Photos and text by Evan Chismark
A few words of caution before we begin:
- Studded tires are NOT a substitute for a fat bike. At best, they’re a barely passable way to do some winter gravel grinding. If there’s loose/unpacked snow, it’s like trying to ride through beach sand—studs give you grip, they don’t give you float.
- This set up is for dirt roads, winter commuting, etc, not single track.
- If you don’t take your time with this project, you’re going to ruin some stuff. Slow down, measure twice, cut once. (There’s no actual cutting here by you get my drift.)
- Wear some safety gear—sturdy gloves, eye protection and anything else you feel you might need to do this safely.
Ok, here goes. This project is a pain in the ass but I’ll admit, it’s pretty fun pedaling around on icy dirt roads without feeling like I’m going to mangle myself. Since the weather’s not been terribly cooperative and I had a spare set of tires kicking around, I figured why not. I’m looking at the forecast right now and at the moment it’s 9 degrees and by Saturday it’s supposed to be 45 and raining. So yeah, make some studded tires. Here’s what you’ll need:
- A cordless drill with a pretty small bit—3/32 or thereabouts.
- A philips head bit for your cordless drill.
- A few boxes of #6 self tapping, pan head sheet metal screws—I picked up a couple boxes at Stowe Hardware for less than $20. I went with 1/2” on the side lugs of the front tire, 3/8” for everything else (center lugs front, center and side lugs rear).
- Duct tape
- Some old/spent tubes
Start by counting out your lugs and mapping out the placement of your studs. My tires had something like 450 individual lugs each (seriously, count ’em, there’s a lot) so I went every fourth lug on the sides, then an alternating pattern down the middle. I came out with roughly 300 or so lugs to stud (fuzzy math at best). Side note: when I finished everything I learned the hard way that the side lugs on my back tire brushed the frame which is obviously not good. That’s why I ended up with the 3/8” studs on both the side and center lugs on the back tire. Just something to consider.
Next, drill your pilot holes from outside in. Even with self-tapping screws you’ll want to drill pilot holes—this way you can better control the angle of protrusion for each stud. Trying to screw in each stud without the pilot holes results in some wonky angles.
After you’ve drilled your pilot holes, turn the tire inside out and get ready to have some real fun. I found that the best way to do actually screw in the “studs”, was to push each screw partly into the pilot hole by hand (again, from the inside of the tire to the outside), doing 10 or 12 at a time, then screwing those 10 or 12 in with a screw gun. Going screw by screw takes a reeeeeeeally long time.
So now you’ve actually screwed all of your studs from the inside of the tire, you need to prep the tire properly to keep from destroying your tubes. Some people put a dab of caulk on each screw head which is probably a good idea. I guess it’s possible to run this set up tubeless, but that was way more work that I wanted to put in. That and I felt like it might be a big ol’ waste of sealant, what with the 300 holes I just drilled in my tires. Anyway, with the tire still inside out, run a strip of duct tape over each line of screw heads—the more you can protect the tubes the better. Duh.
After this, I took some old tubes, sliced them down the middle, and then affixed those tube strips to the inside of the tire with, you guessed it, more duct tape. This created two barriers between the screw head and where the inflated tubes will ultimately end up.
Needless to say, when you go to actually install the tubes and mount these bad boys on your wheels, you’re going to want to proceed with care. Lots of care—not just for your tubes, but for your hands as well. A thick set of work gloves enabled me to roll these tires right on to the rim with minimal flesh/blood loss.
Anyway, now that you’ve added 12 pounds of rotational weight to your bike, you’re ready to start working off some of that winter gristle that accumulated about the midsection, and/or training for the Stowe Derby Fat Bike Race. Keep in mind that if you run too much pressure in the tubes, you’ll eventually flat to so keep it south of 20 p.s.i. (This number will vary based on your particular setup.)
In my infinite wisdom, I headed up into Stowe Hollow and started rallying cutties in the frozen/hardpacked dirt—metal spikes are the best traction you’ll ever get and it’s tough to resist. Surprise surprise, I flatted within a few minutes and was quickly brought back to earth, forcing me to have to change my tube in temps that hovered in the single digits. Point being, this setup is not meant for railing and rallying like a regular tire/wheel setup—take it easy and you’ll (probably) be just fine.
I’m still working out the kinks but so far, it’s been pretty fun. I’ll reiterate that this is NOT a substitute for a fat bike. At worst, it’s a giant waste of time, tires, and sheet metal screws. At best, it’s a fun way to keep from losing your sanity during this snowless winter. Good luck, take your time, and have fun dammit!