With winter once more upon us it’s time to consider ‘winterizing’ our bikes. We will take to our garages on-mass for the age old custom of making said bikes ‘winter proof’, or at the very least a little more prepared to cope with the rigors of cycling though the cold and wet wintery months. Yet for everything we do, fitting mudguards, switching to wet-lube, sealing cables et cetera nothing makes a bigger difference than tyre choice. The tyre is the only contact point with the road and will therefore take the brunt of the conditions, and we all know just how bad they can get at this time of the year.
When our roads become littered with debris, as they inevitably will, you need a tyre that will keep you upright and on the bike. So what should you look out for when choosing those all important tyres? Without overstating the obvious, or telling my granny how to ‘suck eggs’, grip and puncture resistance are essential. Swapping the summer rubber to something that is at home on winter roads can seem daunting, but with a little thought you should be able to find the perfect tyres for you. There are a few differences between summer and winter rubber but as a general rule of thumb, often you get what you pay for.
As with the trend for wider summer tyres the same can be applied to winter tyre choice, it has long been understood that a wider tyre will give more grip. Swapping out those 23c, or if you are in the know 25c tyres for a wider 28c or upwards, will increase the contact area between you and the road. Not only does this increase grip but it also helps with bothersome winter debris pinch flats. One caveat I would add, be sure your frame has adequate tyre clearance before splurging hard earned cash on new rubber that may or may not fit your frame. If like many of the VC Iveagh folk you have a dedicated winter steed, an old trusty bike that has seen and laughed at the adversities of many a winter, you should have no problems sizing the correct rubber. However if you are in the Team Sky way of thinking and plan to use your ‘race’ bike year round for those marginal gains, you may be hard pushed to fit anything bigger than a 25c.
When choosing a tyre for this time of the year, compound is another area that needs consideration. Most winter tyres tend to be manufactured with a higher compound, this means when riding in frosty conditions they won’t stiffen to the same degree a lower compound will and thus the grip should remain consistent. Of course the problem with increasing the compound is decreased traction, a hard tyre equates to a slippery tyre. A good winter tyre will balance these properties, offering the best of both worlds with some having a harder compound across the centre with a lower compound on the edges.
The one thing you really don’t want to be doing these cold, wet, dank days is to stand by the side of the road struggling to fix a puncture as your ride buddies stand ideally by, patting themselves on the back for their choice of rubber. Puncture resistance is a consideration at any time of the year but more so when your hands feel like two blocks of ice dangling from your arms. With winter debris literally covering the roads and most likely ending up attached to your tyre, a harder compound will go some way to preventing flats. Tyre manufactures will often add an additional layer of protection to minimise the chances of punctures, this is generally an internal carcass that will be a protective barrier between rubber and tube. They will also increase the density of the sidewall to fend off the dreaded pinch flats or stones slicing the rubber. Of course the drawback to all this additional puncture protection is a much heavier tyre that doesn’t roll quite so well as those race tyres you have stored in your wheel bag, but put simply, would you rather lose a few seconds on a heavier tyre or 10 minutes stopping to fix a puncture? The choice is yours my friend…