As the seasons change, we are all gearing up for winter. I must admit, as Californians, we have less weather to deal with than some of you. But I am still planning for some rain and need to prepare my commuter for the approaching season with some more aggressive tires. This article will continue our winter riding series that started with apparel and maintenance.
With rain and snow comes debris. You will find yourself avoiding objects more and more as they get washed into the road with the changing weather. For this reason it is important to invest in more robust tires that will protect from constant flatting.
For those in more temperate climates that don’t have to deal with lots of snow and still want a lightweight, high-preforming tire for longer distance rides, the Continental Gatorskin features a puncture protection system with DuraSkin anti-cut fabric and PolyXBreaker—a tightly woven layer of fiber that was first used in car tires to prevent flats.
At first, you might comment on this tire and suggest that its lack of tread doesn’t make it optimal for winter conditions. However, I would counter with a few main points.
First, traction has to do with friction. Friction will increase as the contact area increases. There will always be a larger area of contact between the tire and road with a smooth tire than with a knobby tire that only makes contact at the raised knob sections. Think about racing cars, they all have slick tires with absolutely no tread. This is because these tires offer the ultimate traction with the road due to high surface area contact and the ability of the rubber to grab the road surface. The grooves in consumer car tires are designed for diverting water to prevent hydroplaning—a scenario that is difficult to accomplish at bicycle speeds.
Secondly, I’m not saying tire knobs are pointless. Tire knobs are for grabbing irregular terrain and digging into soft surfaces. But if you are strictly riding on asphalt and concrete, they are pointless. So if your commute is urban, and your path is clear of excessive amounts of snow and mud, don’t be concerned with tread patterns. It will benefit you much more to set your tire pressures correctly according to rider weight and tire size.
Remember that there will never be a road tire that offers unbeatable handling in wet conditions. Like driving a car, speeds and stopping distances must be adjusted.
If, however, your commute includes navigating muddy or snowy terrain, having a tire with knobs will help it grab to the irregular surface for traction. In this situation, consider using a cyclocross tire. It is an easy option as long as your frame offers enough clearance. Road frames and side pull brakes will often interfere with large tire sizes, but if your bike is setup with cantilever brakes and more room between the chainstays, you will be able to move to a cyclocross tire like the Clement MXP Clincher 700×33.
Art’s measures actual widths on all tires to provide you with the most accurate data when selecting tires so you can verify fit and clearance. For instance, the Clement MXP Clincher is advertised as a 700×33, but the measured tread width is actually 34.5 millimeters. This can make all the difference in fit.
Beyond the tires, sealing will add an extra level of protection from debris. Orange Seal and Slime both offer options that sit in your tube and seal holes when they form. If you don’t want the extra weight in the tires, the Vittoria Pit-Stop Repair system is a pain free flat repair system. It re-inflates the tube and plugs the hole with the compressed sealant. No need for tire levers or a spare tube with the Pit-Stop Repair system.
Every climate will be different, but the majority of people reading this article will be commuting in relatively urban areas with well-maintained roads. I recommend focusing your efforts on selecting a tire with thicker construction and features for flat prevention. If dealing with excessive road debris, add a sealant to add an extra layer of protection.
For extreme situations, a more aggressive tread or possibly studded tires could be required. For most, a quality tire with a durable casing will be enough to get you to work safely when paired with cautious riding—don’t try to KOM your commute when its wet—and the proper safety equipment.
Rubber Side Down is a weekly column dedicated to the fledgling cyclist in all of us. Art’s Cyclery Web Content Editor, Brett Murphy is not a professional cyclist, and doesn’t try to masquerade as one either, but he does love to ride bikes. Whether you are clipping in for the first time or counting down the days until your first race, read on, learn from his mistakes, and keep the rubber side down.