Long gone are the days when all you needed was a pair of Panaracer Smoke and Dart tyres on your bike and you raced everything from XC to DH the same machine. Looking at the range of tyres on display these days there is rubber for every condition, hardpack, loose, hardpack loose, mud, snow, XC, DH and now even the new Enduro events are getting their own tyres. Not that this is a bad thing, there are some phenomenal tyres on offer now that provide incredible grip and speed in the worst conditions, but all this specialisation is making the ‘all round’ tyre harder to find.
Now I will admit that I am quite a tyre swapper! With tyres being one of the biggest influences on a bikes handling, I like to have the proper rubber on the ground. I have had a bit of a thing for Maxxis recently and have found they have some excellent tyres, running minions for DH and Ardents for trail riding. However the thick mid of the Innerleithen Winter Enduro Series left me feeling like there must be a better option. This desire for the do it all tyre became all the more pressing with my recent switch to tubeless, making tyre changes a much more messy affair.
Enter the new Continental Mountain King 2.4 Black Chilli, marketed as a do it all tyre, with a protection sidewall to protect against rocks and snakebites. The tread pattern has been completely redesigned and is a lot more aggressive, with large, well spaced spikes. They are very high volume in the 2.4 size, bigger than a 2.5 Maxxis and at nearly £50 a tyre, very pricy rubber. The Black Chilli compound is designed to do the impossible and not only roll fast but provide loads of grip, and it seems to work. These tyres roll quick and have excellent acceleration out of the corners. So do they work?
In gloopy mud and typical woods conditions these tyres are excellent, the wide spaced knobs bite well and find traction where you would not expect it, and they do not seem to clog too much. They clear quick and allow you to carry good speed over wet roots and technical sections. But take them to fast hard-pack and a proverbial thorn in the tyres side is soon revealed. If you are hammering into a hard turn and running these tyres tubeless, there is not enough support in the sidewall to stop them from folding over under pressure. Running at 35psi you can feel a noticeable slurring and squirming from the tyre as it starts to fold underneath the rim (running a pretty wide crest flow) at high G’s. I suppose it is a lot to ask of a tyre of this volume to handle well under all conditions, but it is a shame than when these tyres start to feel vague is exactly the same point that you need them most. It is a bit unnerving to not totally trust the feedback from the tyre when you are mid corner and fighting for grip. The 2.4 carcass seems a little too round for the side knobs, there is no square edge profile to the tyre to really drive into the corner when leaning hard. Maybe the 2.2 would be a better and more supportive option, as the Black Chilli compound is an amazing thing and the tyres fly on the straight. But disappointingly after suffering a couple of high speed front wheel wash outs, I have decided to take these tyres off and keep them for muddy Enduro riding. Tyre choice is always personal preference and a lot of folks swear by the mountain kings, but my search for the best ‘do it all’ tyre continues.