Murphy’s law says that you get more punctures in winter. And when you do get one, it’s a pain to replace an innertube at the roadside with cold, stiff hands. So it’s worth investing in tougher tyres for the ride to work. Most ‘winter’ tyres are fine year round for commuting.
To improve puncture resistance, tyre makers can use: thicker and/or harder rubber for the tread; a Kevlar, nylon or rubber sub-tread; and stronger, coarser fibres for the woven casing. All these things make a tyre heavier and stiffer to one degree or another, so it won’t roll quite as efficiently. Grip is affected too.
Balancing toughness, rolling performance and grip means making compromises. There’s no one tyre that’s best for everyone. If you’re riding a fast road bike or sporty hybrid, you may want a fast tyre that’s only fairly tough. If you have a short commute on a hybrid or town bike, you may want puncture protection above all. And if the roads are icy, it’s all about grip.
On road, particularly in the wet, grip is determined by the rubber compound of the tyre and the amount of rubber you’ve got in contact with the road. Fatter tyres can be run at lower pressures without the risk of pinch-puncturing the innertube against the rim, so they provide a bigger, more secure footprint. Softer rubber grips better but wears faster, which is why many tyres are dual compound, with softer shoulders for cornering and a harder, more durable centre.
Tread is irrelevant when the riding surface is harder than the tyre but very useful when it’s softer. On tarmac, a slick tyre grips best. On mixed surfaces, a good compromise is to have an unbroken centre rolling strip and tread blocks on the shoulders. On ice, only metal studs will grip.
Tyre sizes can be confusing. A 27-inch tyre is actually bigger than a 29-inch tyre! To ensure you get the right size, make a note of the dashed five-digit number on the side of the tyre. That gives the width in millimetres, followed by a dash, then the inside diameter of the tyre in millimetres. It looks like this: 28-622 or 47-559. Different widths should fit your bike, assuming there’s space, but different diameters will not. The last three digits must match what’s on your bike’s existing tyres. Ask at your local bike shop if you’re unsure.
This is a fast-rolling, high-mileage road bike tyre with pretty good puncture protection. It?s only available in a few narrow widths and one diameter (622, called 700C). If you commute to work on a road bike or a sporty lightweight hybrid with sidepull brakes and want a tough tyre that won?t slow you down, this is an excellent option. Get the 25mm width. Michelin are due to replace it some time in 2012, though this may be more of a name change than a product change. Until then, stock up!
Schwalbe Marathon Plus
At the opposite end of the scale from the Krylion, there?s the Schwalbe Marathon Plus. It?s virtually impregnable, thanks to a thick layer of springy rubber under the tread. You can literally ride over a line of drawing pins. This ?SmartGuard? rubber layer makes the tyre heavy, a bit slow, and difficult to fit. It?s available in sizes to fit pretty much any bike, from folders to hybrids, though it makes lightweight bikes feel a bit lifeless so is a better option for more utilitarian, shorter-distance commuters.
Continental Top Touring
This top quality German touring tyre is also an excellent all-year commuting tyre, particularly if your route takes in the odd towpath. It rolls almost as well as a slick tyre on tarmac yet still offers some grip on damp earth or light snow. Two sub-tread layers of a synthetic fibre called Vectran provide good puncture protection. While the price is high, you get a free innertube ? and Continental will replace the tyre if you puncture it in the first year. It?s available in range of widths to fit hybrids, touring bikes and cyclo-cross bikes (622 size), and also one 26-inch wheel size (559).
Halo Twin Rail
Like the Continental Top Touring, this tyre has a kind of centre rolling strip to give it a good turn of speed of road. Here that strip is a ?twin rail?, hence the name. The rest of the tyre has a chequer pattern of cut-out tread blocks, which don?t squirm on road like raised knobbles. Grip isn?t so good off-road but it?s okay in firmer conditions. It?s available to fit road bikes and some small-wheeled bikes, but works best as fat street tyre for urban mountain bikes, with either 26-inch or 29-inch wheels. Puncture protection is fair.
Continental Nordic Spike
In the UK, you might need studded tyres for only a few weeks each year. When it is glacial, they?re invaluable ? the metal studs provide traction on ice and there?s enough tread for grip in snow. The Nordic Spike is available with 240 studs per tyre for an extra £10, but the 120-stud option will be more useful in Britain, as the tyre centreline isn?t studded. That means it rolls better on sections of clear tarmac. The single 42-622 size will fit many hybrids and most cyclo-cross and touring bikes. Continental make a studded 26-inch tyre as well, the Spike Claw.
Schwalbe Snow Stud
Like the 120-stud Nordic Spike, Schwalbe?s Snow Stud has its spikes on the shoulders of the tyre. If you pump it up hard, it?ll roll okay on normal roads rather than scraping and scrabbling, yet will still dig in on corners. If you lower the tyre pressure, it?ll grip properly on snow and ice. There are two sizes: one to fit big-clearance hybrids, tourers and cyclo-cross bikes; another to fit 26-inch wheel mountain bikes. Schwalbe?s Marathon Winter tyre is similar, and it?s also available in a narrower width (35mm) and some smaller diameters.
With wider tyres, disc brakes, and the facility to fit mudguards and a rack, a ‘gravel bike’ is a much better bet for commuting than a standard road bike.
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