Cambrian Tyres’ Shelley Childs on Continental’s bumper year in 2019

Staying safe when cycling can be complicated – whether riders are avoiding hazards on the road or up a mountain. According to road safety charity Brake, every 20 minutes, someone is killed or seriously injured on a British road. 

Continental says that it supports everyone in sharing the road safely, irrespective of whether they’re a cyclist or a driver. Its Vision Zero initiative strives to eliminate road fatalities, injuries and accidents, and has partnered with key sporting events like the Tour de France, Vuelta a España, Giro D’Italia and Prudential RideLondon.

Flying the UK flag
Cambrian Tyres has been the official UK importer of Continental bicycle tyres for more than thirty years, and is the biggest distributor of two-wheel tyres in Europe, says brand manager Shelley Childs.

Its association with Continental came about in the late 1980s, when Continental Tyre Group was keen to outsource the motorcycle range to a specialist wholesaler. A couple of trips to the Milan show later, and Cambrian was signed up to fulfil the role.

In 1989, it briefly also took on bicycle tyres as a stop gap when CTG were between UK bicycle distributors. “Things didn’t work out with the then cycle distributor and so by 1991, CTG asked if Cambrian would like to add bicycle to its portfolio, to which we duly obliged,” says Childs.

Far from being just a regional wholesaler for Continental, Cambrian has been involved with Continental’s bicycle HQ in Korbach, Germany at planning, strategy and marketing stages for product development. “We are seen as a key market and so we work closely with Korbach to wave the UK flag in terms of what products are specifically required for our market,” Childs says. “We don’t always get our way, but we certainly feel like we’ve helped bring some classic models to the market over the years.”

Worth the wait
2019 has been a ‘bumper year’ in terms of new products for Continental, says Childs. “The biggest model release by far has been the Grand Prix 5000, taking over from its market leading predecessor the GP4000 after 14 years at the helm!”

Not only was this a simple like for like succession, Continental also introduced a tubeless option– its tubeless road tyre. “After spending a fair few consumer and trade shows answering ‘that’ question, it was finally nice to be able to answer customers that we had a tubeless road tyre, and that the wait would be worthwhile,” Childs continues. “The project took over two years, starting from scratch, all in Germany and ending up with the best tubeless road tyre on the market.”

Last year also saw Continental throw its hat into the gravel market, with the launch of two new TR tubeless-ready tyres, the Terra Trail and the Terra Speed. Designed and handmade in Continental’s headquarters in Korbach, both tyres are made with Continental’s premium Black Chili Compound and feature the ProTection Technology. “These can of course be ridden tubeless, and like with our MTB tyres, the application and inflation is so easy, which is a testament to the engineers and product managers at Korbach and also at Continental’s own plant in Hefei China,” explains Childs.

A mid-priced Shieldwall Terra Trail will be arriving in early 2020 from the Hefei plant. The MTB range has been boosted by the roll out of the standardised bead and casing format across all premium and performance lines, meaning that any Continental MTB folding tyre is tubeless-easy, inflating with a regular track pump and holding air.

All the wire bead models have now been upgraded to E-25 for use on e-MTBs and match the folding range in terms of pattern design. “Having the Athertons back on board as brand ambassadors is already paying dividends,” Childs continues, “especially as they are based just 20 miles down the road from us here in Aberystwyth!” But Childs’ personal favourite is the new Contact Urban tyre, a tyre some eight years in planning. It is Continental’s first urban tyre to feature in a size for Brompton bicycles.

“Cambrian started asking Continental to make a Brompton tyre in 2011, and last year we finally received some lovely samples and gave the tyre a launch at the Ride London event. Serial stock arrives with us in February and the market reaction has been fantastic. We’re talking with the Brompton community and are very excited to embark on this new journey.”

Another new product causing a ‘stir’ is the Urban Taraxagum, which is a 700×35 city slicker “with a difference”. The tread compound uses natural rubber extracted from Dandelion roots. Continental has piloted this new technology in a bicycle tyre, with the eventual goal to roll this out to automotive. “Harvesting natural rubber from Dandelions reduces the dependency on NR harvest in subtropical regions,” Childs explains. 

“Basically dandelions can grow almost anywhere, so the journey from fields to factory will be a lot shorter in future years. 30% of a bicycle tyre’s weight is from natural rubber and so there is a lot of growing to do before the dandelion can completely take over!”

Standing out from the crowd
Cambrian’s business model means that it has made the Continental brand more accessible to the UK trade by having multiple wholesale partners, Childs says. “Every sales rep from Madison, Raleigh, Bob Elliot and i-ride has access to our range information and current offers, and the products are all listed on the companies B2B platforms. 

“We work with our wholesalers to ensure our products are listed correctly and that the best and most appropriate tyres from the range are focused towards the dealer. 

“We also have our own sales team on the road who provide staff training and advise each shop on the Continental tyres than may enhance their tyre offerings and make them more margin. The Contact Plus model has seen huge growth as we’ve focused on this area specifically recently. We’re keen to show that Continental is not just about GP4000s and Gatorskins! Any dealer finding it tough to gain access to the Continental range can call us up and we’ll point them in the direction.”

Looking ahead
2020 will see the role out of the new Contact Urban, the additional Shieldwall Terra Trail gravel tyre, a new Ultrasport III and the improved King series in MTB. “We’ll be at all the big cycle shows and summer events like Ride London,” Childs concludes. “We’re generally out and about during the season and look forward to talking to our consumer and trade customers along the way.”

Continental has also agreed a three-year deal to become the presenting partner of the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, California. The first ‘Sea Otter Classic Presented by Continental’ runs from 16th to 19th April 2020, when the cycling festival will celebrate its 30th anniversary. The tyre brand will also be showcasing its ranges across off-road and road. It will be the Gold Sponsor of the Bicycle Leadership Conference, hosted in the lead-up to Sea Otter from 14th to 16th April.

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