Continental Mountain King Tires
Nanotechnology may well be ushering us into a new age. In the future we may have programmable matter, nanofiltration for safe drinking water, and nanorobots that whiz through our blood vessels making repairs while we sleep. Until then, cyclists can benefit from this nano business when we ride carbon composite frames, forks, and handlebars with carbon nanotubes. They help those parts become stiff and strong. Recently, Continental Bicycle Tires has been the recipient of some patient experimenting by their crafty German engineers.
They use a “top down” method to reduce the size of the rubber particles to 10 nm (nanometers). How big is a nanometer you ask? It's about the size of a big marble compared to the earth. So 10 nm would be about the size of a bowling ball relative to the earth. They're pretty small. Continental's engineers make the claim that by reducing the size of their rubber particles, their tires have improved properties. The smaller particles in the Black Chili compound provide more contact points with irregularities in the trail, resulting in better traction and are bonded more compactly to each other increasing durability. The added flexibility decreases the rolling resistance making the tires faster.
One of the new tires that utilize this new Black Chili rubber technology is the Continental Mountain King. It comes in two sizes, 2.2 and 2.4. It can be had in three casing versions as well -- Supersonic, Protection, and UST.
Our test tires were the 2.2 version. We found them to be a bit undersized as compared to their noted specs. Our handy calipers revealed that the casing was 1.935 inches and at their widest point, from shoulder knob to knob, they were 2.15 inches wide. Nevertheless, we felt that there was sufficient volume and width for the 2.2 versions to be considered to be “real” mountain bike tires. We tested the Supersonic and the Protection versions. We wanted to include the UST version in our review, but we couldn't get them in our dirty little hands in time for this feature.
Continental's three casing types are designed for different riders and situations. We think that it is cool that once we fall in love with a particular tread pattern, we have the options to choose the casing that might serve our purposes best. Of course, that may depend on where we ride. First, the Supersonic casing is the lightest and fastest. It is made with one thing in mind -- pure speed. Continental states openly that this tire, being optimized for low weight and low rolling resistance, sacrifices puncture resistance and wear. Three plies of 180 TPI bias cut material make up the casing under the tread and two plies compose the sidewalls. The finer thread used offers a more sensitive and better handling tire.
Second, the Protection casing uses basically the same construction as the Supersonic with the additional of a polyamide mesh as the outermost layer on the sidewalls. Polyamides occur naturally, like silk or wool, but we speculate that Continental is using Kevlar here. It's a manmade aramid that is extremely puncture and tear resistant. That's why it's used to make bulletproof vests and winch ropes. The addition of the polyamide outer layer creates a tire that Continental claims is only 10 grams heavier than the Supersonic. Our scales tell us that the difference is more like 65 grams, but there's no doubt that the Protection casing is far superior for defending against sidewall cuts.
Finally, the UST version allows us to forego the inner tubes we used in the other tires. While we didn't get to ride the Continental Mountain King UST (due to its late release) , we can speculate that it provides the same traction qualities as the other two plus the subtle feel that only a tubeless tire can provide. The UST is the heaviest of the three casing options, due to the requirement of an extra layer of rubber inside the casing to properly seal the tire against air leaks.
Out on the trail, the Continental Mountain King ruled the roost. This is a good tire for a variety of trail conditions. It is an open tread design with plenty of space between each knob. It has short center knobs, about 3mm tall, and taller shoulder knobs at 5mm. Overall the tread profile is round with even transitions from the center knobs to the shoulder knobs. Some would think that the short knobs might not provide enough traction, but the open nature of the tread pattern allows these knobs to penetrate into the trail surface or grip roots or rock edges with conviction. For hardpack conditions, the short knobs on the Mountain King produce little squirm, creating a stable tire under aggressive riders. We also liked the tapered profile of the knobs. It is subtle, but we feel like it is enough to add to the mud shedding quality of this tire. It's no sticky conditions specialist, but it does work well in the mud.
As stated before, we only tested the Continental Mountain King in the Supersonic and Protection versions. Out on the trails, we'd be hard pressed to tell a difference in the two versions if we were riding blindfolded. That is, if we could ride blindfolded. The main difference is the weight. Unquestionably, the Protection will prove to be more durable. For the duration of our testing, we were fortunate to not have had any flats at all. And, we can't say that the Protection sidewall treatment hampers the ride qualities in any way. We ran both tires with Continental lightweight tubes. In theory, the Supersonic with a 125 g tube should still be a bit lighter than the UST version of the Mountain King. However, pinch flats are always a risk, and we find the ride quality of tubeless tires to be smoother, more compliant. We got a little itchy and decided to try to seal our Mountain Kings with a rim strip and sealant. It didn't work so well, nor do they recommend it. While neither the Supersonic nor the Protection versions are made to be used without tubes, we did get them seated and rode them both. They wouldn't stay inflated overnight and the beads unseated each time. We'll wait for the UST version, thank you very much.
The Continental Mountain King worked well for us wherever we rode. We tested it first on one of our local trails that ranges from leaves and slime to hardpack. The Mountain King handles it all pretty well. We felt like we had plenty of traction from the rear tire even on steep ascents. The front tire could be pushed through hard turns with confidence. We rode it on some wet trails and just knew that the Black Chili rubber compound was working. Actually, the Mountain King handled well on wet rocks. Those little nanos must've been working! We said before that the tire sheds mud well. Therefore, periodic encounters with slimy stuff on the trail will not ruin your day. The Mountain King will not win your heart if you ride the pavement on the way to the trail. The open tread pattern produces noise and good vibrations. We prefer the Continental GP4000s for our on-road ventures!
For those riders seeking a capable all-round cross country/trail tire, the 2.2 Mountain King is a great choice. It has a refined tread pattern that rolls fast and yet provides inspiring traction. The 2.4 Mountain King would be a better choice for folks interested in all mountain riding. It boasts a larger volume and will be more comfortable and forgiving. The larger tire will also resist pinch flats better so it can be ridden more aggressively. We liked the three casing options -- Supersonic for the weight weenies who just want to go fast on a groomed singletrack, Protection for the marathon racer who wants to spend more time riding and sucking down gel packets than repairing flats, and the UST version for those who've forsaken inner tubes as caveman technology.