Thursday, February 16, 2012

Continental Top Contact Winter Tire Review

The 26" version here...
Continental Tires "Top Contact- Winter" Tire Review: Winter- a typical winter at any rate- would have seen this review happen a lot sooner than it has taken, but as most of you well know, this has been a "winter of little winter", so to speak.

Conditions have been less than conducive to testing this tire, but I think I now have had enough, (barely), experiences to at least give a good impression on what you might expect from this winter specific tread.

The tires in question here went on my "Project Two Six" bike, which I built especially as a commuter/townie rig for these tires. It should be mentioned that a 700c X 37mm Top Contact Winter tire is also made by Continental, but at the time I was to do this review, none were available. That said, I think you can expect the same from either size in terms of performance/ride aspects.

Okay, before we get to the review, let's see what Continental says about the Top Contact Winter tires: (from the Conti website)

"We contribute all of our know-how as one of the leading automotive winter tyre producers into the new TopContact Winter II. And it shows. The tread design’s outer appearance alone is convincing due to its never-ending grip.

Thanks to countless lamellae, hundreds of biting edges permanently interlock with the surface. The tread compound that is adapted specifically to cold temperatures will even continue to get you going when other bike riders are spinning their wheels."

"Lamellae" tread pattern
 What are "lamellae"? Well, the term comes from "lamella", which is described as a "thin plate-like structure" by Wikipedia. In this case, it is representative of the myriad plate-like tread blocks with small, open spaces between them on the Top Contact Winter tire. Much like the pattern found on a Geko's feet, the Top Contact Winter tire is made for gripping and should impart a more secure feel on smoother, slippery surfaces. Now the big question: "Does it work?"

My quest to find suitable riding conditions one might encounter while using a tire of this sort was not easy. That's part of the challenge of doing reviews like this on specific use products. But, I did get out on compressed, icy snow, wet ice, granular snow, rough ice, and frozen chunky snow and ice along with plenty of crappy pavement and dirt ridden rides. 

Riding in winter time and looking for ice to ride over is very counter intuitive, by the way. Especially when for years I have been conditioned to avoid it like the plague, but I did it. First of all, those who might be thinking these tires are a "studded tire replacement" can stop here and be satisfied to know that they are "right" and nothing works as good as studs.........on ice. Put the test on a mix of dry pavement and snow, maybe a couple of icy patches thrown in, and the equation becomes turned around though. Anyone who has ridden studded tires knows the love they feel on ice and the hatred they feel on the longer stretches of dry pavement in between. 

Conti's best construction here.
The Top Contact Winter will grip far better than most any non-studded tire on glare ice, but not quite to the level of full on studs. Then again, the type of ice you get is going to determine a lot of this. Glare wet ice is tough even with full on studded tires, and not real good with Top Contact Winter tires. However; if you keep a sharp eye out for ice, and you are a "seasoned winter rider", you probably could do just fine on "most" ice. My experiences were mostly positive, with the lone exception of that wet, black ice, which isn't too surprising, really. 

Other types of conditions were really eye opening though. Packed snow with a nice shiny sheen to it was no match for these tires. Similarly, any icy, frozen snow with texture was super easy to find traction on, almost dry pavement like. I found the Top Contact to be an excellent tire for cutting into and down onto pavement through newer fallen snow, and dry pavement performance was more than acceptable. I used pressures from 40psi to 55psi in my tests, and even at higher pressures, the Top Contacts still made an impression of having great traction on sketchy snow and frozen, irregular ice formations. 

The Project Two-Six rig
Dry pavement commuting during post-snow melt conditions is often a mixed bag of sand, dirt, debris, and oddments not normally seen on the road side any other time of the year. (Lost mittens anyone?) I can say that the "PolyXBreaker" belt did its job and no glass bits, strips of metal, or other sharp objects made their way into the casing to puncture my tubes while I tested these tires. Continental also claims this bead to bead belt does not hamper rolling resistance and ride feel, which I can attest to. It rides quite decently for a commuter tire, and far, far better than any studded tire could. 

That said, the Top Contact Winter tires are not going to win you any extra speed. I know you could find faster tires for true, dry weather riding, but that is not what these were made for anyway. I mean, it does say "Winter" in the tire's name, and that should be a clue, right? 

Conclusions: The Continental Top Contact Winter tires are a definite advantage over standard tires in most winter time riding conditions. The relatively skinny, (for a 26"er), tires amazed me with traction that I thought couldn't be produced by a tire with such tiny tread features. I've got to hand it to Continental though, that "lamellae" really works. That said, you are still going to have to watch for the "black ice" and especially wet, slick ice because, like it or not, only studded tires will allow you to let your guard down a little bit there. The Top Contact Winter tires will give you a far better chance of not dumping it over regular tires though, but there is still "that chance". 

So, if your commute is a varied and mixed bag of snow, frozen snow, some ice, and dry pavement during the winter months, you may love these treads. If you are worried about the dreaded "black ice" and you see it more often than not, these may help, but studded tires will win over the Top Contacts there hands down. Pick yer poison. 

Note: Continental sent the Top Contact Winter tires over for review and testing at no charge. I was not paid, nor bribed for this review. I strive to give my honest thoughts and opinions throughout.


One Eyed z said...

I've been running a set of these in the 700x37 size all winter on my fixed gear commuter. And although there really hasn't been much "winter" weather to ride in I have to agree these tires are great! I've been really happy with their ride qualities, even on dry pavement.

Matt Maxwell said...

Cool. I know you haven't been able to use them a lot, but any word on how they wear? Soft rubber and lots of edges makes me think they'd wear quickly.

Guitar Ted said...

@Matt Maxwell: Yeah, the compound is sticky, you can tell by the grit the tread holds. I can't imagine a lot of warmer pavement riding would be very good for these.