22 November 2009

bikefix Exclusive Review: Continental Mountain King 26x2.4in UST tire

When I saw Conti's 2.4in Mountain King for the first time, I thought that it might be a return to form for the company: a fast-rolling, stable knobby that could be pushed into a controllable and predictable drift like one of my favorite tires ever- the Continental Vertical. Only with an updated and improved (less cut-prone) tubeless casing. I got the fat (for a Conti) home and immediately mounted it on my front wheel. Certainly a high-volume tire (though closer to 2.2in than 2.4), the Mountain King looked the part of an aggressive-cornering front tire and perfect for the Southern Rockies' loose terrain. I quickly set out to see how the Mountain King stacked up.

As it turns out, and despite a handful of questions from riders who noticed the tire in our "On Test" list, I've been putting this review off for quite a while. Given my expectations, my initial impressions of the Mountain King were a bit disappointing. When ridden normally, the Mountain King is a perfectly good tire. As with the Vertical, the wide-based knobs are impressively immune to squirm- and I can't help but think that their shape helped to shed what mud I could find. Unfortunately, when pushed hard into corners, they break loose abruptly and not particularly controlably, into more of a slide than a drift. While it might sound a bit harsh, I felt that in New Mexico's dry, loose terrain the Mountain Kings corner not much better than a good race tire- not nearly as well as their knobbiness would suggest. After a dozen or so rides, I re-mounted my last Specialized Roll-X and hung the Mountain King on the wall, where it sat for most of this summer.

When doing a particularly aggressive ride with Dan from Bikeworks this fall, I noticed a 2.4in Mountain King on the back of his 6.5in travel ML-8 and asked him how he liked it. His experience with the Conti as a rear tire had been more positive than mine had been as a front. With a new wheelset (and wetter fall weather) on the way, I decided to give the big Conti another go.

After a summer of riding 'racier' rear tires on my 5in trail bike, it was refreshing to get back on a tire with traction to spare. For most of our riding, a moderately fast (but still knobby) tire works well enough- large numbers of small knobs seem to grab loose sand and dirt well- and it can also help to improve riding skills. Still, when I transitioned to the Mountain King, I found myself cleaning loose climbs that I've struggled with all year. Paired with a 2.2in Specialized Roll X or 2.25 Schwalbe Nobby Nic on the front wheel, the Continental provides plenty of volume to encourage sketchy (but fast) lines and steps out fairly predictably, slightly before the front. Not particularly lightweight (or heavy, for that matter) at 800g and despite lacking the company's fast-rolling Black Chili rubber compound, the 2.4in UST Mountain King rolls surprisingly well. It won't be mistaken for a race tire, feels to me to roll as well as anything I've tried in its class.

With a couple of early snow storms and a fair bit of rain (for New Mexico), our trails are wetter now than they've been all month. For the most part, they're far from muddy- things dry too quickly for that, but I have had the chance to get the Mountain Kings wet. As expected, the widely-spaced and broad-based knobs shed mud as well as anything this side of a mud tire. For what it's worth, they perform no better or worse than anything else on wet rock.

Though Dan did puncture the tread portion of his Mountain King on the ride mentioned earlier, my Mountain King is holding up better than any tire I've tried recently. The tread itself is looking not much different than it did when new and the textured sidewall seems to be doing its part in fending off sidewall cuts. As you'll read on Wednesday, our Hawaiian correspondent thinks very highly of the casing's durability. The tire's performance has stayed consistent as a result- its pretty refreshing to find a high performance tire that seems set to last more than a couple of months.

Though I'm a bit disappointed in the Mountain King as a front tire, it seems to have found its home on my rear wheel. Though on paper the 2.2in width might be appealing to a lot of riders, bear in mind that Continentals tend to run small, with the 2.4 coming in closer to 2.2in wide- the 50g weight savings is probably not worth it unless tire clearance is particularly scarce or riding especially muddy. When reviewing Schwalbe's Nobby Nic this summer I expressed my desire for a harder-wearing (or cheaper) rear tire to work with that tire on the front. At $65, the Mountain King seems to fit that niche well. It's not cheap, but aggressive-cornering trail riders should find it to be an excellent match for the fast-wearing Nic.



1 comment:

Ilan said...

I bought pair of tires and the bike feels so unsafe (titus motolite), I started to think that something wrong with me, I realize that i'm afraid to lean with the bike, every corner stress me, I replaced to another tire in the front and WOW I got my bike back,
What a waist of money, before reaching this conclusion, I tried all aspects (pressure, different rim), In a simple words: not recommended as a front tire, reason: slip in corners, even on a hard gravel