Who Needs Studded Fat Bike Tires Anyway?!
So, you just dropped a bunch of money on a new fat bike and you’re feeling great about the upcoming winter riding season. You excitedly tell a few friends who already have fat bikes all about the new rig. They’re in awe of the high-end components, light weight and flashy paint job. Everyone is excited and things are going great. But then it happens — one of your friends asks you what kind of studded fat bike tires you’re going to buy. All of sudden your excitement begins to fade.
Until now, studded tires were just a passing thought — something you would look into down the road. Plus, they’re expensive and you just spent a lot of money on this great new bike. Soon you come to find out that all your friends have studded tires on their bikes and you begin to ask yourself, “Do I need them as well?”
I asked myself this same question when I decided to buy a fat bike and I didn’t have the answer. Studded tires were expensive and although many people around me used them, I wasn’t sure they were worth the money. So I told myself that I would ride an entire winter season on the stock tires before making a decision.
“I found that many factors come into play in deciding whether or not to invest in studded fat bike tires.”
Over the course of that season, I found that many factors come into play in deciding whether or not to invest in studded fat bike tires. Factors such as your intended riding season, climate, intended use and of course, the cost.
Some pros & cons of studded fat bike tires
Before we get into the details, let’s take a brief look at some of the pros and cons of a studded fat bike tire. This list is by no means exhaustive, but over the course of my test season, I found these points to be important.
- Good longevity – if only used in the winter, studded tires will last a long time.
- Grip – these tires work really well on ice. On soft snow they work just as well but not better than non-studded tires.
- Versatility – if you ride in mixed conditions, they will help you feel more secure.
- Heavy – having (sometimes) hundreds of studs per tire adds weight.
- Expensive – can be significantly more costly than regular fat bike tires.
- Seasonal – impractical for summer use.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution
There is no one size fits all solution to buying studded fat bike tires. This frustrated me at first, but I eventually began to realize that everyone uses their fat bikes differently. A person’s need for studded tires depends on a number of different, sometimes competing, factors. Let’s take a look.
Will you be fat biking in the summer?
If you’re thinking about buying studded tires for your fat bike, you’re going to be using it in the snow in the winter. If you also plan to ride it in the summer there are things to consider before you commit to studded tires.
First, if you decide to use studded tires in the winter, you’ll need to change the tires twice a year as you won’t want to use them in the summer months. Without snow or ice on the ground, the studs will wear out quickly and the tires will have less grip on hard surfaces like rock and concrete. For many, changing tires twice a season isn’t a big deal, but for others it may be more of an inconvenience than it’s worth.
During my winter season of riding without studs, I came to the conclusion that swapping tires wouldn’t be an issue for me. This is because I would only be riding my fat bike during the snowy and icy winter months.
What kind of winter climate do you fat bike in most?
Another factor to consider is how the climate you ride in the most will affect the snow and ice you’ll be riding on. During my test season, I found that snow and ice are the two main factors that determine the need for studded tires.
If the climate where you live produces lots of snow but little ice, studs may not be necessary. Consistently cold temperatures and high snowfall probably means minimal ice, at least through the core winter months. Studs make little to no difference on soft snow and there would be little to no advantage to having studded tires.
On the other hand, studs become very useful if you live in a climate with low to moderate snowfalls and large temperature swings. This type of climate means a regular freeze/thaw cycle and with those temperature variations comes ice. Studded fat bike tires excel in these conditions and they can mean the difference between having a fun ride or a painful one!
Most of my riding takes place in a climate that produces a lot of ice. I didn’t make it far into my test season before I was wishing I had studded tires.
When I did occasionally ride in colder, snowier climates I didn’t find studded tires to be detrimental. If I were riding in these conditions all the time, I wouldn’t have spent the extra money on studs.
What will you be riding on?
Climate is probably the biggest determining factor in whether or not you will want studded tires. But it’s worth looking at how you will be using your fat bike as well. Let’s say, for example, you ride it off-road on the weekends in the winter and use it to commute to work during the week. The off-road riding conditions might be great for studded tires, but if you commute to work on dry pavement all week long you’ll be putting a lot of wear and tear on those tires. Hard, abrasive surfaces will surely reduce the tire’s longevity.
It would be impractical for most riders to swap out their tires at the beginning and end of every work week. As a result you may have to come to a compromise between your weekend riding and other uses. This is just an example. There are many situations where compromises might have to be made. If you are continually using your fat bike in different ways, you may have to decide if the benefits of studs in one case outweigh the drawbacks in another.
In my case, the decision was easy. I only use my fat bike off-road and in the winter, so studded tires make sense. But, if I did more riding in the city for example, my choice might have been different.
Are they worth the money?
Cost can be the determining factor for many people when weighing whether to buy studded tires or not. They are expensive, but are they worth it? In my case they are, and here’s why:
Unlike a bike tire that is used in the warmer, drier months, studded fat bike tires will virtually last forever, if used in the right conditions. If they’re kept mainly on snow and ice, there isn’t much to wear out the tire’s rubber knobs. Sure, even in the winter you will occasionally ride over rocks, roots and other abrasive surfaces, but not at nearly the same frequency that you would in the summer. Now you may be asking, “That’s great, but what about the studs?” Well, they will slowly wear in these conditions but many are designed to stay sharp as they wear down and many can be replaced if necessary.
When shopping for studded tires, check to make sure that the studs are designed to stay sharp as they wear and that replacements are available.
When shopping for studded tires, check to make sure that the studs are designed to stay sharp as they wear and that replacements are available. This will extend the life of your tires and help justify the cost.
The short answer is yes
In my view, if you’re willing to make the initial investment in studded fat bike tires, the longer service life of a winter-only tire means the cost per use should at least be on par with their non-studded counterparts. On top of that, you can’t put a price on safety and studded tires will keep you upright more of the time!
Not everyone needs or wants studded tires. If you’ve decided they aren’t for you but are looking to replace or upgrade your non-studded tires, I’ve put together a few great options in, “5 Outstanding Tires For Your Fat Bike That Won’t Break the Bank!”
To stud or not to stud?
For me, the greatest advantage to studded fat bike tires is their versatility. It’s no problem to use studded tires in soft snow and on ice. If you’re willing and able to look past the cost and added weight, studded tires will work well in almost all winter conditions. The decision becomes more complicated if you plan to use your fat bike in other ways. Depending on your use, the studs and tires may wear down more quickly and the longevity of your tires will be compromised.
In the grand scheme of things, what matters most to me is what type of fat bike tire will help me ride more. Because of their versatility in icy winter conditions, studded tires do just that!
If you’re looking to pick up a pair of studded fat bike tires, don’t spend your time doing research! Check out our article, “5 Studded Fat Bike Tires to Keep You Rubber Side Down!”. We look at the relative strengths of some popular offerings.
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I have grappled with this dilemma for two seasons. I am coming to the conclusion that studs are the way to go in my case. Where I live we have lots of trails crossing lakes that are not always snow covered – PRO STUDS. Throughout the season there are melting conditions that form ice – PRO STUDS. Our trails have short punchy climbs that are only rideable under certain snow conditions- PRO STUDS. Finally, it only takes one hard spill on ice to end a day on the trail or even take you off the bike longer – PRO STUDS.
My initial solution was bigger tires (~ 4.8inch) and low low pressure – this wasn’t as effective as studs – my friends with studs are in the saddle more and spent less time making snow angels.
Long story short, studs will keep in in the saddle and potentially extent your riding season.
Hi Todd, thanks for the comment! It definitely sounds like the conditions you ride in are perfect for studs. I know the feeling of falling hard on ice and I agree it isn’t good. One second you’re riding along and the next you’re flat on the ice! Studded tires were definitely worth the investment for me.
An alternative to fat studded tires is Shwalbe Ice Spikers in 29×2.25, 27.5×2.25, or my personal favorite, 27.5×2.6 sizes. I run the latter on 35mm rims and they’re great in packed snow and ice. At CRC they’re only $65 apiece, less than half the price of the cheapest I’ve ever seen 4+ fatties… The only downside is that the 2.6s only come with Liteskin casing, which I ripped last year in a crag. The skinnier versions do come with Raceguard but are more expensive and offer less float and stability.
Hi JimBo, thanks for the comment! Regular studded mountain bike tires are certainly an option for winter riding. Where I would want to have a larger fat tire is in softer/deeper snow conditions where some float is necessary. Otherwise, the price and lower rolling resistance definitely make smaller tires an attractive choice.
What about chains or cables?
Fat tires are ridiculous imop. I see all of these chumps that have bought into the fad driving around paved streets. So much needles friction. The average Joe doesnt need them. Its like…maybe 10% of fat tire owners that actually ride them on snow? For riding in snowy conditions on city streets a narrower tire works way better and with less physical exertion.
Hi Doran, thanks for reading and for the comment! There are certainly a wide range of winter conditions and possible tire choices when it comes to riding on city streets. My fat bike experience is mainly on snow covered single track (I ride a regular mountain bike in the summer). The article is geared toward people who would be using their fat bike at least partly on these types of backcountry trails but may need to use it for commuting/city riding as well. If you are able to have a bike decided solely to riding in the city in the winter, then there would be other things to consider when it comes to choosing the right bike: local weather conditions, snow removal, bike lane access, pathway access, etc. These would all likely have some bearing on tire and/or bike choice. It’s great to hear everyone’s thoughts and opinions on these subjects. Keep them coming!
re: skating rink pic and this comment: “Studs help significantly on ice like this. (Luke Marshall/RideSphere)”. Not help significantly, help in only way possible! – unstudded you’d be on your ass in a flash. Studs are only way on that trail and anywhere freeze/shaw/snow/rain happen through the winter. And studded tires ride fine on packed groomed fatbike trails. If you live in Canada or colder USA, fat bike shops should offer the option of studded when you buy the bike. Summer riding – forget it – need unstudded absolutely.
Any thoughts on running only one studded tire? Front or back? I would think the front would be the wiser choice for turning, but I have definitely had issues with spinning out and not having grip with the rear. This obviously wouldn’t be ideal, but for someone with a budget and can’t afford to buy both at once.
If you can, I would suggest going studded on both front and back tires as there are advantages to both—mainly while climbing and descending. Descending, studs on the front tire will help you slow down or stop on ice. Climbing, studs on the rear tire will help you keep traction and avoid spinning out on icy, packed terrain.