Admittedly, I’ve only had the tires mounted for just about a month. However, in those four weeks these gnarly fuckers have paid their ticket into the permanent Boredom Service Course.

Up until the end of January, we had a mild winter in #BikeDC. Lots of riding outside and the small bit of snow we received was easily handled by regular CX tires. Yet, there was a foreboding chill on the horizon—dark clouds emanating from the mountains to the west. In anticipation of an unrelenting trek through the realm of the Vortexxx I called Schwalbe and finally ordered the studded tires I said I’d order every damn year I rode through this shit and cursed poorly maintained trails, paths, and bikelanes.

What I'm Riding: Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 Studded Tires

Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 Tires

The Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 Studded Tires ($85USD) are built on the legendary Marathon platform with a modified tread pattern specific for their arctic purpose. What does that mean? It means you have a reliably durable, carefully thought out tire that won’t (hopefully) let you down when you need it the most. As you would expect of a wire bead, studded tire designed for non-failure, it is heavy—910g for the 700x35c version I installed on my SuperX CX fiets.

What I'm Riding: Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 Studded Tires

Performance

This is easy. Also, nothing nieuw. Let’s just do a list of truths:

TRUTH: studded tires work on ice. In fact, they work EXTREMELY well.
TRUTH: studded tires are loud on pavement. In fact, they are EXTREMELY loud.
TRUTH: studded tires provide an extreme amount of resistance. Because studs.
TRUTH: studded tires are a one-trick pony. But they’ve MASTERED that trick.
TRUTH: studded tires are expensive given their limited application.
TRUTH: the first time you hit a patch of ice at full speed and realize the tires are going to stay underneath of you they immediately pay for themselves.

What I'm Riding: Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 Studded Tires

The sound they make on pavement reminds me of the plastic wheels on a Big Wheel riding over grains of sand. Any time I rolled up behind someone they most definitely heard me coming—no need voor a bell.

On non-frozen surfaces they handle as well as you’d expect a tire inflated to around 35psi (lowest recommended pressure) with a hard inner casing and a bunch of spikes—sloppy and confidence crushing. You can feel a distinct edge as you transition from a straight line and lean into a turn. I don’t push their grip, usually slowing down rather than chance sliding out.

schwalbe-marathon-winter-tires-What I'm Riding: Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 Studded Tires

However, the moment you hit the ice everything changes. Where once they felt laborious to maneuver they suddenly light up and blaze through sections of near frictionless, sphincter puckering ice. Obviously this is mere perception since you haven’t technically sped up, it’s that you typically slow down and make sure you’re balanced as you freewheel across. When they’re deflated to 35psi the tire flattens out and allows all rows of the studs to claw into the offending substance. It’s at this point where they become confidence inspiring. They not only work well on ice, but also on varying types of snow. One of my favorite tests recently was on the streets where cars had packed down the snow but it was still loose enough to allow movement. You still had to focus completely on staying upright but the spikes were able to dig in and provide forward momentum despite moments of complete sideways BRAAPNESS.

What I'm Riding: Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 Studded Tires

Opportunities

Honestly, who cares. Anything that could be changed to make them “better” is directly related to how well studded tires perform on their one intended terrain. They’re heavy: it’s an overbuilt tire that you don’t have to think twice about during your coldest rides/commutes. Plus, THERE’S 200+ CARBIDE STUDS INSERTED INTO THE TREADS. They’re slow: again, the overbuiltedness AND THE 200+ STUDS ALLOWING YOU TO MIRACULOUSLY RIDE ON ICE.

What I'm Riding: Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 Studded Tires

My only issue is both of the tires I was shipped seemed to not be perfectly true. As much as I tried to reseat the beads, there always seemed to be a slight, distinct wobble in the tread as they spun. This hasn’t affected their performance but it’s kinda annoying when you pay for a product at this price.

What I'm Riding: Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 Studded Tires

What I'm Riding: Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 Studded Tires
Taming some of the worst surface conditions to ride in is what the Schwalbe Marathon Winter HS 396 Studded Tires do best. The trade-offs in performance when not attacking ice and snow are significant. Yet, riders looking for this type of advantage for their ride or commute most likely are already aware and more than willing to deal with them. The slightly misaligned casing prevents this from being a perfect score as do the the performance trade-offs, but it’s pretty damn close.
Performance95%
Quality75%
Value85%
Aesthetics80%
Pro Factors
  • Absoute master of their intended purpose.
Opportunities
  • Quality control in construction.
84%Pro Rating
  • dcbrewer

    I have been riding the same tires on the W&OD, and they are truly indispensable in this weather! That said, I can’t wait to hang them back on the wall until next winter…

    • Cycleboredom

      Exactly. Time to take these damn things off.

  • Joe Newton

    Great review. I agree with everything you said. Horrible tyres, that are brilliant when you really need them to be. And i agree with dcbrewer: indispensable, but looking forward to taking them off.

    • Cycleboredom

      Thanks! After a few warm days, it looks like it’s time to take them off. I’ve had enough.

  • Apie

    35psi?! I run at 85psi on pavement and they are VERY quiet. Try it sometime.

    • I ride them at 35psi so I get maximum traction on their intended surface: ice. I have absolutely no need to ever pump them up to 85—I’d simply change to a non-studded tire because the conditions warrant it.

    • Cycleboredom

      I ride them at 35psi so I get maximum traction on their intended surface: ice. I have absolutely no need to ever pump them up to 85—I’d simply change to a non-studded tire because the conditions warrant it.

      • Apie

        Yes, good you know when to use them. You stated they have an extreme amount of resistance due to the studs, but obviously your 35psi is where you have extreme resistance. If you raise the psi you will have less resistance, AND less noise. The center studs have lots of purchase on solid ice, and ruts. I know, because I use them on ice. You would be doing yourself and these tires a disservice for not enjoying them at their maximum potential. Try at 70 psi, and you will FLY. I have 1500+ miles on mine, almost 2 seasons, only 1 lost stud. I believe they might last twice as long.

        • Cycleboredom

          The type of ice I find myself riding on the most is rutted and chopped from people walking on it. When I tried the tires at 65psi, they were rendered virtually useless as they dove into every divot and track they could find. At 35psi, they were incredibly forgiving to the undulations and listened more to my input. They definitely are faster at a higher psi, I’m not denying that. And yes, they are quieter. But based on the surfaces I find myself on, a lower psi makes more sense.

          Thanks for your feedback. It’s good to hear you’ve had such a great experience with them.

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