Continental has always had a massively strong range and fanbase on the road, but its performance and popularity off-road has definitely fluctuated over recent years. its latest dirt range combines proven tread patterns with new tubeless and compound tech to put the German brand right back into the mix, particularly if pace is your major priority.
To make finding your ideal Continental tyre easy we’ve grouped them into XC, Trail/All-Mountain and Enduro. Different casing and width options in the same tyre mean many of the designs straddle different user groups depending on which version you get.
We’ve explained those various differences in construction and compound etc. at the end of the feature as well as in the review text where relevant.
Skip to: Continental tyres explained
Otherwise, get scrolling below to find the best way to get rolling on Continental tyres this year.
Continental XC tyres
As the name suggests Speed King is the fastest XC tyre in the Continental race arsenal with a just a slightly raised scale tread covering most of its rounded carcass, so wet or aggressive braking grip is comically poor. There are some slightly larger knobs and bigger scales right on the edge of the shoulders but you’re going to have to lean a long way to use them. The sub 500g Race Sport versions are tougher than the old Supersonics, but still not tubeless ready so you’ll have to add around 150g for the Performance tyres if you want to ditch inner tubes. That gets you a tougher Shieldwall carcass too, but a more slippery Pure Grip rubber rather than the Black Chili compound.
The reward for your traction juggling skills and bravery are insanely low weights for maxing your acceleration in every situation and a rolling speed so high it’ll feel like you’ve got a motor. The superlight carcass also gives a really floated ride, although you’ll need to run more pressure than normal to ward off pinch punctures.
We stuck the Race King on for the dry months last year and expected to whip it off as soon as winter started at the back end of August. It says something that it’s still on the rear wheel of our lightweight speed set after one of the wettest run of months we can remember. Obviously the little tread arrows need skill to keep them hooked up in proper slop but they clear fast in sticky mud. The rounded carcass can also be run pretty soft in the Protection version, despite only weighing a hair over 600g and we’ve actually cracked a carbon rim using them without the tyre getting damaged or losing pressure.
Unsurprisingly, the small tread and the fact it’s pretty sparse between centre and shoulder means that when they do slip they go spectacularly and we’ve found ourselves facing back the way we just came a few times.
Their blisteringly-fast-rolling speed and minimal effort acceleration means there’s generally enough time to flip yourself back round and still have an impressive gap over chasing riders on trail spec tyres though. Add lots of options from cheap but durable Performance to scary light non-tubeless Race Sport and our only real gripe is that there’s no fat 2.4in option to add even more float and impact protection.
Cross King is the most versatile tyre in the Conti range for rapid rather than radical trail riders. The staggered, ramped and siped centre tread makes them naturally very fast rolling - particularly on hard-pack surfaces. There’s enough gap and offset to stop them getting scythed out from underneath you on diagonal roots or green rocks though and they clear fast when it gets clarty. The Black Chili mix is tacky enough to be reasonably trustworthy and it’s got the most consistent knob spacing from centre to shoulder too. That means it grips predictably however hard you do - or don’t - lean into corners so it suits a wide level of rider aggression. It works well upfront to add grip to a Race King rear combo or in the back to add speed to a Mountain King partner and we’ve had wheels set up both ways for several months.
After splitting one tyre early low on the sidewall which made us worried, we’ve not had another issue since and we’d rate toughness comparable to other lightly protected trail tyres. While the relentless wetness of our test trails has obviously reduced wear tread life has been very impressive too with both our sample tyres still looking mould fresh after the best part of a year. It also comes in a very wide range of sizes from 2.8in to 2.0 which are all high volume for their quoted size. There are a ton of carcass/compound options from superlight brown wall Race Sport Bernstein to basic wire bead Performance versions. Protection and Shieldwall versions make up for a previously miserable tubeless experience with Continental by slipping on and popping up blissfully easily.
Continental trail/all mountain tyres
Riders who remember bar ends will remember the original Continental Cross Country as the super narrow 1.5in tyre that could cut through the worst slop to win races. There’s a definite throwback to that tyre in the diagonal ribs of the latest Mountain King too, as well as an Adidas CMTK trail shoe influence. That means you now get two of them almost side by side on a range of carcasses from 2.0in up to super-wide 2.8in. There’s a separate rim of chunky side knobs to add bite when you tip into turns or try and slice across off-camber sections. It’ll occasionally start to slip and shuffle under hard braking in sloppy conditions but there’s plenty of space to shed mud and it’s stable right down to teen pressures. That means after a tentative start on the distinctive tread pattern, it’s become a firm all-conditions favourite on the front end.
There’s a bit more buzz - and therefore a bit less speed on hard surfaces - than the Cross King but the lower, more angled knobs mean it’s noticeably faster than the Trail King. It’s light too even in the tough but tactile ProTection casing although you don’t get the Race-Sport carcass options (or the Apex protection options from the Trail King). You do get a huge range of sizes though (all of which blow up comparatively big) while it took us a while to totally trust the distinctive tread pattern it’s now a go-to choice for usefully aggressive all-weather grip without sacrificing rolling speed if you take a holistic rather than just ballistic approach to trail speed.
Trail King is where the Continental MTB range takes a noticeably more aggressive change, but their latest armouring tech is a lot more enjoyable to ride. That’s because they’ve switched to Cordura rather than Kevlar based protective ply and extended the Apex impact shrugging insert further up the sidewall. The result is a much warmer feel and much better feedback than the previously numb/wooden versions. Tubeless setup is a cinch even with a normal track pump and they’re stable right down into the mid-teens psi. The Apex versions add significant damping when it comes to sucking up landings, increasing the surefooted high control feel. The new carcass seems a lot more puncture-proof too.
The Trail King tread has also been slightly upsized for more grip and the widely spaced, mid-height, paddle-style design offers good all-round grip. It’s particularly good on loose and random rock/roots where the Black Chili compound really shines, but the shallower knobs do start to surf around if it’s really sloppy and you’re getting sideways or braking hard. If you can get it onto its shoulders before it snaps out though you’re onto a secure lean.
Ramped knobs and the tread compound means it rolls OK, but you’re definitely taking a hit on rolling speed compared to the Mountain King. The B+ Apex tyres definitely need some grunt to get them going but on the flip side means you can run big tyres at super low pressures in the most punishing terrain. There’s less drift and vagueness than you get with a lot of 2.6-2.8in tyres too, just really well-damped connection for railing the roughest, tightest lines.
Continental enduro/downhill tyres
Having always been more tilted towards XC/Trail riders, the Baron was where Continental appeared on the radar of more radical gravity warriors. That’s not surprising really as it was co-developed with the Atherton racing team when they were at the height of their racing domination. While the alternating ramped block tread combined with a rank of side knobs doesn’t look anything special, it’s a real sweet spot for outstanding grip in loose, loamy and sodden trail situations. The Black Chili rubber blend adds extra stiction but, together with ramped knob faces, means Baron always rolls faster than expected too and unlike some mud tyres it doesn’t tear or shred if you use them for dust-busting in summer or ride too many uplift roads.
The latest generation carcass tech makes them super easy to set up tubeless and you still get excellent trail feedback through the Cordura protection and Apex reinforcing inserts. They also add impressive impact damping so the 2.4’s can be run at maximum trail-grabbing pressure without worry and don’t fold or stumble even if you properly slam them.
There’s only a 2.4in version in 29er though and the 27.5 x 2.6in versions use a modified tread that doesn’t bite quite as well in extremes but rolls faster, making them more of an aggressive general-purpose trail tyre. The six ply DH/bike park Baron only comes in a very old school 26 x 2.5in size too.
Another Atherton (and Richie Schley, remember him?) influenced tyre, the Kaiser combines tread elements from Baron and the Trail King to create a seriously high-traction but still mid-weight and mid-speed aggro tyre. The ranks of ramped centre tread and chunky side tread put it head to head with Maxxis classic DHR II tyres and predictable all-round grip and OK for aggro rolling speeds are very similar. The latest Apex carcass construction has a much better tactile feel than the old wooden Apex tyres so you’ve got a better idea when the grip is getting to its limit too. It sits securely on the trail with minimal squirm or ricochets even when sucking up big drops or side loads but the ProTection Apex versions still come in under a kilo. Black Chili compound wears well and backs up the predictably surefooted traction for a very trouble-free, fit-and-forget aggro tyre. There’s a fully armoured six-ply DH version too but that only comes in 26 and 27.5in options and while the Protection Apex comes in all sizes, that’s only in a 2.4in which leaves high volume hunters looking at another brand.
Better tread and compound technology, plus trail centres to ride when it’s really minging mean that super-specific sloppy trail tyres are relatively rare now but Continental’s Mud King is still available if you want one.
Options are very limited between a super skinny 1.8in ProTection version for old school trail riders who are happy riding around on tyres that look narrower than their rims and a 2.3in six-ply DH carcass version for when engaging your inner Danny Hart and riding the rut all the way down the hill is the only option. Again, Apex protection and easy tubeless use have made lower pressure running and surface feedback a lot better than previous generation tyres but you’ll still be teetering about on very narrow, tall knobs if things start to dry out. That said you’d still get plenty of use year-round in the UK if the current climate continues.
Continental tyres explained
Continental has been making bike tyres for 149 years and many of their top performance lines are still hand made in Korback in Germany. They’re rightfully protective of their reputation and all their carefully evolved construction and compound technology too, but here’s what you need to know to pick the best blend of Continental tyres tech for your riding.
Top-end, German-made Continental tyres all use their unique Black Chili polymer and carbon filler enhanced rubber recipe. As you would hope, it’s not the same compound across all tyres with the XC tyres being harder and faster rolling while the DH tyres are a lot stickier but less long-lasting. Interestingly in each case, you’re only getting a single compound throughout the tread rather than different durometers on the shoulders or underneath. That’s because Continental says that apart from single run race specials with super grippy surface skins over a harder base, they always get much more consistent overall results with one carefully judged compound throughout. The latest blends seem to be really well lined up with the respective purposes of the tyres too, with a definite breakpoint between the Cross King and the Trail King tyres.
Pure Grip is the rubber mix used on non-German Continental tyres and it used to be so plasticky it was lethal on all but bone dry trails and even then it was sketchy and horribly numb in feel. Thankfully, the latest mix uses an activated silica compound that offers acceptable all-weather grip and still lasts and rolls really well. That makes it a good choice for less aggressive, high mileage riders blessed with better weather, particularly if you’re counting your coins carefully too.
In terms of performance, the biggest advance introduced with the latest generation of Continental tyres has been them finally sorting out their tubeless tech. After years of fighting and failing to get them to inflate and stay up met with a mix of denial and tortuous setup procedure instructions their latest tyres are right up there with the best in terms of easy setup and consistent sealing.
We’d advise against using Continental’s own Revo Sealant though as it struggles to seal bigger holes unless you add some extra particulate to it and it’s expensive too.
The lightest carcass in the Continental line up wraps the 60tpi nylon weave so it’s triple under the tread and double on the sidewalls. According to Continental that makes it 30% more puncture resistant than previous Supersonic tyres but it’s around 75g lighter than ProTection versions of the same tyres. Race Sport Bernstein is a brown wall version for fashionable types. The rubber liner still isn’t tubeless compatible on either though.
ProTection goes four-ply under the tread and three-ply on the sidewalls with an added layer of Cordura to stop cuts and sharps rupturing the tyre. It gets a ‘flag design’ on the sidewall for rub resistance and it’s now properly, easily tubeless-ready.
Apex takes the ProTection carcass and adds a teardrop section elastomer strip from the bead to the tread edge to increase tyre damping and reduce the chance of snakebite rim punctures at low pressures.
As the name suggests, Apex tyres get teardrop elastomer protection embedded in the sidewalls for low-pressure stability and impact damping. It’s built into a six-ply carcass with a super secure steel bead for surviving the most brutal DH and bike park use. That makes Apex tyres about 30-per cent heavier than a Protection Apex tyre for tyre though.
Continental has been making moped and motorbike tyres for over 100 years so you can expect any of their tyres using the Eco logo (which includes a little two-pin plug graphic just to underline what it means) to be up to a big e-MTB day out.