The wet weather has arrived and unfortunately it will probably continue to rear it’s ugly head repeatedly for the next couple of months.
Heavy rain means that debris is washed onto road surfaces, so even when the surfaces have dried out, there are more puncture risks on the tarmac. Not only that, but of course wet weather means surfaces are more slippery.
These two inconveniences – higher puncture risk and slippery roads are best combated by winter worthy tyres.
One common misconception is that the best tyres are the ones with the thickest grooves, or ‘tread’ visible on the surface. The benefit of a heavy tread is entirely psychological – what you really need to look out for is compound, puncture proofing breakers, and appropriate TPI.
Summer riding is all about soft compounds, those lovely supple tyres that roll over uneven surfaces, sticking to the road and giving you a smooth, low resistance ride. Hard compounds are much more resilient to punctures, but they don’t mould with the road, they bounce over uneven surfaces, they increase resistance and aren’t that comfortable.
Neither of the above options are good for winter miles – and that’s why quality tyres will have a ‘dual compound’ – a soft compound, with a puncture resistant layer, or softer compound on the sidewalls for supple cornering and hard compound in the center to combat the nasty grit and dirt.
Your puncture resistant layer is likely to be made of ‘Vectran’ or ‘Kevlar’ – this extra barrier adds a little weight and toughens up the tyre, hence slightly more resistance, but it’s a lot better than standing by the road with numb fingers.
Of course, you do need to make sure your tyres are in good condition – give them a wipe after rides to stop grit becoming embedded, and if they’ve got genuine slashes in them it might be better to replace them. If you’ve sprung a hole and can see right through to the tube, no amount of Kevlar or Vectran will save you going flat.
Your tyres have a cloth casing, usually made from nylon. Winter tyres will have a lower TPI (threads per inch), which makes them more durable – whilst supple, fast, summer tyres have a higher than 100 TPI – this makes them more comfortable and speedy to ride, but less resilient. Therefore, if you want bullet proof as you can get, look for something like the Speicialized Armadillo, with 60TPI, but if you want something that feels a bit speedier, consider the 330TPI Continental GP 4 Seasons. The latter is still a suitable winter tyre, but it needs more expert puncture proofing to cater for the supple casing, hence the considerably higher RRP.
Width and pressure
Fast racing tyres are usually skinny, 23mm – and even less if you’re racing tubs. Over winter, most racers are plodding out the base miles, and fast has become less important. For commuters, getting there safely and hassle free is the most important concern year round. Therefore, 25mm and above tyres become the order of the day.
Wider tyres have a larger patch of contact with the road. This simply means more grip, which on wet, greasy roads, is important. If you’ve got a hybrid, cyclocross bike, or a relaxed geometry road bike with clearance for 28mm tyres, then you can go even bigger.
Running your tyres at slightly lower pressure in the wet also increases the surface area of your contact point with the road, so aim to run your tyres around 10 PSI lower than you might on a sunny day. Of course, don’t allow them to run too low – as this can leave you open to punctures – for a guide to what range you should be looking at, check the tyre side wall. If you’re light, stick to the lower end, if you’re a heavier rider, the higher end.
You want my suggestions?
The perfect tyres for you will vary, but going on my own personal experiences:
Specialized Armadillo – Hardwearing, these tough little critters shouldn’t puncture often – but with a 60TPI casing they will make your bike feel a little slow if you’re used to lightweight summer tyres. This said, you’ll soon get used to them, and it will feel amazing when you swap them come spring.
Schwalbe Durano – I’ve ridden these in summer and winter, and suffered very few punctures whilst still feeling perfectly happy to ride them in the sun. A dual compound is used, with supple rubber on the shoulders for grip and comfort, and a much harder compound at the centre, where the tyre makes the most indent on the road.
Continental 4 Seasons – These have a Duraskin and Vectran breaker, as well a super special black “Max Grip Silica” compound optimised for wet weather grip. Extra technology has gone into making these tough, whilst still boasting a 330TPI – they’re pleasant to ride and resilient.