[This article was updated December 14, 2017]
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.
We've focused mostly on robust, puncture-resistant tyres, but as StuInNorway points out in the comments, there are parts of the UK where snow and ice is a big factor too, so to that end we've added a couple of studded options. A tyre with a deep tread pattern will provide some grip on fresh snow, but once it's packed down hard, or turned to ice by a thaw-freeze cycle, the only thing that will grip is a studded tyre.
The Corsa Control G+ is the beefed-up version of Vittoria's well-respected Corsa G+. It's a great alternative to many winter-specific tyres, offering levels of rolling resistance and grip seen on your summer lightweights without compromising durability.
Compared to the standard Corsa G+ the Corsa Control G+ has a wider tread to protect the sidewalls, and the tread is 0.4mm thicker. There's a breaker belt beneath the tread too, to help reduce punctures. This extra bit of depth does mean the Corsa Control G+ feels firmer to ride than the equivalent Corsa G+ model so you lose a little of the comfort. The high thread count still makes these tyres much more comfortable than many designed for poor conditions. And we had no visits from the puncture fairy during our testing.
The Pirelli P Zero Velo tyre marks a very impressive return to cycling for Pirelli after a half-century hiatus. This tyre is fast, comfortable and long lasting.
Out on the road, they are thoroughly impressive at all times, feeling fast and slippery (through the air, not on the road surface!), yet able to take on the often poorly maintained roads that I'm accustomed to in the south west. Cornering in the wet never feels sketchy, and they zip along very nicely on flat roads without giving any unwanted feedback.
I know that they have bad weather in Italy, but I'm still very impressed with how much Pirelli has obviously thought about adverse conditions when developing these tyres. I saw Pirelli testing the wet grip of the tyres on the test track outside of Milan at the launch, and it certainly appears to have paid off.
RC might not be the most familiar tyre brand in the road bike market at the moment, but its Formula Pro Tubeless X-Guard road tyres offer exceptionally good performance, with easy tubeless installation and great durability. The price does put them at the top end of the tyre market, though.
The Formula Pro is the Japanese company's high-performance road bike tyre and this version gets added puncture protection. Underneath the tread is the X-Guard belt of cross-woven mesh fibres that boosts puncture protection by 47%, IRC's claim not ours, without compromising rolling resistance and performance.
You're going to need plenty of room in the frame for these 35mm snow and ice tyres and their steel spikes, but they're renowned for their grip on everything from snow to black ice. If you want a general-purpose winter tyre for your hybrid, crosser, or gravel/adventure bike, these are the way to go.
If you've got a mountain bike, or a gravel bike with lots and lots of room in the frame, and want to go completely hog-wild in the snow, take a look at the Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro Evolution.
If you want a budget option, there's a Schwalbe Winter with fewer spikes in a 30mm width that might even fit many modern road bikes. They'll set you back about £25 with shipping, and you can get away with just running a front studded tyre, though obviously a pair is better.
Previously known as the S-One, these 30mm all-rounders from Schwalbe live up to Schwalbe's billing as 'the special one'. They're light, fast and grippy, and thanks to Schwalbe's Tubeless Easy with Microskin feature, they mount tubeless with an ordinary track pump. If you can fit them, you should.
Since 'four seasons in one day' is a description often applied to the British weather, these Michelin Power All Season Road tyres should be right at home among UK riders. After a typical English summer we can confirm that the performance is every bit as reliable as Michelin claims.
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 Elite II 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 D Evo 3 tyres feel confident in the turns and roll well enough, but don't appear to be wildly different to many other tyres with some kind of puncture resistance. Durability does seem very good, though.
The Evo 3s are an update to the Evo 2s tested on road.cc back in 2015 – the price is the same and the weight comparable too. The Evo 3 also gets the same 'hard in the middle, soft on the edge' tread compound which Panaracer is calling ZSG Dual Compound. The main difference with the Evo 3s is the way Panaracer is doing the puncture protection – something it calls 'Protite'. Rather than having a separate breaker strip layer in the tyre, the puncture protection is incorporated into the tread rubber. Panaracer claims this increases puncture protection by 25% and reduces weight.
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.
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.
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.