Are the new Continental MTB treads any good?
I have a long, fraught relationship with Continental mountain bike tires.
At the 2012 Arizona Trail Race 300, which I lined up for with realistic aspirations of winning, I decided to run X-Kings on the urging of a Conti rep, who assured me that the sidewalls were significantly beefed-up from past iterations. Four miles into a 300-mile race, I came to a standstill with a two-inch long sidewall gash, which made for a six-hour setback (including a stop at an automotive repair shop), from which I never recovered.
Four years later, based on that AZT300 experience and a decade of reviewing bikes for Outside Magazine, I concluded: “Maybe all German trails are forgiving loam. But for the harsh, brash desert southwest where I ride, I’ll take Maxxis, thank you very much.”
So when Continental overhauled its mountain bike tire line in 2022 with a range of enduro and DH rubber, I was the ideal tester. Lots of background, and even more skepticism.
After months of firsthand personal testing—and ten times that at Thunder Mountain—we can confidently say that Continental has seriously upped its game with the new offerings.
These are mountain bike tires that give up nothing to the competition. And based on many metrics, they are fast becoming our top choice of rubber for Sedona trails.
Continental went all in on the new line. There are five new tread patterns:
- Kryptotal (all-around and mixed terrain; front and rear specific)
- Argotal (loose terrain)
- Xynotal (hardpack and rocks)
- Hydrotal (downhill and mud)
Several models have 2.4” and 2.6” iterations. So between the available compounds (Endurance, Soft, and Supersoft) and casings (Trail, Enduro, and Downhill) and circumferences (27.5” and 29”), that’s 40 iterations.
If you can’t find what you need, you likely have exceptionally specific demands.
“Our focus was to enable our customers to select a tire package specifically optimized for their type of riding without compromising on any aspect of performance,” says Oliver Anhuth, head of two-wheel marketing for Continental. “Compound and tread is important, but we knew that adding the right casing would give the best riding experience.”
Glad to hear Continental figures that it now has the properties.
With the right combination of compound, tread, AND casing years ago, perhaps I never would have had reservations about Conti tires in the first place.
It would be harrowing to test 40 separate tires. So TMB picked the best for our Sedona terrain, and we’ve been riding them hard for months.
A note about weight: Continental bills this new line as gravity-focused. Meaning these are not extremely lightweight tires. They are, however, competitive with the market.
Of the four 29-inch tires I tried, weights hovered between 1,100 and 1,300 grams, which is on par with similar offerings from Maxxis and Schwalbe.
If you are looking for a superlight XC racing whip or a stout, sticky, indestructible DH tire, you should probably look elsewhere.
But for the rocky, rugged, largely hard, and loose trails in Sedona, these weights and sidewall strengths are perfectly appropriate. Overall, we are leaning toward the hardest compounds (Endurance) and lightest casings (Trail) for durability and longevity, though that may vary case by case.
First up is the Kryptotal, Conti’s all-arounder, which comes in distinct front and rear designs. While the pattern is the same on the side knobs, the front has three intermediate treads in the center for better steering, compared to only two out back for digging and traction.
I put 2.4-inch versions of each on my trail bike, a 2019 Stumpjumper, in the Trail casing with the Endurance compound, which is probably the setup that’s best suited to everyday riding in all terrains. The only thing I would have preferred is a 2.6-inch tire up front—but, like everything, supply chain issues meant settling.
Overall, steering is super predictable, with no weird hesitation from the top to when you lean into a turn. The rear hooked up just fine as well, even under heavy braking. I’d say the performance is similar to my standard setup on this bike of a Maxxis Assegai or Dissector up front and a DHR rear.
My only complaint is that in extremely loose-over-hard terrain, the tires can feel a bit skittery. (More on hardscrabble riding under Xynotal.) But thanks to the sturdy, though still supple sidewalls, I was able to drop the pressure from my normal setup a psi or two (18 front, 19 rear; I’m 160 pounds), and I never felt too soft or overly worried about tire integrity. Most important, in a month of hard testing, I saw zero sidewall tears or punctures.
Thunder Mountain’s experience is similar. “We’ve switched to Kryptotals for our rental fleet, and we’ve seen no significant change in punctures or side knob undercuts. Definitely no knobs tearing off,” says Erik Riveron, Service Manager at TMB. “And where other brands, like Maxxis, start weeping sealant from the sidewalls pretty quickly, these casings don’t do it. They hold up better. Definitely better quality rubber.”
Riveron adds that TMB has been experimenting with running the Kryptotal Front on both fronts and rears of its bikes. There’s a slight weight penalty, but it makes for a better, more confident transition.
Continental’s new design for hardpack, rocky surfaces, the Xynotal is the other natural choice for Sedona. Weight is comparable to the Kryptotal, but this model is available in 2.4 inches only. The side knobs are similar to the Kryptotal, but the trio of interior knobs is shorter and a bit more recessive, which makes for less bite but a faster roll.
I initially put these on my alternate trail bike, a Lenz Behemoth with 150mm of front travel and 140 rear. I then switched them onto a Specialized Levo, and took the two Specialized bikes to the bike park at Glorieta to run laps side by side with the Kryptotals.
As expected, the Xynotals were preferable on dry, hardpack days, when they felt blazing fast and surprisingly grippy for a lower-tread tire.
The Kryptotals excelled when conditions were softer, muddier, and favored the bite of those burly center knobs. Once again, zero punctures, sidewall damage, or lost knobs in over a month of hard riding.
Says Riveron, “The Xynotal is certainly fast. It doesn’t hold that edge as well when braking. But for smooth and rock, it’s impressive. The more texture there is on the trail, the more I’d lean toward the Kryptotal.”
Also worth noting: For the Xynotals, I rode the Soft compound up front, and the Endurance rear (Trail casings on both), and the difference in grip was significant.
There’s a suppleness and a grabbiness to the softer compound that inspires more confidence. “If you don’t mind a bit of extra weight,” Riveron says, “the heavier-duty casings and softer compounds definitely improve performance.”
After a month, I saw little difference in wear between the two compounds, though that might increase as time goes on.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I’ve been a Maxxis acolyte for years and haven’t really had any need or reason to look elsewhere. But I’m glad I did. Continental has come out punching with this new tire line, which I think is every bit as good as Maxxis and the rest of the market—and better in some ways.
For one thing, the sidewalls seem both sturdier and more supple, which makes for an impressive combination of ride quality and durability. And that’s big praise coming from a guy who has steered clear of Continentals for a decade or more because of durability concerns. I beat these tires up on lots of nasty rocks in Tucson, and they look no worse for the wear.
I also like the ability to choose the rubber compound based on geography and riding style. Though I lean toward lighter, faster tires, I really enjoyed the grab of the Soft compound and can even see myself experimenting with the Supersoft for certain applications.
Best of all, the price is right. Where a Maxxis Minion (29x2.5”; 3C/EXO) lists for $93, the Hydrotal and Xynotal (29x2.4”; Trail/Endurance) go for $65. That means you can get three Contis for the cost of two Maxxis. That’s a lot of extra tread for the price.
If I had one niggle, it was the difficulty of setting up these tires. They are extremely tight on the bead and inspired some cursing and a near aneurism to place and seat. Having said that, the silver lining there is that they aren’t likely to leak, burp, or fail at the rim.
Oh finally, the naming convention is a little…German.
As TMB’s co-owner Mike Raney aptly put it, “These tires are great. Too bad they all sound like they should be sold in a pharmacy.”
If you have more questions about what tires might be right for you, give us a call at 928-282-1106. Or just stop by Thunder Mountain Bikes anytime. We’d love to talk bikes with you.