Continental Trail King ProTection APEX 2.6 Review
Cons: Works best on tame trails, a little expensive
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Trail King racked up respectable scores in most categories. Rolling resistance and ease of installation were notable highlights. Pedaling and braking traction were both pleasant surprises. Cornering is certainly not a strength of this tire. While this tire is dramatically improved from previous iterations, it is still hard to recommend it over some of the better options in our test. Yet, for the right rider in the right conditions, it could work well.
Cornering abilities were better than expected with the Trail King. Given its somewhat low profile appearance, we had modest expectations. The shoulder knobs are visibly smaller compared to the meaty and taller lugs on some of our favorite tires. The cornering tread features tightly packed knobs in groups of five with gaps in between.
When you lean this tire on edge, the transition is quite smooth and relatively confidence-inspiring. No, this isn't some super aggressive and mean front tire with which you can simply thrash corners in all kinds of conditions. That said, the performance was solid and predictable. This tire can stand up to some aggressive riding and high-speed corners, but to be clear, this isn't a Minion DHF. It doesn't have an edgy feel and is a little vague as to whether or not you are on the edge with this tire. It is a little less defined feeling than tires with more squared-off shoulder knobs. The Trail King held up surprisingly well in both rock and hardpack settings. There is one section of trail on our test loop that stays damp and slimy all year. We made sure to spend time thrashing this tire in these conditions, and the Trail King started to falter quite quickly when things got slippery.
The extra volume in this 2.6-inch tire is enormously beneficial. The ability to run a lower pressure allows the tire to conform to the trail surface. We ran this tire at approximately 21 PSI in the front and 23 PSI in the rear. We found this to be the sweet spot for cornering traction. We experimented with dropping the tire pressure a little bit lower into the high teens and felt that the sidewalls didn't have quite the support to handle pressures that low. The Black Chili rubber compound feels reasonably tacky.
The Trail King delivers decent pedal traction. We found this to be a fast-rolling tire on the front and the rear. Often, the fast-rolling tires tend to have less pedal traction since there is presumably a less aggressive center tread on the tire. The Trail King once again delivered better-than-expected performance.
When zipping up moderate terrain, this tire handles itself just fine. It feels efficient, and there isn't much in the way of drag. Step on the gas, and the tire engages quickly.
On steeper pitches, we were pleasantly surprised by how well the Trail King hooked up as a rear tire. When you are punching up slow, steep, and loose pitches under heavy load, it maintained traction for longer than we expected. We think the quality Black Chilli compound is a contributing factor, but we also believe the center tread simply works well. Also, the lower tire pressures are helpful too. We found trying to scoot up damp, wet, or muddy surfaces required much more precision. This tire doesn't perform especially well in the wet.
To be clear, there are better options if pedaling traction is a key concern. A tire like the Maxxis Minion DHR II has a much stronger bite in all conditions. That said, for how fast-rolling the Trail King is, it performed quite well.
Braking traction was fine on the Trail King. When mounted on the rear, we did our best to find steep pitches of everything from loam, rock, loose, and hardpack. Again, this tire braked better than we thought it would. Looking at the relatively low profile knobs, we were impressed by the bite it provided.
The Trail King was most effective in shutting down speed on hardpack, rock, and loam. This isn't the sharpest braking tire, but for how fast it rolls, we were pleasantly surprised. Wet roots and rocks were not so pleasant. Under braking forces, this tire quickly went wayward in wet conditions. Deliberate, smart, and controlled braking goes a long way to ensure a positive outcome on slimy surfaces. Looser, sandy, and gravely surfaces were a bit of a puzzle too, but the Trail King handled this situation well-enough.
The Trail King is a pretty fast-rolling tire. This isn't a semi-slick or a rear-specific tire designed primarily for rolling speed. But as a versatile tire that can easily be run front or rear, we were very impressed with how it carried speed.
When cruising along fire roads or hardpack, the rolling speed was pretty impressive. The Trail King is noticeably more efficient than some of the more aggressive options in our test. This is hugely beneficial when railing through berms and smooth sections of trail — less energy and more speed…great. The excellent rolling resistance is a nice attribute, but it can be easily over-valued. We think the lack of traction in tough conditions likely outweighs the rolling speed for aggressive riders. The Trail King is still a great option for the rider who knows he/she doesn't want to ride gnar, slop, or chop frequently.
Throughout testing, we observed no significant signs of wear.
While we didn't put huge mileage on each set of tires, some definitely start to show wear early. We have little concerns about the durability and longevity of the Trail Kings, especially with the ProTection Apex casing.
The Trail King snapped onto our 30mm test rim very, very easily. We used a floor pump with a tubeless booster chamber and the tire seated in one shot.
The tubeless floor pumps are great, but they often take some supplemental pumping to get a bead to seat fully. The Trail King is one of the few tires that needed no extra encouragement, it went on in one shot at about 35 PSI. This is significant. We didn't try, but we expect one may be able to set this tire up with a normal floor pump.
The Trail King ProTection Apex is an okay value. The on-trail performance was rock-solid, but the price tag is a touch high for most people to stray from the comparably priced tried and true tires. Tires are an investment and a risky one at that. Folks who are looking to try something new may be a little gun shy at this price.
The Continental Trail King ProTection Apex is a noble performer that caught us by surprise. If you are familiar with previous iterations of this tire, you will be pleasantly surprised by the new version. Is this some aggressive thrashing tire? No. Instead, the Trail King is a surprisingly well-rounded tire that delivers solid performance in most metrics. It can be run on the front or the rear wheel and works well in a surprisingly diverse amount of situations save for the slick ones.
The Trail King is available in a few other versions.In addition to the 27.5 x 2.6-inch version we tested, it is also available in 2.2" and 2.4" widths in both 27.5" and 29" wheel sizes.
— Pat Donahue