Buyer’s Guide to Commuter Tyres

How to choose the right tyres for riding to work or winter training


Tyres for commuting and winter training need to be grippy, reliable, and fairly quick. Winter roads are often slick. Detritus like glass and thorns is more likely to work its way into your tyres. And while you’re not racing, you still want to get home from work or your morning ride on time… especially if it’s raining.


We will take it as a given that most of us will want winter or commuting tyres to have some form of puncture protection – and that doesn’t mean they have to be slow. But you will still have to compromise somewhere – there’s always a trade off between toughness/durability, grip, and rolling resistance.

For example, Schwalbe’s Marathon Plus is tougher and more hard-wearing than Continental’s Ultra Gatorskin, but it’s not as fast and it’s heavier. You’ll have to decide what quality or qualities you want most as the perfect commuting tyre doesn’t exist. Here are 3 winter commuting tyres that are worth a look.


For road-only use, you don’t need tread patterns. No tyre is hard enough to press into tarmac. Any tread just puts less rubber in contact with the road, hence less grip. For optimum grip, you want no tread pattern. Increasing the tyre’s contact patch on the road – by using a lower pressure tyre – also increases grip. Softer rubber compounds grip better but wear faster than hard ones, which is why some tyres have dual-compound treads with a harder centre strip and softer ‘shoulders’ for better cornering.

Puncture resistance

Most commuter or winter training tyres use some form of a sub-tread, either kevlar or a different composition of rubber. Some use synethetic or synthetic-coated fibres to improve puncture resistance, especially at the sidewalls. The best protection, however, is to keep the tyres at the right pressure: use a track pump with a gauge. Periodically check for and remove sharps embedded in the tyre. Don’t confuse a kevlar breaker strip with a kevlar bead: this simply saves weight over the usual steel wire bead, and enables the tyre to be folded more easily and compactly.

Rolling resistance

The lower the rolling resistance, the faster you’ll go and/or the less effort it will take. Low rolling resistance comes from: higher pressure, the right rubber compound, lack of tread, and the overall wheel diameter (larger wheels roll better, other things being equal). Tyre width isn’t the issue you’d think, but since narrower tyres are higher pressure they go faster on road. At lower pressures, fatter tyres may actually roll better.

The right width

If the rim and tyre bead seat diameters match, you can get the tyre on the rim. Note that the width of a tyre should be between about 140% and 220% of the rim width (around 180% is best). So a 17mm wide rim will cope with 23-37mm tyres. A narrower tyre than this will give a harsh ride while a wider one may squirm off the rim or rupture its sidewalls. There’s a bit more leeway with lower-pressure mountain bike tyres.


Tyre sidewalls are skinwall or gumwall. Skinwall tyres have a thin coating or rubber on the sidewall, through which you can see the threads of the tyre casing. A calico strip around the bead prevents the rim wearing the thin tyre. On gumwalls, a thicker coating of rubber extends to the bead. Skinwalls are usually lighter, more supple and roll better, whereas gumwalls are tougher and better resist sidewall cuts. Scotchlite bands can be added to sidewalls to improve visibility at night, and some have tracks for a bottle dynamo.

Tyre sizes

Imperial measurements are inexact. A 27in tyre is 8mm bigger than a 28in, and there’s more than one tyre size called 26in. Stick with the five-digit ISO number, which gives the tyre section (in millimetres), followed by a dash, followed by the tyre diameter at the bead where it sits on the rim (ditto). A 26in mountain bike rim is 559mm at the bead, a 700C rim 622mm. So, for example, a 28-622 tyre is 700x28C.


Worth a look

Schwalbe Marathon

“Slight speed loss but unmatched puncture resistance”
Continental Ultra Gatorskin

“Slight speed loss but unmatched puncture resistance”
Specialized Nimbus Armadillo 26×1.5

“A veritable tyre fortress that’ll carry you over more hazards than most”