Continental Top Contact City/Touring clincher tyre

Gnarly, dude… or something

This week – and the week before – I have exclusively been riding Continental’s Top Contact touring tyre. It’s not too hard to figure out why. For starters, I have a bike with the requisite clearance for 32c rubber in the shape of  a Boardman CX Pro ‘cross’ bike. More importantly, the weather conditions have been harsh enough to warrant using tyres with the kind of tread pattern more commonly associated with drawing the plough.

The tyre is said to be a direct replacement for Conti’s much-loved (by long-distance touring cyclists) Top Touring 2000 and looks remarkably similar to that model’s last incarnation, with a wide centre ridge designed for low rolling resistance sitting between deeply-siped edges, which look like they should be able to find any adhesion going in crap road conditions.

The Top Contact is, however, a different beast thanks to several detail refinements that make it arguably the finest tyre there is in its market segment. So it should be, with a retail price more that twice that of its predecessor. What it gets is two layers of Vectran puncture protection, a greatly improved tread compound and that all-important ‘Made in Germany’ label as well as a choice of wire and folding beads. Oh, and there’s a free inner tube with each tyre to back up the one-year anti-puncture warranty.

Going by the test pair’s performance to date, I’d say Conti is pretty safe on the warranty. Ridden over pretty much anything from fresh hedge cuttings to that stuff that accumulates in the unswept area around road islands, ours have proven entirely impervious to cuts, let alone penetration.

The degree of rolling resistance will come as a shock to anyone coming straight off lightweight road rubber, but run them hard and they are fast enough for training – just. More importantly, the air pocket is big enough to provide a great ride over bad surfaces although the 32mm width claimed for our pair must refer to the depth of the tyre including tread, since the pocket itself is about 28mm. That is not in itself a bad thing, since it keeps the width of the tyre down and, with it, the weight.

Weight is, in fact, the real Achilles heel of tyres such as these. Rubber is heavy and, inevitably, there is a lot of it in them. The 32mm size tested here is in fact pretty reasonable at a claimed 550g with wire bead. The folding version loses 50g and gains £5.

Given the excellent overall performance of the 32mm format, it is hard to see the point, even for laden tandem use, of bigger – ie. wider – 700c versions. They are a lot heavier, with the monumentally bloated 47-622 wire bead example weighing a staggering 740g. Apparently such tyres are popular in Germany, where they obviously must like to feel they have something to work against.

So, Top Contacts roll well enough if kept inflated to the stated maximum and seem to keep punctures at bay. Do they grip? On anything but spilt diesel or black ice, which will defeat anything, the answer is an impressed yes. Of course, grip on dry, warm, clean Tarmac is likely to be inferior to that of a slick race tyre, not least because the deep tread will squirm. Throw in anything from greasy, salty winter crap to fresh snow, farmyard efflux and even softening ice, however, and here is the tyre for the conditions.

Apparently there is a Winter version with sharp granules incorporated into the tread compound to afford some grip on ice. And, if the price looks a little stiff, bear in mind that this is a tyre built to go around the world – or at least halfway. Per mile, I’d say so far that it looks pretty good.

Continental Top Contact Wire Bead 700x32c £44.99 including inner tube

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