With the Christmas break and the start of the New Year dominated by wet weather, floods and standing water, that perennial debate amongst road cyclists as to which are the best winter tyres was one that will have vexed many a club ride, forum and cake stop. In my last five club runs we have had a total of 14 flats - five today in fact, or was it six? We lost count, though fortunately not our sense of humour.
I ride in Oxfordshire and in recent weeks we have seen our fair share of rain and floods. I've ridden in plenty of conditions that have put much of my winter wardrobe to the test. I've discovered that my 3 year old rain jacket is just about holding up. My waterproof gloves are not waterproof and my waterproof socks have a tendency to fill up like balloons in torrential rain. Weaknesses have been exposed and I have, quite literally, had to patch up or replace leaking garments.
Fortunately, the one saving grace through all of this has been my winter tyres. I switched from Conti Gatorskins to Schwalbe Durano Plus 25c this winter and so far I've not had one puncture, nor any noticeable damage to the outer skin. Not bad going, considering I have cycled close on 1000km on the pair already and they still look as fresh as the day I took them out of the box. I suspect they will see me well into next winter.
This is all impressive, and somewhat surprising, given the atrocious weather we have experienced recently in the UK, but even more so given the combination of detritus on the roads left by heavy rain and flood waters, not to mention the mud and hedge trimmings that tractors have a habit of leaving in their wake during the winter months.
No road tyre is bombproof, I concede, but so far these have suggested they come pretty close. The Ridgeway in the south of Oxfordshire is a series of undulating chalk hills and characterised, as any student of neolithic Britain will remind you, by sharp flints that in the wet can reduce a peloton to a bunch of upturned bikes and cursing cyclists in an instant. On one of those recent puncture-ridden club run the flints and thorns claimed some notable scalps - Continental GP4000s and Specialized Armadillos amongst them. The Durano Plus came through unscathed. Yes I cursed the cold as my feet rapidly froze as the respective riders searched out the offending flints and thorns, but at least I could take took some satisfaction from the fact that the Schwalbes had once again seen off the worst that the winter roads could throw at them unlike some other tyres that claim high puncture resistance!
The effectiveness of the Durano Plus against punctures comes down to the SmartGuard lining - the very same robust rubber layer that Schwalbe use in their heavy duty, touring tyre, the Marathon Plus. (It's no surprise the Marathon has been one of the best selling touring/commuting tyres for nearly 20 years). The SmartGuard layer in the Durano Plus sits over the dense nylon carcass and though it is not as thick as the SmartGuard layer in the Marathon, the fact that it is incorporated at all means that the puncture resistance is very high. A fellow rider told me that SmartGuard is actually used by NASA on their Mars exploration rovers - and that's one place you really don't want to be getting a puncture!
The SmartGuard layer (in blue) is the key to the puncture resistance of the Durano Plus
As for ride quality, I find they roll well. OK , so they may not be the fastest tyre, but I'm happy to compromise a little speed during winter. More importantly, running them at between 85-90psi, the grip is reassuringly sound and I've found myself hitting descents and corners at a greater speed and with more confidence than I have in the past when riding in winter. I'm not knocking my previous winter tyre of choice, Conti Gatorskins, but the Durano Plus are definitely providing me with far more reassurance and the 25c deliver a good degree of comfort too.
The tyres are very relatively easy to get on and off - all the more important for me as my winter bikes is a CX, so I switch between these and a pair of Conti CX tyres for riding off road. I've found that the Durano Plus respond quickly to a bit of warmth, so I suggest hanging them on a radiator for a while before fitting.
The Schwalbe Durano Plus is available in two sizes, the 700 x 23c that weighs in at 340g and the 25c at 380g. There's no denying that this is considerably heavier than some other tyres aimed specifically at the winter tyre market, like Continental's 4Seasons for example. Personally though, I can't get too worked up about a few extra grams here and there in winter - my bike is heavy enough as it is! I like to remind myself that come Spring, when I will once again be running slicks on the summer bike, it will be payback time for slogging it out over the winter!
And if my recommendation is not enough, they also come with the pro seal of approval too - Radioshack Leopard Trek use them in the off season. If they are good enough for Fabian Cancellara, Chris Horner . . .
Strengths: Very effective puncture resistance. Roll well. Good grip and comfortable ride Excellent winter trainer or commuter tyre. Relatively easy to fit on the rim.
Weaknesses: Weight. At 340g and 380g for the 23c and 25c respectively, there are certainly lighter winter tyres out there. If, however, you are happy to compromise trade a few grams for peace of mind then this is surely not an issue?
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