At the end of January 2011 I took myself and my bicycle to Oslo, Norway. My plan was to ride 1,600km north through Eastern Norway and Swedish Lapland before popping out of the mountains at Bødo in Arctic Norway. This is a review of how my Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro 26×2.1″ tyres performed during that journey.
With the exception of warmer, coastal regions of Norway, my entire journey took place on minor roads thick with hard-packed snow and sheet ice. While ploughed clear of fresh snow throughout Scandinavia, no roads are salted in midwinter – salt being ineffective below -5°C.
The temperature varied wildly and often, but -15°C was around the daytime norm, with nights generally between -20°C and -30°C. To all intents and purposes, I rode for a month on hard-packed snow and solid ice.
Needless to say, spiked tyres were not just a luxury, but a necessity. I was lucky to be running Schwalbe’s Ice Spiker Pro tyres on this trip, not just because Schwalbe agreed to supply them free in support of the journey, but also because they were brilliant. I slipped and fell on one occasion during the entire time I was riding, and that was because I lost concentration and veered off the side of the road, not because the tyres lost traction.
The tyres are unquestionably targeted at more demanding conditions and riding; each of the 361 spikes being embedded in a chunky mountain-bike-style knob of rubber. I ran the 2.1″ version of this 26-inch wheel-size tyre, but a 2.3″ version is also available. I wouldn’t expect this to be necessary, however, except in seriously choppy off-road conditions. The 2.1″ knobbly tyre could be pumped up to its highest pressure for low rolling resistance on clear ice (and frozen lakes), and let down a little when riding through fresh, uncleared snow, as happened on a handful of occasions.
Weight is impressive: 695g per tyre, compared to almost a kilogram for Schwalbe Marathon XRs which I’ve used on fair-weather adventures. Despite this, there seems to be little loss of durability: the tyres, which are not designed specifically for touring, happily supported the weight of myself and my 30-40kg of luggage without any complaints – not even a puncture.
Schwalbe’s advice to ‘break in’ the tyres on asphalt is sound: doing this plants each spike more deeply in the rubber. I counted two missing spikes by the end of the trip, having failed to run them in properly.
The pointed studs were visibly rounded after 1,600km of fully-loaded riding; far more so on the central row in constant contact with the ground than the outer rows towards the edge of the tyre; but the traction seemed unaffected by this – I didn’t notice any loss of performance. I imagine that the determined user could extract the studs with a pair of needle-nose pliers and thus swap inner and outer rows, but I haven’t tried this myself (I’m too lazy).
Riding on ice is unnerving for the first few seconds, but once I realised how much grip I was afforded, it became almost too reassuring – many a time my foot slipped away beneath me when I stopped on the ice for a break and put my boot to the floor. If only I’d had the same studs on the soles of my shoes! In Östersund – the Winter City – I went riding on the skating routes across the frozen lake, without a hint of skidding. It was possible to slip the tyres under very extreme and deliberate braking (with hydraulic disc brakes), of course, but a moderate emergency stop is perfectly possible to achieve, once you get used to these excellent winter tyres.
For riding (floating?) in deep snow, a Surly Pugsley and some Endomorph tyres on Large Marge rims is what you need. Or ditch the stupid bike and ski instead, you crazy fool. But that’s another kettle of fish.
Despite being fairly pricey, I would highly recommend the Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro tyres to anyone looking for a rugged winter tyre for demanding use on treacherous, ice-clad roads such as those I journeyed upon in Norway and Sweden. Traction will make or break your ability to ride on such roads, and the Ice Spiker Pro is a fantastic example of how a winter studded tyre should perform.