It’s a fact of cycling that to be any good the following summer you need to put in the miles throughout the winter.
Whether you’re training for your first sportive or you’ve lost count of the number of seasons you’ve been racing, winter base miles will give you the foundation you need to hit the spring and summer in the best form.
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What’s more, the winter can actually be a fantastic time to be on your bike. Get out when it’s bright, crisp and clear and the lanes and hills are a great place to pedal.
However, rarely will you get two days in a row that fit this ideal criteria and when the weather turns a sure fire way to find yourself in trouble is a mechanical.
One common problem for cyclists can be punctures, but the risk can be significantly reduced with a decent pair of winter road bike tyres.
Here we run through what to look for, and offer our picks of the best winter tyres we’ve been riding.
When the roads are cold, wet and littered with winter’s detritus, only the toughest tyres will do. With puncture resistance and good grip essential at this time of year, here’s our pick of the best.
If you’re unsure where to start with tyres, have a look at our buyers’ guide.
With cold, harsh weather slowly creeping in, now’s the perfect time to invest in more robust tyres in order to cope with what can sometimes be extremely hazardous winter roads full of grit, mud and leaves.
If properly prepared, then the foul weather needn’t be such a big concern. Get yourself a decent set of winter tyres — and as well as having the confidence on the often-slippery countryside roads, you could potentially go puncture-free all winter.
We’ve chosen tyres suitable for those who ride mostly on roads, but many companies offer good, durable, puncture-resistant tyre without excessive bulk and sluggish rolling resistances. A fast set of tyres will make those winter miles a little more enjoyable, helping you cover the distance more easily, and above all, safely.
We found out…
What to look for
Punctures are a pain at any time of year, but can be especially challenging in the winter. The combination of damp conditions and more debris on the road means that foreign objects are more likely to get picked up and pushed into the tyre.
Look for designs that offer a layer of extra protection to minimise cuts and abrasions as well as punctures. Many summer and racing tyres will have a thin breaker belt of some description between the vulcanised rubber and the carcass of the tyre.
Winter tyres will almost certainly have a much thicker, tougher or larger version.
The more robust sidewall will also go a long way to prevent your cold hands from changing tubes mid-ride. This should prevent large stones and potholes damaging the tyre. All these things will reduce the likelihood of the dreaded hiss, but will be detrimental to the ride of the tyre.
As puncture resistance increases, so does rolling resistance. As you stiffen the tyre with rubber on sidewalls and toughened carcasses, it is less able to deform as it passes over deformations in the road, slowing you down, but only slightly and not as much as a puncture when your hands are stiff and cold.
Traction and tread
There has been a history of companies supplying great puncture protection, but often at the cost of outright grip. Fortunately, modern tyres seem to have struck the right balance between the two. Look for a good tread to disperse the water away from the tyre and a soft rubber compound to aid grip.
Ultimately, grip is a combination of a few things on a bicycle tyre. Rubber compound has the greatest effect on how much traction your tyre will offer.
A large flat-surfaced car tyre needs tread to remove water from the contact surface but the shape of a bicycle tyre and the small contact patch mean it is the rubber compound that has more effect on traction.
Tread pattern is still important: dirty roads especially can unstick even the grippiest of tyres so some tread or profiling will allow the rubber to push past the dirty film or squeeze it away.
Great rubber with no tread will be a lot more effective than a poor compound and deep tread. Chances are the chunky tread will also reduce the tyre’s rolling efficiency too.
Unfortunately, you can’t completely protect yourself from punctures and when that inevitable time comes, it’s likely to be cold, wet and getting dark! So now’s the time to test how easy or hard it is to fit your tyre to your rim.
Some combinations work better than others, so it’s smart to test what works best for you.
One way around the increased rolling resistance dilemma is to increase width. The larger carcass can be run at slightly (maybe 5-10 psi for a fatter 25c tyre) lower pressures to allow more deflection, without running the risk of impact damage or punctures. Wider tyres also have a larger air volume, increasing comfort.
Finally, the larger dimensions of the tyre offer a bigger contact patch, potentially giving more grip. There are downsides: bigger tyres weigh more and there will also be a limit to how big a tyre can get before it no longer fits on your bike.
Most bikes come with a 23c tyre as standard, and a 25c winter tyre should fit fine — much bigger than this, though, and you could run into clearance issues.
Our pick of the best winter road bike tyres
Good grip, puncture resistance and fast rolling mean these Vredestein Fortezza Senso All Weather road bike tyres could be good
Panaracer Race D Evo2 – £39.99 – 10/10
With this clever design, Panaracer has produced an outstanding tyre. We liked the previous version that not only lasted well and resisted punctures, but offered good rolling resistance too. The latest iteration is just as good, if not better. A Kevlar belt helps keep the tube protected while a forgiving sidewall and bead helps eliminate road buzz — and means you won’t destroy your thumbs getting the tyre on and off the rim.
Hutchinson Intensive 2 – £32.99 – 7/10
We’re not a huge fan of the Intensive 2s, but they do the job. The tyre’s strong bead makes them a little harder to get on the rim, but it’s not the tightest we’ve ever come across. The reinforced hardskin, while not making the ride too harsh, did make the tyre feel hard with a noticeable reduction in grip with unacceptable levels of slippage on the climbs — especially when pushing hard out of the saddle.
Continental GP 4 Season – £46.95 – 9/10
These are a mix between Continental’s GP4000S race tyre and it’s heavy-duty GatorSkin. They’re tougher than the GP4000S, yet faster rolling than the GatorSkin, giving great versatility and durability. Excellent puncture and sidewall protection means riders should get good mileage from these tyres without puncturing. There’s great grip in the wet, and they even managed to keep us upright when we unwittingly rode through an oil spill. Only a high asking price cost these great tyres a perfect 10.
Schwalbe Durano – £34.99 – 9/10
We like this offering from Schwalbe. They rolled really well and with a slight give in the bead made life easier for our thumbs getting them on the wheel. While the RaceGuard protection belt made for a harsher ride than the other tyres on test, we were confident that these wouldn’t easily puncture and didn’t compromise grip in any way. Schwalbe says these are also mile-eaters — making your purchase go a long way. What more could you ask for?
Vittoria Rubino Pro Tech – £30.99 – 9/10
Being the cheapest tyres on test, the Rubino Pro Tech were bound to be the worst, weren’t they? Well, actually, no. A durable and grippy tyre with a silver reflective sidewall with three size options (23/25/28) ticks every box for success as a great winter all-rounder.
This tyre is ideal not only for general rides, but commuting too. The Vittoria’s only downside is that it was the most sluggish on test and didn’t roll as well as the others.
It’s important to get the right tyre for your needs. A decent set can make or break your ride. A good rolling tyre helps the miles tick by, puncture protection keeps you going and high grip levels gives you confidence in the corners — all of which will make you a happy cyclist.
It’s worth researching to see if the tyres you want to buy work well with your wheel as there’s nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of nowhere, with three broken tyre levers, raw hands and a puncture.