If there’s a staple tire among the street-legal knobbies out there for dual-sport and adventure-touring bikes, it’s probably the Continental TKC 80. This square-knobbed stalwart is popular because it’s fairly quiet, reasonably sticky on dry tarmac and safe in the rain, yet digs its big, widely spaced knobs into dirt, gravel and mud as tenaciously as many off-road-only tires. It’s a good enough 50/50 tire to be OE equipment on the KTM 1190 Adventure R and BMW R 1200 GS Adventure, in fact. The TKC 80’s only weakness is longevity—they don’t last long on large, powerful ADV machines, particularly when the bike is asked to cover long distances on-road. Until now, Continental didn’t offer a good compromise between the TKC 80 and its 90/10 street-oriented TrailAttack 2, leading some riders to go with a competitor’s tires (often the Heidenau K60 Scouts).
Given Continental’s size—it’s the world’s fourth-largest tire manufacturer—having a fellow German company taking market share was just not acceptable to the folks in Korbach, where Conti makes all of its radial motorcycle tires. So it set out to build a 70/30 tire with an important difference—excellent handling on-road as well as good off-road performance. That was achieved in part by basing the new TKC 70 on the TrailAttack 2 radial carcass (Rider, December 2013) with its stability-enhancing zero-degree steel belt. There’s a reason the TrailAttack 2 is OE on several ADV bikes like the KTM 1190 Adventure and BMW R 1200 GS—it works great on-road, bringing stable, sportbike-like handling to those machines.
Atop the TrailAttack 2 core, Conti added a MultiGrip tread compound to the TKC 70 with a long-wearing center section and softer shoulders for cornering grip, along with a RainGrip silica component for good performance in the wet. The blocky tread design has a slight street bias for stability, low noise and longevity (note the narrow unbroken band in the middle of the rear tire), but was still designed for confidence-inspiring grip off-road, self-cleaning ability and good drainage.
Conti is confident enough in the TKC 70’s performance that it set up an international two-day test—one day on-road, one off-road—in the Welsh Midlands, where we’d be sure to encounter all of the conditions the tire was designed to conquer. Swapping among the latest BMW R 1200 GS, Suzuki V-Strom 1000 and KTM 1190 Adventure models on the asphalt ride, we flew down country roads between hedgerows, over leaves and gravel in some of the corners, bounced along the undulating single-lane tracks connecting farms and villages and dodged suicidal sheep. About midday the rain for which Wales can be counted upon came down just long enough for us to sample the tires in a wet Euro-urban environment (i.e. narrow roads, lots of curves, manhole covers and paving stones), all while riding on the left side of the road.
In keeping with the spirit of adventure, lunch was at Nick Sanders’ Expedition Center in Wales, where the Continental-sponsored adventure rider headquarters his global touring business and puts up guests on his tours smack in the middle of Wales’ best riding. Sanders is best known for his extreme motorcycle journeys, including two record-setting global circumnavigations. He’s ridden around the world seven times, and the length of the Americas eight, and currently holds the 46-day record for a round-trip from Alaska to Ushuaia and back. As you might expect I didn’t see the cordial fellow sit down for more than a second or two the whole time we were there. He’s also quite lean and fit despite how well his lovely partner Caroline can cook….
For the off-road ride the next day Conti put us in the dubious care of its wily off-road tire tester, who rides these big ADV machines like a champion motocrosser hell-bent on breaking something on the bike. Wales delivered on the rain promise once again, just enough to soak the grass field and slate-covered test track set up to “evaluate” our riding skills (i.e. make sure weren’t going to kill ourselves out on the real ride). Then it was off on a carefully scouted route that included a little bit of everything an ADV rider might sanely tackle off-road, from dirt and gravel roads to grassy two-track forest trails to a muddy boulder-strewn hill that those of us who could ride it at all had to crawl down at a snail’s pace.
Despite keeping a stern tire-tester’s countenance in public, I have to say that under my helmet I was grinning ear-to-ear the whole time, in no small part because the TKC 70s came through on every promised feature, namely great grip on and off the road in the wet or dry. They made almost no noise in a coasting test, and offered tremendous stopping grip, too, even in the wet. If you’re an occasional off-road rider torn between mounting DOT knobbies or more street-oriented sport rubber on your ADV bike, the TKC 70s could be the solution. Obviously I can’t make any calls on their longevity based on this event, but we’ll get a set for further review soon. For a tad more off-road grip, there might be some efficiency offered by mounting a TKC 70 on the rear for longevity and a TKC 80 knobby up front, where they tend to last about twice as long as a TKC 80 on the rear.
Continental TKC 70 tires are priced from $105-$175 for fronts and $195-$240 for rears and come in the sizes below (note the V rating in the more common sizes). Many will be available in October 2014; a 120/70-R17 front size for bikes like the Ducati Multistrada will probably be available in the spring of 2015.
100/90-19 M/C 57T TL TKC70 M&S available Q2 2015
110/80 R 19 59V TL TKC70 M&S available 10/2014
120/70 R 19 60V TL TKC70 M&S available 10/2014
3.00-21 M/C 51T TL TKC70 M&S available Q2 2015
90/90-21 M/C 54T TL TKC70 M&S available Q2 2015
120/90-17 M/C 64T TL TKC70 M&S available Q2 2015
130/80-17 M/C 65T TL TKC70 M&S available Q2 2015
140/80 R 17 69T TL TKC70 M&S available 10/2014
150/70 R 17 69V TL TKC70 M&S available 10/2014
170/60 R 17 72V TL TKC70 M&S available 10/2014
4.00-18 M/C 64T TL TKC70 M&S available Q2 2015
150/70 R 18 70T TL TKC70 M&S available 10/2014
(This Gearlab review was published in the January 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)