I was looking for some CX tires for the winter commute with reflective sidewalls and puncture protection. I like to run such tires over the winter for safety and reliability. This winter I decided to give the Continental Top Contact Winter II a try. Here is the advertising blurb:
“Commute year-round with the Top Contact Winter II. Continental has updated their hearty design incorporating all-weather tread technology perfected in their automotive tires.
Even at a glance, it’s easy to spot the differences between the Winter II and the standard Top Contact tire. Though they share the same water channeling grooves, the Winter II tread uses hundreds of biting edges, which help it conform to practically any surface. The result is a tire that handles reliably in wet, or even slightly icy road conditions, without slowing you down on dry pavement.
The tread compound has also been optimized to improve grip and handling in cold conditions, while the Poly X Breaker protection barrier prevents punctures without impeding rolling resistance or adding too much weight. DuraSkin sidewalls provide additional cut protection. Supple three ply, 180 TPI casing is reserved for Conti’s highest quality tires for an excellent ride quality and extended durability.
The Top Contact Winter II is available in Black with a reflective side wall stripe. 700c x 37mm (37-622 ISO) and 700c x 42mm (42-622 ISO). Maximum pressure: 85 PSI. Recommended pressure: 58 PSI. Wire bead. Handmade in Germany. Claimed weight 580/680g.- Biketires direct.”
From the description they sounded pretty promising. I wanted to go with the 42mm but they were out of stock so I went for the skinny 37mm. You are probably wondering why I am calling a 37mm tire skinny but compared to some 33-35 CX tires I have, these things look positively anorexic. On my regular rims they measure in closer to 30mm than 37mm. I reckon these would fit on many bikes that have clearance for 28mm.
Compare this to the Continental Speed 35 on the same rims
The Contacts also are not particularly generous in the volume department so the ride isn’t as forgiving as true cyclocross rubber when the going gets super rough.
Compare the above to the Contacts below
Out of the box the Contacts feel well constructed and heavy. They are almost twice the weight of the Continental Speed CX tires they replaced, weighing in close to 600g (580 advertised).
Initial Ride Impressions:
When I first rode these tires I thought my brakes were rubbing as the bike seemed to have lost a lot of it’s zip. After a week of commuting on them and fiddling around with the tire pressures I noticed a consistent 1-2MPH drop off in my average commute speed to work. Pumping them up to max didn’t seem to help and just made them feel overly harsh (manufacturers recommended 58PSI seems to be about right). I know if I leave my house at exactly 7:18 I will get to the train station with 2 minutes to spare but I had a few close calls after fitting the “Contacts”. I went as far as doing a major overhaul on the Masi drive train just to make sure something else wasn’t wrong but I am sure that it is the “Contacts” that are to blame for my speed drop off.
I suspect there could be three reasons for the speed drop off.
- The “Contacts” might have a smaller rolling circumference than my previous Continental speed CXs and as such will give me a lower speed for the same pedaling cadence. My seat of the pants indicator tells me this is not the reason as I have felt that the 42 x 18 (I have been riding this gear for 12 months) to be a little tall on the ride into work since the change.
- The “Contacts” have a special siped tread to provide amazing grip in bad weather and this tread does seem to be very sticky. You can feel how grippy they are compared to a regular tire just by rubbing your finger along the tread. They pick up small dust and gravel like a vacuum cleaner. I can’t imagine that they have a very good rolling resistance.
- The “Contacts” are really heavy tires and this must contribute to their sluggish behavior.
Running a 58-60PSI gives a nice smooth ride and there is almost no noise from the aggressive tread pattern.
In the Wet:
They feel very sure footed on wet roads and they don’t seem to throw up much spray.
In the Dirt:
I frequently ride gravel paths and dirt roads and the the grip was well above expectations and I would go as far as to say that in the dry they would put many CX tires to shame. The tread does fill quite quickly in wet mud but the grip remains and they shed the mud very quickly once things dry out. Once things start getting super rough the lack of volume hurts these tires and forces you to back off. They roll pretty quickly on hard packed dirt and grip is exceptional.
The beefy construction means that they pretty much plough through any of the road debris that it is hard to miss on a dark wet commute. The above picture is of the back tire after 300 miles and it looks like they are wearing well but I have concerns that the compound may be more biased in terms of grip rather than longevity.
- Leech like grip on all the surfaces I have tried them on
- Very Tough
- Great reflective Strip
- Run silently
- Narrower than they should be
- Poor rolling resistance.