Buyers guide: The best tyres to get you through the winter
What to look for in tyres designed for winter riding, training and commuting + our pick of the best
With the onset of winter you might be considering investing in tyres that will better resist punctures, and fortunately there are plenty of winter-specific tyres out there.
During the winter the roads can become coated in glass, flints and debris just lying there waiting for an unsuspecting cyclist to trundle over. And there's nothing much worse than fixing a puncture when it's lashing down with rain. Well apart from waiting for a friend to fix a puncture in the rain, that is.
Punctures are a funny old thing though. You can go months without the dreaded hiss then whammo you get three in a row. Luck, it seems, plays a big factor and it can desert even the most well prepared cyclists.
If, as the days draw in you're getting frequent punctures, then it is definitely time to change your tyres. Most manufacturers offer a tyre better suited to the winter so there's really no reason not to. The perfect tyre will have some sort of puncture belt 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. Other things to consider are that to make a tyre less puncture prone can require using a firmer rubber compound, the sidewalls can be stiffer too, which both impacts upon 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 impact on how they feel. That's where increasing the width of the tyre can make a difference. It's well known that wider tyres can offer rolling resistance as good as narrower tyres, and you can inflate them to slightly lower pressures than a 23 tyre. That will allow the tyre to be supple enough to absorb bumps and impacts. And the larger volume can be a nice additional comfort factor through the winter.
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, and not the tread pattern (which is largely irrelevant on a tyre with such a small contact patch) that dictates the level of grip.
A with all tyres, 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 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.
Continental bill the Gatorskin as the only tyre you need for winter. A Duraskin cut-resistant mesh layer spreads from bead to bead to provide all over protection. It's available in 23, 25, 28 and 32mm widths with a choice of wired or Kelvar beads. A folding 25mm tyre weighs 250g which is a good weight for a tyre that is going to offer good protection in the winter and a rubber tread designed for wet roads.
Continental Grand Prix 4 Season
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.
Specialized All Condition Armadillo
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.
Schwable Durano Plus
Schwable have many options and and the Durano Plus 25mm tyre uses the company's SmartGuard puncture belt. It's not as beefy, nor is it as heavy as their touring Marathon Plus. The M+ is a highly regarded tyre for its resistance to punctures, and the D+ uses a lighter version of that tyres puncture belt.
They're not light however at 380g, but don't let that scare you off. You may consider a 25mm tyre too wide for you but with the increased volume you can run them a lot softer, which helps the tyre cushion you against rough roads. A 340g 23mm version is available.
Bontrager RXL All Weather Hard-Case
A Hard-Case gives the Bontrager RXL All Weather tyre protection from punctures, cuts and pinch bites. An Aramid breaker belt combines with a stiffer sidewall and an anti-cut later that runs from bead to bead to prevent glass and sharp objects penetrating the tyre. Unlike most of the other tyres in this roundup, Bontrager opt for a tread pattern with channels and sipes to channel water. Available in 23 and 25mm, the narrower of the two weighs 280g.
Hutchinson Intensive tyres
To make the Intensive puncture resistant Hutchinson use a thermoplastic reinforced compound that should prevent dreaded flat tyres, improve the wear rate and keep grip levels high. The sidewalls feature Hardskin technology which prevents sharp objects slicing through. The 23mm weighs 230g making it one of the lightest here. A 25mm version is also available.
Vittoria Open Pave Evo CG
An expensive choice but many swear by the venerable Open Pave Evo 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.
Each of these tyres represents a good investment if you're planning to ride your way through the winter.