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 bike 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. If you are unsure of what you should consider when choosing a winter tyre, jump to the bottom of the page to find out what to look for in a set of winter road bike tyres.
Best winter road bike tyres
Falling somewhere in the middle of the nuclear bomb-proof Gatorskin and the race performance-oriented GP5000, 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 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’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.
The S-Works Turbo might not be marketed as an all-weather winter tyre, but it’s relative affordability, good levels of grip, supple casing, and quality construction make for a tyre that is capable of performing year-round.
Not only is the tyre supple, grippy and fast enough to run on your best summer bike, the S-Works Turbo is so well made that it will happily stand up to the worst winter might throw at it. In fact, one of Cyclingnews’ team members has run these tyres for three winters – through sub-zero temperatures and snow – and continues to use them today. Puncture protection comes courtesy of Specialized’s Blackbelt technology, and the Gripton compound has an extremely low rolling resistance.
It might not claim the same levels of puncture resistance as a dedicated winter tyre, but the infrequency of punctures far exceeds what one would expect from even the hardiest of winter tyre.
For those who believe that it’s not winter unless there is snow on the ground, the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres are for you. They feature deep tread, rough and tumble sidewalls, and extreme puncture protection with a hefty 595g weight.
The Marathon Plus come in a wide range of widths and sizes and see Schwalbe’s top level of puncture protection which sees 5mm of rubber under the tread made from recycled latex – don’t expect to win any sprints with the added puncture protection as they aren’t very fast rolling.
A toned-down version of Schwalbe’s G-One gravel tyre, the Speed version has the same basic tread pattern (well, more of a texture) and is made from the brand’s TripleStar Compound. Starting at 30mm wide, it’s on the larger end of what traditionally would pass as a road tyre; they are fast-rolling and comfortable.
The G-One Speed is built around Schwalbe’s Microskin carcass, which is a fabric layer in the casing that helps the tyre hold air without the need for an inner tube. Under the tread is a V-Guard fabric puncture protection layer, and the brand’s Snakeskin sidewall protection — Schwalbe calls this double defence.
If the G-One Speed piques your fancy, you’ll need a bike that can handle wide tyres. At 330g per tyre, however, they’re not likely to please the weight weenies among us.
Vittoria’s Rubino Pro tyre is ideal for long, slow winter base mile rides, with plenty of puncture protection thanks to the bead-to-bead tread wrap and the PRB nylon anti-puncture layer inside the casing.
The Rubino Pro also takes advantage of Vittoria’s 3C Graphine Structure, which sees the single-molecule thick carbon material slotting in between the rubber molecules for additional puncture protection and extended life — plus they are tubeless-ready.
With a 150tpi casing, they are surprisingly supple and competitively light too at 250g (25c).
Built around Bontrager’s Hard-Case Lite carcass, the R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR has recently been revamped from a slick to a lightly treaded tyre. Bontrager says the proprietary TR-speed compound is faster rolling and longer-lasting than its predecessor, while also offering superior puncture protection.
The centre strip is still smooth with Bontrager adding light tread to the shoulders which becomes more aggressive as the tyre gets wider — claiming this increases cornering traction.
Bontrager has also added a new Nylon 105 breaker belt and says its own lab testing showed the tread lasting 75 per cent longer than its predecessor.
Gravel King might be a slightly misleading name for these Panaracer tyres as they are likely to leave you under-gunned on anything more than a recently graded gravel-road. They are however fantastic winter road tyres if your bike has enough clearance.
Gravel tyres are, by definition, designed to stand up to a fair bit of abuse, so it’s no surprise the ‘Anti-Flat casing’ and AX-Alfacord puncture protection is well suited to sharp road debris. The ZSG natural compound file tread is fast rolling and provides oodles of purchase even on steep, wet gradients.
These tyres are only available in 32-38mm widths but there are still quite a few 26mm versions floating around if you look hard enough.
What to look for in a set of winter road bike 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.