Contintental Tyre Factory Visit

Feb 18, 2008
by Simon Paton  
A luxury 2 hour coach drive fueled by Krombacher Pils 4.8% (weak) and we turned up at Willingen, yeah, World Cup Willingen. Shame it was dark and we had no bikes and there wasn’t even any snow. How on earth the FIS World Ski Championships is going to be held there in two weeks time was beyond us.

Next morning and after a continental breakfast were on board the coach for 30 minutes before we landed at Continental HQ based in Korbach in the center of Germany and straight into the classroom.

Dissection of a XC Tyre

Dissection of a XC Tyre

Way back in 1907 the Louis Peter Indian Company were pumping out bicycle tyres before they were brought out by Continental in 1929, adding motorbike tyres and inner tubes to their product range. Today they employ 3,000 workers at Korbach knocking out 10 million car tyres a year and 160,000 motorbike tyres. The bicycle division of 182 employees makes 6,000 bicycle tyres a day. Another large part of Continental's business is manufacturing industrial hoses for the automotive industry.

The tyre carcass is laid onto the tyre bead followed by an anti-puncture strip and then the rubber tread goes on top. On Continentals high end range they use their Vectran technology. Vectran covers the sidewalls on MTB Protection tyres and the entire bead to bead on road bikes. It does not stop pinch flats, that is the job for thicker rubber sidewalls, but Vectran is excellent at stopping cuts to the casing and even a pair of scissors could not cut through this material in the classroom!

Vectran is lighter and double the strength of Aramid. It's very similar to the material they use in car air bags so you know it's the business. The only downside is that liquid crystal polymers are mega expensive.

Last but not least before we hit the factory floor was the really clever bit. Continental Black Chili. This came about from their truck division which was concentrating on developing a new tyre they wanted to save truck companies and drivers a fortune in fuel costs by reducing rolling resistance without sacrificing grip and therefore safety. Mr. Continental, can I have a set for the Descent-Gear Van LWB Sprinter please?

Continental use their Black Chili rubber in both their MTB range and Road tyre models. The road tyres are of course mega fast rolling as you would expect. The MTB Black Chili compound is of course different and they will have one compound to choose from. We all know Maxxis do several compounds from 40a, 42a, 50a, 60a, 62a, 70a and so on.. Other companies have banded around the phrase “Nanotechnology”, listed it on their sidewall and not even used that technology! Continental state Black Chili is their technology and that is what they implement.

So how can a tyre that doesn't feel all soft and squidgy hold any grip on the trails? That’s the nanotechnology, each small knobble will still be super grippy and because it's smaller rolling surface area they say it will roll faster! Continental also say Black Chilli is super durable and won't wear out by just looking at your brake levers unlike your Supertackys or Slow Reaazys.
Tyre Moulds cost around £4,000 so make sure you get it right first time

Three months is the expected timescale between the design desk and the tyre actually hitting the trails.

Something for the weekend sir? Rubber comes in from the processing plant on pallets that are located almost 1km away.

Something for the weekend sir? Rubber comes in from the processing plant on pallets that are located almost 1km away.

Rubber from the pallets is then thrown into a big mangle styled rollers (ten times bigger than the ones pictured here) to squash out all the air bubbles. Then it is pushed into this mangler where it is squished and squashed for the next process.

From squished and squashed to long and thin, can you tell we are on road tyre production yet boys and girls?

From squished and squashed to long and thin, can you tell we are on road tyre production yet boys and girls?

Steel beading, see the large reels at the back? They unwind the beading before and twin themselves together before being coated in hot and thick black rubber. That's the long black sausage looking thing drooped down.

Carcass, rubber tread and anti-puncture strip coming together.

Carcass and rubber tread bonding together.

Tyre molding machines, there were 60 of these working around the clock.

"George Foreman" style lean, mean grilling machines..

On the left we have a tyre prior to going into one of these large green presses. In pops the tyre and the machine is pumped with air at a huge pressure and the tyre is heated. The rubber morphs into the tread pattern and 3 minutes later out she pops, if a little hot, as seen on the right above.

German Workers! I asked this fella if I could take a snap and he was more than happy to oblige and even grabbed some props. So full props to him!!

Half way through a hard days work the canteen serves this! I know Tyler and Jordan would have gone for the big sausage soup, not me. In the U.K there is now a total smoking ban in the work place. Germany is set to follow in the next few months and there was still a smoking section. Seemed really strange sitting in a canteen with smokers.

The Germans are well renown for their precision engineering and at Continental they seem to eat and sleep by the rule book or should I say the ETRTO Book to be exact. They pump their tyres up to full pressure on a rim and measure the widest actual part, which can include the tread if that’s the widest part. They then go back and measure this exact point one day later and then after one hour of endurance testing. Precise! Tyre Rubber is a funny old thing and is made up of a wild mixture of synthetic and natural rubber. This can vary widely as the raw materials can arrive from various sources. Continental are forever sampling and testing all stages of production to ensure you a consistent and above all else, a safe ride.

Accelerators and anti-aging agents are added to develop the vulcanization of the rubber and to stop it from drying out and deteriorating.
Endurance Testing, the other wheel spins at 50kmph and 65kg of pressure is pushed against the tyre. Also on the steel wheel is a screwed in raised bridge. This bumps into the tyre on every revolution to give further wear and tear evidence.

Steel Rims are essential for many of the testing processes. Even a quality alloy rim would soon loose its shape with the amount of serious abuse these things take. Yes, they do weigh a ton!

Puncture Testing. Basically a flat pointed screw driver head was slowly but surely pressed into this fully inflated tyre. The head pushed down on the tyre an actual 30mm (3cm's) before the inner tube popped.

Rolling resistance test - the tyre is mounted and then pumped up (the pressure depends on what sort of tyre it is) and applied with 50kg of force to a drum that rotates at 30 kmph. The difference in torque measurement of the drum spinning freely compared to when the tyre applied is how they measure its rolling resistance.

Pressure Test, a little old fashioned looking we were all expecting a big bang and to get wet! They fill the tyre with water and we all stood back as they pumped it up to almost 300psi before it popped off the rim.

Pressure Gauge, another good piece of German quality engineering.

Being “Press” does carry some perks. The very nice Germans lavished us with Continental goodies including Dungarees, Army Jacket, Polo Shirt and a set of Continental Race King Supersonic Black Chili Tyres!! Is that enough? We then got shipped out to Continentals top secret Tyre Testing facility near Frankfurt. Just think Fast and the Furious meets Tokyo Drift..

Pick a car, any car, as long as it's black!

We had a huge range of cars to choose from and it was like a Le Mans style start as we ran across the car park, Paparazzi mayhem broke out as we fought, tripped, jostled and scrambled elbows high for the ride of your choice.

Si Paton - Tokyo Drifting

Si Paton - Tokyo Drifting

We went through all aspects of “Safety Driving” as well as getting the back out and loosing it more than once, totally rallying the motors (I hope their not reading this bit).

Skid Pan

Skid Pan

Everyone returned safe and sound and for once I behaved, didn’t drink and never did mention the war, well only once!

One stunt driver now for hire

One stunt driver now for hire

Vorsprung Durch Technik.
(German for "Never Clip In").

Si Paton


  • + 3
 haha funnay!

one small correction: willingen just had ski jumping world championships, not alpine skiing. you can easily prepare artificial snow for that - and what's bestabout no snow - the worldcup DH track can be raced!! Big Grin Big Grin
  • + 1
 Guys, Gues my deciphering of the flyer in the hotel bar wasn't upto scratch. I didn't realise they were on about ski-jumping. They should of course have wrote it in English then everyone could of understood it! Cheers. Si..
  • - 2
 There you go. Continental isn´t really lifting off with their bike tires, at least over here in Germany. The main lead in FR/DH/DJ) has been taken by Schwalbe and that´s for a reason ... though Conti´s Mountain King has won several important XC-titles.

btw: I´m very jealous of testing the car tires, gotta be huge fun!
  • + 0
 I am excited to try out some of the Mountain Kings..with Black Chili...can't wait. Everyone here rides the vertical Pros...which would be a second choice...
  • + 0
i have the dvd of continental...

they reaaaaly test their tires ;D

nice one.
  • + 0
 i wish i couldv seen all this!
  • - 1
 sorry to ruin the good vibe of this article but continental tires are second choice in the first place...

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