Tire: Continental Trail King
Stated size: 27.5” x 2.4”
Measured Width on 25mm (internal) rim: 2.4” / 61mm
Features: Black Chili Compound, ProTection Apex casing
Casing: 4/240 tpi casing, folding bead
Blister’s Measured Weight: 989 grams
Intended Use: soft dirt grippiness
Wheels: DT Swiss E1700 Spline TWO
Bike: Devinci Spartan
Reviewer: 5’9” 155 lbs
Duration of Test: ~12 rides
Test Locations: Helena & Whitefish, MT; Fernie, BC
Background (Trail Kings & Rubber Queens)
Continental has been making tires for quite a while, and they’re certainly not new to the bike game. Continental is a thoroughly German company, and many of their tires (including the Trail Kings I tested) are handmade in Germany.
The Trail King sits at the knobby end of Continental’s tire spectrum, with only a few DH treads being more aggressive.
(Incidentally, the Trail King is known as the “Rubber Queen” in Europe. Maybe the American market isn’t mature enough to ride the Rubber Queen?)
Since the Trail King is a fairly knobby tire, it should generally be compared to fully knobbed, “all mountain” type tires, like the Maxxis Minion, Schwalbe Hans Dampf, etc.
And like most of those tires, the Trail King comes in a couple of casing and bead options, ranging from the less expensive “sport” version (low tpi, non-folding bead), to the higher end ProTection Apex version that I tested, which has a folding bead and a reinforced, high tpi sidewall.
There are also a few options in the middle, including a couple of UST variants.
The higher end versions are made in Germany, while the lower end ones are made in an unspecified location that I’m guessing is in Asia.
The ProTection Apex casing is noteworthy as one of the highest thread count casings in this genre of large, knobby tires. It has four layers of 240 tpi material under the tread, and three layers of 180 tpi material in the sidewalls.
Generally speaking, those higher thread counts will make for a lighter tire that can conform to trail obstacles better, but it can also cause some durability issues.
Holding the ProTection Apex tire in my hands, it’s pretty beefy. Not quite DH-tire beefy, but the sidewalls don’t feel inclined to tear. Presumably due to the higher thread counts, the Trail King still weighs a bit less than, for example, comparable WTB tires that have a similarly thick casing but a lower thread count.
I’d generally categorize the tread as moderately spaced out and paddley. There’s an alternating pattern of knobs down the center, and both “sets” of knobs are fairly broad and blocky. Great for digging into the dirt while climbing or braking, not so hot for minimizing rolling resistance.
I’d had issues with setting up some Continental tires tubeless in the past. They’d sort of work, but the sidewalls were particularly porous and they lost air quickly.
The Trail Kings are marked as being tubeless friendly for Continental’s Revo sealant, but I just used my normal home-brew sealant. Initially, it took a bit of work to get these to seal up; I definitely needed a compressor, and I ended up having to put substantially more sealant in than I use on some other tires (Schwalbe, Maxxis, and WTB, to be specific).
It seems that the Trail King’s bead is just a bit looser than other comparable tires. While this makes it a bit easier to get on the rim, it also means that it doesn’t have quite the death grip on there once it’s seated. Even once they were seated and I had a few rides on them, they still seemed to bleed air a bit more quickly than I’m used to.
On my DT Swiss E1700 Spline TWO wheels, which have a 25mm internal rim width, the Trail Kings are spot on, true to size at the widest point of the knobs. The casing actually bows out even wider than that, making the Trail Kings look like a really big tire. Most other brands seem to run a little on the small side, so compared to other tires that are marked as the same size, the Trail Kings are pretty big. I’d say they’re slightly larger than a Maxxis 2.5” tire.
They’re also relatively tall tires, which again, adds to the visual impression that these are big tires. I had to endure more than one person asking me if they were “those new 27.5+ things.” The Trail Kings are large enough that they actually start to make my Pike look like it’s a bit low on clearance.
My very first ride on the Trail Kings turned into a horrendously wet, muddy ride—the kind where you feel guilty for being out on the trail in such conditions (and yes, I feel guilty, but it was a race and they fixed everything the next day, so it’s sort of okay).
I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but the Trail King was really, really good in the mud. It’s not quite a mud spike, but for a tire that functions well in non-muddy conditions too, they’re one of the best I’ve ridden. They clear mud about average for a spaced out, knobby tire, but more importantly, they provide consistent grip that, as far as sliding around in the mud goes, is confidence inspiring.
As things dried out a bit, I got a chance to ride in a relatively diverse selection of soils: dry dust, some gravelly crap, duffy brown pow, and plenty of hardpack. I didn’t ride much in the sand, so I don’t have any specific comments on that front.
In anything soft enough for the knobs to get some purchase, the Trail King hooked up quite well. That said, it’s pretty different from something like a Maxxis DHF, which is the sort of tire that I’ve spent the most time on.
A DHF has a defined channel between the center knobs and the side knobs, so as you lean into a corner, there’s an angle where you’re in between the rows of knobs, and the tire is pretty drifty. Lean past that angle and the side knobs engage with their full force, and you can go around a corner really fast.
On the other end of the aggressive, knobby tire spectrum is something like a Kenda Nevegal. It has a set of “transitional” knobs in between the center knobs and the side knobs. Those transitional knobs keep the tire from feeling as drifty during that partially leaned stage of the turn, but they don’t let the side knobs really sink in on a corner, so they generally won’t corner as hard. In the worst cases (again, like the Nevegal), those transitional knobs can make the tire fairly unpredictable–their death grip on the ground is prone to unexpectedly releasing mid-corner.
The Trail King falls into sort of a weird middle ground between these two. It’s definitely not a drifty tire–the middle knobs are wide enough so that there isn’t really a defined channel. But it also doesn’t really have any transitional knobs, and more importantly, it doesn’t ride like a tire with transitional knobs. As you lean into a turn, the Trail King locks in pretty early. But you can keep leaning more and more, and it continues to hold. It doesn’t quite hold all the way to the lean angles that you can get out of a DHF, but it gets pretty close.
What I found difficult to get used to was the lack of drift. I can’t think of another tire I’ve ridden that locks into a corner as well as the Trail King, but that doesn’t also have that drifty area at mid-lean angles. It actually took some adjusting on my end to get them to do what I wanted; I’m so used to that drifty feeling in good tires that I had to adjust how I went around a corner to suit the Trail King. Instead of coming into the corner with the expectation of a little bit of drift-induced oversteer, I could really just ride the turn locked in from start to finish.
But all of that talk of drifting and hooking up is in soft dirt.
On hard dirt, the Trail King was less compelling. The tires were very inclined to get caught in little ruts and dragged off line, and the balloon-ish casing felt pretty vague.
Even in softer dirt, that big, supple casing just felt strange at times. On a number of occasions, I’d pause and look down thinking I had a flat, but each time I was still at full pressure. (I experimented with pressures between the high 20’s and low 30’s).
A bit more tire pressure might have fixed the squirmy feeling, but I was running a similar pressure to what I run in most other tires. Also, my testing was cut a bit short (see below under “Durability”), so I didn’t get to experiment with different pressures as much as I would have liked.
NEXT: Climbing, Braking, Durability, Etc.