SCHWALBE WINTER TYRES

Long Term Test 3 years 978g 26x1.75 £34.99 each

The Schwalbe Winter tyres are the budget versions of the Marathon Winter, with half the number of spikes. However, they’re far from being the poor relation and in my view, a better bet for riders in countries where the snowfall, is less aggressive and long-lived. 

Materials/Specification 

The Schwalbe Winter tyres boast 118 tungsten carbide spikes, which are by the way replaceable, which is good news, since ours have started to show some, modest amount of wear, these past three years.  It’s worth mentioning that these should be run in gently for 40km (25 miles) on hard asphalt, avoiding harsh acceleration, or braking. Failing to do so, runs the risk of them not seating properly and ultimately falling out. Replacement kits are available, should yours shed a few. I’m pleased to report ours haven’t gone AWOL. 

The casings themselves are 50tpi and feature a deep angular tread pattern. This is designed to scoop snow, keeping it out of the way, while the spikes bite deep into the ice beneath, providing traction. Provided you didn’t mind some additional drag, the spikes work perfectly well in their own right. During some grottier spells, I’ve been happy to leave the winter in situ between December and March. 

Ours were the 26x1.75, since my Univega serves year round, no matter how dodgy the weather gets. However, they are also available in folder/trailer friendly 16 and 18 inch variants as well as 28inch and 700x35c. The latter has proved too much of a mouthful for my cross inspired winter/trainer’s rear triangle and some tourers/hybrids.

I’d still measure carefully but they shouldn’t create any hassles with disc braked expedition types, gravel and cross builds. Since we’re on the subject, kitchen sink tourists will be pleased to note they have a maximum play load of 75 kilos (150 pair) and pressures ranging from 55-85psi. 

Detailing

Hubs and the preferred choice for most dynamo enthusiasts these days but there’s dynamo ribbing along the sidewalls, which also feature retro-reflective piping for improved presence. 

Puncture Resistance

Being a budget model, the Winter’s puncture repelling K-guard (Kevlar) belt only covers the centre tread, not the sidewalls. Some people puncture more often than others. However, I’ve not succumbed to a flat in around 2,000miles. In fact, the casings remain largely unblemished despite regularly cutting through bridle path and forest trails, heavily populated by thorns.

 

By the same token, glass, holes and other rubber wrecking nasties are harder to spot on winter roads, let alone when they’re carpeted in snow - even using bargain basement butyl and hauling thirty kilos of kit, I’m yet to flat. Deep treads can be blessing and curse, clogging with muddy, silty stuff. The winter do for a time but after a point seem quite good at shedding embedded grot, particularly after a mixed terrain blast.  

Ride quality

The Winter do require a bit more effort to bring them up to speed, compared with a similar section semi slick and I’ve tended to drop a cog or two lower than usual. 

However, maintaining a steady 18mph isn’t overly taxing either. 

Less so in fact than their heavier Marathon GT 365 cousins. In common with the 365, there’s a fair bit of road noise, which can be a little annoying to start with but is only really apparent on asphalt. Frankly, I find the gravelly patter of spikes rather reassuring, especially along untreated roads.

The Winter also deliver an unexpectedly plush ride across unmade/pockmarked roads, even run at their (70psi maximum) carpeted in churned and frozen slush. That said; their relative heft left me feeling wearier than I would running slicks over comparable 20mile commutes, but horses for courses spring to mind. 

Handling

The Winter are extremely sure footed, whatever I’ve chucked at them, with none of the disconcerting squirm you get with a cross or mtb knobbly. I’ve never felt the need to drop pressures below 50 psi but 55-65 seems to strike the best balance between grip, rolling resistance and comfort. Common sense is still required when crossing wet manhole covers, cattle grids and similar raised ironworks but even when I’ve been really tired, or provocatively caviller, they give fair warning before anything passing for a slide strikes. Unfortunately, and this goes for any tyre, are useless in the face of spilt derv-hit that and down you’ll go.

Snow and Ice is their primary purpose.

On some levels, the fact I’ve been able to hustle along in complete confidence through picturesque though dicey conditions and averaging 17mph, should pretty much say it all. Getting them up to these speeds is much less taxing in snow and ice but demands a smooth pedalling style, particularly when pulling away. 

I’ve forgotten myself a few times and let rip … resulting in a pregnant pause before the carbide spikes did their thing. Roundabouts being the main offenders but we’re not talking spill city, or soiled shorts county.

Measured restraint and I’ve been able to cruise through several inches and impacted ice with no problems, or obvious loss of traction. No problems cornering at this pace either, even along some S-bends, although 20mph has been as provocative as I’d dare, when tackling sheet and black ice. 

The spike’s pattern ensures reasonable scope for forest fun too, provided you’re happy with a modest 12-15mph but there’s something very rewarding about riding through ice, snow and slush and being able to relax. If you are looking toward anything more spirited, I’d suggest shelling out for the 240. 

Durability

 

As I intimated earlier, the Winter are holding up really well, with nominal wear, or signs of perishing around the sidewalls. On salty rides, the spikes will turn rusty pretty quickly but liker cleats, this is quickly dismissed during the next dry outing. Ours still deliver the goods but after three thousand miles, season specific use, are now beginning to show obvious signs of wear, especially the rear.

Given the tyres are still in their prime, I’d be inclined to shell out £12 or so for a replacement kit (We’ve seen 100 spikes and fitting tool for £14 online). Those living in seriously remote areas, or wanting more grip off road could also upgrade performance by adding to the existing pattern.

 

Conclusion

The winter do add a fair bit of weight and sap rider reserves quicker, say if you’re tackling a lot of clear, tarmacked road in between stretches of sheltered lanes with black ice. Some riders will also suggest the UK’s weather isn’t harsh, long enough to merit their investment and I can see their point.

However, though they’re not fool proof, the Winter inspire confidence and have really delivered on their design brief. They also work out very cheaply, compared with component, or rider injury - especially if you’re self-employed and we’ve seen them for as little as £20 (each) online.    

Verdict: 4/5 Niche, but extremely dependable and affordable rubber for tackling ice and moderate snow.

Michael Stenning

www.schwalbe.co.uk

PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2017

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