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