Grippiest MTB Tires of the Year: Continental Der Baron and Der Kaiser Combo [Review]

The Continental Der Baron and Der Kaiser mountain bike tire combo is a tough one to beat.
continental der baron

I’ve lost track of how many tires I tested in 2019. Fortunately, the majority of them were well made and offered notable advantages in specific situations. With such assorted puncture-protected grip available on the market, it seemed implausible that I could pick a favorite flavor — until I rode the Der Baron Projekt ProTection Apex and Der Kaiser Projekt ProTection Apex combo from Continental Tires. After one run down my daily test tracks, I knew that these tires were something special.

Following that first rip, I have enjoyed riding these tires on all sorts of terrain, over rain soaked and sun drenched tree roots, and they continue to impress. I blather about their supple soil embrace so often that a handful of my riding mates have mounted up a set for themselves. I don’t typically gush over bike components, as most of them have clear faults and fortuitous characteristics, but these warrant every word. Check out the rubbery details below.

Der Baron Projekt ProTection Apex under the bars

continental der baron
That nice square profile integrates flawlessly with the Der Baron’s supple casing to provide a phenomenal traction patch.

To begin, let’s get this very long product name out of the way. The ProTection piece of the Der Baron moniker denotes that the tire contains three continuous plies under the tread, and three at the sidewalls, for maximum puncture protection. The Apex addition is a technology Continental developed with their automotive tires to stiffen the sidewalls and provide proper damping. On the trail, the Apex layer reinforces the tire’s sidewall to give it a sturdy ride character, reducing the squirmy wormy sensations we all dislike when pushing hard into turns.

On the tread front, Continental has two distinct rubber compounds to provide grip: Black Chili and Pure Grip. The tires I tested use the Black Chili compound, which sacrifices some longevity compared to the Pure Grip option, in favor of improved grip and faster rolling speed. With the above components combined, the Der baron was designed as an enduro race tire, and Continental handily hit the mark with this one.

  • Actual weight: 1022g (29 x 2.4 tested)
  • Sizes: 29 x 2.4, 27.5 x 2.4 or 2.6, 26 x 2.4
  • MSRP: $81.91 (€79.49)
  • Available at Amazon and other online retailers.
continental der baron

On the trail, the Der Baron grips wet roots and rocks better than any tire I have ridden to date, far exceeding my expectations for any hunk of rubber to maintain traction. While slamming through slick rock gardens it somehow holds the line, while I wait for the “marble in a washing machine” effect, which I pleasantly didn’t find with this tread. The siped Black Chili compound is pure magic on the loose and rowdy tracks the Der Baron was built for, holding fast to off-camber clay and biting down in softer soil and mud. The center, transition, and shoulder lugs get along seamlessly, and their union culminates in some impressive trail traction. This is a true all-arounder tire, provided your “all around” looks something like a modern enduro race track.

The closest comparison tread I’ve tested (and coincidentally my prior favorite tire) would be the Michelin Wild Enduro, though the Der Baron feels grippier still, and somehow simultaneously more supple and supportive. The Der Baron also didn’t leak any sealant through the sidewalls when I mounted it up like the Wild Enduro and a few other tires have.

Rolling resistance is on par with most comparable gravity tires, and it’s certainly better than some of the competition. While I didn’t conduct any scientific experiments to assess the tire’s resistance rating, I can say that it’s not a noticeable amount of drag compared to other treads. On climbs, it feels like pedaling a descent-focused tire, but the slight angle on the leading edge of each lug helps it get up there with a reasonable amount of effort.

Finally, the Der Baron carcass offers confidence-inspiring support where it counts. I like to run my front-tire pressure on the low side for maximum grip, and this casing is one of the most supple and supportive I have experienced. It conforms to the ground like a much lighter tire but doesn’t fold and squish around beneath the rim like one. Weighing just over a kilo, it’s one of the lighter gravity tires I have tested, and with zero flats to report it seems Continental has their “light, fast, and strong” game sorted out.

It’s difficult to determine the Der Baron’s longevity since I wasn’t able to wear much tread off it over the last several months. Front tires often last quite a while, and even the central sipes are still visible on this one despite loads of asphalt climbing and rock strewn trail time. If I rode in muddier conditions I would definitely mount the Der Baron as a rear tire, and though it would show its age faster out back, that ridiculous level of grip is well worth swapping tires occasionally.

Der Kaiser Projekt ProTection Apex at the rutter end

continental der baron

Per Continental’s suggestion, I paired the Der Baron with a Der Kaiser of the same casing and tread compound. Since the tread pattern and mounting location are the only differences between these two tires, I’ll cut right into it.

continental der baron
The Der Kaiser is similarly square and supple.

A key factor in the negligible rolling resistance character of this tire combo is the slanted central tread on the Der Kaiser. Where the tread meets the ground, its leading-edge has a shallow ramp resembling a cartoon triangle of cheese. That edge bites just enough to maintain traction on steep climbs, while the opposite edge acts like a reversed moto sand-paddle, shoveling through the soil to slow things down. The ramped edges across the central rows of lugs make it a little less desirable for throwing mud around, though it’s not a terrible mud tire by any means.

  • Actual weight: 1018g (29 x 2.4 tested)
  • Sizes: 29 x 2.4, 27.5 x 2.4, 26 X 2.4
  • MSRP: $77.49 (€68.49)
  • Available at Amazon and other online retailers

The only fault I found with the Der Kaiser is that its drift point, or the point where the tire loses traction under heavy forces like late-braking, is somewhat sudden. This is something that took a little time to feel comfortable with, and once I did it became a non-issue. The drift sensation is very similar to that of a Maxxis High Roller II. To put it more descriptively, there is a point when leaning the tire over toward its shoulder lugs where it can lose traction quite abruptly. Again, once a rider knows where that point is it can become normalized and forgotten. The upside of tires braking loose like this is that they are super easy to Scandi-flick, or to perform any other rear-wheel rudder moves with. The Der Kaiser’s drifty tendency has certainly grown on me, and once the shoulder lugs are fully engaged the tire hooks up like a pair of college kids on a Tinder date.

Looking toward longevity, I did manage to give this tire the ultimate test. While it has donated the usual few millimeters of center tread to our nearby stones, the impressive element is that it hasn’t flatted. I managed to break a carbon rim and dent another alloy hoop with this same tire mounted, and it is still holding air as ever. When the carbon rim cracked, the Der Kaiser casing didn’t spring any leaks and the sealant that now coats its outer carcass came from the crack in the carbon. I then mounted it on an alloy rim, only to dent that rim on a rocky landing, and again the tire remained puncture free. Clearly, I should have been running an insert in my rear tire, and I will install a new one soon, but the fortitude of the ProTection Aramid casing has left me genuinely impressed.

While we all have different tastes and expectations for traction, I can’t type enough good things about this set of tires. If you like riding fast and hard on trails that were built to flat tires and throw riders off their line, you will likely dig this combination of rubber circles.