Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Long Term Test: Schwalbe Marathon Winter tyre

Length of test period so far: not long (since January 22nd 2014)
Product obtained from: Product obtained by: personal purchase through "regular" sources
Price paid: approx. £60 Pounds for a pair (c. $96 US, 72 Euros)
Second Gear rating (marks out of 10): too early to say
Fitted one of these to the front of Mermaid on 22nd January 2014.
The Schwalbe Marathon Winter is available in a variety of sizes and widths, and tyres are available in 406, 507, 559 (two widths available) and 622 (three widths available).
As I am riding Mermaid at the present, I purchased a pair of 35-622 tyres.
I've had a couple of days with a Marathon Winter up front, and ...
I know what other writers mean when they say it is like riding on popcorn!
I would describe the sound as similar to riding on tarmac (asphalt) that has some small bits of loose grit on it.
When you are on your own, it seems quite loud, but when you go anywhere a road with motor vehicles, it is obvious that the noise is less than that from a car (automobile) passing at 30 mph (50 kph) - so not that loud really.
The surface you cycle on affects the noise too - concrete is quiter than tarmac (asphalt).
On the first day, I thought that the Winters didn't really slow me down.
But yesterday, I thought perhaps they did - but then again, the bike rolled downhill rather well on a slight incline, so it might have just been my perception, or a slight headwind.
You're supposed to do 25 "gentle" miles on the Winter before using them "seriously" - reckon I'm there for the front (the back tyre is a likely fitment this weekend).
As for ice/snow performance - the coldest I have cycled in with them is 6 Celsius - we're not even getting much of a frost at night here, let alone ice and snow!

Update 28th January 2014:
Now, 6 days and about 120km later, I find I have lost two studs already.
two studs fell out of my tyre in the first week!
I tried really heard to follow the manufacturer's recommendations, and did my 25 "gentle" miles (40 km) on a hard surface, in this case tarmac (asphalt).
I've subsequently been on mud, for only for a few metres at a time.
No ice or snow yet as it has been too warm here for me to find any!

Update 3rd February 2014:
I counted the studs today, and there is no change - still just the two missing.
I was thinking about the sound they make on tarmac (asphalt), and I decided that it is most like the "Snap, Crackle and Pop" from the old Rice Crispies advert.
Update 16th February 2014:
No change in the stud count - still just the two missing. Schwalbe say on their website that the studs have to "bed in" a bit, so I guess they have.
As it is already mid-February, I'm not going to bother to replace the missing two studs this winter, but I intend to next winter to give me a "full" set again.
I think the start of the "winter season" is probably the most logical time to "top up" the studs. Indeed, Schwalbe even sell a packet of replacement studs.
I know that folks will be very interested to hear how they handle on various types of "winter" surface, such as snow, ice etc. ... BUT ... all we have had here is rain, rain, rain, with some high winds mixed in.
So I'm still riding on tarmac (asphalt) with the occasional bit of concrete mixed in.

Folks say to me that the studded tyre must slow me down (I'm still running just the one on the front at the moment - the other one is in our garage with it's labels still attached!), but I haven't really noticed it.
The most rational explanation is that I bought the 35-622 size of tyre, which is the only one rated at 85psi (6 bar), while all the other models are rated at 70 psi (5 bar). The tyre I was running before was a "cheapy" 40-622 rated at just 50 psi (3.5 bar). So that jump up from 50psi to 85psi is going to make it quite a bit easier to cycle, and the narrower tyre is going to help a bit, too.
I suggest to you that what has happened is that the loss caused by running the studded tyres has been pretty much balanced out by the higher tyre pressure and the narrower tyre.
That certainly seems to me like the most likely explanation for my experience being so very different from other users of studded tyres.

So have I discovered some sort of "Holy Grail" tyre?
All the benefits of studs, without the disadvantages of it being harder to cycle?
Sadly not.
First of all, the ride quality has suffered. At 85 psi, the ride with the Marathon Winter is rather harsh - reminiscent of the skinny tyres pumped up very hard that I had on a bike in my teenage years. The hard tyre, assisted by the metal studs, also has a habit of "tracking" on pavement textures - parallel ridges in the direction of travel (a feature used to mark the start and end of cycle paths in the UK) are a good example. The tyre sometimes seems to "lock" onto the slots in the pattern MUCH more than a regular, lower pressure, unstudded, tyre would.
Secondly, when the snow actually falls, the Marathon Winter is designed to have its pressure lowered to just 35psi (2.5 bar), when the centre of the tyre kind of collapses, and the outer studs come more into play. Grip in snow is magnified substantially (apparently - as yet I have no snow to test in!). But rolling resistance shoots up (as you would expect from switching from a tyre at 85 psi to 35 psi). I'm going to get strong legs in the snow!

Update 21st March 2014:I fitted the second Marathon winter to Mermaid on the 9th of March.
Schwalbe recommend doing so "easy" miles first to settle in the studs, so I did a 32 mile trip, including a Category 3 hill climb :-)
All the studs stayed in! 
With both tyres being studded, the noise is a bit more than just running the front one, but at least folks can hear me coming :-)

After running both studded tyres for a week,  did a stud count, and found that I had lost another 1 at the front, and two at the back.
I did another stud count a few days ago, and I have lost another two at the back - one of which appears to have ripped out (the side of the mounting hole is damaged - the previous stud losses just resulted in empty holes). So that is three down at the front, and four at the back.

The tracking I mentioned on road features is much more marked with both tyres being studded as well - i think the stud got ripped out when I bounced off a "divider" in the cycle path that was no more than 5mm or so proud of the surface - indeed, I have had a couple of off-balance "moments" bouncing off road features with both studded tyres where the road features are approached at a very shallow angle.

The ride is very harsh too (the tyres were at 85 psi - 6 bar), and although they run pretty well on a smooth road surface, I had to keep my speed down to 15mph or so on a rough bit of major road (the A416 between Chesham and Berkamstead) to keep my filling in my teeth (or so it seemed!)

Out on another rough ride today, I decided it was time to try the tyres a bit softer - so I let them down to 50 psi (about 3.5 Bar) - handy that I have a pressure guage on the mini-pump I take with me :-)
The softer tyres immediately resulted in an improvement in the ride quality. No doubt it made it a bit harder to pedal, but as the rain was just coming on (followed by a bit of hail - ouch!), I had other things on my mind!
Anyway, 50 psi (3.5 bar) seems a lot more comfortable to ride on, and I have never been much of a speed fanatic, so I'll be running the Marathon Winters at this lower pressure from now on.

Oh, and one last thing.
I conducted a few roll tests, with me on Mermaid with the Marathon Winter tyres at 85 psi, and my wife on her (similar) bike with Marathon Plus tyres at 70 psi.
She consistently just rolled away from me - not by much, though. Maybe an extra 1 mph.
Anyway, I hope that helps to quantify the VERY small extra effort that the tyres at 85psi are to pedal - indeed, far away the most noticeable things are the "tracking" on raised road features (once I even "bounced" off a very heavily painted white line!) and the much poorer ride.
Update 21st March 2014:  
I took Mermaid for a 91 km (56.8 mile) ride yesterday. 
I ran the Marathon Winter tyres at about 55 psi (almost 4 bar).
I noticed the difference with the tyres at a lower pressure (than the 85 psi - 6 bar I used before) on the "down-up" bits the most.
On a slow climb, hey, slow is slow.
But on those "down then up" undulations, it is nice to build up speed on the down, so the first half of the up is really just momentum - with the "Winters", the speed doesn't build up as quickly, leaving me more pedalling to do!
On the other hand, the ride was much more comfortable than the "Winters" at 85psi (6 bar) - I did 91km after all :-)

Update 22nd Feb 2015:

In the end I rode the Marathon winter tyres until June (!)
My overall conclusion, after testing them at various pressures, and doing "roll" testing compared with my wife's bike with Marathon Plus tyres is:

Marathon Winter tyres ARE a bit harder to pedal than "normal" tyres (the M Plus and M Winter are only 20g different in weight - not much with a 920g tyre!), but not much.

My attempts to quantify the difference lead me to conclude that the studs are worth about 1 bar of pressure - so 5 Bar tyre pressure M Plus and 6 Bar tyre pressure M Winter will roll similarly.
Mind you, 6 Bar M Winters have a HARSH ride, and are pretty prone to "tracking" on road features.

When one is comparing "normal" use, the ride on M Plus at 5 bar is good, and the ride on M Winter at 4 bar or less is also good.

So, when changing to M Winter (4 bar) from M Plus (5 bar), the difference feels like the 1 bar of pressure difference PLUS another 1 bar for the studs!

Given that I run my tyres (622) at 6 bar, then the drop to 4 bar Winters feels like a 3 bar difference (2 bar in pressure, plus one for the studs)

If you run "racing tyres" at 10 bar plus, the difference is going to be even more exaggerated - but most of what you are feeling is just the drop in tyre pressure, not the studs ...
Of course, if you have a lightweight bike with lightweight tyres, you are going to notice the extra HALF-A-KILO in weight (PER TYRE), especially on the climbs!

So, why do I keep the tyres on long after the ice risk has passed?
Well, they make excellent "resistant training" tyres!
When I switched back to normal tyres last Summer, I seemed to shoot along, and, indeed, did my first ever Imperial Century. I'm sure all those "hard" miles training on snow tyres helped!

Snow tyres in the Chilterns

Bit icy up in the Chilterns
- this is what snow tyres are made for!


This is a stud from a Marathon Winter tyre

I think my tyres are wearing out.
I took them off the bike in the late Spring of 2014, and the rear tyre was starting to show signs of the studs coming through ...
... so I lobbed some patches on, hoping that would do the trick.
Nope - a puncture today that looks like it was caused by a stud breaking through.
Front ture looks fine, but the back ...

tyre damage on the rear tyre
-looks like the studs are starting to break through

Another view of the stud damage

Trying to get some more runner between the studs and my inner tube!

Only one stud seem to have been "torn" out,
damaging its hole in the process.

Most of the missing studs are from
one area of the tyre

The cut in the tube lines up pretty well with where the studs are trying to come through
(the white stuff is from a can of tyre repair spray)

One stud coming through next to one of my patches, and the other seems to have chewed through a patch! This is the inside of the tyre you are looking at.

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