Change Tyres for Safer Winter Cycling

Punctures and slippery road surfaces are two of the hallmarks of winter riding, but they are easily overcome with the right rubber on your wheels.

Investing in a set of tougher winter tyres will help limit the likelihood of you spending time beside the road mending a flat caused by the excess debris on the road. This in turn will save you cash on multiple inner tubes, so it works out a good investment in the long run.

Many typical commuting bikes come with tyres that are appropriate for winter already – you can check what has been supplied to you on the bike spec, or on the side wall of the tyre. You can then pop onto the manufacturers’ website to read about the properties of your tyre.

Even if your tyres were made to cater for wet, UK weather, they may need replacing over time. You’ll be able to see as the thread becomes worn, and if you’ve got nicks and cuts it’s definitely time to replace them as they won’t be resilient to road debris.

A good set of tyres can turn punctures into a rare event – but you need to know what you’re looking for…

Compound and thread pattern

The compound you choose to go for will affect grip and rolling resistance. A soft and supple compound will have a low rolling resistance (meaning it’s faster to ride on), and will move with the road, giving you a larger surface area that is more grippy. It will however, be prone to puncture.

In comparison, a harder compound will be less flexible, and will feel more bouncy over uneven ground – but it will be more durable and will last longer.

The best solution is to go for a dual-compound tyre which is harder along the centre for hardiness, and softer outerwalls or ‘shoulders’ for better cornering and comfortable, supple riding.

When the surface you are riding on is harder than the tyre, for example, for road riding and most commuting, thread pattern isn’t important because no tyre is going to make an impact on tarmac. This means you don’t actually need to look for a tyre with loads of grooves on it! If you’re riding off-road on mud, then you need to look for a thread pattern designed for splashing around.

FREE TIP> On top of buying the right rubber, you can also get some free grip by making sure you pump your tyres to the right pressure. The pressure range you can pump to is indicated along the sidewall of the tyre, but the correct PSI for you is also influenced by your weight, the road, and the weather. Over winter, when grip is important, you can increase the surface area of the tyre by pumping to a lower pressure.

Puncture prevention

A good winter tyre will have a puncture resistant belt below the top layer of rubber which is often made of Vectran or Kevlar. This is designed to prevent sharp objects getting through to the inner tube, where you’ll find yourself deflated.

The trade off for including this layer is increased weight and rolling resistance, but the time lost by a slightly slower ride could be easily made up through consistent and puncture free riding.

FREE TIP > Buying new tyres is one way to cut down on punctures, but checking your existing tyres for nicks and sharp objects and keeping an eye on new ones you buy will also lessen your puncture count. To do this, you can examine the outer shell of the tyre by eye, then if you really need to investigate after a spate of punctures, take the tyre off and check the inside for any sharp object that could be re-piercing your inner tube.

If you have V-Brakes or Caliper brakes (as opposed to discs) you should also keep an eye on your wheel rims and braking surfaces – a quick wipe before and after rides could prevent grit building up in between pad and rim, and causing unnecessary wear.

Tyre size and width

You need to get tyres the correct size for your bike. If you have a road bike, this is more than likely 700C, but you can choose between 23 and 25mm’s width. For more choice, 28mm tyres do exist, but depending on the bike can result in clearance issues with the brake rubbing, so you need to check this works with your bike.

The wider the tyre, the higher the weight and rolling resistance, but the greater the grip on the road – it’s up to you to decide what is more important to you. A 700C tyre with a 25mm width will be marked as “700Cx25mm”.

If you have a hybrid bike, your wheels will either be 26” or 700C. If you wheels are 700C, you can use road tyres as above, or wider ‘hybrid’ tyres from 28mm to 38mm. If they’re 26”, the width will be measured in inches, for example “26 x 1.5” or “26 x 1.9”. Again, the wider the tyre, the greater the comfort and grip, but with that increases the resistance and weight.

If you’re not sure if your bike is 700C or 26”, check the writing on your current tyre. There will be a code that ends in either “662”, which means 700C, or “559”, which means 26”.

Which tyres would you recommend?

There are a great many options out there, and the information above should help you out if your wading through product descriptions. However, if you want to take a look at some well recommended options, here are some of the most popular tyres. Prices do vary as the big guns battle for competition, so be sure to compare the price tag at the major retailers before purchasing:

700C Wheels

Continental Grand Prix 4 Seasons 700C Folding Tyre (RRP £43, Sale price £30.59)

These tyres are all singing, all dancing in aid of keeping the puncture fairy away. Two Vectran layers act against punctures, and combined with a lightweight Duraskin mesh finish and a ‘Max Grip Silica compound’ these are safe in wet weather but have a long lifespan. This tyre is made to be light and strong, and designed for cyclists who value speed as well as puncture resisntace.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus 700C SmartGuard Commuter Tyre – (RRP £33.99, sale price £30.50) – this comes in 25 – 38mm

Schwalbe created the Marathon Plus to eliminate punctures. The SmartGuard is made of flexible rubber and the company claim to have tested the rubber against thumbtacks placed in the tyre which still fail to penetrate the layer. We can’t vouch for this experiment but these are a bulletproof set!

For a more racey set, Schwalbe do offer the Durano Performace RaceGuard 700C tyre which is available in 23-28mm and designed for high mileage but more speed orientated riding.

26” Wheels

Specialized Nimbus Armadillo Tyre – RRP:  £30

This is a tyre designed for speedy commutes on city streets – it’s durable and resistant to punctures, without adding too much resistance or weight.

Schwalebe Marathon Plus 26” SmartGuard Commuter Tyre – (RRP £33.99, Sale price £17.99)

As the road tyre, this is an anti-puncture tyre that should be long lasting and will keep you on the road, and not by the side of it, pump in hand, as the rubber is resistant to glass, flints and other nasties that you may roll over.