Continental isn't a name you hear very often when looking into sport tires. Pirelli, Bridgestone, Dunlop, Michelin - these are the names that likely come to mind when you're looking for performance rubber. Continental is looking to change that, immediately, and with a vengeance.
I was recently invited to Continental's US testing facility and proving grounds, located deep in Texas. This enormous 5,000-acre facility is where they put their tires to the test in all sorts of conditions: dry, wet, hot, cold, dirt, grass, gravel, asphalt, and concrete. Tires are being tortured and dissected day in, day out, 24/7 by professional drivers and riders who are even occasionally required to "take one for the team" and push the tires past their limits - with predictable results. Continental's facilities and programs are so exceptional that other tire manufacturers come to them when they need to put their tires through a full-spectrum performance analysis. This place is a Big Deal, both literally and figuratively. It was in the center of this massive testing ground where we were introduced to Continental's latest street performance tire - the Sport Attack 3.
Everybody has bullet-points and features that make their products unique among the field, but when all is said and done, it's how the tires feel, stick, and last that we riders care about. That being said, here are a few of those bullet-points, and my thoughts on them:
- Substantial improvement in wet grip thanks to a specially developed tread design with significantly improved drainage effect. - It was a beautiful day in Texas when out at the track, so this one I can't put my own experiences to. However, the tread design does indeed appear quite capable of moving enough water to keep you from tossing the bike down, and from seeing footage of their test rider railing through more than an inch of standing water; I'm inclined to believe it. Thanks to our lovely weather here in Portland, I'll be able to see it for myself soon enough!
- Innovative "Grip Limit Feedback Technology" increases the level of safety during extreme lean angles as the rider receives feedback from the tires at an early stage in critical situations for a higher level of control at the limit. - Now this one I can attest to! Feedback and feeling with these tires were outstanding. Even when entering a corner a bit hotter than intended, I could feel that the front tire had more to give and so was able to simply pull the bike lower and lower, lap after lap, until there simply wasn't any more room between the hard parts and the tarmac. With the rear tire, it gave a very clear signal that it was at the limit by way of a very gradual and gentle slip, so that as I was powering out of the curve I could pick a throttle point quickly and confidently, without the rear end bucking out and sending me flying. Small warnings made for an overall faster and more confident ride.
- Tire design specially tuned to the new sport motorcycles for perceptibly more stable and precise handling. - Ditto with the above point. These tires went where I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted. No sloppy carcass flex, no wallowing under hard braking or acceleration. Just a smooth, consistent, on-rails feel lap after lap. One of the most-consistent and precise street tires I've ever had the pleasure of riding.
- Road grip has been improved considerably once again thanks to an enlarged contact area and technically optimized tread design. - Contact patch size isn't something a rider is terribly concerned about - it's the grip that counts. What I can say is that no matter how fast I pushed, no matter how far I pulled the bike down, all the way to the point of dragging not only knee, but toe and peg as well with my outside shoulder tight to the tank, these tires held on like glue. What more could you ask for?
Longer service life thanks to the enlarged contact area at the crown of the tire and high share of positive tread in the central belt as well as
further optimization of the MultiGrip Technology.
- Most tire manufacturers choose to essentially weld two different rubber compounds in three strips in order to form a tire with varying grip
characteristics from centerline to shoulder. Where this design can falter, is with the uneven wear you get when two different rubber compounds are used on
the same tire. You can end up with a bit of ridged area where the strips are grafted together, as well as the fact that the shoulder compounds tend to be
more of a "pure" rubber, eschewing silica content in favor of dry grip in perfect conditions. However, on surface roads, conditions are rarely perfect.
MultiGrip is Continental's real unique feature with these tires. It's a single rubber compound throughout the whole tire, which has been exposed to varying temperatures in very specific areas in order to vulcanize different parts of the tire to different hardness levels. Having just one well-tuned compound across the entire surface of the tire means having the same level of grip from side-to-side. The multi-tempering of the tire leaves the shoulders soft and grippy, while making the centerline hard enough to give long life. How grippy are those shoulders? See the previous bullet-point. If knee-and-peg-down on a superbike isn't enough to convince you, I don't know what will.
- Handmade in Germany. - Okay, it's a small thing, but we have all come across what it means when a company doesn't take pride in where they produce their tires. Continental puts every effort into making the finest street/trackday tire possible, and they're proud to make them at their home in Germany.
Now here's something that wasn't in Continental's bullet-point list: The "TractionSkin" surface treatment. Know how a new tire has that sheen? That almost-glassy, semi-greasy layer that has to be scrubbed off? Continental goes a step beyond the competition by pre-surfacing their tires with a textured pre-roughed condition. The time from tire-mounted to scrubbed-in is zero miles. No greasy surface to burn away over the first five miles, no glassy sheen to rub off. Mount and ride, no break-in required. I put this to the test myself - it works.
When it comes down to brass tacks, people don't want to see ad copy or hear presentations. They want to hear from other riders who have traveled down a road, who can provide experienced opinions on a given product. Continental understands this, so instead of sending out scads of ad copy and marketing materials, they invited riders from around the industry, many of whom have racing backgrounds to come and push their tires as hard as they wanted - no strings attached, no bills in case they broke anything. "Destroy 'em" was our only instruction. Not a single bike saw damage that day. All of us did our level-best to push as hard as possible, and find a failing with the tires. We all came away universally impressed. We were given a variety of bikes from varying levels of performance on which we could unleash our inner hooligan, and not a single bike proved too much to handle for these tires. If there's a single most-important metric by which you should decide whether a tire is worth trying, it's this:
I'm buying myself a set immediately.