By Ryan Eisenhower
If you have ever spent time in Central Pennsylvania in the middle of winter, you know that we can experience a wide range of conditions over the course of 4-5 months – from mud to packed snow to slush then frozen solid in what seems like a never-ending cycle most years. Fat bike tires alone are great for improving traction in poor conditions but it goes without saying that they still can’t grip ice without studs.
Good friends of mine turned me on to a “DIY” screw-in tire stud kit from a company out of Merlin, Oregon called Grip Studs. They are making studs for anything from running/hiking shoes to heavy construction equipment that are designed to improve grip on ice, snow, slimy rocks, ocean vegetation or frozen pavement. Grips Studs are made with a strong Tungsten Carbide core and wide-auger threads that can be inserted into just about any tire as long as there’s enough tread to hold them.
The tires that I am currently running on my Salsa Mukluk fat bike are the Minion FBF and FBR 26×4.8, which is thankful, because even though the studs are small they still need a decent size lug for them to bite into for a secure installation. The largest of the knobs on both tires were big enough to hold each stud firmly without penetrating the carcass of the tire. For the best results, Grip Studs recommends the tire lug depth be at least 5 mm for penetration into the tread leaving 2.2 mm of prominence (from tread surface to the tip of the stud). They also recommend using anywhere from 100 to 150 studs per tire. The Minions held slightly less than that due to the number of lugs available to correctly seat them. Even with 90-95 studs per tire, I still noticed a huge improvement in traction not only on ice-covered back roads and frozen bodies of water, but on the sneaky log laying on the trail at a 45-degree angle hidden under a layer of fresh snow waiting to wash your front end out.
I used the cordless drill method to install the studs. It’s a one hand operation since the stud is notched and pretty much snaps onto the tool. It saved a bunch of time and seemed a little easier to get the stud started then doing it by hand with the manual tool. If you go with this method, take it slow and make sure you don’t insert the stud too deep and rip through the tire carcass, which could cause issues with flats or leaking sealant out on the trail. Dismounting the tire from the rim may be necessary to be sure you aren’t going all the way through depending on what tire you are putting these in. However, one of the turn-ons for me was that I didn’t have to remove the tire from the rim after measuring my tread depth. I knew if I took it slow and paid attention I’d be okay, which saved me from messing with my tubeless setup and going through that process again.
The addition of the studs to a tire I already knew provided great traction in a variety of conditions extended my riding season into the frozen months when you just never know when you are going to come across that patch of shear ice under a light blanket of snow. I am recovering from an injury and just can’t stay off the bike but also can’t risk going down again. So, these studs have really helped me build the confidence to pedal around on icy mountain roads and frozen snowmobile trails, trying to keep my fitness from completely going away without fearing every turn or that sudden and unsuspected crash.
After a while I pretty much forgot I was even running them, until I hit some bare pavement along the way and was quickly reminded by the growl of studs biting in. I was surprised how well the Tungsten Carbide tip took the abuse of riding on pavement. It did round off the pointy tip a little, but I couldn’t notice a difference or lack in grip afterwards. With PSI levels typical for my weight, I could even get out of the saddle in the right gear to keep momentum on the hills without immediately breaking the rear tire loose under power. Meanwhile, the front with slightly lower levels kept a large patch of studs in contact with the ground, which helped cornering with minimal over-steering.
I haven’t noticed any of the studs backing out of the tread or needing constant adjustment. The wide-auger threads hold in the gummy rubber very well. After the first couple rides, I took the installation tool and manual handle and checked each stud to make sure they haven’t started to back out or see if I lost any completely. Impressively, I hadn’t lost any studs nor did any need tightened or re-seated. Once things have warmed up and thawed out, you can easily use the power drill to remove them and see minimum damage to your tire, pretty much like they were never there.
I am impressed with the improved traction of my existing tires. Easy installation made riding more enjoyable when things were icy and removed the worry of wiping out on slick spots I couldn’t see. These do a pretty good job of keeping you upright on your bike in the winter and are cheaper than a lot of pre-studded fatbike tires. While they look promising, only time will tell if they’ll hold up year after year, saving money and space in the garage.
Power Installation/Removal Tool: #4000
Manual Driver Handle: #5000
Price: Pack of 150 studs w/install tool and manual handle: $159