miles on Tarmac before heading off-road
- The studs are very noisy on hard surfaces, especially Tarmac. It sounds like you’re driving a half-track; people stop and stare as you rumble past…
- The tyres weigh almost a kilo each, and this does make itself felt when riding up hill or accelerating
- The rubber compound is quite hard, presumably to stop all the spikes ripping out
The Spikers are probably too heavy, noisy and draggy to be considered a true all-round winter tyre. Having said that, they actually cope surprisingly well with normal UK conditions, handling typical Lakes terrain in a perfectly competent fashion. That’s kind of missing the point, though – these babies were designed to be ridden over ICE! And they do that very well indeed…
We’ve all experienced that buttock-clenching moment when you hit a patch of ice using normal tyres. There’s just enough time to tense up before you slide sideways and smack into the ground with a sickening thud. Well, that doesn’t happen when you’re using Ice Spikers. There’s no sensation of the spikes biting into the ice like you get while walking with crampons. It’s just that the ice becomes magically… un-slippy. You ride straight over it like it isn’t there.
After a bit of confidence building, you find yourself actively seeking out the biggest patches of sheet ice or compacted snow you can find. It’s a bizarre sensation, nonchalantly cycling along a frozen stream that you wouldn’t even be able to stand up on. The back tyre sometimes spins out in such conditions, but no more than a normal tyre would in mud on a similar gradient. It’s predictable and easy to deal with, just shift your weight back to load the rear wheel.
They’re not perfect, of course. I’ve lost 3 studs out of the rear wheel (only 301 left…), and the blocky tread pattern doesn’t cope very well with loose snow. The very stiff sidewalls, however, mean pinch flats are unlikely – certainly I didn’t have any. If you’re expecting to hit snow you can probably run the tyres at pretty low pressures to help you roll over it. It’s worth noting that, despite the stiff sidewalls, they’re easy to lever on and off the rims; changing them out for different tyres depending on the weather isn’t too much of a chore.
In summary, the Ice Spikers are a great tyre for the kind of cold, dry riding conditions we’ve had this winter. My local trails often double up as water courses, and turn into singletrack ice rinks during a cold snap. The Spikers enabled me to keep riding through stuff that normal tyres simply cannot deal with. Schwalbe also make a tyre called the Snow Stud, which only has studs along its edges. This would probably be a good extreme conditions road/commuting tyre, giving you the confidence to ride into the bends while still being reasonably efficient on the flat.
Positives: Turn ice riding from no chance to no-brainer
Negatives: Heavy, noisy, slow
Verdict: If you’ve ever wondered “What tyres for sheet ice?” then Schwalbe has the answer. The Ice Spikers do what they’re meant to do and even put up a reasonable performance under more common circumstances.