Tyres are the best bang-for-buck upgrade you can make to your bike. As the first contact points to the trail, they have the most influence on how your bike feels and the control you can have over it. The three factors that contribute to this are the tread pattern, casing specifications and rubber compound – sometimes more than one. Following my review of Pirelli’s Scorpion MTB tyres, I was offered the opportunity to put a set of Continental Cross Kings from Continental Australia (Velovita/TMO Sports) through Pushys Online to put them through their paces to see what they offer in a cross country application.
The Cross King platform splits the middle between Continental’s Race King, and Mountain King platforms. It serves as a “light trail” tyre or a “heavy XC” tyre for those XC racers wanting a more aggressive tread pattern. The tread is layered in a 3/180 TPI configuration – Continental’s version of a 60 thread count casing per inch folded over 3 layers. This ties into their ProTection technology for superior puncture protection and sidewall resistance along with improved damping characteristics. Mix in the secret ingredient BlackChili compound and you have got a top tier German handmade 780 gram tyre ready to ride.
As soon as I picked up these tyres in my hand the BlackChili compound surprised me. It is incredibly grippy to touch with consistent feel across the surface and spikes. This comes from Conti’s concoction of natural rubber with extensively researched synthetic polymers. The “BlackChili” refers to the added soot particles to “spice up” the grip come trail time while extending durability to contradict the usual fast-wearing nature of high grip compounds.
To actually mount the Cross Kings to my wheels was a pleasant experience. I didn’t doubt their handmade quality, but wasn’t sure what to expect from this construction. My hopes have been held high by mounting Bontrager tyres to Bontrager rims for the longest time. The Cross Kings were straight forward to lever onto the rim and I had plenty of forearm stamina left for my maiden voyage the next morning. This really struck home that Continental has a special point of difference with their skilled tyre makers back in Germany as their easy to mount handmade tyre sparked my excitement to get them into the dirt.
I couldn’t have put the Cross Kings on at a better time to return to my Gap Creek proving grounds. Following testing the Pirelli Scorpions on the same terrain, I have since tweaked my lap and the dirt hasn’t seen a drop of rain. I was rolling into very dry conditions. I was comforted by the tread pattern on the Cross Kings, though. At a glance they strike you to be most effective in dry, loose-over-hard conditions. Their spikes are sparse (in comparison to what I have used before) and have steep edges to make channels between shoulder, intermediate and middle tread to compress the dirt for maximum grip. Rolling resistance is not wound up by this however, as the middle tread pattern feeds into each next block comfortably to reduce the “handover” impact and consequent resistance increase as weight is passed onto the next block. I did not feel disadvantaged in the rolling speed department as I pushed on to a technical climb to test the sidewall resistance.
This particular climb to peak elevation on my lap has served abuse to many tyres, and undoubtedly claims a handful from unsuspecting trial goers every weekend. Contrary to what my Beats Per Minute would have wished for, I aimed for the path of most resistance to squirm the Cross Kings into positions where their sidewall protection and damping technology would be tested. Their sidewalls have the scuff marks to prove Continental’s ProTection is going to need something much gnarlier to consider a challenge to their rubbery integrity. The casing itself also has a positive feel over micro-variable terrain, offering supportive cushioning when rolling into undulations and half buried rocks.
As the average grade on my computer started to report a negative figure, I reminded myself I was on a new tyre, and to ease into extreme leans. Although I was expecting some squirm in transitioning through the different tread blocks as they are higher than what I was used to, my time to trust them was kept short. For the top end hard packed singletrack, the Cross Kings showed no mystery when transitioning to the shoulder tread and back in a dance of leans. As I rolled around the hill into more sun exposed and mixture lacking singletrack, I prepared for the dust.
This is where the Cross Kings were ready to impress. As suspected in such dry conditions, the spiky tread pattern made for precision steering without compromise to stopping time. The remaining trail to the lowest point of the lap is a pinball game of dusty corners – the previous never the same as the next. I could keep consistent speed through my corners and found no challenge in lining up my exit points in the brown pow. Under modulated braking, the Cross Kings were calm and consistent as I never felt them question my intention to set my speed for the next corner. They also don’t backchat when trail etiquette suggests a quick pullover to let a fellow rider continue their climb.
Rolling back to the car on the bitumen I couldn’t shake the dirt tan of the Cross King tread. Usually by the time the front wheel comes off to go in the car boot it has returned to its natural dark grey. I inspected the Cross Kings with a sweaty thumb wipe to conclude my ride with a reminder of what made these tyres an awesome testing experience – the BlackChili compound. Continental serves up tyres to all disciplines (motorised or not) that need them. The dirt clinging to the compound was a friendly reminder that Conti don’t waste their research and know how to exceed what a rider needs on the trail. Even a jet spray of water at home base to the Cross Kings couldn’t get the BlackChili to let go of the dirt. To be honest, I was happy to leave it there as it was a reminder of what makes these tyres great. Just as I will be leaving these tyres on my bike until they peacefully retire…
Review supported by Pushys Online, Velovita/TMO Imports and Continental Australia and written by Kaiden Carter
Categories: Product Review