Long Term Review: 45NRTH Escalator Fatbike Tires
From the moment I mounted the 45NRTH Escalator tires to my fatbike, the review has been tumbling through my head while pedaling along with a huge smile on my face. Just how do you justify a pair of tires that are more expensive than your average hybrid sold at your local bike shop? On the outside, it looks pretty cut and dry, the Escalators were the pinnacle of fatbike tires so naturally they are expensive. But start breaking them down into the pros and cons, and the cost becomes a little easier to justify (as long as you don’t tell your spouse). We picked up the Escalators right at the end of their run - they have since been retired, but for all intents and purposes will be very similar to the 120 tpi 45NRTH Dillinger studded tires.
Running a slightly lower thread count with a bit more rubber, the Dillinger 120 studded picks up right where the Escalator left off. See why you may want to start saving your pennies after the break.
Even though the Escalator and Dillinger are designed to accept studs, David Gabrys of 45NRTH emphatically stated you can ride them studless all day long. Which is exactly what I did for the majority of testing. Initially I was a bit concerned plowing a 180 tpi tire through unexplored terrain for fear of puncturing. 45NRTH’s reason for getting away from a 180 tpi and offering the 120 tpi Dillinger was for improved durability, though in almost a year’s worth of riding I only flatted once, and even that was a very slow leak caused by a tiny thorn. Dirt, mud, sand, gravel, boulders, pavement, snow, ice, over the course of 4 seasons the Escalator has seen it all and has proven to be more durable than I expected.
Even when running the 26 x 4.0 tire as low as 3-4 psi and cruising on the salt strewn roads to get to the good stuff, the tires still have a lot of the little nubs from the molds. The rear tire is showing more wear than the front, but it looks like it’s just getting broken in. Keep in mind that the Dillinger has a tougher but still supple 120 tpi (the higher the tpi the more supple the tire, but generally a little less durable) casing and slightly more rubber on the tread, meaning the Dillinger should be even more durable in the long run. Compared to your typical mountain bike tire, fatbike tires seem to wear quite a bit longer especially if you’re using them primarily in snow. Durability – check.
The additional rubber on the Dillinger will also provide a bit more traction, though the Escalator never seemed to be lacking in that department. In deep snow, my buddy riding a Surly Nate on the rear seemed to have a bit more traction, but overall the Escalators hooked up nicely in different snow conditions. As far as front end traction when turning, the Escalators resist pushing, but only to a certain point. But thanks to the extremely supple casing you can run the pressures low enough that you have plenty of traction in the turns. The tire proved to have a great all-conditions tread pattern that will keep you pedaling if you have the skills.
For some reason, studded tires have always been something I pictured needing while crossing frozen lakes up North. As it turns out, they can be incredibly useful on the trails in the right conditions as well. We get a decent amount of snow, but it usually warms up, starts to melt, refreezes at night, and potentially is covered with new snow. Throw in a set of studded tires and the difference is amazing. Not only is there gobs of additional traction making the all-but-impossible climbs doable (pictured above), but the added confidence knowing you’re probably not going to slide out on that snow covered root that could be ice covered is welcomed. Grip – check.
Going back and forth between studded and not on these tires is possible, but not exactly a quick process. Initially I was concerned that the hole in the tires for the studs would fill up with debris, complicating the stud install, though after riding them studless for months I only had to remove a handful of small pebbles.
At $7, the 45NRTH stud wrench is basically a necessity making quick work of installing each stud. Considering there are up to 240 studs per tire though, you’re looking at 30 minutes per tire if you’re fast to install them and at least that amount of time to remove them. The studs can be left in even when it’s not icy, but riding on rocks, pavement, even hard dirt will eventually wear them down to the point that they are no longer effective on ice. 45NRTH sells carbide tipped aluminum studs in packs of 25 for $10, so if you wanted to completely stud the Escalator or Dillinger, it would run you an additional $200 with 20 spares (if you don’t buy the tire pre-studded). You can always run fewer studs though, as I completely studded the rear, but used an alternating pattern on the front which used less than half of the available locations and it worked pretty well.
Of course, adding studs adds weight to your pricey lightweight tires – about 5g per 20 studs (~60g per 240 studs).
Big tires have big +/-, with a near 20g difference between the front and rear tire at 1264g and 1282g. To the uninitiated, that seems like a lot for a tire until you consider that cheaper fatbike tires can be upwards of 2200g or more. That’s a difference of over 2 pounds, per tire. Based on the numbers reported by fat-bike.com, the 120 tpi studded Dillinger weighs in at 1357g. So somewhere in the neighborhood of 70-90g of added rubber and lower tpi.
There is no denying it, the Escalator and now Dillinger are expensive tires. The studless Dillinger retails for $165, while fully studded tires are available for $175 in a 27 tpi model, and $225 for the 120 tpi version. At those prices, $300-400+ for a set of tires can be hard to swallow, though on a fatbike the tires are arguably the most important part. Acting as both tire and suspension (at least at this point), a fatbike can be transformed by a good set of tires. Cheaper tires are heavier, not as round, have harder rubber, and don’t have the supple sidewalls that allow the tire to envelop the trail rather than bounce over it. Yeah, putting up that chunk of change for what is essentially a consumable hurts, but look at it this way – it’s cheaper than a suspension fork.