Thursday, November 24, 2011

First impressions: Innova 700x35C Studded Tires

Update 2012-26-02: I now have posted an extensive review of the tire.

The first snow of this winter has arrived in Montreal, and it was quite a lot. As an avid follower of various kinds of weather forecast (yesyes, I'm soo boring) I was, however, well prepared. The night before I put on my new studded winter tires. I bought them sometime in spring, knowing that in winter it can often be tricky to still find studded tires in stock. The only tires in a suitable size -- my fenders only allow a max of 38 mm wide tires -- that my bike shop had available were Innova Snow Tires in 37-622. The tires have a pretty aggressive tread and a total of 110 steel studs, positioned in two rows near the tire's center.

The Innova website is pretty uninformative, and I also couldn't find much information elsewhere on the interwebs. I'm curious how the steel studs are going to hold up. More expensive snow tires from Schwalbe, Nokian/Suomi, or Continental use carbide studs which are harder than steel and should therefore last longer and will also not rust -- even though that is primarily a matter of aesthetics. In principle, the studs should be replaceable and I'm assuming that I could use carbide replacements if necessary. Measured width was about 33 mm on an Alex DA-16 (internal rim width 19mm).


I paid 40 USD per tire at my LBS, which is a pretty good price for studded tires in North America. Last week I saw them at a bike shop in Montreal for 75 CAD each and on Amazon they sell for 64 USD (if you can fit 45mm, you can currently get them for 36 USD there). So they're not cheap when compared to normal tires, but in the world of studded tires they're probably the cheapest you can get. And if they prevent only one crash they're probably already worth it.

Ride quality

 I took the tires on a first 80 minute test ride on the night before the snow actually arrived. It is advisable to break in studded tires, i.e. riding them without hard cornering or braking, for a couple of kilometers in order to allow the studs to set themselves in the tire and avoid losing them prematurely. So I rode along the Lachine Canal bike path, which was mostly dry with some icy puddles. On dry pavement, you can clearly feel the increased rolling resistance of the tires. Up to now I have been on Vittoria Randonneur Pros in 35-622, which roll very nicely, and thus the difference was very noticeable. The best way to describe the feeling of the tires is "riding into a slight headwind." What is even more noticeable than the rolling resistance is the noise of the tires: people often joke that you can take off your bell when you're riding studded tires, and I have to agree: the sound is very similar to riding on fine gravel, even though I think the tires have gotten a bit quieter on the third day. There were some frozen puddles on the Lachine Canal path, and I somewhat cautiously tested riding over them. All went well and so I got a bit bolder: Braking on the ice also worked pretty well.

The next morning I rode into work once the snowfall had mostly stopped. I tried going my usual route on the Lachine Canal, but they don't clear the snow there at all and riding through deep snow wasn't too awesome, even with the new tires. At the next intersection I therefore turned onto the streets which were more or less snow-free. On the more snowy parts, the tires performed reasonably well -- I would say better than the Ritchey Cross-Pros I had been riding during the past winter, but it's hard to tell. On the way back, the roads were mostly snow free, but I did go across an icy pedestrian bridge near Atwater Market. Here the studded tires were great, and I think not having to worry about icy patches that can often be hard to spot is the main advantage of studded tires.

Since then it had gotten warm again and I have taken the tires off. The next snow and ice will come soon, though, and I will probably post an update at some point.

Product details:

Innova TR5263 Snow tire
110 steel studs
700x35C (37-622), also available in 700x45C
Price 40-75 USD

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ride report: 150 cold kilometers

It's time for the annual winter trophy again, and this year I'm member of a pretty hardcore team. My last two weekends were spent with conference and work travel and I had fallen behind quite a bit. The weather forecast for Saturday looked okay -- about 5 degrees and dry -- and so I decided to do what could be the last really long ride of the season. I combined a bit of a previous route with some new bits, resulting in a 150km course that would be almost exclusively on bike paths and lanes.

I made up my mind of where to go last minute, as per usual, and only got on the road around 11:30. The only crossing of the St. Lawrence that hasn't been closed for the winter yet is the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. The offramp of the bridge is only a few blocks away from the Route Verte 1, which led me out of Longueil first on bike lanes/cycle tracks and then on bike paths more or less away from traffic. There was a steady headwind coming from the south which kept my speed at around 20 km. Once I reached Chambly I made my first stop of the day on the beautiful shore of Lake Chambly. One of the things that suck when biking in the winter is that you can't really have any longer outside stops, and thus only ate a Clif Bar (as an aside: their new coconut-something flavor is great!). I had done this part of the ride before on the 100k-ride with the Biketopus, but now I crossed the Richelieu river instead of continuing along the Chambly Canal.

On the OpenCycleMap I had found the Route des Champs which leads east toward Granby. The description on their website promised a mostly paved, partly gravel route and so I was quite shocked when I got to what I thought was the trailhead outside of Chambly: the trail was basically an old railway bed with the tracks removed. I tried riding on it for maybe 50m, but it was almost impossible to ride on the loose rocks. At the next intersection I stopped and considered my alternatives. Only then did I spot the actual trail only 30 meters to the north, parallel to the busy highway. Phew.

The Route de Champs was very nice to ride on: very long straight stretches, few intersections, and a nice hardpacked gravel surface. The Route des Champs meets the Route Verte 1 in Granby, but that would've been too far and thus I turned south in Saint-Cesaire, now following the Yamaska River on a very quiet country road with surprisingly good pavement.

In Farnham I then turned west again on the Route Verte/Monteregiade and took another Clif Bar stop, which was highly overdue -- I could already feel some bonking symptoms. The Monteregiade, built on the right-of-way of a former CN railroad, is lovely to bike on and for the first time on the ride I had a bit of a tailwind. After less than an hour I arrived in St. Jean-sur-Richelieu and took another rest stop at the gas station (note to self: never again buy grape-flavored Gatorade). I was a bit disheartened to see a Route Verte sign saying "Montreal 60 km," but once I got going I felt pretty good again.

It was pitch black at this point, but with my trusty B&M Cyo lights riding the gravel trail along the Chambly Canal was very pleasant. The ride back to Montreal was not very eventful and after almost exactly 150 km and 7 h 25 minutes I arrived back home. The 29 Winterpokal points (at least temporarily) catapulted me on the third place in our team.