Winter riding is bad enough without the ‘bonus’ of heavy and treacherously grip-free tires. Traditional training/touring/commuting tires are designed for high mileage and minimum punctures, with thick, heavy tread in a hard rubber compound, but the extra layers and thickness make them twice the weight of race rubber.
The latest tough lightweight tires use similar construction and compounds to top race rubber and many are available in 25 and 28mm carcass sizes. They’re slightly heavier and slower to get rolling, but the latest research says that once going they actually roll faster on real roads because they’re more supple and shock absorbing.
It also makes them fat enough to shrug off potholes, they grip well enough for you to ride confidently through the worst weather, and thin and flexible puncture-proofing layers add enough insurance to make punctures a rare occurrence without killing the responsiveness and enjoyment of riding.
What to look for when buying winter training tires
Tread: Whether or not the urban myth about a road bike tire needing to be travelling at 200mph-plus to aquaplane is true, our testing confirms tread is more a psychological than physical advantage. And deeper tread can hold slippery filth and gravel that slicks certainly don’t.
Compound: What really matters in terms of a tire’s grip and lifespan is the rubber compound. The harder it is, the longer it lasts but the more likely you are to wipe out in the wet. The best tires use clever blends or double/triple compound lay-ups to get the best of both worlds.
Protection: Puncture ‘belts’ or ‘breakers’ underneath the tread use tightly woven sheets of ultra-tough yet lightweight threads such as Vectran or aramid/Kevlar that do their best to prevent nails, thorns, glass and other sharp objects from puncturing the inner tube.
Carcass: The body of a tire is made up of cross-ply layers of synthetic or sometimes cotton fabric. Traditionally, the more threads per inch (TPI) in the carcass, the more supple and smoother the tire. Differences in lay-up/TPI and the materials themselves make that less of an indicator, though.
Size: Fast tires were traditionally 22-23mm wide for low weight and aerodynamic profile. Wider rims have shown that wider tires can actually be faster in most conditions, though, and they roll more smoothly too. That makes 25-26mm tires the hot ticket for both racing and training.
Tubeless: Rather than a porous carcass containing a separate inner tube, tubeless tires rely on an airtight carcass plus specifically shaped wheel rim and tire bead to keep them inflated. Add some sealant for small punctures and you’ve theoretically got a more puncture-proof, supple and faster ride.
BEST ON TEST
Continental Grand Prix 4 Season
Sizes available: 25mm, 28mm Size tested: 25mm (actual width 24.7mm, height 22.8mm) Weight: 223g
Delivering easy speed, surefooted traction and durability, this is a superb fit-and-forget all-year all-rounder. The mixed Grand Prix tread is laid over a bead-to-bead Duraskin reinforcing mesh with two extra Vectran puncture layers for excellent protection and longevity.
BEST FOR FAST CORNERING
Vredestein Fortezza TriComp
Sizes available: 23mm, 25mm Size tested: 25mm (actual width 25.1mm, height 23.9mm) Weight: 238g
When it comes to sumptuous ride quality in a fast, floated, supremely surefooted and surprisingly tough tire, Vredestein’s big volume Fortezza TriComp gets our vote for fast cornering.
Schwalbe Durano S
Sizes available: 23mm Size tested: 23mm (actual width 23.9mm, height 21.3mm) Weight: 221g
The fastest of Schwalbe’s tough Durano family is still impressively impenetrable and enjoyable to ride for the money. Reasonable pricing is enhanced by a decent wear life, making this a top all-weather training tire.
Sizes available: 23mm, 25mm Size tested: 25mm (actual width 25.1mm, height 23.9mm) Weight: 241g
Giant’s house brand tire is way more than just a collar-and-cuffs badge-matching exercise, and this larger-volume version of the extra protected P-SLR 2 race tire is a great all-rounder.
Sizes available: 23mm Size tested: 23mm (actual width 23.3mm, height 18.4mm) Weight: 235g
Maxxis’ Radiale construction race rubber is phenomenally confident and quick in wet conditions but it’s low in height and tall in price. Using a radial rather than cross-ply carcass construction makes it amazingly supple for such a shallow tire and it glides over rough surfaces and maintains momentum beautifully as long as you dodge bigger bumps and holes. The overhanging triple compound tread with sipe cuts gives outstanding wet weather grip while still feeling race fast. Bead-to-bead reinforced durability is proving impressive too, and wear rates are perfectly acceptable.
Schwalbe Ultremo DD
Sizes available: 23mm, 25mm Size tested: 25mm (actual width 24.2mm, height 22mm) Weight: 256g
The DD adds Double Defense cut and debris protection to our favourite race tire, though feel and sizing suffer slightly. The slick, triple-compound RaceStar tread layer is underlined with a thick V-Guard puncture protection belt and mountain bike tire-derived Snake Skin reinforcements for impressive debris survivability. Once you’ve spun its weight up to speed it’s a very fast roller and confidently grippy. The stiffer carcass means a fitting fight without tire levers and it sizes up and floats more like a good 23mm tire than a 25, but still handles rough roads and pothole jolts well.
Panaracer Race Type D
Sizes available: 23mm, 25mm Size tested: 25mm (actual width 24.7mm, height 23.4mm) Weight: 261g
This winter training tire takes the proven traction of Panaracer’s Race family and overlays it on a tough carcass. The 25mm version rides surprisingly smoothly for an armored tire and it’s easy to pop on and off without tire levers.
Michelin Pro 4 Endurance 4
Sizes available: 23mm, 25mm Size tested: 25mm (actual width 24.7mm, height 23.9mm) Weight: 243g
Replacing the popular Krylion, the Pro 4 Endurance promises extra grip without compromising longevity, secure handling and easy speed. The new dual rubber compound is certainly surefooted enough for a knee down approach to dirty, wet descents. It rolls well too, with the generous carcass meaning smooth float and sustained speed on rough tarmac despite a bead to bead puncture-proof layer. Having ridden on the Pro 4 SC since spring, the compound certainly resists cuts, abrasions and general wear and tear better than the old Pro 3, so durability signs are looking good.