Last year, I made my own studded bicycle tires to keep me rolling through the snow and ice. I laughed the first time I had them on, doing figure eights atop a sheet of ice in the ally behind the Orpheum. I remember really ripping through turns on the way home, testing my luck, actually trying to slip. Though the Wine Loft fostered this sense of confidence more than the quality of my own arts and crafts, I was duly impressed.
Like riding with a trailer for the first time, studded tires clearly opened new doors. While a trailer obviously allows cyclists to do more, the studded tires mean more days on the saddle. All winter long, people asked me about the tires.
Sure, many of the fine bicycle establishments in town sell studded bicycle tires of all shapes and varieties. I know Revolution Bicycles can’t even keep them in stock. And for those cyclists who can afford the $60 (and up) per tire, those not turned on by creating their own solutions, and particularly those not attracted to arts and crafts, maybe buying these tires is a damn good option.
It is safe to assume, however, that folks who are crazy enough to want to ride their bike in the snow and ice throughout the winter probably ride their bike a lot already. And if that’s the case, there is a good chance that they have some old or spare tires and punctured tubes laying around somewhere at home. If truth follows my logic, there are a lot of folks out there who can make their own studded tires for under 10 bucks.
Here is what you’ll need.
1. Two old tubes, two old tires (it’s okay if they have punctures).
2. One new tube
3. Two boxes of 3/8” to 1/4” inch sheet metal screws
4. Industrial grade silicone epoxy
5. A attitude somewhere between Martha Stewart, MacGyver, and Penny Rimbaud
On the outside of each tire, mark each rubber tread knob you wish to be studded. This is really just to make sure you have enough screws to do the kind of job you want. Remember that you really just need the studs there when you’re breaking and turning, so don’t over do it. I used 100 screws for each tire and spread them out along the outer parts of the tire.
From the inside, drill sheet metal screws into each tread knob you marked. By pinching with your thumb and index finger on the outside and inside of the tire, you can ensure you’re drilling in the right place. If you don’t screw directly into your mark, it’s not a big deal. (Why sheet metal screws? Last year, I used sheet metal screws on one tire and wood screws on the other. The woodscrews rusted and wore down far quicker than the sheet metal ones. Some will recommend concrete screws, though strong, they are too heavy, too expensive, and often too big).
As you are doing this, make sure that the screws don’t stick out too much. This means that you will not necessarily screw them in all the way from the inside. Depending on the kind of clearance you have, this is simply to avoid the screws scraping up the inside of your frame when you put the wheel back on.
After you have all your screws in the way you want them, take your epoxy and dot the heads of each screw. And feel free to coat around the threaded part of the screw if they are not screwed in all the way.
Before the epoxy dries completely, take an old tube and slice it open, long ways, all the way around. Line the inside of your tire with the old tube. The tube will be unnecessarily wide for this job, so feel free to trim it a bit. You can also use more of the epoxy to get the tube to stick to the inside of your tire. This “liner” tube is to provide another layer of protection against the possibility of a screw head puncturing your new tube.
Insert a new tube and slap the tire on your wheel. This might require gloves, as you will not be used to doing this with sharp screws poking your hands. If you find that the screws are nicking the inside of your frame, you can simply file them down with a heavy duty file.
If you can perform this modification with an extra set of wheels, it will be much easier for you to simply swap wheels rather than change the tire every time the weather gets bad. You can ride with these wheels on all season, but just know that when the pavement is dry, studded tires will slow you down significantly.
Doing things like making your own studded snow tires helps to foster a mindset whereby cyclists question the weather less and question themselves more. Slowly but surely winter cyclists will stop looking at the sky and wondering if today it might be a better idea to ride the bus or drive. Instead the real question becomes, what can I do to stay on the bike?