This article was produced in partnership with Chain Reaction Cycles
Swapping from summer to winter rubber is essential for many car drivers across the northern hemisphere – so why not your bike tyres too? Whether you’re a weekend warrior or daily commuter, they’re your only contact point with the ground, and we’d all like to keep it that way.
We’ve put together a handy guide to help you choose which tyres will let you laugh in the face of Jack Frost and keep riding when others around you are slip-sliding in the snow, or wobbling in the wet. Read on…
Why do I need to swap from summer to winter tyres?
There are four main differences between them: tread pattern, tyre compound, puncture protection and size. Taken together, these factors have an enormous effect on overall riding performance in winter.
Slick and semi-slick tyres provide ample grip (and roll well) when conditions are dry, warm and summery. Tarmac loves them, we love them. But cold and wet conditions can dramatically reduce traction, and if they meet ice or snow then you’re going to struggle to stay upright. A chunkier tread pattern helps them bite better in the dirt, and shrug off water in the wet. A siped tread features thin slits across the surface of a tyre to provide extra grip and disperse water. And if things get really (d)icy, studded tyres will deliver maximum grip.
As with car tyres, winter compounds typically function better in lower temperatures. This means grip remains consistent, as the rubber won’t stiffen up. The trade-off here is that while softer compounds (below 60 Duro) are very grippy, they wear fast and can be slower. Harder compounds (above 70 Duro) are faster rolling and wear better, but can be slippery. Thus, some winter tyres have a dual compound that’s harder in the centre than on the shoulders.
You’ll be needing beefier protection too, as rain and snow have a tendency to wash sharp objects into the road. Winter tyres often use a protective sheet under the tread to stop sharp objects puncturing the inner tube, and some also have protective layers in the side walls. Yes, this makes the tyre a little heavier and harder, but it’s necessary - and can save you a fair few freezing roadside puncture repairs.
Finally, winter tyres are often a little larger than their summer cousins. Like the BikeRadar crew post-Christmas. This is because the bigger the carcass, the more air there is between you and the road. Which means fewer pinch flats and a more comfortable ride, albeit at the cost of more rolling resistance. But this isn’t the time to go for that PB, anyway.
What tyres are best for me?
It depends on a few different things – the type of riding you do, your preferred tyre format, goals, what conditions you expect to encounter, and your budget. If you’re a keen roadie determined to bash out the training miles no matter what the weather’s doing then you’ll need different tyres to a daily commuter, for whom performance is less of a priority. If you’re running tubulars then you won’t be able to swap them for clincher rubber. But there’s something for everyone, and we’ve several suggestions below.
Clinchers vs tubulars vs tubeless
If these exotic terms have you scratching your head, don’t worry – you’re almost certainly riding clinchers. Basically, most entry/mid-level road and commuter bikes use clinchers, where the tyre carcass is held in place on the wheel by dint of metal beads that “clinch” the edge of the rim when the inner tube is inflated to sufficient pressure. By contrast, tubulars are a single piece system that are glued onto the wheel rim. And tubeless wheels dispense with the inner tube altogether, instead relying on the tyre and rim to form an airtight chamber.
Our picks for training
Schwalbe Durano Plus
The Schwalbe Durano is a benchmark clincher for roadies, and this version includes a belt of protective Smartguard rubber under the tread. Our hibernation-averse testers love its trustworthy performance in most conditions thanks to the siped tread (see explainer above), modest price and the fact it’s as light as much more delicate race tyres.
Continental Grand Prix 4 Season
Continental’s aptly named 4 Season clincher always gets highly recommended for winter training in a cost-no-object context and for good reason. It's highly puncture resistant, and offers reassuring grip from its winter-specific rubber compound.
Our pick for commuting
Schwalbe Marathon Plus
Commuters rejoice – the Marathon Plus is virtually immune to through-the-tread punctures, thanks to its thick layer of SmartGuard springy sub-tread rubber. In our tests, even drawing pins wouldn’t penetrate.
There's even a Scotchlite strip and dynamo track on the sidewalls, and it comes in a vast range of sizes. They can be a tight fit, but are so unlikely to puncture that this isn't a job you'll do often.
Our pick for racing
Schwalbe Ultremo ZX TR
Schwalbe’s first tubeless road tyre has been well worth the wait, with performance and practical simplicity putting it straight in at the top of the tubeless tyre charts – if, that is, you can stomach the cost. Three years in development, The Ultremo ZX TR has a carbon fibre bead and the whole carcass is reinforced for integrity and puncture protection. Utterly reliable.
Vittoria Corsa Evo II CX
The Evo CX tubular was introduced as an improvement to Vittoria’s highly successful Corsa CX race tyre – and if your roads are on the rough side, it’s worth considering over a lighter tub.
There’s a puncture-resistant belt beneath the central tread, while the tyre shoulders are relatively soft so cornering is good and grippy. It’s undeniably pricey, but you should get plenty of wear out of these tyres.
Our pick for crazy conditions
Schwalbe Marathon Spike
And when the snow and ice appear, deploy the spiky version of Schwalbe’s excellent Marathon tyres (see above). Available in clincher format at 35mm width - so be sure your frame can take a carcass of that size - these tyres have KevlarGuard puncture protection and a special winter compound.
You lose some rolling resistance, but you gain massive reliability in awful conditions.