Southern California can be accurately stereotyped as the place with just one season: summer. Oh there’s offshoots of summer; there’s feels-like-summer (usually happens in the middle of winter), there’s summer-like (happens in the spring months) and there’s Indian summer (what many call autumn or fall). Except for a couple weeks out of the year or during a once-in-a-decade El Nino pattern, it’s pretty much perfect riding weather year ‘round. So why in the hell would anyone in SoCal need a tire labeled 4-Season? The answer: Santa Ana Season.
October through December is when the wind direction in Southern California does a 180. Instead of blowing from the ocean, these so-called devil winds blow from the desert. Gusts over local peaks have been clocked a 100 mph. Most notably, these winds can whip up a raging wildfire. On a much, much, much smaller scale, Santa Ana winds can turn a summer of puncture free riding into a fall of frustrating flats. Shards of glass, goat heads, chunks of palm tree and sharp stones are blown back into or down onto the tarmac and into the path of the vulnerable bike tire. If you were to roam Pacific Coast Highway on the first day the off shore winds blow with a backpack full of tubes and CO2, you could make a killing bailing out the stranded. In bike language, Santa Ana, loosely translated, means double-flatted.
So when local TV weatherman Dallas Raines (yes, he’s real name) forecasted the first Santa Anas of the season, I went straight for the Continental Grand Prix 4-Seasons . The 4-Seasons strike a balance between Continental’s robust Gator Skins and the race worthy GP 4000 S II. The German tire maker positions the 4-Season as a robust race tire. And if the barometer for race is weight, then they are pretty close. The 25mm 4-Seasons are sub 250g and the 28mm we rode were just below 270g. Not flyweights but our testers didn’t bog us down in fast group rides. They carry a race tire price tag too at a suggested retail of $74.95.
The ride quality is respectable considering this tire’s niche. I ride a lot of road tubeless and have favored the Vittoria Paves too. The GP 4-Seasons are no cotton open tubular but they do mute road buzz, amplified when temperatures start to drop. I’m glad I came across the TPI spec after a number of rides. Had I known it has 330 TPI, I would have been disappointed. That kind of number means plush to me. These are not but as a tire that emphasizes toughness, they do feel good. Like a lot of things, it’s all relative.
I ran them 80 psi front and 85 psi rear which is below the manufacturers recommended minimum. They took some direct blows and never suffered a pinch flat. Two technologies keep these Contis rolling when things get rough: Vectran and DuraSkin. Continental has gone with a double dose of Vectran in the 4-Seasons to deflect penetrating objects and prevent cuts. Other Continental models have it but only the 4-Seasons have a Double Vectran Breaker. The earth-tone sidewall is Continental’s way of saying, “This tire protected by DuraSkin.” Gators and 4-Seasons get the Duraskin treatment. I ran over some tread tearing, sidewall cutting stuff, including a six inch piece of steel, and kept on rolling. A thousand miles and counting and knock on liquid polymer, I have yet to flat.
The sturdier the tire, the more my careful meter goes up, especially in corners. Harder compounds and stiffer sidewalls affect my degree of lean. The 4-Seasons got the cautious cornering treatment initially but eventually earned my confidence. On a windblown Saturday ride, I was descending a section of Mulholland with sweeping corners and holding wheels at 40mph. The 4-Season is based on its faster brother, the 4000s, so it has the DNA of a full blown racer.
We’ve been having a little problem with rain around these parts, they call our problem a drought. So putting the Continental claim to test that the 4-Seasons offer superior handling in wet conditions was unrealized. In the absence of something wet and slick I opted for what Mother Nature has left us: crust and dust. On dirt roads, these babies had good bite for a road tire. The 4-Seasons are cut with a deeper tread than other Grand Prix models. The tread depth and soft compound are supposed to keep the tires underneath you when things turn wet. News Flash Continental: they eat dirt too. If I wasn’t such a freak for tubeless, I’d go to these for epics like the Belgian Waffle ride or King Ridge Supreme, both mixed surface events that put an emphasis on tire choice.
When it comes to width, the 4-Seasons come up short in the eyes of other testers. The 28s were declared 26s by one, another measured them at 27mm. My digital calipers had the 28mm Contis at 27.99. I mounted them on a set of HED Belgium rims which have an internal width of 17mm. I had no problem with clearance on a Specialized Roubaix frameset and the tires slipped between fully open Dura Ace brakes without objection. Anecdotally, the Hutchinson Sector 28s I have run on the same wheelset got more comments about their girth than the Contis but the calipers, they do not lie. What I am trying to say is, they are plenty wide if that’s what you are after.
The Continental Grand Prix 4Seasons are neither race tire nor bomb-proof training tire. You want faster, get the 4000s. You want sturdier, get the Gator Hardshells. Somewhere in between are the 4Seasons. It would be a cop out to call these tires a compromise; they deserve a more defined place in what’s become a well-developed line up of clinchers. Even their name, 4-Season, seems too broad, too generic. So lets put it this way: They’re fast, they’re strong, they’re Continentals—and we’ll leave it at that.