A concise and informative historical run-down of the prestigious German tyre manufacturer.
Continental are a big company. You may think you know how big they are. But they’re bigger than that. They employ 177,762 people. Their global sales are €33,331,000,000.
Okay so the tyre division of Continental isn’t all of that. The tyre division only(!) has 44,500 employees and has sales of €9.6 billion. Pretty big.
Continental were one of the iconic founding fathers of European tyre industry. They are one of the only ones still remaining who still actually manufacture tyres in Europe.
They do have a factory in China too but that mostly makes Conti’s entry level and OEM tyres. The good black stuff is still made in Germany.
The early years
1871 – October to be precise. Continental is founded in Hanover, Germany. Amongst various soft rubber goods and rubberised fabrics, Continental manufacture solid tyres for bicycles.
1882 – The rampant horse motif is first used as Continental’s logo.
1900 – The first German airship – the LZ 1 – uses Continental rubber balloon material for containing the gas.
1904 – Continental produce the world’s first automotive tyre that has a patterned tread on it.
1909 – Continental begin their relationship with the world of synthetic rubber. Using synthetic rubber created by Bayer laboratories, Continental successfully vulcanise it and make some early prototype tyres.
1921 – Continental pioneer the use of cord fibre carcass which results in a much less stiff tyre carcass compared to existing linen carcass designs.
1926 – A substance called ‘carbon black’ is added to Continental’s tyres which results in better durability and ageing. It also makes them look REALLY black which the general public seem to like.
1932 – Continental invent “schwingmetall”. A substance for bonding rubber to metal which are only mentioning here because of its excellent name. Schwingmetall.
1936 – Synthetic rubber is finally introduced properly into Continental’s manufacturing process.
1943 – Continental file a patent for tubeless tyres.
1955 – Continental begin manufacture of tubeless tyres.
The modern era
In 2005 Continental made their next big leap with synthetic rubber technology. The name for the whole project was ‘Black Chili’.
Essentially Black Chili is a rubber compound made from a proprietary mix of natural rubber and synthetic rubber with a magic ingredient of carbon soot particles.
Now then, these teeny tiny soot particles are specifically shaped and surfaced to behave in certain ways when interacting with the ground. How Black Chili works can be seen through a microscope. Thankfully how Black Chili actually rides can be felt much more easily and obviously.
With tyres there are three factors: grip, rolling resistance and durability. Normally you can have two of these factors and compromise the third ie you can have a durable and low rolling resistant tyre but it won’t be very grippy.
Black Chili changes this compromise significantly. Now you can have tyre that is grippy, rolls well and lasts a decent amount of time.
The only thing that doesn’t change is that premium performance tyres do still cost more than bog standard tyres. Sorry about that. Having Black Chili tyres is like having two different types of tyre on your bike at the same time – so in a way that’s where a certain kind of value for money lies.
Compared to Conti’s previous compound – Activated Silica Compound – Black Chili tyres have 26% less rolling resistance, 30 % more grip and a 5% increase in mileage.
There are lots of different flavours of Black Chili. They are all specific for the intended task of the tyre. The Black Chili in a Kaiser downhill mountain bike tyre is not the same as the Black Chili found in a GP4000S II road race tyre.
Continental’s latest thang is a perfected tubeless system. Called ‘Revo’ it’s currently only for mountain bike tyres (although there are small mumblings in the cycling world about tubeless clincher tyres moving into the road scene too). Continental have even developed their own sealant – RevoSealant.
The recent boom in Enduro racing has seen Continental re-address some of their mountain bike tyres. Combining key features of their Downhill tyres and their Trail/XC tyres, these ‘Revo Apex’ versions are tubeless-ready and offer fast rolling speed combined with grippy compounds and dieted-down-from-DH sidewall support internal armouring.
The Continental Revo Apex Trail King and Baron tyres aren’t exactly cheap but they are arguably the finest modern mountain bike tyres currently available.
GP4000 S II – The Daddy
This tyre arguably needs no introduction. The undisputed market leading race tyre.
The GP4000 S was the tyre that Continental launched the Black Chili compound on to the bike world with. The GP4000 S II is the new version and uses a revised mixture of Black Compound as well as being available in a few more sizes.
You can now get GP4000 S II tyres in sizes from a miniscule 20mm up to a generous 28mm. The latter being something of a modern marvel of tyre in that it offer lower rolling resistance than most of the smaller sizes. That’s the Black Chili magic for you.
Earlier this year Continental announced that they were looking into new sources of ingredients to put in their rubber.
The big headline news was that they’re possibly going to start using a product made from dandelions.