John Coe has been an everyday, four-season bike commuter in a four-season town for almost 20 years. He blogs, when he blogs, mostly about bikes and skis and stuff at rockychrysler.blogspot.com.
A favorable conjunction of fate and inclement weather brought me a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Winter 700×40 carbide-studded tires to test at precisely the right moment in time.
I live in a place where it snows and freezes. And studded tires, used by a limited contingent of die-hard, year-round commuters in these parts, are a fine thing to have now and then. For years I have used a pair of undeniably bomber 26×2.1 (53 mm) Kenda Klondikes, a threatening and authoritative tire: 252 carbide studs, painfully stiff sidewalls, an uncompromising bead seat, weighing in at over 1240 grams each. If you attempt to mount them in a cold garage with any sort of urgency they will destroy your nylon levers and make you bleed and curse; you must take your time and think happy thoughts when putting a Klondike on a rim. I always mount them late in the fall, on a bike that will become my winter commuter, ahead of major weather. Or I live without.
Schwalbe’s Marathon Winter tires, on the other hand, mounted with ease. While they are of real German extraction, the Schwalbe studded tires, with what I hoped was an honest 622 bead seat, promised a kinder, gentler sort of preseason setup. And I was not to be disappointed. The Marathons were more than willing to accommodate the wimpiest of nylon tire-levers, as well as my frigid workspace and last-minute prep without insult or injury. They slid onto my Surly‘s warped and out-of-round Mavic hoops like butta.
Riding Ice & Snow: Off-Road
I got hold of the Marathons early this winter, between storms, when the roads were mostly melted off, but the trails were still hard and glassy with walked-out snow-turned-ice. So I took my first few test rides on the slick, frozen, December trails near my house. Identified as 40 mm in width on the packaging but marked as 622×42 mm on the sidewall, the Marathons handled challenging trail conditions masterfully. Pumped to around 50 psi, the 240-stud pattern created plenty of traction on even the slickest of surfaces.
Riding Ice & Snow: On-Road
A week later a real winter storm arrived. In earnest. Dumping nearly two-feet of snow across the region, leaving the trails buried and the roads snow-packed and icy for the better part of the next 10 days. Once in their element on icy, snow-packed roads, the Marathons very quickly proved their worth, outperforming my old Klondikes in just about every way. The 950-gram tire doesn’t feel too heavy once it’s rolling. And the aggressive knob pattern, studded only along the outsides of the tread, rolls confidently across snowy and icy surfaces, but still allows for plenty of control when you ride onto the occasional patch of salted-and-cindered pavement. Additionally, the Kevlar-reinforced casing provided a little additional confidence when riding streets where glass and other sharp objects might otherwise pose a threat.
When commuting on my old Klondikes, I’ve grown accustomed over the years to feeling less-than-stoked about my afternoon commute home. When the morning’s ice has melted off the roads leaving nothing but hard, wet asphalt, Klondikes exhibit more than a few disappointing traits. First and foremost, there’s the incessant stud-buzzing, which sounds like a coffee roaster constantly on second-crack following you everywhere. And there’s also the super-sketchy handling, which is basically akin to carrying your own dangerous, invisible road gravel with you everywhere. After each snowstorm, once the roads have passed the 50 percent clear phase, I’ve always just hung up my Klondike-bike until the next storm cycle.
One of the very best things about the Marathons is that they’ve completely eliminated my need to switch out bikes between storms. By fixing both of my chief frustrations with studded winter tires, the maddening noise and the dangerously poor handling, I’ve been able to continue to enjoy my daily rides both to and from work even as the snow has begun to melt away. The Marathons excel in the snow and ice, but because of the way they’ve arranged the carbide studs in the tread, they roll almost silently and handle confidently on dry roads, especially when pumped to around 70 psi, making them a fine tire to leave on in between storms.
So, after a more than a month of legitimately good winter-riding in a variety of conditions on- and off-road, I’m ready to say it: the Schwalbe Marathon Winter studded tires are for-keeps. They ride on snow and ice as-advertised: capably, confidently, with nary a slip to be found. Better yet, they ride super-well on the pave’, too, without many of the troubling handling traits and noise complaints common with other studded tires.
Got snow? Get ya some.