Let me start this article by pointing out the fact that all season tires are crap. Seems like every time my poor bastard friends head down to Big-O tires they get duped into buying this waste of wubber. Sure, if you’re going to be tootling around Boulder, CO in the Buick and at the first sign of snow and ice you close the shades and turn up the heat to 85 then keep on buying your all weather rubber but come on peeps, we’re in bloody Colorado!, driving with 6 people and two dogs crammed in the old A8 trying to get the car a little sideways to make the people in the back seat scared! It’s really all about the rubber and tread pattern. In summer, except when it rains you want virtually no tread and wide tires. In winter you want, tall narrow tires that’s rubber is soft and grippy at LOW temperatures and a nice tread pattern that grips into the snow and ice. Problem is all season tires sit exactly in the middle, so they are ok in the summer and probably not too good in the winter. One of the factors that makes a snow tire a snow tire is the composition of the rubber, the chemists who concoct the stuff ensure that at low temperatures, even below zero, it’s still nice and soft and rubbery. If you don’t believe me then on a ball chilling cold day go outside and before you jump into your chariot take a look at how hard the rubber is on your regular all seasons. If you’re lucky enough to have snows on note how nice and soft the rubber is.
This dramatic video will make you a believer
Our pals at the Tire Rack headed to the Artic Circle to test 11 different tire models:
In 2009, members of our test team went to one of the areas frequented by many of the European vehicle and tire manufacturers for extreme winter testing. Up near the Arctic Circle in Arvidsjaur and Jokkmokk, Sweden, short days and long cold nights allowed us to evaluate and compare a large number of existing and new winter tires in a matter of a few days.<
More video from the Tire Rack. This test took place indoors on an ice rink and tested acceleration, braking distance and cornering ability
The video below is especially interesting as it seems that modern day studded tires (US spec that is) have worse stopping abilities than fancy studless ones!!
So you may think Tire Rack, a US based company is just trying to scare you into spend your lolly on some expensive snow tires but so here is a vide from our pals up north. Transport Canada, the Automobile Protection Agency (APA) and the Rubber Association of Canada (RAC), teamed up to create a series of videos that clearly demonstrate how winter tires drastically improve driver safety. This video is even better than the one above and clearly demonstrates why we should be sporting snow tires if we’re serious about riding around in the white stuff. The video below is part 1 of 6. If you’re a car nut like me watch them all, if your just collecting info then just watch a few of them.
Having sung the praises of the wonder of winter tires remember the laws of physics still apply and just cos you have Nokian RSIs on your ride doesn’t mean that you won’t slide on ice if you’re driving like a tit. Also remember that you now can have a dramatically decreased stopping distance compared to most cars on the road so the poor bastard behind you probably doesn’t so when you have to slam on the old anchors look infront of you AND behind, I normally like to pull off the road and watch the other bloke side past me. You may find that you actually increase your speed now on cold and snowy days just cost you’ve got great grip and it’s such fun to blast past other slow pokes. This somewhat defeats the purpose of getting the bloody things in the first place but as you slide into the ditch or over the barrier on a high mountain pass you’ll probably have a big smile on your face! If you want to see a nice little video that shows you why winter tires give you more traction, reduce your stopping distance by almost a half and help you avoid getting the car in a ditch then see this dramatic demonstration video at the TIreRack website.
Tell me what winter tires to get!
So my recommendation for snows is the Nokian Hakkapelitta RSI / R Studless Winter Tires (Note as of Oct 2008 the RSI is now called the R but my local tire store still had RSIs in stock so you may get RSIs at a better price – I have not see any reviews from the US but check out conSumerSearch that quotes reviews done in Europe that rate the R’s at the top of the list in comparison to other brands. Another important consideration is if these tires are out of productions and in say two years time you put a nail through one of them you’re going to have to replace ALL your tires because the tread on the newer tire will be different (more tread) than the older 2 year old tires and this will change the handling characteristics!). If you’re in Boulder, CO get them at The Tire Source.
After some poking around it seems Michelin Xis snows are liked by some and in the Tire Rack test they came first ahead of Nokian RSIs which placed 3rd – see test here and see some glowing reviews by users of these tires at the tire rack here.