Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fatties vs. Studs

It's not often that I embrace controversy in my SPL posts, but today I'm writing about a fairly contentious topic: Fatties and Studs. That's right, the question is whether it's better to have a wide, chunky girth, or more svelte and angular.

For bicycle tires, I mean. For winter commuting.

For the past couple of years - excluding last year, which was so devoid of snow that I never had to change out of my 28mm Gator Skins - I've been using 35mm studded tires on my touring bike for my winter commuting. But this year I've done a lot more riding on my mountain bike with its fat 26x2" tires. It's got me thinking about whether it's worth it to invest in those expensive snow tires, or if it's better, assuming you have one in the stable already, to just use a mountain bike.

Skinnies, studs, and fatties.

The studded tires are designed to give superior traction on ice, of course. And for that they perform admirably. And in my experience, the narrower tire cuts into deep snow better.

I haven't really gotten a feel for what the fatties do on black ice. And in fresh snow of 5 inches or so, they get mired and bogged down, forcing me to walk the bike to a plowed/shoveled surface to remount.

But what happens on the rutted, frozen footprints from school-kids, crusty ice kind of conditions I mostly see on the multi-use paths on my commute? My snow tires often failed to ride up the edges of those ruts, instead either rerouting me wherever the previous path user was headed, or sending me into an emergency foot-dip to avoid a topple. The mountain bike tires, on the other hand, gain a better purchase on the sides of the ice and allow me to go up and over the ruts without too much trouble.

Another annoyance, which I was not industrious enough to solve definitively was that the fenders on my touring bike were installed with normal-sized tires in mind. So the wider 35mm studded tires often scrubbed the inside of the front fender, making an awful racket. In wet conditions, I guess that's better than having no fenders at all, like on my mountain bike. On the other hand, the mtb has disk brakes, which work decidedly better in those same wet conditions.

So in conclusion... I don't really have a conclusion for you. I think that both kinds of tires have a place for winter commuting. But unless next year is snowier than this one, I'll leave the skinny tires on my touring bike and use the fatties on snow days.

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