In the last two years, I’ve ridden a bunch of mountain bike tires. They’ve ranged from race-worthy cross-country tires to brutes suited to trail and even enduro riding. I’ll admit that I’ve had, if not an agenda, a goal. I wanted to find a reliable tire for Southern California conditions. Those conditions are entirely unlike what I experienced in New England or the South. In those latter two, mud was an ever-present issue.
The conditions I encounter here in SoCal are found in only two time zones in the U.S. and very few places elsewhere in the world. Most places I ride are characterized by hard-pack with loose rock and sand. “Loose” is a term I’ve come to know well. Hero dirt is something we only occasionally see in the 72 hours following a brief rain, but even then, you have to find the right spot.
While I appreciate having the right tool for the job, I don’t get to spend as much time in the garage as I used to. That, combined with the fact that tubeless tires don’t really enjoy being mounted, removed and remounted means that when I put a set of tires on, I intend to leave them on until I find another set of tires I think I might like better. I mounted the 29×2.2 Continental Mountain King IIs in late August and the only reason I’m considering removing them is to put on the set of 29×2.4 X-Kings I have.
Generally, I’ve been running these tires somewhere between 23 and 25 psi in the front and between 25 and 28 in the rear. I give those ranges because my gauge is so small and my eyes have deteriorated so much, I can’t really be certain. What I’ve found is that everywhere I’ve found other tires wanting in the traction department, these have surpassed those performances. Truly, they have so thoroughly improved traction for my bike that I’ve entered a new paradigm of traction. I’m cornering at speeds well beyond what used to seem possible; now the limitation is my nerve.
To get a feel for what they tires my be like when the break free I pumped them up to 27 in the front and 30 in the rear and then took on some terrain I know. When they did break free in silty, sandy soil, they were pretty predictable, unlike some tires I’ve ridden that go from grip to grease in a single degree of lean angle.
What amazes me about this tire isn’t that I’ve finally found a tire that offers as much traction as a Justin Bieber video. No, what amazes me is that on the handful of times I’ve ridden through anything that approximates mud, it has still worked with the assured grip of Reinhold Messner. The engineers at Continental will tell you this is because the Mountain King II uses their Black Chili compound, which is a blend of natural and synthetic rubber with tiny bits of carbon soot mixed in. Maybe so. The upshot is that I’ve found a tire I’m willing to ride on hard pack, in sand and through mud. It’s so all-purpose I don’t really want to switch them any time soon.
The one other noteworthy detail about these tires is that every other tubeless tire I’ve ridden has had sidewalls as thin-skinned as an apple. The Mountain King II has proven to be as impervious to punctures as Donald Trump is to criticism. This, despite a high-quality 180tpi casing; most bulletproof tires have a casing in the range of 60tpi and they roll like a flattened Coke can. Of course, with such a high degree of impervituity (new word) you end up with a tire that weighs 640g, but I’m willing to put up with some extra weight in order to have a tire at least as worthy of my faith as the time from a Swiss watch.
On the off-chance that I haven’t pounded this point into schnitzel, for $60 I now have a tire that I no longer have to think about whether or not it will get me through a given terrain. I can go ride any place I choose and not wonder if I should change tires beforehand. The benefit that renders isn’t just peace of mind, it’s simplification and as a busy dad, I wish more products carried that selling point.