DIY: Surviving winter with studded tires.
If you are like me and live in the frozen tundra of North America, or anywhere else snowy and cold, you know how challenging riding in the winter can be. I don’t mind winter sports, but mountain biking is my favorite sport. Figuring out how to bike in the winter was a challenge I solved years ago. The biggest obstacle seems to be ice. Now, I know you can just run out and spend $1500 on a new Fat Bike and get to it, but what if your budget is more like $50? Well then, I might have the solution for you! That would be to stud your own tires. Yeah yeah, I know you can buy them studded now, but what if a big snow storm hits and you don’t have time to wait for them to be shipped to you and you want to ride now? Well, keep reading…
Let’s start with the supplies you are going to need. One tire to sacrifice. I always have some older tires floating around so I just pick something I no longer like. It should be a mud tire with some larger lugs on it. You want enough rubber to be able to put a screw through it and have the tire hold it. This year I had an old Kenda Smoke that worked nice. Since this tire is going to be wrecked by your modification I would go with something cheap if you need to actually go purchase a tire. Your LBS may have something old they need to unload cheap or you could even go to a local department store or sporting goods store and find a suitable subject. Either way don’t waste $80 on the latest technology in rubber. Why only 1 tire? Well I have found you really only need one on the rear as long as you are not riding on glare ice. Heck I have even rode on glare ice with just the rear studded. If you’re wanting a studded front tire too, just repeat the steps I’ve laid out for the rear tire below. Don’t forget to put some studs on the edges so you can corner properly!
Next you are going to need a box of self tapping sheet metal screws. The self tapping ones have a drill on the end so they will make their own hole as they go into the material. This saves the step of pre-drilling all holes. Just make sure the head of the screw is round. Either a flat or rounded top philips head will work. Hex heads or bolt heads will eventually puncture your tube. Hardware stores will sell these screws in boxes of 50-100. Depending on how many studs you want you will need a whole box. I have gone crazy on some tires in the past, but found you can get by on as few as 20 screws and still get great traction. While you are at the hardware store pick up some duct tape. If you can find the half wide Gorrilla tape that works the best, but any duct tape should do.
Last piece to this puzzle you will need will be a Mr Tuffy liner. Most LBS will carry them. They are a thick plastic liner which goes between your tube and tire to prevent punctures. This is what will keep our screws from making your first ride really short. They come in pairs so you can give one to your buddy for his rear tire or heck spike your front if you end up with extra supplies when you are done with the rear. You will find a use for it. If no LBS has the liners or you waited until 10:30 the night before,you could potentially use an old tube for this maybe with another layer of duct tape on it.
OK so take your donor tire and try to fold it inside out. If it has a wire bead you won’t be able to completely flip it around, but you will be able to access the inside of the tire better. Get your handy dandy cordless drill/screwdriver and a screw. Feel on the outside of the tire for a lug and press on it. You should be able to find the lug now on the back side. Center the screw and slowly let the self drilling screw embed itself into your tire. If you miss the lug back it out and try again. After a couple you will be hitting them like a champ. I like to alternate lugs side to side as I go around the tire. Depending on the pattern of the tire just do what seems to make sense. It’s pretty intuitive, so don’t worry about it not making sense now – it will as soon as you get started.
Now you have a tire with studs in it, cool! Fold the tire back to normal and be careful with your new tire of death. Grab that roll of duct tape and run one layer on the inside of the tire over your screw heads. You may need to clean the inside of the tire if the tape doesn’t stick really well. Take your Tuff liner and put that over the duct tape, and you may want to run another layer of tape to keep the liner in place. Put your tube in and mount it on your rim. I inflate to about 40psi to start with. Depending on if you have snow down or not you may actually need to let some pressure out of the tire for better traction. Much higher than 40 and you run the risk of driving a screw through the liner. Before you put your wheel back on the bike, read the next paragraph!
The only thing I may do from this point would be to shorten the studs. If you have a bench grinder and want smaller studs for different conditions you could grind down the screws to a shorter length. Since the condition I ride on are usually snow with ice below it I tend to leave them longer. If I was riding on just a frozen trail and and a light layer of snow you may want to take them down a little shorter. Make sure you have proper clearance between the studs and the frame! You don’t want to go through all this work only to realize your first ride trashed the bridge.
Some other things that may help. You can stud a pair of shoes as well (following pretty much the same directions). This helps if you need to put a foot down on the ice while riding or climbing a hill and pushing the bike. Otherwise take it slow and enjoy the ride. You may not fly along like you do in the summer, but at least you are out doing what you enjoy for not a lot of money right? That being said, I am definitely ready for summer.