If you're going to carry on riding through winter, the cold, wet conditions are best handled with heavier, grippier and more puncture-resistant tyres than your summer rubber. Fortunately there are plenty of winter-specific tyres out there.
You'll get more punctures in the winter thanks to the rain. It washes glass, flints and debris into the road, where they lie in wait for an unsuspecting cyclist to trundle over. Water also makes a good cutting lubricant, helping anything sharp cut into your tyres. There's nothing much worse than fixing a puncture when it's lashing down with rain, apart from waiting for a friend to fix a puncture in the rain, that is.
The first aim of winter tyres is puncture resistance. Most manufacturers offer such tyres so there's really no reason not to switch and make your winter riding low-fuss. Such tyres usually have some sort of puncture prevention layer under the tread and beefier sidewalls to stop sharp objects finding a way through.
There are downsides, and weight is usually one of them, but I'll take extra puncture protection over a bit more weight any day. Tyre makers usually use thicker, firmer rubber for the tread and stiffer sidewalls, which affect the rolling resistance of the tyre and ride comfort.
The sidewall contributes heavily towards the feel of the tyre and so a heavier/thicker sidewall will make for a harsher feel. That's where increasing the width of the tyre can make a difference. All other things being equal, a wider tyre has lower rolling resistance, so going fatter can compensate for the increased resistance of a stiffer tyres. You can run fat tyres at lower pressures too, regaining the comfort lost by the change to stiffer sidewalls.
Look for a tyre with a thick reinforced breaker belt sandwiched between the rubber tread and carcass. This will prevent flints and glass from puncturing the delicate inner tube. The sidewall too can often be reinforced to preview the potholes and large bits of debris ripping through. Lastly, grip is another important consideration. The rubber compound dictates the level of grip for the most part, though if you're riding rough surfaces there's some evidence that a light file tread is better than a slick tyre.
Pressure is important, and especially so in the winter when the roads are most likely to be wet. As a general rule, the wetter it is, the lower the pressure you want to run your tyres at. While it might be fine to ride tyres inflated to 120psi during the summer when the roads are dry, it's a good idea to go a little lower the wetter it is. It's not unknown to go as low as 80-90psi. Many of the tyres below are 25mm wide or fatter and you have to take into account the extra tyre volume when setting the tyre pressure.
Regular cleaning goes without saying, and when you're cleaning your bike pay particular attention to the tyres. Glass and flints can get lodged in there and it's a good idea to remove them. A top tip is to fill the now vacant hole with a little super glue to plug it.
The Clement Strada LLGs are good, all-round 28mm winter training tyres. They're quick, comfortable and grip well at a competitive price. They roll smoothly too, though the 60 tpi versions we tested aren't quite as smooth as the same tyre in a 120 tpi casing, but they've proven hard-wearing.
Fast-rolling and capable of tackling bad road conditions and even venturing away from the tarmac, Panaracer's new Gravel King tyres are a really good option for the winter with rugged durability and great traction.
The Specialized All Condition Armadillo features a Kevlar layer sandwiched inside the tyre and stretches from bead to bead. It goes a long way to prevent sharp objects from penetrating the tyre carcass and deflating the delicate inner tube. This tyre uses a wire bead which does put the weight up, the 23mm is 375g. 25 and 28mm widths are also available.
Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tyres are essentially heavy duty, ultra reliable commu-touring tyres that inspire unprecedented confidence without feeling sluggish or barge-like, as the 970g weight for a pair would imply.
Schwable have many options and and the Durano S RaceGuard Tyres offer really good durability with plenty of grip in all conditions. The grip is good in both dry and wet conditions so would prove a useful addition to any bike during mixed conditions of a typical British winter.
Panaracer's Race Type D is a relatively light tyre that still provides good puncture protection and excellent grip, making it ideal for winter training. The 'D' in Race Type D stands for 'Duro' or 'durable', thanks to three key features. The first is dual compound 'Evo 2' rubber which is harder on centre of the tread (the bit in contact with the road when you're vertical) and softer on the edges (the bit in contact when you're cornering). The softer rubber provides more grip when you need it. The second feature is a reinforced casing to help prevent punctures, and the third is a protective belt under the tread to provide additional protection.
Put all that with an advertised weight of 257g for the 26mm version (pretty much confirmed by the road.cc scales at 260g), and it add up to a tyre that's well suited for faster rides on bad roads in bad weather.
Despite a puncture-resisting later, the Bontrager AW3 Hard-Case Lite tyres roll quickly and gip securely in all conditions. The tread on the sidewall gives sufficient grip in the corners and the hard case has proven more than capable of dealing with the variety of grit washed onto the roads.
Twelve months of racing, training and commuting — that's the ultimate test of the Michelin Pro4 Endurance tyre, designed with longevity and puncture resistance in mind.
Michelin's Pro4 tyres are now available in six guises, Service Course, Comp, Comp Limited, Grip, Tubular and Endurance. This is the tyre intended for going the distance and lasting a long time. And that's exactly what it does, being impressively puncture-resistant into the bargain. To round out the goodness, Michelin has just introduced a 28mm version alongside the 23mm and 25mm carcasses.
The Vredestein Fortezza Senso Xtreme tyres bill themselves, as suggested in the name, as extreme weather tyres - so perfect then, for three seasons of UK riding.
It's an expensive choice but many swear by the venerable Open Pave CG for riding through the winter. It's an exceptionally good tyre and has been a favourite for pro cyclists in races like Paris-Roubaix, where its puncture resistance and superior grip comes into its own. Its distinctive green stripe may not be to everyone’s liking but the 240g weight for a 25mm tyre is on a par with the lightest here.
A lighter option is the Continental Grand Prix 4 Season. A tough Duraskin mesh and two Vectran anti-puncture layers beneath the tread make this a good choice. And at 220g it's a good weight, for the rider wanting a fast winter tyre. Conti's max grip silica rubber compound provides a good level of grip. A good choice for winter and one that can be used in spring and autumn too. If you desire even more protection, the Gator Hardshell is a good option, with a third layer of Polyamide in the sidewalls.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.