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.
Compared to summer tyres, winter tyres are typically wider, with thicker tread and beefier puncture-prevention under that tread, and usually a bit cheaper — nobody likes trashing expensive tyres
Fixing a flat in the cold and wet is a miserable job, so it makes sense to use tyres with better puncture resistance to avoid it
If possible, go for a grippier tread compound too to help keep you rubber-side-down in the wet
Want to defy even snow and ice? Look at tyres with metal studs that'll grip even the slippery stuff
The Panaracer GravelKing Semi Slick Plus TLC is a tyre designed for both road use and hardpack gravel trails, maintaining the high levels of grip and speed found on other models in the range. Easy to set up tubeless and with tough puncture protection, they make perfect sense for a whole host of applications.
GravelKings come in various guises, and just when you think they've got all bases covered along comes another one to fill a gap. This SS+ TLC fits in between the GravelKing Slick Tread and the more aggressively treaded GravelKing SK.
On the road the SS+ is impressively fast for such a large tyre. At 460g it's no lightweight, but that's never really noticeable as the SS+ never feels stodgy. It's quite supple considering the reasonably low 120TPI casing, and gives a good degree of feedback, keeping you engaged with what's going on with the surface beneath you. This level of suppleness is even more impressive considering that the SS+ has a layer of Panaracer's ProTite protective guard from bead to bead and a nylon belt for puncture protection.
The Vittoria Terreno Zero TLR G2.0 is a slick gravel tyre that's designed for road and smooth off-road duties but is capable of much more.
This is the slickest tyre in Vittoria's gravel range. All of them use a graphene compound in their rubber, something only Vittoria uses in its tyres, claiming that this revolutionary material allows for natural material barriers of rubber to be removed so there is no compromise between speed, grip, durability and puncture resistance.
On the road they're not the fastest tread-free gravel tyres around; not that they're necessarily slow, but they rumble along rather than skip lively compared with other slick gravel tyres, the thickness of the rubber of the centre tread the possible culprit here. The plus side to this is that they're incredibly robust, so happily take crappy tarmac and potholes in their stride, romp over packed gravel paths and perform far better than you might expect on other rougher surfaces. We ran them for a full winter over all kinds of terrain, from smooth blacktop, across gravel of all grades, along rocky off-road to really-shouldn't-be-here thick mud, and they turned out to be deceptively capable over all of these surfaces and also showed very little signs of wear.
Cadex is a high-end, in-house brand of Taiwanese behemoth Giant. This Classics 28 Tubeless clincher comes from the same range as the Race 25 Tubeless but, as the name suggests, it's more robust. Available in 25, 28 and 32mm widths, it offers really impressive grip and speed – it's not cheap, though.
tester Jez writes: “What makes for a good tyre for the Spring classics? According to Cadex, it's a combination of puncture protection, grip and suppleness. Two of the three are pretty readily apparent. These are grippy tyres, thanks to the combination of the RR-S AR rubber compound and a fine file-tooth texture. It's noticeable when climbing 20%+ gradients in the wet, but I found the Classics outstanding when descending fast on loose, poor quality tarmac.
“Back-to-back against another favourite road tyre – the Vittoria Corsa Control G2 – I was measurably faster on the Classics, thanks to the predictable, rock-solid way they cling to the road.”
IRC's Boken Plus multi-surface tyre is a lot more versatile than you might expect at first glance. It looks like it'd roll well on tarmac, and it does, but it's surprisingly capable on much rougher terrain too.
Tester Dave writes: “I've used these tyres on a variety of rides, and I have to say I'm impressed with the levels of grip they offer. Most pertinently I completed a two-day bikepacking trip from Barnstaple back to Bath that included rough technical descents and climbs, graded gravel, woodland singletrack, grassy slogs over the moors and tarmac sections, in both wet and dry conditions. There's no one tyre that you'd say was perfect for all of that, but the Boken Plus rarely put a foot wrong.
“It wasn't a surprise that the tarmac sections were a breeze: the unbroken centre strip makes them nice and quiet on the roads, which immediately makes you feel faster, but at cruising speeds they're also stable and predictable through the turns. They're reasonably heavy tyres, but if you're carrying gear for a two-dayer that's not an issue. On an unloaded bike they don't feel sluggish either.”
The Hutchinson Fusion 5 Performance is an excellent all-rounder at a good price. For fast group rides, commutes and café rides, they don't skip a beat regardless of weather. It provides plenty of speed yet good puncture protection, and is reminiscent of the old Continental GP 4000 II – with the added benefit of being tubeless ready without extra podge.
The Fusion 5 Performance feels fast and grips well whatever the conditions, and even on greasy lanes.
The Goodyear Vector 4Seasons Tubeless Complete tyre is surprisingly quick and supple for something that is also robust enough to deal with all the grit and flint being washed out of the verges this time of year. Its new design makes it a step above the rest too when it comes to tubeless capability.
The Vector 4Seasons makes up part of Goodyear's Ultra High-Performance (UHP) line-up, which focuses on optimising low rolling resistance and weight, and, in the Vector's case, dealing with year-round road debris. It's quite a difficult balance to achieve but Goodyear has done a good job. The Vectors have proved themselves to be highly durable in all sorts of horrible conditions, and punctures haven't been an issue.
The Dynamic:Silica4 compound has a tacky feel to it and grip levels are very impressive, giving loads of confidence in fast bends or when tackling roundabouts while keeping up with the flow of traffic.
The Panaracer GravelKing will take some beating on rough roads in this whopping 38mm size. We've already reviewed both the 26mm and the 32mm versions of these tyres and this pothole-conquering, gravel-busting 38mm version in Nile Blue is just as impressive. It's light for a 38mm at 337g, is very easy to set up tubeless and comes in restrained black as well as blue, green and ivory. What more could you want from a winter tubeless tyre?
Ritchey has gone inverse with the tread on its Alpine JB WCS Stronghold tyres to create a tyre that grips on light gravel and rough sections of broken country lane while also offering a smooth ride if you want to get a shift on on the tarmac. A very impressive all-round tyre choice indeed.
If you're wondering, 'JB' stands for Jobst Brandt, an engineer and author who was a big influence on Tom Ritchey. Brandt wrote the seminal book on wheelbuilding, The Bicycle Wheel, designed some of the very first electronic bike computers for Avocet, led epic rides in the Santa Cruz mountains that were famous for disregarding the traditional attachment of road cyclists to Tarmac, and spent his summers exploring the minor roads of the Alps, hence Alpine in the name of these tyres.
Brandt was also an advocate for inverted-tread tyres for dirt riding. In the days before website forums he was a prolific poster on the Usenet cycling groups where he detailed a press launch for Avocet's inverted-tread mountain bike tyres in which they proved faster in timed tests. Brandt claimed that finding was glossed over by one of the magazines and not reported at all by the others. We like to think he'd be pleased to see the idea return in these tyres.
You'll need room in your frame for 35mm tyres to fit the tubeless version of the Alpine JB WCS Stronghold, as the 30mm version is only available with a conventional casing.
Most of the Bontrager wheels are now tubeless-ready, and to complement them the company has started adding tubeless tyres to its range, and there are now quite a few to pick from. The R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR is its flagship road tubeless offering and is designed to be durable thanks to a butyl liner providing the reliability you want and need in the winter. It’s available in 24 and 26mm width options.
We haven’t tested this tubeless tyre yet, but have tested the regular clincher version - you can read that review here
If you crave more width, the cheaper A2 Hard-Case Lite TLR tyre is offered in extra 28 and 32mm width options, and if your bike has space for them, those are probably the ones to pick for winter riding.
Not so much a winter tubeless tyre as an adventure and gravel tyre, but we’ve been impressed with the rolling speed of this dimpled tyre on the road, and if the roads are covered in mud thanks to local farmers then they do offer a compelling benefit over narrower slicks.
Once you're off the good roads and onto the average ones – and we have plenty of them around here – any conceivable difference in rolling speed is easily outweighed by the comfort of the big air chamber, and the fact that you don't have to ease off and pick your line: just batter on through. I've not managed to put a hole in them that the sealant hasn't immediately coped with. Plus you can take them off-road as well, and they’re right at home on the canal towpaths, bridleways and trails like the South Downs Way.
There's now a road version of the G-One Allround pictured and reviewed above, called the G-One Speed. It comes in a narrower 30mm width with V-Guard protection that could be a good choice for more road-based riding, providing your frame has space for them.
Throwing a bit of a curve ball into the list here, the fat WTB Horizon is another possible contender. Granted, it won’t fit all bikes and it might require a new set of wheels, but if it fits this is a durable, grippy, comfortable and fast rolling tyre that might, as the name suggests, open up new horizons…
It’s a 47mm wide tyre which is simply massive compared to everything else in this article, but on a 650b wheel (an old French standard resurrected by the mountain bike industry) the outside diameter is roughly the same as a regular 700c wheelset.
The tread pattern is mostly slick save for a few grooves and chevrons on the shoulders, and the grip is impressive in the wet. They instil bags of confidence on treacherous roads covered in water, mud or wet leaves.
The Rene Herse (formerly known as Compass Cycles) Barlow Pass tyre is a tubeless-compatible (TC), ultra-supple tyre that delivers an astonishingly smooth and grippy ride. If your bike can't fit them, maybe you need a new bike. They're that good. Their width, puncture resistance and deep tread rubber make them especially suitable for winter, but they're fast and comfy enough to use year-round.
IRC 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.
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.
The Panaracer Race D Evo 4 is described by its maker as an ultra-durable road race tyre. I found them a bit snug to fit on some wheels, and they aren't tubeless compatible, but if you are after a fast-rolling, grippy road tyre with decent protection then the Race D is an excellent choice.
The D stands for Duro, which means the Evo 4 is better protected than the lighter tyres in the line-up like the Race A Evo 4, which doesn't have the more robust 3D Double Dipped casing. Both share the Protite puncture proofing belt though.
If you aren't fussed about tubeless compatibility then the Race D Evo 4 is probably one of the best performance clinchers out there. It's also well priced, and wear and durability rates are looking good.
The Goodyear Eagle Sport is an entry-level road tyre from one of the world's big brands, and it delivers well above its price point.
Now, a low-cost tyre that offers 'durability' is often code for a plasticky compound that lasts forever but sends the rider into the ditch on the first wet corner, so it was with some trepidation that I took the bike out, freshly shod with the Eagle Sports. Happily, it was a dry day and the tyres behaved impeccably. The second outing was on sodden roads with localised flooding. Surely, this would be the litmus test... No, after a few cautious turns I began to trust the Eagle Sports to stick to the line and for the whole of the rest of the test period I never had an anxious moment.
'Aha,' I hear you say, 'but that tenacious grip means the tyres most be slow and draggy.' Again, no. They feel lively from the off and the stats don't lie: up one local Strava climb, the fearsome 'Past the Chinese', I notched up a PB out of 32 passes, without being aware of trying particularly hard. A fortnight later, just to show it wasn't a fluke, I did it again.
The Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite Road tyre offers plenty of grip, a supple ride and decent puncture protection. Rolling resistance is impressive too, and it's not a bad price either.
Bontrager says that the R3 is one tyre that can do it all: 'Fast enough for race day, yet durable enough for every day.' That isn't too far off of the mark.
Taking corners and roundabouts flat out, I certainly felt confident that the Bontragers weren't going to wash out when really cranked over onto their edge. The compound really feels like it grabs hold of the asphalt in the dry and it also works in the wet too, although obviously not to the same degree.
Michelin's Protek Urban Aramid tyre offers a fantastic mix of grip, efficiency, comfort and enhanced puncture resistance. For keen commuters and city riders, it's a choice that fulfils all the most important practical criteria while still providing a rewarding ride experience, and all at a very reasonable price.
Available in either 35mm or 40mm, there's more than enough cushioning to deal with rough city streets and broken surfaces. I tested the slightly thinner 35mm option and it seems like the perfect middle option for quick urban riding, with enough insulation from road imperfections to protect without feeling like you're wallowing around.
The tyre's protective qualities don't just extend to your soft bits – underneath the surface is a layer of what Michelin calls 'a new generation of Aramid puncture protection' designed to keep you rolling longer between flats. It's a little hard to gauge exactly how effective this is without trying to wantonly destroy the tyre, but in day-to-day use, they haven't come a cropper yet. Meanwhile, a reflective stripe on the sidewall helps to keep you seen.
Fast-rolling and capable of tackling bad road conditions and even venturing away from the tarmac, Panaracer's Gravel King tyres are a really good option for the winter with rugged durability and great traction.
Panaracer initially introduced the Gravel king as a 26mm tyre, but has kept up with the times, producing fatter versions as bikes have evolved to better cope with crummy roads, and to venture away from the Tarmac. The 32mm and 38mm versions are particularly stellar.
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, 28 and 32mm widths are also available.
Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres are essentially heavy duty, ultra reliable commu-touring tyres that inspire complete confidence. Yes, they're a bit slower than lighter and less puncture-resistant tyres, but if you're not in a hurry or you'd just prefer not to change a tube by the side of the road on a wet February morning, they're unsurpassed.
Schwable have many options and and the Durano 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.
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 280g for the 28mm version 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.
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 and ice, 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 £40, and you can get away with just running a front studded tyre, though obviously a pair is better.
Alternatively, German tyre giant Continental offer their spiky beast with either 120 or 240 studs and just in 700C sizes. They're hard to find in the UK, but this is a really good price for the 32mm version. There are reflective sidewalls for visibility in the dark.
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 we'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. You can run fat tyres at lower pressures, regaining the comfort lost by the change to stiffer sidewalls.
The best winter tyres feature a thick reinforced breaker belt sandwiched between the rubber tread and carcass. This prevents flints and glass from puncturing the delicate inner tube. The sidewall too can often be reinforced to prevent the potholes and large bits of debris ripping through.
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 too, 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. All the tyres listed above are available in 25mm width 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 pointed out in the comments of a previous version of this article, 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.
Almost zero punctures is the biggest advantage of tubeless over a regular inner tube clincher setup, and nowhere is that more of a benefit than during winter riding. Okay, so the installation can sometimes be a tricky old mess, but it’s getting easier all the time with better tyres, rims, tubeless kits and pumps. This guide below takes you through the tubeless installation steps and shows it doesn't need to be all that difficult.
For one member of the road.cc team, winter riding brought his personal tubeless epiphany. During one cold and wet winter ride many years ago, his rear tyre suddenly burst a leak on a busy road. Fortunately, the sealant in the tyre quickly plugged the hole (and thanks to mudguards he was suitably protected from a stripe of gunk up his back) and the escaping air quickly stopped with only a small pressure drop. Importantly, he didn’t need to stop while this incident occurred and continued the ride.
What do you want from a wet-weather tubeless tyre? Much teh same as for a tube-type tyre: extra durability compared to a summer race tyre, with a carcass and tread that is more resistance to the debris that can litter wet roads during the winter months. You might want a bit of extra width, provided your bike has clearance, for additional comfort and the benefit of lower pressures. Tread materials for winter tyres are often modified to provide better traction when the going is slippery.
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John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.