Buyer’s guide: winter tyres - Road Cycling UK

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Buyer’s guide: winter tyres

Tread pattern, compound, size, puncture protection and more

A change of tyres can transform a winter’s riding.

There is little worse than standing at the roadside, wet through from the falling rain and hands numb with cold, trying to fix a puncture.

The roads are awash with debris (glass, flint, thorns and the like) in winter which increases the likelihood of picking up punctures, and while some riders swear by using a race tyre year-round and will roll through winter without picking up a single flat, multiple stops at the roadside can be enough to deflate the spirits of the most motivated rider.

Should you switch to a tougher tyre in winter?

Winter tyres (or rather, considering the prevalent conditions in the UK, the kind of fit-and-forget training tyres you can leave on your bike year-round) are typically heavier and less lively than summer race tyres. The key, then, is finding a all-round tyre that strikes a balance between grip, puncture protection, rolling resistance and ride quality. The best training tyres offer an element of all four.

With that in mind, here’s what to consider when buying a set of winter tyres, as well as some recommendations of our own. What’s your favourite winter tyre? Tell us in the comments section below.

Tread pattern

One common misconception is that more tread equals more grip. That’s not necessarily the case.

While the tread pattern on a mountain bike or cyclo-cross tyre can have a big impact on grip, and the tread on car tyres helps to remove water in order to stop the vehicle aquaplaning, the shape and tiny contact patch of a road bike tyre means it ‘cuts’ through water. It’s too small for there to be a risk of aquaplaning.

Tread pattern may not be as important as you think it is

As an example, the Schwalbe One triple compound race tyre is treadless in its clincher and tubeless varieties, and a representative for the German brand told RoadCyclingUK the presence of a file tread on the tubular version is largely psychological.

While a tread pattern can help ‘squeeze’ grime away from the surface of the tyre, the most significant factor in determining grip is the rubber compound.

Compound

It is the compound, not the tread pattern, which largely dictates how much – or little – grip a tyre has, as well as its rolling resistance, durability and ride quality.

A softer, more supple compound will often be more prone to cuts, but it will conform with imperfections in the road and offer a bigger contact patch and more grip as a result. A harder compound, meanwhile, will be stiffer and less flexible, resulting in a ride quality which feels like the tyre is bouncing over the tarmac, rather than floating over it.

High-mileage tyres have traditionally been made from the latter as harder compounds have a lower wear rate, and therefore a longer lifespan, but the compromise can be less grip and a harsher ride.

The Michelin Power Endurance is an excellent all-round winter tyre

The best modern winter tyres have dual or even triple compounds which offer the best of both worlds. The excellent Michelin Power Endurance, to name one model, looks to optimise low rolling resistance and durability on the centre of the tyre, and grip on the shoulders. There’s always a balancing act as to how much a single tyre can offer one property without affecting another, but the Power Endurance is a good example of a long-lasting tyre that offers durability while still feeling lively and grippy. The Bontrager AW3 Hard-Case Lite is another example of an all-weather all-rounder which has impressed us.

Moving on, and a bicycle tyre’s casing is made from cloth, usually nylon, and the TPI (threads per inch) count will also affect the suppleness of a tyre. Tyres with a low TPI (less than 100) are typically more durable, while those with a high TPI (more than 100) are more supple, so you get an improved ride quality. Again, it’s a balancing act as far as winter tyres are concerned.

Puncture protection

Puncture protection is a vital component of a winter tyre.

Most winter-proof tyres will have a puncture resistant belt under the tread, often made from Vectran or Kevlar and designed to stop glass, flints and other sharp road debris from piercing the inner tube. We were impressed by the puncture protection offered by the Specialized All Condition Armadillo Elite tyre.

Winter tyres will help protect against punctures

A protective belt adds weight and can affect rolling resistance, though the extra puncture resistance is essential to the success of a winter tyre. That said, puncture resistant belts offer different levels of protection, and, if you still value speed, a tyre that offers a happy medium between performance and protection will keep you rolling on a club run or reliability ride. We can also vouch for the Schwalbe Durano as a fine training tyre which strikes an admirable balance between grip, rolling resistance and puncture protection, while the new Vittoria Corsa Control looks an intriguing prospect. It apparently utilises four compounds and shares the same supple 320 TPI as Vittoria’s excellent Corsa tyre, but the tread has been beefed up to improve durability, according to the Italian firm.

The Continental Grand Prix 4 Season is another popular year-round tyre. Pitched by Conti as an all-weather version of the GP4000 race rubber, it incorporates a ‘DuraSkin’ anti-tear fabric and two Vectran belts while remaining relatively light at a claimed 230g for a 23mm tyre or 240g for a fatter 25mm version. That brings us nicely onto size…

Tyre size

Current trends dictate that wider is better – both for WorldTour riders in the pro peloton, who now pretty much exclusively ride 25mm tyres for the vast majority of races, and for amateur cyclists choosing a winter tyre, with many riders now moving up to 28mm and beyond. In response, frame tyre clearances are getting more generous, too.

First up, wider tyres are considered marginally more aerodynamic when paired with the wider rims that are increasingly popular, but more pertinently and significantly, can be run at a lower pressures to improve comfort and grip, with minimal or no impact on rolling resistance. In fact, some studies show wider tyres can reduce lower resistance. Note that tyre pressure is linked to the rider weight – a lighter rider can get away with a lower pressure than a heavier rider. Experiment to see what works for you.

The Schwalbe G-One Speed is one of the new breed of gravel tyres

Width and pressure are linked and Continental’s recommended inflation for the Grand Prix 4 Season reflects this, with 110, 95 and 95 PSI recommended for the 23, 25 and 28mm tyres respectively. We reckon they can be run significantly lower than that, too.

If you’re still running 23s, we’d recommend switching to a 25mm tyre at a minimum and most manufacturers now offer training tyres in a range of widths. The Continental Grand Prix 4 Season, to highlight one example, now goes up to 32mm.

You’ll also find a new breed of ‘go-anywhere’ tyres designed for road and light off-road use (think gravel roads, bridleways and the like). Take a look at something like the Schwalbe G-One Speed.

Tubeless

Tubeless tyres were seemingly made for winter riding and our experience of tubeless road systems to date has largely been positive, as long as you can overcome any potential setup issues.

– Buyer’s guide: should you switch to tubeless? –

The absence of an inner tube eliminates the possibility of pinch flats, and tubeless tyres can be run at lower pressures as a result – ideal for winter. The use of a sealant also guards against small cuts inflicted by thorns and the like.

On the flip side, tubeless-compatible wheels are required and setup – filling the tyre with sealant – will be unfamiliar to many road riders. Still, the ease of setup is improving, with brands like Mavic developing wheel-tyre systems to make tubeless a breeze. The choice of wheels and tyres is improving across the board, too.

Mavic has developed a range of tubeless wheels and tyres

And two top tips

When all is said and done, tyres still need a healthy dose of TLC to offer optimum performance through a long winter. With a new set of winter tyres purchased, here are two top tips to help keep you rolling through the months ahead.

Check your tyres

Needless to say, you should wash you bike regularly through winter to keep it in tip-top condition, but pay particularly attention to the tyres. Glass and other sharp objects – sometimes invisible on an initial inspection – can become lodged in the rubber, eventually working their way through to the inner tube, which is when the inevitable happens. We recommend regularly completing a visual inspection of tyres and removing debris.

Lower pressure

Something alluded to earlier but worth reiterating. Even if you stick with a 23mm tyre through winter (and we’d advise moving up a size), it’s worth lowering the pressure a touch (try 10 PSI to begin with) to improve grip and feel.

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