Racing in snow and ice is very rare in the UK, with the Strathpuffer 24 Hour one of the few events where those conditions are a distinct possibility. However, increased snowfall over the last few years has seen a few winter XC races hit by wintery conditions and the opening round of the 2013 National XC series at Sherwood Forest was hit with snow in March. In the age old tradition of the ‘what tyre’ thread, I thought I’d take advantage of the snowy conditions at the recent Strathpuffer to look at tyre options; in particular Schwalbe’s Ice Spiker Pro 29.
Out of the box, I’m not sure if I’ve got a tyre or a martial arts weapon with 402 tungsten-carbide studs staring out at me from some deep hexagonal snow friendly rubber knobbles and a wide looking 2.25” carcass. It certainly looks substantial, even though the sidewalls are Lite Skin there seems to be plenty of rubber although fellow users have experienced pressure loss initially when trying to set up tubeless. Schwalbe have tried to keep the weight down compared to other ice tyres and they have saved 280 grams over their own wire beaded ‘Performance’ model which sports steel studs, however the ‘Pros’ are still 890 grams, hefty compared typical race tyres.
Schwalbe recommend running the Ice Spikers in with 40km of road riding prior to taking off road. This is to fully embed the studs into the rubber knobs and users have reported substantial stud loss when this procedure is not followed. I had limited time before use so didn’t clock the recommended forty asphalt kilometres but was pleased to only lose five studs over 12 hours of riding. For long term use it would make sense to follow the recommendation and spare studs are available for those of us who either didn’t have time or didn’t read the manual.
[caption id="attachment_9092" align="alignnone" width="660"] Tyre or weapon - either with 402 Tungsten-Carbide studs![/caption]
First time in action the Ice Spikers feel very different to conventional hoops. They feel draggy on most surfaces and the sound of studs scraping on surfaces where snow or ice is not present is quite unnerving. Schwalbe claim that grip on asphalt is actually pretty good as the stubs ‘claw’ strongly into the surface but I didn’t muster the confidence to really lay them down on the road. Once you hit the white stuff, unsurprisingly the tyres really start to shine. The noise changes from scrapping metal to snow-muffled bite and that bite is sure-footed enough for the confidence to really build.
Settling into the race rhythm…
The Strathpuffer course delivered an ever changing mix of ice, snow, mud and rocks so it was interesting to see how the Ice Spikers performed on each surface. Snow is a very tricky challenge and very few tyres offer consistent levels of grip but the deep hexagonal knobbles did an admirable job helped by the wide carcass which prevented the wheel sinking too deeply. Deep snow was beyond their abilities and alternative lines into loose deep snow at the edge of the track to overtake slower riders saw some out of control moments. To be fair, I’ve not used a tyre that would have given anything more in those circumstances so I’d rate the Ice Spikers as a great option in snow.
On ice the tyres are quite frankly remarkable, although this revelation is partly due to my own pre-existing fear of ice, having suffered many ‘chutes’ on both road and mountain bike during the winter months. They simply work; once I’d relaxed and overcome my preconceptions I was able to get the most of the tyres, picking direct lines across smooth, rutted and cambered icy sections and cornering with confidence.
Probably the trickiest decision to make when using these tyres is when to swap them out for something less extreme as course conditions change. As the snow and ice thawed at Strathpuffer there was a definite advantage in switching to a lighter tyre without the drag of the studs. The Ice Spikers actually performed well in the mud that resulted from the thawing snow, although in these conditions other tyre options offered equal or better levels of grip alongside considerably lower rotating weight. A thawing course also resulted in more exposed rock and this is a surface on which these tyres do not excel. The horrific sound of stud scraping on stone combined with very unpredictable grip led me to switch tyres once a substantial proportion of the course was snow and ice free.
[caption id="attachment_10238" align="alignnone" width="660"] The open profile cleared snow and mud well[/caption]
The last lap…
I’m being very unfair rating these tyres in terms of their mud and rock riding abilities as they are simply not designed for those conditions, but I’ve included in this review as these mixed conditions are likely to be a consideration in any UK races in which these would be used. Overall the Ice Spikers offer better than expected capabilities in the mixed conditions described above and truly exceptional performance in the conditions for which they were designed, providing confidence inspiring sure-footed grip.
Overall, fantastic performance in the snow and ice but drag and rolling resistance mean you need to pay attention to track conditions when using in the UK. Cost is also an issue with a full retail price of nearly £85 per tyre and currently the best UK discounted price is still in the £70 bracket. Ice Spiker Pros are expensive but if you are looking for the fastest tyre available to handle snow affected UK events or fancy racing the new Snow Epic MTB stage race in Switzerland this is the rubber for you. These could also be considered a good investment for your looks as they are substantially cheaper than a new set of teeth if you were to lose yours crashing on the ice.
Weight: Approx. 890g
Price: RRP £84.99
Tester: Craig Bowles
Team: Bike Motion Racing
Test race: Strathpuffer 2015
More info: http://www.schwalbe.com/en/spike-reader/ice-spiker-pro.html