As the conditions change, it’s time to strap on a pair of the best winter tyres you can find for your road bike or mountain bike.
[Updated December 2018)
The hibernal season changes the experience on roads and trails considerably. Water, ice, snow, frozen mud, and increased debris from heavier rainfall are insanely more demanding on your tyres.
Meanwhile, rolling in cool temperatures weakens traditional tyre compounds and speeds degradation, meaning your ride is punctuated with punctures.
To the rescue is the winter bike tyre. Both winter road bike tyres and winter mountain bike tyres come equipped with weatherproofing materials and build quality so you can keep riding throughout the off-season.
In this guide to winter tyres, we’ll look at some of the best examples for road and mountain bike, and explore the advantages winter-optimised compounds can deliver for your off-season rides.
So, if you’re determined to pedal face first into a downpour or speed through an ice-caked trail, this guide should help you find treads tough enough to make your masochistic dreams come true.
Don’t want to read our in-depth guide? Head to the relevant product pages via the links below:
If you’re riding regularly in the winter, then yes. You need winter tyres.
On the trails, water, ice, and snow will make your bike harder to handle than an egg on a marble tile. On the roads, increased rains wash debris onto the asphalt, which means glass, nails, and other sharp items all jostling for position for the perfect puncture.
The worst part is changing a tyre in the wind and sleet – that’s no-one’s idea of a good time. Seriously.
This is why both winter road tyres and winter MTB tyres place puncture protection paramount amid their priorities. But these seasonal shoes have other tricks up their rubbery sleeves too.
The type of terrain you’re riding in should influence your choice of tyre, but there is a variety of ways you can find the best match between your style, the terrain, and the bike you’re using.
Selecting tyres is always a compromise between speed and grip. More grip means more rolling resistance, and therefore more effort to generate speed.
But in the winter, staying on the bike is priority. Grip and durability win out, and you’ll find winter MTB tyres focus in these areas.
The MTB tyre buyer – that’s you – has three main choices to achieve the right grip for the conditions – tread choice, tyre pressure, and tyre width.
For hard-packed surfaces
Tread: If you expect to ride on hard-packed mud, go for tightly spaced, shorter lugs, which will cog with small hard indentations, giving you the best chance at grip.
Pressure: On hard packed surfaces, you want to avoid pinch flats from landings, so don’t lower your PSI too much. A few extra PSI will also help the cog effect of tightly spaced lugs. Not too hard though, as this can affect your braking performance, especially on slippery dirt.
Width: On dry, hard-packed surfaces, opt for as wide a tyre as you can get on the front and rear. This will improve traction overall.
Soft, muddy surfaces.
Tread: Wet, muddy surfaces require completely different solutions. Long, widely spaced lugs help with digging into the softer terrain, while the bigger gaps help to clear the mud easier during the tyre’s rotation.
Pressure: A lower PSI than usual is advised, helping the tyre achieve a larger contact patch and therefore grip. This won’t be great for rolling resistance, but at least the tyre rolls instead of spins in the muck. Tubeless options will help get that pressure down. The softer terrain also means pinch flats are less of an issue.
Width: Narrower tyres allow the surface of the rubber to bite through the soft mud at the top and reach the hard stuff underneath. This is especially true of the rear tyre, which should be considerably narrower than your front as it looks for grip while accelerating.
Snow and ice
Studded tyres offer the best chance of wading through the white stuff, and generally come attached to tyres built for the very worst conditions. Beware, however, as studded tyres can slip if you ride them over hard-packed surfaces. Snow and ice tyres do what they say on the tin and very little else.
Tread: All season tyres are a good choice, but look out for those with extra-large side lugs. This creates good all-round performance with deep traction on corners – when you need it most – and good rolling resistance and hard-packed performance.
Pressure: On mixed terrain, go for slightly lower PSIs to ensure you have traction on faster, hard-packed sections. It’ll not be as fast through the mud but at least you’ll have control.
Width: Wider is probably better in winter as a general rule. However, if you’re going to encounter even a modest amount of mud, then the narrow rule applies.
For road bikes, your tyres must deal with only one of two different surfaces, wet or ice.
This simplifies things a little.
In the wet, most winter road tyres maintain their slick surface, which actually provides the best grip on even wet tarmac.
Similar to MTB’s mud tyres, winter road tyres include a narrow profile to cut through shallow water, removing the need for water-dispersing treads. Although not all riders or manufacturers agree. A number of successful models feature water dispersing indentations.
There is much more agreement over the quality of the compound, however. More about that in a minute.
In ice or snow you need a large contact area with the ground, so go for the widest tyres you can get at the lowest pressure your nerves will take.
Tubeless tyres are ideal for this situation, allowing you to get down to super-low pressures without risking pinch flats.
For snow, use a treaded tyre and if things are particularly bad don’t rule out an MTB tyre with small lugs for extra grip.
For ice, especially black ice, consider a studded tyre. It’s probably the only thing that’ll give you real grip on sheet ice.
In winter, fizzing speed is cast aside in favour of puncture protection, with robust compounds defending your precious pressure.
Winter road tyres achieve their resistance to punctures in several ways; heavy-wound thread, reinforced sidewalls, and interior puncture protection systems.
A higher thread count – measured in TPI – means debris has a harder job penetrating the tyre, but the downside to the extra durability is a heavier compound with more rolling resistance and slightly less traction.
Winter tyres often have a TPI under 100, while more expensive options can push the TPI over 100 using materials like Vectran or Kevlar.
Protection belts and breaker materials have been introduced in recent years to keep intruders at bay.
Here’s a look at some of the top options for winter road and MTB tyres. You’ll also find some customer reviews and comments from our Facebook followers detailing their real-world experiences with some of these models after we asked what they used in the winter…
Schwalbe Magic Mary
The Magic Mary is perfect for enduro racing and all-mountain riding, offering unreal traction in virtually any conditions.. Its aggressive tyre tread inspires confidence and helps you push your riding to the limits when the conditions are telling you otherwise.
Magic Mary front, Hans Dampf or Nobby Nic rear. #mtb
— Pete F. (@Petes22) October 25, 2018
Schwalbe Hans Dampf Evo MTB Tyre – SnakeSkin
A great do-it-all tyre, perfect for winter trail riding. The hard-wearing Hans Dampf offers excellent grip and its durable Snakeskin material makes for a cut-resistant sidewall and easy tubeless conversion.
I’m having a magic Mary on the front next, justput a Hans dampf on back and its really good in the northern mud so far
— Coops (@coops2727) October 25, 2018
Using this as a new front tire and it meets expectations. First few rides on familiar trails shows why it has the reputation it does. Couple loose corners where I carried more speed than normal I could feel it start to slide and then bite into the tread and hold. Definitely has added some confidence to my riding.
Maxxis High Roller II TR MTB Tyre
New to Maxxis I took the plunge on a recommendation. Wow – very impressed they work very well on all surfaces – road sections, loose gravel, hard pack, rock, roots (surprisingly) wet, damp, dry. Even in the gloop they are a very good compromise considering. They even roll fast!
WTB Vigilante TCS Tough High Grip Tyre
Built for enduro racing, the Vigilante takes a two-pronged attack: a low profile central section for fast rolling speeds, and raised side knobs for keeping you pinned to the trail when cornering. A stable choice for loose or wet terrain.
I was looking for a new set of tyre to replace my old set, and what I was looking for was trustworthy with good grip that would work well in the damp, wet conditions during the winter. So far these (WTB Vigilante front, WTB Trail Boss back) have taken me anywhere I wanna go.
Schwalbe Nobby Nic EVO MTB Tyre – SnakeSkin
Really grippy multi-use tyres with a SnakeSkin sidewall to prevent cuts and blows – perfect if you’re riding on rocky terrain. A lightweight choice which offers low rolling resistance; one of the best tyres for cross country racing in tough conditions.
Locally blocky treads work well.
Clay, loam, chalk, gravel, Chud.
WTB trail boss / Nobby nic for the rear and Minion DHF / HR2 are popular fronts.
In really bad winters the Bonty Mud X is/was always a winner
— Tim (@Priceyt) October 25, 2018
Continental Mountain King II MTB Tyre – ProTection
Using Continental’s Black Chili tyre compound, the Mountain King blends fast rolling, durability, efficient mud-clearing, and a high level of grip to make it a favourite choice for trail riders looking for an all-rounder.
The Beaver is designed for thrill-seekers and cycling enthusiasts who won’t let the wet or muddy conditions stand in their way. Part of the intelligent EXC series, this tyre is not only lighter than before but also allows for more enhanced control when soaring around corners, making it ideal for race use.
Bought these as I ride a lot of sharp rocky areas. These are perfect have not let me down yet and stick to the rock like glue. They also seem very hard wearing. excellent tire for dry conditions
Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro Evolution Winter MTB Tyre
In Nova Scotia, Canada, we have had a tremendous amount of ice this year. Literally moguls on the street. There is often slush and snow-covered ice, yet these tires seem to find the bottom and allow the studs to hook up. I continue to be amazed as I ride off-camber wet ice and not go down. If you are serious about winter riding, these are the bomb. I climb many steep icy hills that cars cannot.
Continental Grand Prix 4000S II Road Tyre
One of Chain Reaction Cycles’ best-selling road tyres and for good reason. The updated Conti GP400 tyres provide improved grip in poor riding conditions, increased puncture protection and greater comfort.
Used in the Alps. Great comfort and grip in dry and wet conditions, whether climbing or descending at speed.
Continental Gatorskin Road Bike Tyre
The striking Gatorskin tyre is specifically designed to withstand the harshest of conditions. Made from a durable compound and featuring Continental’s bespoke technologies like DuraSkin® for sidewall protection and a PolyX Breaker for puncture resistance. It can battle wet and wintry conditions or nasty, sharp road debris.
Michelin Power All Season
Available in a variety of widths it can be used on the way to work as well as training for road races or for sportives. A highly popular tyre at a nice price.
These tyres are very grippy in cold and wet conditions and seem to be durable and puncture resistant.
They’re quite heavy and I can feel a lot of rolling resistance but that’s not what I bought these tyres for.
Continental Grand Prix 4 Season Vectran Bike Tyre
They keep me on track in any conditions (wet or dry, summer or winter) and I may relay on them on my long weekend rides on badly paved Bulgarian roads. I would recommend these to any amateur rider, or those willing to make long rides without punctures. I will definitely go for another set of these.
Schwalbe Durano Plus Road Tyre – SmartGuard
Bought these while they were cheap ready for the winter. There’s nothing worse than road side repairs in the heart of winter so I hope these live up to their reputation. No punctures so far. They are a reasonable weight for a tyre with this level of protection (340g).
Michelin Pro4 ENDURANCE V2 Road Bike Tyre
The Michelin Pro4 Endurance V2 Road Bike Tyre is ideal for sportive riders thanks to the Bi-Compound tread, which provides the Pro4 Endurance V2 with greater puncture protection, increased durability and excellent grip.
These tyres are brilliant! They’re so good I’ve got about a dozen in store which should last my career (I’m 72). They’re a bit heavy for racing but they roll well, grip well, have fairly puncture proof treads and very strong walls.
Schwalbe Marathon Plus Road Tyre – Smart Guard
After two years and nigh-ten-thousand miles of precipitous climbs and perilous descents over some of the most godforsaken, obliterated stretches of tarmac ever to be inflicted by Gloucestershire County Council on an unsuspecting cyclist, I am now resolute in my conviction that Schwalbe’s Marathon Plus are a match for just about any man-made terrain yet devised – glass, grit and countless other sundry debris are as nothing at all to these remorseless rubber behemoths, whilst the less enlightened will look up from their muddied tyre-levers in undisguised amazement as you glide with casual and devastating ease over the same stricken section of bridle-path that is their perennial, puncture-ridden commuter nightmare, bottle-shards and broken egos both left scattered in your wake.
Schwalbe Marathon Winter Tyre – RaceGuard
I commute to work by bike every day of the year in Norway, regardless of weather, unless the snow’s too deep, in which case I get up an hour earlier and run to work, which hurts. For this winter, I had originally decided to invest in Schwalbe Ice Spiker Pro Evolution tires, for ultimate grip on the frozen-over roads. But let me tell you: there is no point getting them unless you’re riding off-road.