A long time ago, I used to bicycle to work in cold winter weather. One day I rode out of my driveway and I marveled at how fast I was lying on the ground. Pow. No warning. Intense gravitational pull. That is what ice does to the concept of bicycles. I figured this may be a natural limitation and simply tried to avoid any possibility of encountering ice.

Now that I’m back in a relatively wintry biome, this topic again came up for me. One day I was riding home and I thought to myself, "Hmmm, this looks exactly like the kind of conditions where ic…" Pow. On the ground, I finished the thought, "…where ice is likely." That was me being hyper alert for that exact situation and being as careful as possible. It would seem hopeless to persist.

But there was one last hope — spiked tires! I ordered a set of Schwalbe (the brand) Marathon Winter Plus tires (47-559). They cost about $75 each and that turned out to be a fantastic bargain.


I mounted these tires and did the dry road riding they suggested to seat the spikes. And from there, winter came and I did not stop riding. Although my commute is sensibly short by design, I averaged about five rides per week all winter long. This gave me a chance to ride in all kinds of winter conditions.

I love these tires! You can’t ever ride on extremely treacherous surfaces without taking some care, but these tires radically reclassified what kinds of conditions were even possible to bike in. The black ice or sheet ice that will put you on the floor instantly with no warning on normal tires now can be safely negotiated. The huge difference is that if there is any slipping, with spikes there is some warning, enough feedback to make adjustments. Besides that one crash on the ice before I got these tires, I didn’t go down at all this winter. I didn’t even have any close calls and when I think about what I rode in, that is astonishing.


I found that on smooth frictionless ice surfaces like this flooded/frozen bike path behind my house the spikes were perfectly adequate. The same goes for my driveway with a layer of freezing rain which some mornings I could barely stand on to shovel the subsequent snow. The tires handled that with no problem. Amazing.

The only slipping problems were in deep snow once they got packed and that’s a pretty safe situation if your bike skills are ok. Let’s just say you have a fighting chance.

Switching back to normal tires I was reminded that these spikes were pretty loud. They make a crunchy sound like riding over gravel all the time — I came to like that sound. The handling on dry pavement is better than I expected. Sure they’re a little more squirrelly but still able to do what needs to be done with confidence. They’re heavy, but what else would you expect? They are very well made (in Deutschland) and they even have the reflective strip that should be on all bicycle tires. They also have a bottle dynamo strip to remind one of normal Europeans riding their normal bikes.

Inspecting the carbide spikes today, they look to be in good shape. None came loose or are missing. They are definitely good for another season. And so am I!


I should also mention that I’ve been using Schwalbe tubes now for about a year and they are way better than generic Chinese tubes.


I was putting air in my tires about twice a week. With these tubes, I’m down to once a month. Impressive!

UPDATE 2019-08-19

On the topic of "spiked tires", how about some love for my summer tires, my Continental Touring Plus (47-559)!


Although I’m not as strong of a rider as I used to be, I’m no less experienced. When I rode over this on my way to work this morning, I could vividly picture it and I had the presence of mind to stop immediately. My commute is short enough now that I can just walk back which is why I usually don’t even carry a flat kit any more. These tires are just too reliable. And this morning after I had extracted the screw, I made it to work just fine. It didn’t even flat! That’s the "Plus" in Touring Plus proving it is well worth whatever I may have paid for it. These tires will seem big and clumsy to some, but to me they’re light and nimble compared to my winter tires. I love them! Also I should give a thumbs up to the fantastic Schwalbe tubes. And the incredible 1997 Mavic ceramic rims. And the 1997 DT Swiss spokes. And the 1996 Phil Wood hub. Great wheels!

UPDATE 2019-11-26

Just to be clear why good tubes are good, I was recently borrowing a bike and I had this ridiculous flat caused by a manufacturing defect in the tube.


Also do not forget the classic problem of valve stem rot which I have written about here.