Studded Nate (Grip Studs)

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A single ride across Anchorage in winter encompasses a greater variety of surface conditions than an entire summer or riding between Holland and Ukraine.  Riding conditions change over time with the weather and with the impact of other road and trail users.  Conditions also change across town, from road, to sidewalk, to trail.  Sidewalks are a necessary part of winter commuting routes in Anchorage.  

Five days after a fresh snowfall with stable freezing temperatures, trails are firm, sidewalks are cleared but feature a light crust of snow, and roads are icy.  Two days after snow, trails are criss-crossed with tracks and mostly soft-packed, sidewalks are covered in layers of road slop with the texture of brown sugar, and roads are smeared with layers of snow over sheer ice.  The day of a fresh snowfall, everything is blanketed in snow.  This pattern repeats itself throughout the winter.  Often, a layer of fresh snow makes much of the urban riding more predictable.  In a way, it is easier.  

In a final twist, the month of January often brings Chinook patterns– warm, wet wind from the sea, further influenced by adiabatic heating as air descends over mountains.  Light rain and 33°F today, leads to an even glaze of ice tomorrow.  Yes, it is raining in Anchorage, with above-freezing temperatures are expected all week.

From past experiences as a daily commuter in Anchorage, I’ve learned that the right tool for reliable transport in such diverse conditions with regular snowfall is a big, aggressive tire.  The first time I replaced a worn Surly Endomorph tire with a Nate, my eyes were wide.  Still, I rode an entire season without studs on that bike.  I promised myself that next time I ride though an Anchorage winter, I’ll have fat tires and studs.  

45NRTH does manufacture a studded fat tire, called the Dillinger, but the tire is currently out of stock from distributors (there may be some online, or in shops elsewhere).  While made to a very high quality, the Dillinger is expensive (about $225), and features a less aggressive tread pattern than the Nate.  The two most difficult conditions on the streets of Anchorage are deep, greasy reconstituted road snow (the brown stuff below, often called brown sugar, which is always plowed onto sidewalks), and ice-glazed streets.  Adding studs to an existing Surly Nate tire offers the best solution.  

Grip-Studs are a tungsten carbide stud with an auger-like base, designed in many sizes as an aftermarket solution for footwear, bicycles, motorcycles, and cars and trucks.  I picked up one package of Grip-Studs (#GST-1000) at The Bicycle Shop, along with a manual installation tool (#4000M), and set out to experiment with the installation procedure and stud patterns on the Nate.  The result, just in time for glazed roadways, is a studded Nate.

Below: Four inches of fresh white snow makes for predictable riding, as fat tires dig into the hardpack beneath.  The reconstituted high-density brown snow is plowed from the roadways; fat tires ride high on this concoction, smearing across the top.  The streets are glazed with ice from the passing of thousands of cars daily.  This road is divided by a median, and cars travel at 35-45mph.  Like most roads in Anchorage, it loses a lane or two in the winter.  Riding here in the winter is interesting, to say the least.  A cyclist was recently killed only a few blocks away, and the local TV station solicited me for some comments about commuting in Anchorage.  

For more insight into winter commuting in Anchorage, check out Lael’s story Sidewalk Singletrack, describing her experience riding through record snowfall in the winter of 2011-2012.

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Nate is a heavy-hitter even without studs.  I’m glad to see this tire on stock fatbikes from Surly and Salsa.  When conditions are tough, either in the city or in the backcountry, it helps.  Still having trouble?  Bud and Lou might be your new friends.

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A package of 100 Grip Studs is much lighter than expected.  In a reversal of my usual grams to dollars ratio, these are more than a dollar per gram.  Still, even at 100 studs per wheel, this is a cheaper solution than buying a new set of 45NRTH Dillingers, even if they were available.  The Dillingers might be a better choice if you lose sleep over rolling resistance, or plan to jump into a few fatbike races and don’t plan to swap tires.  Dillingers and light and fast.  Nates are chunky, for sure

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The 6mm tall knobs on the Nate are enough to fully engage the threaded base of the Grip Stud, without penetrating the casing and puncturing the tube.  The siping on the knobs doesn’t seem to affect installation.

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Even pressure, and about two to three full turns is enough to install the stud.  A little drop of water on the knob helps lubricate the threads, reducing friction and twisting.

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Thus far, the front tire has about 76 studs.  I intend another round of studs up front, and a full complement in the rear.   

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Update: Temperatures have risen above freezing for several consecutive days, and dropped below freezing at night, resulting in a city-wide ice rink.  Studded tires are necessary, while fat tires still have a place on deteriorating snow-covered trails and sidewalks.  Lael reports that Grip Studs– finally– have made her fatbike a reliable everyday winter commuter.

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13 thoughts on “Studded Nate (Grip Studs)

  1. Hi Nic. I, and many others, use little hex head sheet metal screws as studs on wading boots for fly fishing. You can even get them in hardened steel and they really grip slick stream bottoms. If I needed studded tires, which i don’t here in Maryland, I’d try using them. Just a thought.

    • Thanks Chris, Sheet metal screws have been a favorite of winter commuters here for decades. I’ve handled more than a few inexpensive 26″ wheels with a load of steel screws set into the larger lugs. As you can imagine, 50 or 100 full sized screws add a chunk of weight to the rotational weight of the wheel. Some riders install the screws from the outside, as you describe, although many others screw them from the inside, and cover the inside of the tire with duct tape or a similar liner. I may spend some time in a hardware store soon exploring some of the available hardware options. Some riders have reported using set screws for a similar effect. They would be cheaper, I’d think, and lighter than sheet metal screws, assuming they would remain in the tire. Grip studs are lighter (tungsten carbide), while dedicated studs in properly molded tires are the lightest (aluminum carbide).

      Grip Studs offered a clean, lightweight solution, and with carbide tips, if removed before extensive time on dry pavement, they should be reusable for several years to come. They are expensive, but so are studded fatbike tires ($225). For anyone on 26″, 650b, or 700c wheels, off-the-shelf studded tires are probably a much better option, as tires are available for less than $100/tire. These tires can usually be used for several seasons.

      Weather is more like Maryland this week. Raining and 43 degrees right now.

  2. Thanks for a report on the “dirty” side of snowbiking. It’s nice to have a realitycheck on the unromantic side of winter biking, as most reports just highlight the good. Commuting doesn’t always happen on bucolic trails in the woods.

    As for studded tires, I actually do own acouple, but haven’t had to mount them in a few years.

    • Shawn, You should see this place. Midtown Anchorage, in midwinter, is a shitshow! I’ll do my best to share more of it. Some commuting can/does happen on bucolic snowy trails in the woods, but some of it occurs on bullshit mooncrust Burger King front lawn singletrack connector between icy parking lots and three lanes of 45mph traffic. And then, someone always takes the time to roll down their window and yell, “Get on the f-ing sidewalk, _______!”

  3. After talking with you and Lael I’d been holding out, waiting to see if you’d come through with a workable way to re-purpose studs from car tires.
    Time to order myself some grip studs.

    Nate’s are too nice a tire to be punching holes in with sheet metal screws.

    • Nate, I’m still on the hunt for alternative, low-cost solutions. However, Grip Studs are a very nice solution: they are light, durable, and install really securely.

      Should be good for a few seasons.

  4. I’d looked at the grip studs before but concluded that they were too expensive. But that’s because I don’t have a fatbike. In this application, they seem to make sense.

    Winter commuting conditions in Anchorage looks pretty similar to those here in Edmonton.

    • Yes, in other tire sizes, they are many choices of studded tires, in many dimensions, available for much less money.

      Weather has been unusual in Anchorage. Very little snow recently, and mild temperatures. In fact, it has been raining for the last two days, making an icy mess of the city.

  5. As a year round bike commuter in Anchorage and my second year on fattie, I agree that studs would be nice to have. That said, though, I don’t know that I would say necessary. I’ve ridden some pretty hairy, pretty slick stuff without studs with the fatties on really low pressure, including the day back in early November when bus service was canceled, the university shut down, and the city pretty much come to a stop due to the freezing rain. It was slow going, but doable without walking the bike.

    I keep trying to convince myself that a set of Dillingers or some grip studs are cheaper in the long run than a trip to the hospital, but then I end up riding through something I never thought I could and put it out of my mind again. I did use studs on my skinny mtb for the first two years I commuted and they were a life-saver, but the wider rubber, to my mind and in my experience, does give a bit more grip even in icy conditions – stopping is a bit of a challenge though…

    Man, I just want it to snow and get cold again and stay that way until April. Viva la phattie!

    • Hey Phil,

      Fat tires are a blessing for winter riders like us, for sure. And when our normal winter weather resumes next week, we’ll forget about the ice and studded tires for a while (for another month or two, at least). But even when there is snow on the ground, I would often be happy to have a few metal studs on my side for those icy crosswalks and sidewalks. In fact, there is little penalty of weight to the Grip Studs or proper studs such as on the Dillinger, and the studs won’t wear at all when the world is covered with snow.

      Now, it isn’t that we don’t want studs, but the initial investment cost (and lack of availability, partly) that holds us back. Lael now has a full set of studs on her Mukluk and loves it. I’ll probably put some 29″ studded tires on the ECR (50mm wide rims) and keep my Muk the way it is. For the past few days, I’ve been riding an old Shogun Prairie Breaker with Kenda Klondikes. It isn’t the best solution, but the one I trust most right now to get around the ice rink across the city.

  6. Wow those roads are literally icerinks! The roads would get icy in chicago, but never the whole street! I self studded some old continental 26″ tires once. I just used regular wood screws, and it seemed to works pretty well. Riding on the roads made quite the ruckus though, we ended up dubbing that bike the “War Elephant”

  7. to those who say you don’t need studs on the ice or slop….wait until that first fall – though it may be a while yet until you do – but it will happen. When you hit ice, it’s not a teeter type fall, it’s a SLAM. That’s when you’ll be convinced that studs are a good idea. :)

    • I did the 26″ studded bike for years in the winter, 4 row Nokians, both ends. Bulletproof, an utter hoot to ride Taku Lake at first solid freeze up. Never went down. Have a set of two rows as well, they were sort of maybe OK in early season but no good later when frozen ruts toss ya around and down. I guess you might get away with 2 rows in the back and 4 rows in front if the bucks were really, really tight, the front is the critical one to control. Enter 2012 Muk 3 and two winters on Endo/Larry combo, great on snow but as observed, skittish on ice. At 63+ the bones don’t heal, forgive or forget very well. Going with the 4 inch $175 studded Dillingers, 27 tpi ones as they came down 50 bucks a tire for fall 2014. The 120 tpi 4 inchers are about $225 and there is a Dillinger 5 for the season but I don’t even want to know the price on that puppy! OK, their $250 per a presser I saw from 45nth. Don’t think they would fit the 2012 Muk3 anyhow, it is a bit tight with the Endo/Larry for chain line issues already.

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