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Schwalbe vs Continental: top cycle touring tyres compared

Alia Parker's picture
Schwalbe Marathon Plus vs Continental Country Plus. Review by Cycle Traveller

When it comes to bicycle touring tyres, there are without a doubt two names that stand out: Schwalbe and Continental. It's no mistake these two brands have developed a faithful group of followers; their touring tyres are reliable, durable, well crafted, have high puncture resistance as well as the perfect balance between roll and traction.

While both manufacturers have a large range of excellent tyres, the two that stand out from a bicycle touring perspective are the Schwalbe Marathon Plus and the Continental Country Plus. Both these tyres are hard wearing and suited to classic on-road touring, including sealed, unsealed and compacted dirt roads. For more rugged trails, cyclists should consider a tyre with a deeper, knobbier tread. We'll look at those another day.

So how do the two stack up? We tested both these tyres over a distance of about 4,000km to compare their performance. Both tyres performed brilliantly and rate similarly, however, one tyre outperformed in one key component: durability. Let's take a look at the breakdown.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus

Schwalbe Marathon Plus after 4,000km. Cycle Traveller

Overall rating: 5 stars

This is an impressive touring tyre designed to resist punctures and last the distance, and after 4,000km, it has done exactly that. Schwalbe says its “SmartGuard” layer, which is made from a special flexible rubber, offers protection from shards of glass and flints. This proved to hold true over the test period. Despite the added protection, the tyre still rolls quite easily. As expected, it is a little heavier than a normal slick road tyre, but the added protection and durability is a much greater benefit to touring cyclists.

This tyre is ideal for touring on sealed and unsealed roads and compact dirt fire trails. The tyre was tested on sealed, unsealed and dirt roads and performed well in all conditions. This is by no means a mountain bike tyre, but as an extra test we took it off-road, down a gravelly mountain and across rough corrugations. It got us through the ride safely, surprisingly handling the conditions well. As expected, it lacked traction on loose dirt and gravel downhill turns, but could handle them at a slow pace.

The most outstanding feature of this tyre, other than its superb puncture resistance, is its durability. This is a tyre designed to last. After 4,000km the tread was still clearly defined (pictured right) and looks like it could quite easily go another 4,000km. Prices will vary, but in general, one tyre retails at about $79. It is available in both 26 and 28 inch sizes and can also be sourced in 16, 20 and 24 inch sizes.

Overall, this is an outstanding touring tyre and one you can trust to get you through your ride.

Continental Country Plus

Continental Country Plus after 4,000km. Cycle Traveller

Rating 4.5 stars

This tyre is billed by Continental as one for “blackberry-picking ramblers and other outdoor enthusiasts,” and true to its word, the Country Plus performs superbly in these conditions. Not that we actually attempted blackberry picking, but we can attest to Continental's claim that “thorns lose their sting” with the tyre fending off punctures from thorns, glass and other sharp roadside objects. This puncture protection is credited to “highly elastic specialty rubber” that is built into the tyre between the tread and the carcass.

Continental says the tread is especially patented for field and forest rides, and this makes it a versatile tyre. It rolls nicely on road but provides traction on dirt paths and compact fire trails. It was tested on bad, corrugated and gravelly roads and, like the Schwalbe, held up well. Likewise, it surprisingly handled off-road downhill turns when taken at a slow pace but is not recommended as an ideal tyre for mountain biking conditions because it would not provide adequate control at faster speeds due to its shallow tread.

The Country Plus had above average durability over the 4,000km ride (pictured right), but the tread down the middle of the tyre, particularly closer to the tip of the pointed arrow pattern in the tread, was showing wear by the end of the distance. This was the main factor distinguishing it from the Schwalbe, which maintained a well defined tread at the same distance. Despite the wear on the Continental, it was not at a stage that required replacing and would likely be fine for another 2,000km. Prices will vary at different retail outlets, but in general, one tyre will set you back about $60. It is available in both 26 and 28 inch sizes.

Overall, this is a solid and trustworthy tyre to take on a bicycle tour.

Conclusion

Both the Schwalbe Marathon Plus and the Continental Country Plus are excellent tyres for touring. We found both rolled comfortably on road (although with a slight resistance to be expected from heavy duty touring tyres) but also provided stability on unsealed and bumpy dirt roads. Both tyres demonstrated above average puncture resistance over the course of the 4,000km test. In fact, we didn't experience one puncture over this distance. However, we must note that out of habit, we also had Mr Tuffy kevlar tyre liners inside the tyre, adding an additional layer of puncture resistance.

The Schwalbe Marathon Plus is marginally heavier than the Continental Country Plus, but overall proved to have better durability with the tread down the middle of the tyre still well defined. Having said that, neither of the tyres required changing after 4,000km. The one caveat with both these tyres is that they have a wire bead. This is great for durability, but the inability to fold these tyres makes them less practical to carry as spares on the bike, so these are tyres best fitted while in town. If you're looking for a spare for the road, a highly recommended folding tyre is the Schwalbe Marathon Dureme.

Overall, both the Schwalbe and Continental tyres make great choices for general touring, although the Schwalbe Marathon Plus comes out on top due to the sheer fact that it will last longer. In this test, Schwalbe is the winner.

Images from top: 1. Graphic of the Schwalbe Marathon Plus (left) and the Continental Country Plus (right). 2. The Schwalbe Marathon Plus after 4,000km. 3. The Continental Country Plus after 4,000km.

Comments

CyclingAbout.com's picture

Having used Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres my whole travelling life and then getting convinced over 10000km ago by Schwalbe to give the Evolution line of their travel tyres a go... I can't believe I didn't do it earlier! The evolution folding tyres are 40% lighter than the Marathon Plus line - and we all know that the best place to save weight is on your wheels. Having ridden over 10000km on two sets with only one puncture - these are as bulletproof and durable as they come.

Do yourself a favour and take 600g out of your wheels! Lightweight folding tyres like this are also great to carry as spares given their pack size and weight.

jamesdesmond.com's picture

I used the marathon plus for the majority of my 21,000km tour, I was indeed amazed by the durability and the puncture resistance of the tyre, but it has to be said it is an extremely slow tyre.

After 5,000km across europe and turkey I decided to take an opportunity to switch from the regular marathon's to the tour plus version. My original marathons hadn't in fact worn and impressively I'd only had one puncture in the first 4,000km (the regular marathon does not have the smart guard punctureproof layer), however, I eventually got a recurring puncture in my rear and not being able to find the cause I decided to "upgrade". (www.wiggle.co.uk deliver to a lot of countries!)

On switching to the tour plus I seemed to lose about 5km/h!

I rode the marathon plus's for 10,000km+ from Tbilisi, Georgia to Singapore, through a mixture of road types and quality interspersed with some off road sections. Punctures were few and far between (they do happen occasionally!) and remarkably the tread on the tyre was still fully intact after the distance.

Having not switched my front and rear tyres around at all, the rear tyre eventually gave up when the tyre wall split. with 10,000km on the rear of a bike pushing 50kg it was an admirable performance.

After singapore I flew to Perth to cycle across australia. I couldn't find any marathons in Perth and being on a tight budget I replaced the rear tyre with a Specalized armadillo, which barely made it 3,000km before it had been worn to paper thin and needed to be replaced. The marathon plus that had been on my front made it the whole way to sydney (another 6,000km) and still looks as good as new after a total of over 16,000km.

I would certainly use the marathon plus tyre again, it is an excellent multi surface tyre that really won't let you down. However, If i knew my tour was going to be mainly on smooth roads (e.g. Europe) I think i'd look for a faster, lighter tyre.

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