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