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Ask Levi: Do I Need Dedicated Snow Tires?

Today’s question is about choosing mountain bike tires for winter riding on snow and ice…

Hey Coach,

I was reading on your website about riding and you mentioned something about riding in the winter and in the snow. Are there any type of “snow” tires that you would recommend for a 26″ MTB or should the ones on there already be sufficient?

If they are anything like car snow tires the tread compounds are usually much softer and the tread much deeper and aggressive. The aggressive tread is pretty standard on MTB tires but some more so than others but there are many different tread compounds out there so I thought there may be some tires that would behave much better than others in this area. Any recommendations would be appreciative. I live in WI so I will probably see lots of snow and ice and would like to try this out. Currently I am running a factory installed Innova something on the front and a Maxxis Crossmark on the back.

Also, any tips for not killing myself in the white stuff would be appreciated.

Thanks,
Snow White

Hi Snowman,

Most of the time, standard mountain bike tires are suitable for winter conditions. Just follow this one tip… Much like you reduce tire pressure slightly for better traction in wet conditions, you can drop pressure a little lower still for snowy conditions.

There are companies who make winter-specific tires, like Schwalbe and Nokian, but generally these are studded tires that are only required if you’ll be on ice. Good MTB tires are already similar to winter car tires (soft rubber compound, aggressive tread) and work very well in snow. The Maxxis Crossmark is one of my favorites for racing, but you may prefer something even softer, more open, and more aggressive for snow. The Panaracer Fire XC Pro is a classic choice, and WTB makes some good ones – the Moto 2.3 for instance – and then another interesting one is the Schwalbe Hans Dampf with their “TrailStar” compound for extra grip.

Basically you are looking for a tire for use in soft, loose terrain. Avoid tires designed for use on hard packed dirt.

Now, if you will be on ice a lot, studded tires are the only way to go. With snow and slush, it’s like riding through mud – tough but doable. But ice is something else entirely. Without studs, you won’t be able to control the bike or get enough rear wheel traction to propel you forward. These tires are expensive, but if you only use them in the intended conditions, they should last for years.

You can also make your own studded tires if you’re the “hands on” type.

How to stay safe? Here are a few tips:

1. Protective gear
2. Practice in a controlled environment
3. Proper tires
4. Brakes that still function in winter conditions
5. Avoid cars, cliffside trails, etc. (those are dangerous enough without the snow and ice!)

Good luck!

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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Hometown, PA