Gear Review: You Too Can Ride in Snoo!

by Eric Shalit on December 29, 2014

I felt very comfortable despite 23F and 30mph gusts that at times made it feel like 8F.

Tradition has it that it rarely ever snows in Seattle, the first frost happens after Thanksgiving, and temperatures rarely drop below freezing. All of these rules were broken yesterday. Blizzard-like conditions hit the Puget Sound area late Monday (11/23/10) with snowfall of 3-5 inches, very windy conditions with gusts of 40-55 mph, and temps in the lower 20s F.

Tuesday morning was spectacular. Blue skies and 23F. The streets were icy but most of the drivers stayed off the roads, having been traumatized by Monday evening’s commute which took people up to 6 hours due to icy roads, abandoned cars, and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Bummer!

A couple years ago I bought a pair of nearly new studded snow tires via Craigslist. Today was my first opportunity to try them out, and simultaneously test some of my new winter cycling gear. I’m hoping to put together a winter cycling kit and hope these reviews and recommendations will also work for you.

Kenda Klondike Studded Snow Tires

I’m riding their Skinny Road Bike Tires (700 x 35) with fenders. Each tire has 100 carbide tipped studs. Available in 700×35 or 700×40. My cyclocross bike has frame clearance that can accommodate these tires.

I was skeptical about how well snow tires would perform. I started out cautiously, not so much afraid of falling as about whether or not I would be able to get up. As the day progressed I became more experienced on a wide range of conditions, from compact snow to glazed ice. The tires performed remarkably well under all conditions. Occasionally, I’d channel into a rut created by another cyclist. I never saw another cyclist during my 25 mile ride, so these may have been left over from the previous night’s commute.

This shows a 26" Nokian Hakka WXC 300, but illustrates the general studded bicycle tire concept.

My original plan was to see if I could safely and comfortably ride from my house down to Alki Beach, about 3 miles. Although the entirety of the bike trail was icy snow and snowy ice, I felt reasonably safe, in control, and became more confident as the ride progressed. I rode across the low bridge and along East Marginal Way to the International District where I had a wonderful bowl of soup at my favorite restaurant, Szechuan Noodle Bowl.

A mountain bike would likely be a better setup, but I don’t yet own one. My cyclocross bike worked great. The bike tracked well, with only occasional and minor fishtailing. I avoided making sudden turns. Traction was excellent while climbing a very icy steep hill on my way home. Before heading out I switched out my clipless pedals for a pair of old flat pedals. This allowed me to wear boots and not worry about being able to unclip should I start to fall.

A pair of studded snow tires is a great thing for the cyclist who likes to get out in all weather as long as your frame can accommodate the 35mm tire width.

Click here for a very thorough comparison of Nokian and Schwalbe studded snow tires at Peter White Cycles.

'Baby' is my traveling companion whose hair is always a good barometer of weather conditions.

Ibex El Fito Tight

The Ibex El Fito is available as a full length tight, 3/4 length knickers, and 3/4 length bibs.

Until not too long ago I was Art Director at a company called Filson (outdoor clothing & gear since 1897). It’s there that I got to know and love wool. Not the itchy & scratchy old-fashioned wool, but soft super-fine Merino Wool. Not only did I learn to appreciate wool, but I’m the guy that sold lots of it to customers through the web and email. There’s no man-made fibre that compares to wool for it’s ability to keep you warm without getting clammy.

Since last week, I’ve ridden nearly 100 miles in the full length Ibex El Fito Tights, in temperatures ranging from 50F down to 23F, plus a windchill factor that made it seem like 8F. Ibex El Fito Tights are magnificent. Seriously. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re comfortable down to 0F. No cold spots. 100% breathable. Like pajamas. I put them on at about 10 AM, wore them all day in arctic conditions and am still wearing them while sitting indoors writing at 10 PM. I’m looking forward to bike camping this winter and expect I’ll be sleeping in them.

Made in USA from 92% New Zealand Merino wool, 6% nylon, 2% lycra on body; 87% Polyester/ 13% Spandex on seat and back legs. Climawool lite ® softshell knee front. I haven’t tested them in rain yet, but wool tends to shed light rain, keeps you warm even when wet, and dries quickly.

Ibex makes a full length tight, 3/4 length knicker, 3/4 length bib, and has a mix of men’s, women’s, and unisex styles. They seem committed to providing an expanding line of cycling gear for men and women that includes jerseys, arm warmers, leg warmers, tops, and bottoms.

At $160 list the El Fito Tight isn’t cheap. It’s a beautifully designed and crafted essential piece of gear that would make a great gift for any bike geek.

Click here for the Ibex product page.

Don't these Merino Sheep seem comfortable?

Below is a video someone made during the 11/22/10 Seattle snowstorm, while watching traffic from their front porch.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Robin November 24, 2010 at 9:58 am

Eric,
I’m betting that my fellow dedicated bike commuters at the club will be ordering up a number of these bad boys! Thanks for the review.

Reply

Randall & Barb November 24, 2010 at 1:35 pm

We can add that riding on the heavier, studded tires is a good workout so not a huge amount of wool layering needed. With 75% of our tandem commute on the Sammamish Trail, the greater challenge is the frozen tire and jogger tracks. We inflate our 700 x 35 Marathons (tires rated at 35 to 85 psi) to 45 psi for better traction. The outer rows of studs do a fair job of keeping the bike straight over the lunar landscape. The snow/ice commutes add about 20-25 minutes to our usual 35-40 minute ride but sure beats driving it in a car. TeamAngell

Reply

Eric Shalit November 24, 2010 at 1:57 pm

Hi Randall & Barb:
I’d love to publish a photo of you tandemming in the snow.

Thanks,
Eric

Reply

Brian November 24, 2010 at 11:15 pm

Nice write-up Eric.

Randall & Barb, I’ve seen you two on the SRT on my daily commute. Pretty cool to see a tandem commuter out there!

I rode my Mountan Bike to work today, taking the SRT and then the 520 trail from Woodinville into downtown Bellevue. I don’t have studded tires, just rode on my knobbies. Traction was great and I never once felt out of control. Did not see any other bikers out, however!

Reply

Kent Peterson November 25, 2010 at 11:17 am

Eric,

Studded tires are unnecessary 99.9% of the time but for that .1% of the time, they are vital! I lived & rode without studded tires for years but I have had a set for a few years now and they are what I have on my absolute crappy-conditions bike.

The problem isn’t snow, it’s black ice and you never know where you’ll hit that. I personally know three randos who’ve busted bones from hitting black ice.

For pure snow riding, you sure don’t need studs. Ice is a different story.

Studded tires are much cheaper than hip surgery.

Reply

Bill Bacon, West Seattle November 25, 2010 at 12:24 pm

I really longed to get out and ride during the snow. But, no way with riding slicks. In the future I think I’ll be bicycle prepared for such snow days. I’ll keep my eyes out for a pair of studded tires; may even order some for next year. I used to use 3/8″ self-tapping flathead screws through knobbies 30 years ago in Anchorage. Worked well. These days, though, I don’t have much use for a mountain bike. I could outfit my hybrid touring-commuter bike, though, no problem.

Reply

Marcy November 27, 2010 at 5:45 pm

On Wednesday, when we still had snow on the ground here in Seattle, I ordered up a pair of Nokian Mount & Ground studded tires for snow and/or ice riding on my Long Haul Trucker. Having recently built up some new wheels, I’m going to put the studs (and a second cassette) on my old wheels so I’ll be able to switch to studs easily as needed for winter riding conditions. I was really jonesin’ to get out and ride in the snow, but I wasn’t about to with the slicks I have on currently.

Reply

louise January 31, 2011 at 2:27 pm

I love how the title rhymes- is that a tribute to Dr Seuss?

Reply

Eric Shalit January 31, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Exactly! You win the contest that i just invented. Details to follow.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: