Low budget, high performance? Really?
A couple of winters ago I picked up a very capable hack (Yamaha Thunderace) on the cheap – the idea as always being to ride it until the warm weather kicked in, and then sell on, making enough to cover the cost of the riding done in between. Plus a few bucks. The Ace was excellent, but what really surprised me was the handling. Despite being a relatively heavy machine, with so so suspenders and a Brit winter to play in, the nearly new rear tyre was rapidly bedded in right to the edge. I hadn’t heard of Contimotions before encountering them on the Ace, and they seemed to me to have coped with the demanding context in which they found themselves at least as well as I would have expected from more heralded brands.
Forum inquiries yielded sparse but positive praise for the budget radials, budget being very much the operative word.
Fast forward to the supposed summer of 2016, and another winter hack: this time unsold, unwanted, plugging on but in need of new rubber at hack price. I remembered the Contis, and did some research, which yielded a couple of points of interest. It transpired that since their low key 2010 launch no European journalist had bothered to review these widely used tyres – presumably because they’re at the less sexy end of the spectrum, barely considered as the Sports Touring material they really are. The Contis boast only a light scattering of online enthusiasts as supporters: no one else gets a hard on for this rubber, apparently. Not even the manufacturer, Continental, who ushered them quietly into a disinterested world, referencing them from day one as a ‘budget choice, entry level tyre’. Which may be damning with faint praise, but containins a significant truth: I could buy them now, six years on in Brexit Blighty, for £130 a pair…. Or, alternatively, I could write them up and ask the UK distributor to send me a pair in return for the labour. Clearly stunned that anyone should bother asking, Cambrian Tyres – official UK Continental importer – sent me a pair at once.
As we all know, less can sometimes be a whole lot more. And so it turned out. Let me tell you about Contimotions: they’re pretty much as good as you’ll want them to be, wet or dry. Forget about beginners or commuters and just ride. Confidence, as someone once pointed out, is a preference. Tick that box and almost any modern tyre works, and works well: but not every modern tyre can be described as genuinely budget. I’ve had the Contis out in all weathers, one and two up, and performed a full on emergency stop without the option (and without ABS). No problems.
The one thing I haven’t been able to do on them is a track day – there just hasn’t been time. But I know of a track day regular who did his best ever ZX9 lap time at his local circuit (Oulton) on Contimotions. He’s not the only one to have found them willing accomplices at the track. So how do we square the disjunction between price and performance, reality and reputation?
I asked Bryn Phillips (the go to guy for tech talk at Cambrian) for an answer to this apparent conundrum. Contimotions feature a single compound, zero degree steel belt construction for stability at speed, with a diagonal variable depth tread pattern extending into the shoulder. Tyre profile is partly determined by the ratio of height to width, but as we all know that still leaves plenty of room for variation in steepness of shoulder. The Contis are just on the conservative side of steep, with a rounded rather than precipitous shoulder. However, profile alone does not account for a bike’s willingness to turn in – Bryn pointed out that the stiffness or rigidity of the carcass plays a significant part. The Contis are slightly on the soft side, responding in a linear fashion to steering input. They don’t suddenly tip in or generally sharpen up the ride, they simply do the job that is being asked of them, in proportion to your input. The single compound means that while there isn’t an overwhelming sense of grip, what is available is constant and seamless. A possible negative is longevity, or lack of it: tyre life might be limited compared with some competitors – the Contis don’t have a reputation for being particularly hard wearing, especially on heavier, torque hungry machines – but there is little evidence to suggest that they are very much inferior to the sector competition.
All of which places them bang in the middle of the spectrum, and explains why they so predictable and versatile: they represent a kind of perfect median – Bryn reckoned that this was the well kept secret of their success. Conti were aiming squarely to fill a spot at the bottom end of the market with a no frills product and quality construction. It worked, even though the Contis remain almost totally ignored by the media. These tyres may be six years old in terms of design, but the formula remains a winning one.