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The Joys and challenges of winter driving

The conditions in winter traffic have changed a lot. Snowy roads have been replaced by ice and slush, and the number of cars has increased. All the while, winter tyres and their grip have been a topic of interest to drivers.

In the birthplace of the winter tyre, knowledge of the motor car spread slowly as the 1800s gave way to a new century. The first car owners were factory owners and businessmen. For example, the paper mill in Tervakoski is known to have purchased a lorry in 1898. A few car dealerships were established in Helsinki in the very beginning of the 1900s. In 1910, there were 2,000 cars in the country. 

The 1920s were a golden age of motoring in Europe, too. Even more cars were purchased for private use, and car races gained popularity. The fast cars used by smugglers were famous in Finland. When tyre manufacturing started, there were over 30,000 private or commercial vehicles on our roads.

Put on winter tyres

When the Hakkapeliitta was born in the 1930s, Finnish roads were snowy and quiet. Winter driving was rare, and roads were often not ploughed. Speeds hardly reached 50 kilometres per hour. Snow chains were used to prepare for winter traffic. The new Lumi-Hakkapeliitta (Snow Hakkapeliitta) introduced in 1936 encouraged even winter-shy motorists to drive.

After World War II, the amount of traffic increased, and ploughing service on roads became more commonplace. The surface of the winter road became hard and slippery. De-icing with salt was introduced on some of the roads. When the Haka-Hakkapeliitta was introduced in 1956, the most desired properties of a winter tyre were durability and many gripping edges.

Although winter driving had become commonplace at the latest by the 1960s, the need for winter tyres was under heated discussion. Suomen Kumitehdas presented international studies that demonstrated the superior braking power, steering abilities and traction of a specially designed winter tyre over a summer tyre. In Finland, Teekkarien autokerho (University of Technology Car Club) tested the properties of the Hakkapeliittas. In the winter of 1964, the Hakkapeliittas took part in the Swiss Automobile Club's winter tyre tests.

In the 1960s, the role of private motoring grew rapidly. Longer working distances, construction that favoured commuting by car and, as a Finnish specialty, trips to the summer cottage made the car an even more important means of transport.

Between the tyre and the road

To improve the grip of the winter tyre, a wide variety of skid stoppers were designed. In the end of the 1950s, Suomen Kumitehdas contracted the manufacturing of Kometa studs to Suomen Kovametalli Oy. This cooperation created the Kometa-Hakkapeliitta, a studded winter tyre.

Studded winter tyres quickly became the weapon of choice against slippery winter conditions in Finland. By the mid-1960s, four out of five users of winter tyres chose studs. To prevent road wear, new studded tyre regulations were prepared in 1974. Nokia Kumiteollisuus was involved in the preparation. Making the use of winter tyres compulsory in 1978 was a major step in Finland. Now, even the law recognised that winter tyres promote road safety.

New directions in driving 

In the 1980s, cars once again became status symbols. More luxury cars, wide tyres, and collector cars were seen even on the roads of Finland. On the other hand, the speed limit culture stabilised. A general speed limit was set in Finland in 1987.

The recession at the beginning of the 1990s did not affect the number of cars significantly. Instead, the consumers became more aware of their environmental impact. Fuel alternatives, eco-friendly tyre materials and tyre recycling became topics of interest.

Eco-friendliness and safety

In addition to traffic safety, many drivers are also interested in the eco-friendliness of their tyres. Nokian Tyres' continuous research and development has created studded and non-studded tyres that are tailored for the Nordic conditions. They offer the very best in terms of safety, technical characteristics, and eco-friendliness.

It is difficult to provide a universal guideline concerning who should use studded or non-studded winter tyres. However, a studded tyre is the safer and more reliable option for rapidly changing winter conditions, since it is better at equalising the changes in weather conditions. Studded tyres have an absolute advantage on icy roads. As regards grip on snow, non-studded tyres can compete with studded tyres. In addition to providing additional driving comfort and low fuel consumption, non-studded winter tyres are also more flexible as regards the schedule for changing them.

Whichever you choose, it is worth remembering that winter driving is an art. By planning ahead, driving calmly, maintaining the correct speed and having a flexible schedule, you can increase the safety and comfort of winter motoring.

Winter driving

In the traffic census of 1939, nearly half of the trips on Finnish roads were made by horse. Of all winter travellers, 16 per cent were motorists. Before the introduction of the winter tyre, snow chains were the only accessory that could increase grip in the winter. Motorists found the chains installed outside the tyre to be expensive and difficult to use. Furthermore, they wore down the surface of the tyre.

Snow Hakkapeliitta poster 1936.

Haka-Hakkapeliitta

The Haka-Hakkapeliitta, a new product launched in 1956, beat all previous sales records.

The Haka-Hakkapeliitta was the best-selling winter tyre of the 1950s and 1960s. The range of Haka-Hakkapeliittas that was launched in 1956 and grew to a full size selection two years later was the answer to the new winter driving conditions and even larger cars. The tread had a dense pattern of cups that proved effective on icy roads with packed snow, since braking caused a small air pocket to form between the cup and the road surface, resulting in suction cup-like grip. The longitudinal grooves on both sides of the centre area were also a new feature of the Haka-Hakkapeliitta. They ensured good directional stability.

Image: The Haka-Hakkapeliitta, a new product launched in 1956, beat all previous sales records.

Skid stoppers

Competing solutions included the rivet tyre from Arkela and the Kelhu knob tyre that had skid stoppers with coil springs in a treaded tyre. The Keinäs-Hokki was a metal stud in a plastic thimble body. The offerings also included a rubber sleeve with a metal liner installed on the tyre, and a tyre tread with embedded porcelain chips.

Kometa-Hakkapeliitta

The Kometa-Hakkapeliitta was a triumph of co-operation in studs and a sales success. “In terms of studs, the current winter is a breakthrough. By the time the winter driving season started, nearly all of the winter tyre types that could be used with Kometa studs had sold out. We have been working for decades to develop a suitable skid stopper to overcome the driving difficulties in the winter. By equipping the Haka-Hakkapeliitta tyre with Kometa studs, we have found the answer.” (Managing Director Unto Arkela, Kovametalli Oy, Nokian Kumiviesti 1/1963)

Studding

Studding

In the beginning, demand was the highest for studdable tyres, so the Hakkapeliittas left the factory to be studded elsewhere. In 1965, all Hakkapeliitta sizes were available with stud holes. From the 1970s onwards, Hakkapeliittas were sold ready to drive, that is, equipped with studs.

Obligation to use winter tyres

Obligation to use winter tyres

The obligation to use winter tyres came into force in Finland on 1 December 1978. Winter tyres had to be used from December to February in all passenger cars and vans weighing less than 3,500 kg. The minimum allowed tread surface was 2 millimetres, double that of summer tyres.

Finland was a pioneer in legislation requiring the use of winter tyres. Currently, a general obligation to use winter tyres is also in effect in Sweden, the Baltic countries and Austria, among European countries. Many countries in Central Europe have established a requirement for winter tyres under wintery driving conditions. In North America, the province of Quebec has an obligation to use winter tyres in effect, and in the United States, the use of separate tyres is also on the increase. Russia also has a strong tradition in using winter tyres, and studded tyres are allowed.

Non-studded tyre

Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 non-studded tyre.

A non-studded tyre uses only friction to maintain contact with the road. The stud is a grip assist that can increase the grip of a winter tyre by up to 100 per cent on an icy road. The stud continues where the tyre compound and pattern leave off, thus evening out the variations in weather.

Image: Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 non-studded tyre. A reliable and safe winter tyre gives a good feel of the driving surface. The precise driving feel provided by the Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 helps the driver to observe the changes in the level of friction.