Carbide-Studded Joy

WHAT: Nokian Hakka WXC 300 Studded Tires HOW MUCH: $89.95 WHERE:

As a rule, you crash your bike just once on the ice and never ever look at the tire-ground bond the same way again. Besides the obvious reasons – tires coming out from under you with no warning – there is a litany of other unpleasant side effects to losing it on the ice, namely impacting frozen ground with no forewarning (just like pavement, only rougher). One can only assume some tire designer at Nokian hit the deck while out on a winter ride and upon exiting the hospital was inspired to make Nokian's over-the-top Hakka WXC 300 studded tires.

Manned with 300 carbide-studded tips, these 695 gram 26×2.1 winter specialists open a new window on the potential for cold weather riding. As long as the snow wasn't too deep, I could ride through the winter, hitting every trail I ride in the summer, with confidence born from a solid tire hook-up. The tires ride well enough in non-icy conditions to justify throwing a pair on early in the winter and keeping them there until spring. An open tread pattern of soft, round knobs, aided by the studs, made the transition from dirt to ice hardly noticeable.

It is hard to overstate the Velcro-like ride of a good set of studded tires. On one of my first rides with the Nokians I came across a glistening iceflow that covered the trail from side-to-side for almost 50 meters. Gritting my teeth I let it roll over the ice with hardly a squirm from the tires. Revelatory. Winter riding with the Nokians was grippier than almost any summer conditions, though braking performance on ice, or lack of it, needs to be taken into account when gauging a frozen trail.

Trying to change a flat as your fingers go numb is enough to drive even the saltiest rider onto the nearest indoor trainer for the season. But those clever Finns took into account the horrors of flatting on a cold ride, utilizing Nokian's Pinch Flat Protection – a combination of bulked-up casing and stiff sidewalls. Never one to take chances, I ran higher-than-summer tire pressures and the tires rode supplely enough for the roughest frozen ground. Despite some big hits on rocks and tree stumps hidden by snow, impacts I was fairly certain would result in a flat, I rode on unscathed.

The Hakkas use a soft durometer tread, great for most riding but something less than durable for holding the studs in the tire. Studs started getting ripped out after just a few rides, but with 300 in each tire it was hard to tell a difference in performance. The 2.1s ride narrower than a "normal" 2.1, but if you want a meatier offering Nokian's newly released Freddie's Revenz 336, a 336-stud, 1250g, 2.3" behemoth seems capable of handling frozen waterfalls or maybe taking the DH bike onto a DH ski slope.