Changing a flat tyre on the side of the road during the winter is about as much fun as paying taxes or sitting in traffic. Fortunately, there is a wide selection of winter road tyres that will not only reduce the chance of a puncture but also use compounds designed for wet weather that don’t roll like they are made of plastic.
Depending on where you live, winter riding will take on a different definition and just because it doesn’t snow in a particular location, doesn’t mean it’s not winter — not everybody rides in Olso in January.
With Ullr quickly making his presence known in the Northern Hemisphere, read on for a round-up of the tyre’s our tech team pops on for wintery rides.
What to look for in a set of winter road tyres?
The compound for a winter tyre is a balancing act between grip and durability. Hard compounds usually roll faster and wear harder but don’t offer much in the way of grip. Soft compounds provide superior grip but wear out at the speed of light. Water also reduces the friction required to cut rubber, so riding around on the wet roads during the winter will make your tyres more susceptible to sharp objects, regardless of the compound.
2. Puncture protection
Before road tyres became what they are today, riders would cut the beads of worn-out tyres and stuff them inside new tyres to create a double layer of puncture protection. It’s a practice still employed by Niki Terpstra today – a puncture in a no-drop training ride could result in a long and lonely ride home. There’s no denying it works, but it feels like you’re rolling on square wheels.
Luckily for us, this isn’t necessary and most tyres will have a sub-tread designed to stave off punctures. On the lower end of the price spectrum, this sub-tread will consist of an extra layer of rubber but as you move up in price the extra layer will be replaced by fabric-like Kevlar or Vectran to stop sharp objects before they can poke a hole.
Because tubeless tyres are filled with sealant, they will automatically seal most punctures before the tyre is completely deflated. Most of the time if you do get a puncture, you won’t realise it until you get home and the rear of your bike is covered in sealant.
Road tyres have various levels of tread, but regardless of the pattern, it’s not likely to offer much – if any – additional traction. Car tyres have a square profile and need tread to displace water to prevent hydroplaning. Bike tyres have a round cross-section which is an ideal shape to prevent hydroplaning and the contact patch which looks a bit like a canoe is exceptional at displacing water. Plus to hydroplane a bike tyre you need to be riding at speeds unachievable with human legs.
4. The wider, the better
The benefits of wide tyres have been well established; they are more comfortable, offer better grip and there have been plenty of independent tests showing they are faster, too. How wide a tyre you can run will be determined by your bikes clearance, and also the width of your wheels’ rims. Aim for the plumpest casing that will fit in your frame and still allow your wheels to properly support the sidewall.
Best road bike winter tyres 2019
Continental Grand Prix 4 Season
A hard-wearing grippy option
Sizes: 23-32c | Weight: 280g (28c) | TPI: 330tpi | Price: £55 / $80 / AU$98Hard-wearing and puncture resistanceMiddle of the road level of puncture protection and rolling resistance likely to disappoint riders on the extremes of the bell curve
Falling somewhere in the middle of the nuclear bomb-proof Gatorskin and the race performance-oriented GP 5000, the Grand Prix 4 Season offers added puncture protection and durability without sacrificing too much in the realm of rolling resistance.
Available in sizes from 23c to 32c, the GP 4 Season sees a double layer Vectran breaker to keep pointy road debris from meeting your tube, and features the German brand’s polyamide fibre DuraSkin sidewall to stave off cuts.
The GP 4 Seasons don’t get the BlackChili treatment, but the tread is made from a relatively soft compound that grips well in the wet and has proved to be surprisingly hard-wearing.
Pirelli P Zero Velo 4s
All weather tyres backed by motorsport expertise
Sizes: 23-28c | Weight: 220g (25c) | TPI: 128tpi | Price: £35 / $45 / AU$83Top-notch wet weather gripLow rolling resistanceNot quite as much protection as some all-weather tyres
Pirelli made quite a splash with its re-entry into bicycle tyres with the P Zero range, and the Velo 4S serves as the brands all-season tyre optimised for wet and cold conditions.
The tread is made from Pirelli’s SilcaSmartNet compound which is fast-rolling, and the Italian brand says the tread is based on its FGD (Functional Groove Design) which is borrowed from its Diablo Supercorsa motorbike tyres said to maximise wet weather grip – take this claim with a grain of salt.
Under the hood, the Pirelli P Zero 4S features an aramid fibre strip for puncture protection and a 128tpi carcass. We just wish they would offer them in the iconic red and yellow logos for the added cool factor.
Michelin Power All Season
Budget-friendly all-season rubber
Sizes: 23-28c | Weight: 270g (25c) | TPI: 95tpi | Price: £35 / $50 / AU$90Low rolling resistance PriceWeight
Michelin’s Power tyres cover a wide range of performance levels, and the All Season clincher is designed for wet roads. Michelin used a new resin in the All Season’s Grip Compound which, according to Michelin, offers a 15 per cent improvement over the Pro4 wet weather tyre, is faster, and more puncture-resistant – especially in the cold.
In the real world, the All Season tyre does offer notably better grip on wet roads than the Competition (the latter is still better when it’s dry), and the All Season will outlast the rest of the tyres in Michelin’s Power lineup.
Keeping the tube protected from pointy road debris comes compliments of a Michelin-developed artificial fibre called Aramid Protek+ layer that adds a few grams, but also keeps your tyre levers safely in your pocket.