Continental's latest tires, including their "King" series, take into consideration a lot of what has changed in the last several years with mountain bike tires. As Brett Hahn, Continental's US brand manager, put it, "Everything about the sport has changed or improved with the exception of the tire." In redeveloping their King series, Continental set out to make that change for themselves.
Taking into account modern rim widths, riding conditions, speeds, braking forces, and the influence those factors have on a tire, Continental have re-worked the line from the ground up to create a product they think meets the needs of the modern rider.
Trail King Tire Details
• Black Chili rubber compound
• Tubeless ready
• Cordura casing reinforcements
• Sizes: 29 x 2.2, 2.4"; 27.5 x 2.2, 2.4"; 26 x 2.2, 2.4"
• Weight: 945 grams (29 x 2.4")
• MSRP: $74.95 USD
The tread patterns aren't all that different visually but, they have been tweaked, and the sidewalls have been completely changed. That, along with other updates in the construction of the tire gives the tire better grip and increased trail feel - a positive departure from what many people would agree was a notoriously stiff and difficult to ride tire in years past.Construction
Instead of using a layer of kevlar for protection, Continental has chosen to go with a Cordura panel in the sidewall. The problem with a thicker kevlar sidewall that many of the older models of tires had, according to Hahn, was that while it offered ample protection from cuts, riders were under-inflating the tires in order to get the ride quality they wanted because the sidewalls were overly stiff, hence the poor ride quality riders were experiencing. The Cordura panel offers protection and helps with air retention - it's more air tight and that means less sealant, in theory. Continental also changed the way the casing material was laid up. With a straighter bias, the tires should roll better, and with the new casing compound, better able to handle stresses and loads.
There's a different bead geometry and a smaller bead diameter as well. Continental's Apex insert goes from just above the bead to halfway up the sidewall. This stiffens the sidewall and creates a cushion to help prevent pinch flats.
Continental have chosen to mold the ideal rim width for their tires onto the sidewalls - no more guessing whether the tire is actually designed for a 45mm or 22mm wide rim. As long as you're within the suggested rim widths, the tire should work without an issue.
All of the King series tires use Continental's proprietary Black Chili compound. The compound is apparently good enough that when Adidas bought 5.10, they tried to get Continental to sell them the formula. Continental wouldn't do that, but they did do a collaboration with Adidas and you can find a similar tread pattern to the Mountain King tire on some of Adidas' trail shoes.Performance
The Trail King tires were simple and easy to set up tubeless without any trouble on a rim with an internal measurement of 27mm. (I used a floor pump at home, no air compressor required.) This fits within the ideal width of a 25-30mm rim that's printed on the tire. Measuring the actual tire width, I was right at the stated 2.4" dimensions. For pressure, I ran between 18 and 20 psi in the front and then 20 -23 psi in the rear, depending on conditions and what trails I would be riding.
Riding the Trail King, I was able to quickly and safely let my guard down. I didn't have a lot of the initial "riding on eggshells" feeling I tend to get when I don't know how a tire is going to behave. Rather, I was happy to feel confident and in control with the tires providing consistent feel in a variety of conditions. If I were to compare it to another tire, I would say it behaves most similar to a Maxxis High Roller, with a casing that's a little more robust than EXO.
The open tread pattern helped in clearing out muck and not packing up, while the sharp side knobs offered plenty of bite when leaning the bike into corners without feeling like I was going to unexpectedly loose the back or front end of the bike. On more hard packed ground, the tires roll well and feel quick - there's not a lot of drag or slow feeling that some softer compound tires produce when pushing up longer climbs.
In wet rocks and roots, I was surprised at how well the tires provided ample grip. It's the true test here in Western North Carolina, and for a tire that rolls as well as the Trail King does, I was pleased with its equal prowess on slippery sections of trail. Running my air pressure in the low 20s, I had plenty of traction to get up and over technical bits and the tires still stood up without folding over when descending and pushing into turns.
The Trail King isn't the most aggressive tire in Continental's line up, but it sits well with me as a really solid all-around choice. I was pleased with the predictability it offered as well as the durability - I haven't had any issues with flatting, even when running lower pressures in rocky terrain.
I have also been running the combination of a Trail King in the front and a faster rolling Cross King in the back. It's been an excellent option for days when there's a little more hard-pack or road miles with sections of technical trail in-between. The faster rolling speed of the combo saves a little bit of effort on the ups, but still has a meaty tire up front to help get the bike where it needs to be headed back down. I did have one puncture on a Cross King but, to its defense, any tire would have flatted and it was more a poor line choice on my part than a flaw in the tire.Pinkbike's Take