Continental is a well-known brand and has a strong following on the road. However, their popularity and performance off-road has fluctuated over recent years. Now, things have started to change and Continental is up to speed (no pun intended) with the dirt and gravel scene. Here, I review two of their rubber offerings.
Continental Speed King
Ok, so these tyres are really made for a mountain bike, but these days a lot of gravel bikes have the compliance (the room) to accommodate wider tyres. And, if you’re anything like me - taking as many detours and alternate routes as possible - there’s no doubt you’ll end up on a trail at some point. As the name suggests, Speed King is the fastest XC tyre in the Continental race arsenal, with just a slightly raised scale tread covering most of its rounded carcass. There are some slightly larger knobs and bigger scales right on the edge of the shoulders, but you’ll have to lean the bike over pretty far to get in contact with them. They’re bloody tough but aren’t set up tubeless, which means you’ll have to set them up ‘ghetto’ style.
I’ve used the Continental Speed King 27.5” x 2.2 on and off for the past few years now, and I really like it whenever they’re mounted up to the rims on one of my steel steeds. As rider weights and tyre sizes differ, it’s best to experiment to find your preferred pressure; personally, I was running the Continental Speed King 2.2 at around 25psi for the road and 20psi -18psi for the gravel. This begs you to question the terrain you’ll be riding, before you even head out the door. As I am mostly tackling rougher terrain these days, I run the rubber at a lower pressure. This means the tyres eat up the gravel and tracks. The lower pressure acts like suspension, especially as the tyres have so much volume. But, as with most things, there’s often a sacrifice, and on the road the tyre does seem to balloon and roll a little. That said, I was running them well on the soft side for road.
They set up tubeless easily, have good tread, and have robust, durable sidewalls well-suited for adventurous riding. I particularly noticed the great contact the wider tyres had on the rough and technical descents, especially the broken-up gravel sections that a lot of our back roads have. They bomb down lanes and dance in and out of the loose gravel. There’s confidence about what the bike is doing and this has made me ride the gnarly gravel descents more quickly - with this set of rubber, you can basically plough through a pothole like a bloody bulldozer. To get the absolute best out of the 2.2s, a wide set of rims would help combat the occasional balloon-y feeling and provide a slightly bigger contact-patch with the ground but, when all’s said and done, the big tyres may look ridiculous but they make perfect sense.
Continental Terra Tyres
The Terra Speed and Terra Trail are the company’s latest gravel offerings, and I’ve been testing a set for more than six months now. Both have similar tread patterns, with alternating rows of hexagonal-shaped lugs. Continental uses its exclusive “Black Chili” rubber compound, which is said to deliver enhanced traction without compromising long-term durability. If you compare the two models side-by-side, it’s easy to see the larger, taller, more heavily-siped transition and cornering lugs on the Terra Trail. Which should make this better for traction in loose conditions. Continental offers both Terra tires for 650b or 700c wheels, all with a folding aramid bead and high quality 180tpi ‘protection’ casing. Terra Speed models are available in a choice of 35mm or 40mm widths, while the Terra Trail is offered in a 40mm width only.
They both set up tubeless relatively easily. I choose to set them up with the Terra Trail up front, and a Terra Speed for the rear, both in 700x40c size. This would give me a little more traction when cornering. The combination of these two worked out well. It’s not something we’ve seen much in gravel, but I expect we’ll see more of it – our mountain biking counterparts having been running different tyres front and back for years. The rubber was smooth, fast-rolling and plenty of traction in most situations. Durability has also been very good, with minimal visible wear after a heap of miles on the (gravel) road. Traction and cornering with the Terra Trail/Terra Speed combination was predictable overall, over a wide range of gravel surfaces. They did struggle a little with hard and super loose gravel, but the Terra Trail worked better in the loose stuff, which makes sense with its deeper knobs. I found they were great in muddier conditions, shedding it quickly, even though they aren’t specifically made for mud.
As the gravel scene grows, it’s so good to see where gravel tyres are at today. These new Continental tyres are great examples of the progress gravel rubber has made. Continental has kept the overall weight down, so they’re not much heavier than a road tyre, but you can throw them around like true gravel tyres; they’re fast, predictable and durable. It goes without saying, these will continue to be on high rotation on the gravel bikes in my garage.
Distributed by Worralls / RRP: $99 - $114
Reviewed by Liam Friary