Motorcycles

Review: Continental's surprising Road Attack 3 sports-touring tires

Review: Continental's surprisi...
Continental Road Attack 3's haven't put a foot wrong yet, despite my best efforts
Continental Road Attack 3's haven't put a foot wrong yet, despite my best efforts
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Continental Road Attack 3: here fitted to the BMW S1000XR
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Continental Road Attack 3: here fitted to the BMW S1000XR
Continental Road Attack 3: here fitted to the BMW S1000XR
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Continental Road Attack 3: here fitted to the BMW S1000XR
Continental Road Attack 3: fast turn-in and effortless steering
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Continental Road Attack 3: fast turn-in and effortless steering
Continental Road Attack 3: a tendency to easily hold a line in a corner
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Continental Road Attack 3: a tendency to easily hold a line in a corner
Continental Road Attack 3: makes the most out of the VFR1200's handling
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Continental Road Attack 3: makes the most out of the VFR1200's handling
Continental Road Attack 3: corner speed was crucial on the Honda CB650F in this company
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Continental Road Attack 3: corner speed was crucial on the Honda CB650F in this company
Continental Road Attack 3: light and easy handling on the BW R1200R tourer
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Continental Road Attack 3: light and easy handling on the BW R1200R tourer
Continental Road Attack 3: difficult to break traction, even with the mighty S1000R
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Continental Road Attack 3: difficult to break traction, even with the mighty S1000R
Continental Road Attack 3: this is my "I mean business" riding position
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Continental Road Attack 3: this is my "I mean business" riding position
Lake Eildon, with a S1000XR and a galoot in front of it
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Lake Eildon, with a S1000XR and a galoot in front of it
The Continental Road Attack 3's outstanding wet and dry grip, with lovely handling characteristics, makes this our new favourite road tire ... if it lasts the distance
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The Continental Road Attack 3's outstanding wet and dry grip, with lovely handling characteristics, makes this our new favourite road tire ... if it lasts the distance
Honda's CB650F LAMS bike: this poor thing had its neck thoroughly wrung
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Honda's CB650F LAMS bike: this poor thing had its neck thoroughly wrung
Continental Road Attack 3: here fitted to my personal GSX-R1000
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Continental Road Attack 3: here fitted to my personal GSX-R1000
Continental Road Attack 3's haven't put a foot wrong yet, despite my best efforts
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Continental Road Attack 3's haven't put a foot wrong yet, despite my best efforts
Continental Road Attack 3: great handling characteristics across a range of bikes
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Continental Road Attack 3: great handling characteristics across a range of bikes
Continental Road Attack 3: at this point, this is just a bunch of pictures of bikes going around corners. But hey, we like that sort of thing
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Continental Road Attack 3: at this point, this is just a bunch of pictures of bikes going around corners. But hey, we like that sort of thing
Continental Road Attack 3: handled admirably on the big ol' R1200RS.
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Continental Road Attack 3: handled admirably on the big ol' R1200RS.
Continental Road Attack 3: deep grooves go almost all the way to the edges – a testament to the tire's wet grip
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Continental Road Attack 3: deep grooves go almost all the way to the edges – a testament to the tire's wet grip
Continental Road Attack 3: no longer has the curve-shaped treads you used to recognize Contis by
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Continental Road Attack 3: no longer has the curve-shaped treads you used to recognize Contis by
Continental Road Attack 3: a bit of a revelation for the uninitiated
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Continental Road Attack 3: a bit of a revelation for the uninitiated
Continental Road Attack 3: ready to rumble straight out of the tire shop, thanks to TractionSkin technology
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Continental Road Attack 3: ready to rumble straight out of the tire shop, thanks to TractionSkin technology
Continental Road Attack 3: single compound tire that's hard in the middle but softens gradually as you move toward the edges – great idea, well executed
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Continental Road Attack 3: single compound tire that's hard in the middle but softens gradually as you move toward the edges – great idea, well executed
Continental Road Attack 3: Aussie press launch
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Continental Road Attack 3: Aussie press launch
Continental Road Attack 3: Aussie press launch
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Continental Road Attack 3: Aussie press launch
Continental Road Attack 3 rear tire after ~450km, showing slight wear
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Continental Road Attack 3 rear tire after ~450km, showing slight wear
Continental Road Attack 3 front tire after ~450km, showing slight wear
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Continental Road Attack 3 front tire after ~450km, showing slight wear

Just about anyone who's been riding for a few years gets a strong sense of what they like and what they don't, and I have to admit, I've never really considered Continental hoops as an option. That's not all my fault – Continental has never enjoyed huge marketing support in Australia, where I live. In fact, this is the first time the company has launched a tire in forever down under. So while it's the second biggest brand in Europe, they haven't caught on so much over here – but that could be about to change.

With the Road Attack 3, Continental feels like it should be on an absolute winner. This third-generation sports-touring hoop has a couple of key new technologies that set it apart from the crowd, as well as a couple of huge trophies in head-to-head class tests in Europe, and it's ready to muscle its way into other markets.

Continental Road Attack 3: no longer has the curve-shaped treads you used to recognize Contis by
Continental Road Attack 3: no longer has the curve-shaped treads you used to recognize Contis by

Key technologies

It's easy to get wrapped up in compounds and tread designs, sidewall stiffness and whatnot, but there are two key things Continental does with the Road Attack 3 that you won't find elsewhere.

The first is TractionSkin, a slightly rough tread surface that lets Continental pop these hoops out of their molds during manufacture without the use of a slippery mold release agent. Where most other tires are slippery and dangerous for the first couple hundred clicks, you can roll out of the garage on a fresh set of Road Attacks (even the old RA2 Evos) and go get elbow-down on the fourth damn corner of a track session. If you're Alex Hofmann.

I am not Alex Hofmann. And when I picked my bike up with these tires fitted to it, it was raining cats and dogs. I'm an idiot, though, so I rolled out of the tire shop and immediately hit the gas on my GSX-R1000. The back wheel spun up and I felt like an idiot. Mind you, the Michelin Pilot Roads I had taken off to fit the Contis would have done the same. A few minutes later, with at least a small amount of heat in the hoops, they were gripping well enough to let me have a bit of fun through some wet twisties, so I'll mark that down as a tick.

Continental Road Attack 3: here fitted to my personal GSX-R1000
Continental Road Attack 3: here fitted to my personal GSX-R1000

The second key technology is called MultiGrip. Most sports touring tires use a nice sticky compound on the sides for awesome cornering grip, and a harder compound in the middle to deal with the sad truth that a lot of bikes have to do the lion's share of their miles in a straight line. Thus, you get sporty grip in the corners, but a tire that lasts much longer in the middle than a flat-out sports unit.

The Road Attack 3 uses a single compound, optimized for around the same terrific dry grip as the RA2s, with 15 percent better wet grip, 10 percent better mileage, superior handling and quicker warmup. And during manufacturing, the temperature is finely controled to cook the centre bits a little harder, with a smooth gradient that softens the rubber toward the edges.

The thinking here is that they'll wear more evenly while still lasting well in the middle, and there won't be the distinct steps in grip, wear and softness you can sometimes feel on a multi-compound hoop.

Continental Road Attack 3: Aussie press launch
Continental Road Attack 3: Aussie press launch

Road testing the Continental Road Attack 3s

After throwing a fresh set on my old Gixxer, I met up with Continental's Grant Sammut, motorcycling superhero Miles Davis, and a group of other journos for a two-day chance to get familiar with the Road Attack 3s across a range of different bikes.

As well as my sportsbike, we had tourers represented by BMW's S1000XR and R1200R/RS, and Honda's VFR1200F. We had a learner machine in the CB650F LAMS, and one of my favourite super-nakedbikes, the mighty BMW S1000R.

Over two indulgent days, we flogged the guts out of these generously donated machines across a series of roads I know well, and a bunch I'd never sampled. Conditions were variable; we rode mainly in the dry but with patches of damp, over a typical assortment of Aussie roads, some bowling-green smooth and others bumpier than a teenager's forehead and dusted with moss. The pace was generally fast, with a few bits of very, very fast and the odd bit of absolute nuttiness.

My first impression was of effortless steering. And I should stress, I came straight off a set of Michelin Pilot Road 4s to do this test, and I've bought a few sets of those because I like how long they last and how fast they steer.

The Road Attacks tip in even easier – Continental has spent a lot of time on its enormous German test track fiddling with things like the stiffness of the carcass and sidewall to balance the competing priorities of outright grip, road feel, steering and handling.

Continental Road Attack 3: a tendency to easily hold a line in a corner
Continental Road Attack 3: a tendency to easily hold a line in a corner

After a nigh-on telepathic steering tip-in, they have that slight feeling of "holding a line" you get with tires sometimes. You can choose your lean angle and more or less relax as they carry you around the corner. That's not to say they're hard to adjust a line on – even when you're banked a long way over, it's a piece of cake to nip out wider to dodge a pothole, or tighten the line with a touch of inside handlebar to stop yourself running wide. But they have a "don't worry, I've got this" kind of self-assuredness to them.

Bike after bike, damp after dry, great road after goat track, I felt nothing but confidence in the way these tires handled. I tried using some front brake while leaned over, which on the Pilot Road 4s usually results in an unsettling twisting sensation that pulls the bike upright. No such issue with the RA3s, they take banked-over braking in their stride as well as a Bridgestone hypersport tire, which are pretty much my personal yardstick for steering and handling. But I don't buy them, because they flounder and die under commuting conditions, and I don't have the cash to throw $600 at tires every 3,000 km (1,865 mi).

Continental's marketing budget didn't quite stretch to 5-star accommodations, but Grant was able to get us dinner and digs at the inimitable Golden Trout in Eildon. Opinions around the table were unanimous - these hoops are the real deal, they seem to work equally well on all the bikes we tested, and BikeME's Boris Mihailovic should never, under any circumstances, be allowed access to the jukebox again, unless we need to extract information out of a hostage.

Continental Road Attack 3: handled admirably on the big ol' R1200RS.
Continental Road Attack 3: handled admirably on the big ol' R1200RS.

On day two, I concentrated on grip. The Road Attacks hadn't put a foot wrong yet, but I wanted to see how far and hard they could be pushed while accelerating through corner exits. I'm no drift king, though, so I grabbed a BMW S1000R, made damn sure traction control was on, and started applying indecent amounts of throttle while leaned over in corners.

Did I get the traction control light to come on? Yes. Yes I did. But I had to whiskey-throttle an appalling amount of gas in to deliberately break the rear tire loose. In fact, I'm trying to think of a situation where I'd abuse a throttle that badly by accident.

I came to the conclusion that the edge grip levels on Conti Road Attack 3s give me a 20 to 30 percent margin of error above anything I ever do on the road. In fact, I'd happily take these things out on a track day. And I'd suggest, given the howling pace of our test group, that about 98 percent of road riders will find these things stick like chewing gum in curly hair. You'd have to be riding a lot faster than I can see, and gassing the bejesus out of a powerful bike, for grip to become an issue.

So, full marks for steering, handling, cornering confidence and road grip. These Contis are a pleasant surprise. But the key question is: how long will they last?

I don't know yet, but initial indications are good. Despite the best efforts of my fellow journos and I, visible signs of wear after ~450 km (280 mi) were limited to a light roughness on the shoulders and some slight lipping on the leading edges of the tread grooves on the rear. The fronts came up looking very lightly stressed on the shoulders, and otherwise you could wipe them down and sell them as new.

Continental Road Attack 3 rear tire after ~450km, showing slight wear
Continental Road Attack 3 rear tire after ~450km, showing slight wear

So, I'll have to update this article once I've put a few thousand miles on them. Here's the thing; I'm getting between 12 to 15,000 km (7,500 to 9,300 mi) out of a set of Michelin Pilot Road 4s, which is about four times the mileage I get out of a sticky sports tire for the same money.

After a few days out on the Continentals, I've decided I prefer the way these things make my bike feel. Skid-pan testing in Germany tells me they're even better in the wet than the Michelins, which until this point were the best wet tire I'd ever experienced. If they give me anywhere near the mileage of the Pilot Roads, I'll gladly put my hand in my pocket and buy another set.

Prices are about in the ballpark for a decent set of rubber, but vary widely across sizes and regions, so you're best off contacting your local dealer for that sort of information. A heavier-duty GT version of the rear is available in several sizes for bigger touring bikes carrying heavier loads.

I think the vast majority of riders will enjoy the hell out of these hoops, and I think they deserve to pick up a good chunk of the road riding market. Here's hoping the rest of the world figures out what the Europeans have known for some time now – that Continental's motorcycle tire division has some serious tricks up its sleeve and is well worth considering.

Product page: Continental Road Attack 3

4 comments
frank09
I have used Contis for 30 years. I get 3 years on the front tire and 2 years on the rear tire from April to mid-November in upstate New York, USA.
Peter Andrews
Hey Loz, I used Contis on my GTR for years in Oz. They always gave me the best all round performance. The GTR is a heavy tourer and I would get nearly 12,000K's out of a rear and 14,000 from the front. As usual, your article is the best. Wonder how the rest of the world handle the Aussie humour. But what is this tire word? Do you mean Tyre?
MarcJackson
The continental tyres have always been good, the best available for a front or rear at any point in time. Their Autodromo facility gives them what's needed. And I wouldn't trust anything that Boris says his opinions always contradict the facts.
szabolcs
Well well, after Metzeler Roadtec 01s I put now the brand new and praised to the sky Conti Road attack 3s... felt good since first meters, everything was ok. Very good grip in the dry. BUT. When it's raining... did you try to change lanes when raining? Better not, once you come back into your lane on the white road markings it slips, and gives you crap... Never felt this with metzeler, even though I was riding in december -5 Celsius, wet roads, and the snow was falling. The tires slipped twice at me, before that I encouraged my Ducati ST3s friend to change his roadtec 01s to road attack 3 as well, he says the same, in rain, when changing lanes at the dashed white lilnes while crossing it slipped... With metzeler in rain I rode almost as I was riding in dry. Now I have to slow down, and lost all my confidence, probably will sell the tires for 70% of their value, and buy metzeler again.