Almost time to resurrect this thread - ice will be here soon
Just written a little account of my experiences with the Marathon Winters for my club mag, thought that I would bung it up here too in case it's of help to anyone....
Another winter of discontent? Product review: Schwable Marathon Winter tyres.
“Ice” - a word to strike fear into the hearts of even the most intrepid cyclist. Falling on ice is unlike falling on any other surface - often one does not know it is there until one hits the ground. Unlike sliding on a damp road where there is a chance of regaining control, and where, if going down, the road is often hit at an angle, on ice the bike flies out from under the rider and dumps them straight down. Over the years our club runs have seen their share of crashes on ice, and so it is unsurprising that some of us think about hanging up our wheels during the worst of winter, especially with winters like the last. I was one of those on the verge of giving up winter cycling: although I hadn’t fallen on ice for years, the ever present threat of hitting black ice unawares was ruining the enjoyment of my riding.
But before letting all of my hard-won summer fitness turn back to fat I decided to try a set of Schwable Marathon Winter tyres. These tyres have an MTB-like knobbly tread on them, and inserted into the knobbles is an array of small metal studs. The tyres are designed to work in two ways: on loose snow the knobbly tread increases grip, and on proper ice the studs dig in and keep the bike upright.
Like some of the other tyres in the Marathon range, fitting takes a little effort but with good technique anyone should be able to manage it (see the CTC internet forum for a guide). Before using them in anger the instructions suggest a gentle ride of around 20km on dry, ice and snow-free roads to bed them in - which I did. Then I awaited the onset of the cold weather. My first trip was to the local park to seek out my favourite sheet of ice. Not being the bravest of riders I got off before the ice and pushed the bike onto it to see how it gripped. The bike promptly slid. Not good. It occurred to me that adding weight would increase the chances of the studs gripping, so I got on the bike and tentatively pedalled out into the ice. From that moment my winter riding has been transformed. Although I still respect ice, I no longer fear it to the extent that it would stop me riding. I happily rode through the worst of last winter, doing all-day rides when the roads were covered with thick sheets of ice and there was rarely another soul to be seen.
Of course, they do not make riding the same as riding on a nice dry summer road - one still has to be careful and try to avoid heavy braking and aggressive turns. But even when one does unstick the tyres it is not like a normal slide on ice - the bike does not fly out from under the rider, rather they give a chance to regain control. And in loose snow they are not quite as good as the mud tyres on my MTB because the tread does not shed as well, but they are still far superior to normal road tyres here too.
There is still one condition that I avoid using these tyres in: slush during the thaw. When the slush is thick enough to hold the studs above the ice, but watery enough to cause slides, they struggle more. Again, they are better than normal road tyres, and they allow one a chance of regaining control (despite a few interesting moments I’ve not yet hit the deck), but it can get unnerving. But, I avoid riding in slush anyway, as even if one stays upright one still gets plastered in the horrible stuff by passing cars.
These tyres are, of course, heavy and have knobbly treads, so they are defiantly not fast. This, I don’t see as a shortcoming - if it is icy no one rides fast anyway, and better to arrive eventually at one’s destination than quickly at A&E. On normal dry roads the handling is much like a normal MTB tyre - they are fine as long as one does not go into full road-race mode.
A problem that some might face is that of clearances. With their studs and knobbly tread these tyres are fat. Although available in 700c, it’s doubtful if they will fit many fast road bikes, and tourers may need to remove mudguards. The 26 inch version in MTBs should be fine. I use mine on a Dawes One-Down (26 inch wheel expedition bike like the Sardar) and they fit fine with the mudguards still in place.
Availability and cost may be further problems: all the British shops sold out in the run up to the previous two winters so I sourced mine from a shop in Germany via the internet. They cost around £55 for the pair then (I believe that they have since gone up). This might sound quite a lot for a pair of tyres, but I view it as a cheap price for being able to ride all through the winter without ending up in A&E. I’ve had them two years now and the tread has not worn noticeably, neither have any of the studs fallen out. All in all, I’d say that these are one of the best cycling investments that I’ve made for a long time.