A comparison of stark contrast: Continental Cyclocross Speed and Schwalbe Marathon Mondial Tire Reviews

EDIT:  SEE THE UPDATE, follow the link.


This review is a comparison of two starkly different tires: the Continental Cyclocross Speed and the Schwalbe Marathon Mondial.  In this case, the comparison is between a 700x35c Cyclocross Speed and a 700x40c Marathon Mondial.  Both tires have been used on my Salsa Ti Vaya, known as the Vaytanium.

Continental describes the Cyclocross Speed as “the top choice for a pure cross tyre thanks to a diamond-coated centre section and coarse stubs in the shoulder lugs.”  The Conti is offered in two different 35c tires; one with a folding bead and one without.  The folding bead tire (reviewed here) is rated at 350grams with a recommended pressure range of 58-85 psi.

Schwalbe describes the Marathon Mondial as “the ultimate touring tire, made for roads, tracks and trails of all continents.”  The Mondial is available in the Evolution line, with a folding bead, and in the Performance Line, with a wire bead.  The Evolution version (tested here) is rated at 650 grams, and comes with Schwalbe’s latest and greatest flat-fighting technology, “double defense”, with a triple rubber tread compound.  They have a recommended pressure range of 45-80 PSI.
As tested, the Schwalbes come in just under the rated weight, with mine averaging 647 grams.  The Conti’s also came in just under the rated weight (originally) at 348 grams.  After significant use, they’ve dropped in weight to 320 grams.  Both tires have been used on the same, North Central Cyclery hand built Velocity A23 rims on Chris King hubs.
The first time I pulled the tires off the Vaytanium and saw this labeling, my burger was flipped.  It really made my day.
The wheels, as measured, are 22.8mm wide to the outside of the rim (braking surface at the widest point) and 17.8mm to the narrowest point of the inside of the rim (lip of the hooked rim).
If only Bike Snob followed me…<sigh>…he’d love all of the disembodied hands.
Comparison of the two tires, mounted:
Note that because the Conti has some mud on it, it appears wider than it truly is.  Also, note the wear on the Conti.  This is after ~1,500 miles of road/path/gravel.  I’m guessing it has, maybe, 500 more miles in it before it’s slick in the middle.  The Mondial has ~250 miles on it, thus far.
A few glamour shots of each, in the every lovely RATG garage:
Note the nice reflective striping on the Mondial.
Lovely, dirty Cyclocross Speed
The Mondial has a uniform tread of relatively large tread blocks in the center that make for a smooth ride on paved and gravel surfaces, with more aggressive tread near the rounded edge of the tire, that dig into mud and soft soils for better traction in off-road situations.  Again, this is after only about 250 miles.
Apologies for the blurry picture, but the Contis have a uniform diamond tread, with slightly larger tread blocks at the outside edge.
Again, that’s after about 1,500 miles; this was the rear tire for most of that mileage, and it shows nearly twice the tread wear as the front.  As can be seen in that picture, the tread blocks on the side are effective for one thing in soft conditions: packing up with mud.
Mounted on the Velocity A23s, the Contis measure a true 33.3mm at their widest point (with no mud) at 60psi.
The Mondials measure just under 41mm wide, also at 60 psi.  (They don’t really change in size appreciably between 50-85 psi).
At this point, you might be wondering why I’m including both tires in a single comparison.  I mean, in the weight comparison, there’s about 3 Royale’s with Cheese difference in weight between the two (about 3/4 of a pound), per tire.  That’s 3/4 of a pound of rotating mass, at the furthest possible extreme of the wheel/tire.  What do these two tires have to do with each other, then?  Well, as it turns out, they have a lot to do with each other.  They represent two different philosophies on the same general idea.  If you’re contemplating a mixed use tire for a cross/touring bike, these are the tires you should be looking at.  The Cyclocross Speed is fast, agile, light, and incredibly quick rolling.  The Mondial is sturdy, puncture-proof, wide, and durable.  When I’m contemplating what tire to run on the Vaya on a given day, the best explanation of these two tires is as it was put to me on MTBR.  I posted a question looking for a good tire to run in gravel endurance events like Dirty Kanza or the Gravel Metric.  The best answer I received: the Conti is what the guys who want to win the race ride on.  The Mondial is what the guys who just want to finish run.  They are both perfectly logical tires to run on a multipurpose bike like the Vaya.  And as I’ve run them both, I’ve learned a lot from them both.  Even though I’ve only had the Mondials for about 250 miles, I’ve put them through their paces.
A very obvious observation has to be made: the Contis are light.  Waaaaay light.  And comparatively, the Mondials are stone heavy.  If you want to ride fast, the Contis will always, always be faster.  There’s just no comparison.  And while the Mondials are much sturdier and more durable, I’ve put the Contis through their paces over the past 1,500 miles.  In that time, I’ve ran them on gravel, pavement, mud, single track, sand, and just about everything you can imagine.  I’ve ran them at pressures from 30psi to 85psi.  And I haven’t had a single flat.  They’ve been far more durable and reliable than I have any right to expect.
The picture above shows the Mondials on a recent single track adventure.  The Mondials performance is about exactly what you should expect, based on the tread design.  On dry roads or gravel, they’re absolutely perfect–lots of control, great traction, very predictable and gradual breakaway when you exceed their tractive limits.  For a touring-oriented tire, the traction on wet paved roads is somewhat surprising…in that it’s pretty bad.  It shouldn’t be surprising, based on the large, chunky tread blocks down the center of the tread.  They ride fine and the breakaway is still predictable, but the handling limits are pretty low on wet, paved surfaces–low as in not much more tractive than slicks.  In softer conditions, when you either run low pressure or get into something soft enough that the tires sink in, the relatively aggressive tread blocks along the edge of the tires dig in and offer great traction.  This was one of the great surprises for me–in mud, the center tread blocks pack up with mud quickly, but the corner/side treads offer far better traction than one might think.  The picture above was taken with loaded panniers–about 60# of weight on the rear (plus my 155#).  The Mondials’ handling with weight doesn’t change appreciably.  The tire casing is relatively solid, and they perform well with minor pressure adjustments to accommodate different loading.  As far as pressure goes, while they are rated to a relatively high pressure, I’ve never run more than 65psi in them.  At 65, they have no appreciable squirm or deformation–they really don’t look like a radial tire.  A more common pressure for me, for ‘normal’ riding, is closer to 50 psi.  For gravel adventures, 40-45 is easily enough to support my weight.  And on the recent single track experiment, I kept dropping pressure until I was down to just under 30 psi.  At that pressure, they had enough traction to keep digging in some relatively slick ‘thawed mud over hardback’ conditions, and yet I didn’t have any issues flatting while climbing over roots or rocks.
The picture above shows the Cyclocross Speeds after a B-road excursion this past year.  Let’s start with the brutal truth: they suck in mud.  They pack up completely and turn into slicks.  The somewhat aggressive corner tread blocks pack with mud as well.  Continental is right–they’re great for hardback and frozen conditions.  They are also amazingly great on road–in dry and wet conditions.  On rainslicked pavement, they’re far superior to the Mondials–and the tread design shows why.  For 35c tires, they do about as good as you could hope for in gravel–which is to say they’re pretty darn amazing.  When I took a foray into cyclocross this fall, the Contis did a great job if the conditions were dry.  If there was even a hint of wetness (dew on the grass, etc.), they were slipping and sliding everywhere.  They just do not like wet conditions off-road.  I ended up running Michelin Mud 2 clinchers for my Cyclocross racing, which I loved for that purpose–but which totally suck if you’re getting anywhere near pavement.  It’s a review for another day, but on pavement, the Mud 2s are completely unpredictable, and breakaway suddenly and without warning.  The Contis are progressive, and have limits far higher than they should–they perform like slicks on dry pavement, and perform better than slicks on wet pavement.
As for tire pressure, I’ve varied the Contis quite a bit.  This summer, using the Vaya on the road quite a bit, I was running 80psi in them.  I noticed that at this high pressure, the center of the tread wore incredibly fast.  Based on that experience, I wouldn’t run them over 65psi under any conditions.  For mixed rides of gravel and pavement, I run around 60psi.  For gravel only, I run around 50psi.  For wet conditions, I’ll drop to 35psi.  And on one particularly crummy ride on wet limestone paths, I dropped to 27psi.  That is absolutely the bottom limit for tire pressure for these.  I was incredibly close to flatting a couple times, just running over sticks.  But 27psi is asking a lot of these tires–even at my weight.
In the end, I’m very pleased with both tires, for their respective purposes.  If I was setting out for a bomber run with a couple of the local hammers, or if I was setting out on a 60 mile gravel race, I’d mount up the Contis in a heartbeat.  For commuting on wet roads, for venturing into the (local) unknown, I’d run the Contis.  They are far more durable and have survived through a lot more than I could ever have hoped for.  And if I hadn’t run them at 80psi on the road, I think I could hope to get a lot more miles out of them than I do now.  (For that matter, the front tire has double the tread of the rear tire).  If speed and time matter, the Contis are my mount.
On the other hand, if I’m heading out on a multiple day excursion, or if I’m planning on a long-distance gravel enduro that won’t be timed, or if I’m carrying heavy weight, I’d throw the Mondials on.  They are rugged beyond compare, and incredibly reassuring tires.  For that matter, if I was headed for mud and wet off-road conditions, as between the Contis and the Mondials, I’d run the Mondials.  Given a choice, I’d probably run my Michelin Mud 2s, under those conditions, though.
The Continental Cyclocross Speeds get a resounding A from RATG.  They’re everything you could hope for in a cross/touring tire, as long as you can avoid mud.
The Mondials, as good as they are, have a lot of limitations, a lot of weight, and cost $90/tire.  At that price range, they should be lighter, faster, and better.  They’re great tires that I’m happy to have, but I think they’re a pretty narrow compromise.  If you’re loaded touring, look no further.  Otherwise, think carefully.  RATG gives them a B-.

20 thoughts on “A comparison of stark contrast: Continental Cyclocross Speed and Schwalbe Marathon Mondial Tire Reviews

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  3. Hi,
    After being inspired by your reviiew on Cont cyclecross speed I purchased a pair of 700 x 38.
    That evening after a short spin in the park the rear was flat.
    Such disapointment.
    Where were yours made?
    Mine are from India.
    I have done over 3000km on maxxis Refuse not a puncture.
    The refuse only come to 700 x 25
    Today bought some Maxxis Overdrive 700 x 38 will let u know

  4. Hi,
    I was hoping for a pinch flat but the hole was facing the tread pattern.
    I ran my finger around the tyre inner, nothing, no sighs of penetration.
    The tyres aren’ promoted for their puncture resistance.
    Where is your tyre made probably quite different to mine.
    Like u said no matter how good the tires, you may still get punctures.
    The only reason I now have the Maxxis overdrive is that the constuction is similar to the Refuse.
    That refuse took me from Singapore to Phuket then Kathmandu to New Delhi no flats.
    I should have bought the same size as you.
    I am running the conti on the front and maxxis on the rear.

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  7. Great article – it’s tough trying to find a tyre which is capable in part muddy trails and has acceptable performance on the road. At the moment I am using very heavy Conti Touring Plus for this, I have been tempted by the Mondial and yours is one of the most comprehensive “real world” reviews I have read, still considering the Vittoria Rando Cross Pro for the purpose too.

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  12. Thanks for the review. I have the 2012 60cm steel Vaya (Super Orange). Mine came with the 700cX42c Continetal Tour RIDE tires. Like your Schwalbe, they are durable and puncture resistant – no flats yet. After a year of good use the tire has worn significantly in the rear, and I’m looking for a replacement. I’d like to run 38s or 40s this time so they will be fat but more fender friendly.

    I don’t ride offroad as much as you at all. What would you suggest I go with this time around? I fear the sucky wet traction of the Mondial will make me regret them…


  13. After about 12,000 miles those Mondials will probably be light enough to win the Kanza. You will be on your third pair of Contis by then.

    The Mondials are remarkably light considering their size and durability.


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  15. Hi, just FYI my Sppeds are made in India. They now have cheaper labor than china. Ain’t that great?
    Running them tubeless with Orange seal, 95cc each end, no probe

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