Winter bike tires: spikes are the safest – travel

If you drive a car, you don’t have much of a choice: Winter tires have to be fitted in wintry road conditions, i.e. black ice, snow or slush. There is no such situational obligation for cyclists. This can also be seen in the street scene: Every year after the onset of winter, cyclists slide through the area. This can sometimes be quite dangerous, the risk of injury is high. But winter tires have also been available for bicycles for a number of years. But which ones are the right ones? Does every cyclist need special tires for the cold season? And what else should cyclists keep in mind in winter? The most important questions and answers.

What is the difference between summer and winter tires for bicycles?

The winter tires for bikes are based on car tires. The rubber compound is softer, the profile consists of sipes. This improves grip and contact surface on the road and ensures better handling compared to a summer tire. “They work very well in snow, whether it’s stuck or loose,” explains René Filipek from the General German Bicycle Club (ADFC). “They are also better than normal bicycle tires on icy surfaces.”

When are spikes used?

On ice, however, winter tires reach their limits. Spikes are ideal here. Metal pins are countersunk in rows of two or four in the tire casing and protrude from the tire by up to 1.5 millimeters. “You can still brake and steer safely on icy ground,” explains Filipek from the ADFC. According to a test by the ADAC the braking distance is even reduced by half compared to conventional winter tyres. In most regions, however, the tires with spikes are not suitable for continuous use in the cold season. Away from snow and ice, the driving comfort is anything but pleasant. The rolling resistance is high, pedaling is harder than with a conventional tire and the spikes are loud on the asphalt.

Is a combination of studs and winter tires the solution?

In order to mitigate this disadvantage at least a little, some cyclists add a tire with metal spikes to a winter tire. This brings more grip in adverse weather, but still comfort. “But that’s only a solution if you’re technically very experienced,” says Filipek. If you opt for this solution, you should definitely put on the spiked tire at the front. Anything else is too dangerous. “If the front wheel breaks out on snow or ice, you don’t have a chance. Then you fall, sometimes badly. An experienced driver can still catch the rear wheel.” Average cyclists should better change both tires.

Are all-weather tires an alternative?

As an alternative to winter and spike tires, some manufacturers offer rubber compounds that can be used all year round. These all-weather tires are somewhere between summer and winter tires. The advantage: the annoying tire change is no longer necessary. “All-weather tires are not quite as good as winter tires in wintry conditions, but they are better than summer tires,” says René Filipek from the ADFC. At warmer temperatures, wear is higher. The all-weather tire is suitable for regions where it rarely snows. “In really wintry conditions, it’s better to drive winter tires,” advises Filipek. “If I live in northern Germany, where it snows three times a year, you can also drive all-weather tires and then be particularly careful. You’re still better on the road with them than with a normal bicycle tire.”

Do bikes with off-road tires even need winter tires?

The question also arises as to whether every bicycle actually needs winter tires – especially mountain bikes. Because these already have very wide tires with a coarse profile and give more grip in snow. At least that’s better than the narrow and smooth tires of a city bike. However, they are not a real substitute for suitable winter tires in areas where it snows more frequently. If you decide to do it anyway: Reduce air pressure to create an even wider contact surface and increase grip.

How good are combined solutions?

Many cyclists are primarily prevented from putting on winter tires because of the tiresome assembly process. Some manufacturers have developed a simple solution for all of these: The spike tire is simply pulled over the summer tire like a coat and fastened with a zipper. The result is surprisingly good. In 2021, the ADAC tested winter tires with and without spikes, including the combination solution from manufacturer Retyre, which won the overall ranking. The summer tire can be supplemented with four so-called skins – two spike profiles and two gravel tires. The downside is the price. Basic tires including a skin cost between 49 and 89 euros. However, you don’t get one, but actually two tires and the opportunity to react spontaneously to the weather conditions. However, the ADAC did not test how durable this solution is.

The manufacturer Retyre has developed a tire on which other profiles can be zipped on.

(Photo: Retyre)

Do e-bikes need special tires?

The answer is simple: no. Most winter tires for normal bicycles are also suitable for pedelecs. However, René Filipek from the ADFC advises making sure that the wheels still fit under the fenders. Since winter tyres, especially those with spikes or even a combined solution with a second tire, are wider and higher than summer tyres, things can quickly get tight here. Then even the best winter tires are of no use to the cyclist.

How should you drive in winter?

It goes without saying that extra caution is required at this time of year. The braking distance increases significantly on a slippery road surface. Not only slush and ice, but also leaves and moisture can be dangerous. That means driving more slowly, always being ready to brake and keeping a greater distance from other road users. If possible, you should not brake or pedal in curves – otherwise the bike may start to swerve. Also, do not brake or steer frantically on black ice, rather stay in lane and roll out. You should also make sure that the brakes are intact. With rim brakes, the brake pads are notched; these should still be clearly recognizable. For disc brakes, a thickness of around 1.5 millimeters is a guideline.

What else is important in winter?

Especially the lighting. Fog, darkness or snowfall impair visibility in the dark season. The lighting on the bike should therefore work – and be free of dirt. Ideally, the lights should be switched on before dusk sets in. If you want to buy additional lighting, you should be careful: The Road Traffic Licensing Regulations (StVZO) provide clear rules for the lighting system on bicycles and e-bikes. Flashing headlights or rear lights are prohibited, at least on the bike itself. However, the legislature has allowed flashing lights on the body or backpack, explains the manufacturer association ZIV. The use of high beams on bicycles is also permitted. But as with a car, oncoming traffic must not be dazzled with the high beam when riding a bike. If you are driving in fog, it is better to keep the high beam deactivated – the fine water droplets usually reflect the light from the headlights more strongly and thus impair visibility. Setting the headlight as low as possible is good, helmet lights are bad.

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