You may remember Bontrager first unveiled their own branded tubeless road tire back in 2010. At the time, I was working at a Trek dealer, and the tires were very hard to come by – really the only way we were able to get a pair was on a Project One model that was built with Ultegra tubeless wheels. It remained that way for awhile, and all of a sudden the tires disappeared with little explanation. It turns out that the tires were built with another company’s licensed tubeless technology, and after a string of quality issues that plagued the tires, Bontrager pulled the plug until they could design a tubeless tire and wheel system that lived up to their standards.
Enter the new Bontrager TLR road wheel system that was introduced last summer. Built as a system, Bontrager now offers tubeless read wheels in Race, Race Lite, and Race X Lite trims, as well as R2 and R3 level Tubeless Ready road tires in 23 and 25mm that are all up to Bontrager’s standards for quality and performance. Using Bontrager’s excellent TLR system (which happens to be one of my favorites), the tubeless ready connotation means these tires must be run with sealant in order to be tubeless – for which Bontrager conveniently has an all new amonia free TLR sealant to replace Super Juice.
At first glance the new TLR road system looks like it could be a big step forward in the world of road tubeless. Check it out in depth, next.
We were sent the US-assembled Race X Lite wheels to review which retail for $1000, but it’s exciting to know that much of the same is available all the way down to the Race Lite and Race wheels which are quite a bit less expensive at $650 and $500 respectively. All of the wheels can be run with standard tube tires, or tubeless with the TLR system – though this is a bit different than some of the other tubeless road wheels on the market. You see, many of Trek’s bikes for 2013 include these very wheels with regular tubes and tires for their stock specifications. Thanks to the design of the TLR rim strips, when you are using these wheels for tubes, there is very little weight penalty, or difficulty in installing regular tires – they’re just like regular road wheels. However, throw in the Bontrager TLR upgrade kit (more on that later), and all of a sudden you have a tubeless road set up. The whole idea seems to be as close as you can get to a best-of-both-worlds type situation.
Like other high end Bontrager wheels, the Bontrager designed hubs on the RXLs feature DT Swiss 240 star ratchet internals, with straight pull nail head spokes. 18 DT 14/17g bladed spokes hold the front wheel together, while 24 spokes grace the rear wheel with stacked drive side lacing for increased stiffness and power transfer. All spokes are anchored to the 23mm wide rims with Alpina locking alloy nipples. Each rim features what Bontrager calls locally reinforced spoke nodes which beef up the rim where the spoke attaches while shaving weight between each spoke. Clearly marked on the freehub is the wheel’s 11 speed compatibility, and a spacer is included with the wheels in order to run 10 speed cassettes. A separate Campagnolo compatible freehub is available through Bontrager, PN 276362. To replace the freehub or to work on the hub, the end caps simply pull apart with your hands.
As mentioned, there are two ways to go tubeless with the new wheels and tires. If you bought a Trek bike that was equipped with compatible Race, Race Lite, or Race X Lite wheels, Bontrager has a convenient TLR upgrade kit that includes everything you need to make the switch – tires, rim strips, valve stems, sealant, even a valve core removal tool. Currently the kit seems to be only offered with 700×23 R3 TLR tires though, so if you’re wanting the 25s you’ll have to buy them separately. If you’re buying the wheels as an aftermarket upgrade, replacement wheelsets include the rim strips, valve stems, and internal cam skewers, meaning all you have to add are the tires and the sealant.
Bontrager TLR road tires are offered in R3 and R2 models, for $79.99 and $59.99 a piece. The biggest difference between the two looks to be 120tpi vs 60tpi respectively, with both tires featuring Bontrager’s Hard-Case Lite puncture resistance. Even with the Hard-Case lite belt, our R3 700×23 tires are impressively lite at 260g, though the 25mm tire might be the bigger surprise at 270g! That makes both of these tires among the lightest available all at fairly reasonable prices.
To go in the tires, Bontrager is offering their all new TLR sealant. On paper, the new sealant looks to be a winner due to its amonia-free formula, wide effective temperature range, and ability to seal up to 1/4″ punctures. It’s also made in the USA, and comparatively to some other sealants, requires less per tire to be effective. Bontrager reccomends little as .8oz. (25ml) for 700c, 1.6oz. (47ml) for 26? and 1.7oz (51ml) for 29? tires. The lower pictures shows the mica particulate that is suspended in the fluid to help plug larger holes (I had to let it settle to the bottom to photograph it). While a syringe would certainly be the easiest way to get the sealant into the valves, the bottle does include a length of hose that if you’re careful, you can attach to the spout of the bottle and valve and inject it directly from the bottle into the rim – though this method is more difficult to measure how much sealant you’re injecting. If setting up the RXL’s was any indication, the new sealant works great, as it instantly sealed the rim/tire junction that was leaking quite a bit of air without sealant with the recommended 25ml per tire.
Throughout the history of road tubeless, there has always been one draw back that seemed to turn early adopters off – installation and removal of the tires, or more appropriately, not being able to remove the tires after a flat. It can be a legitimate issue, if you’re unfortunate enough to get a very large puncture that isn’t able to be sealed (think big nail through the tire, or similar), you need to be able to remove the tire, boot it, and install a tube to get on your way. Many tubeless road tires use a carbon bead that can be extremely tight, the Bontragers on the other hand use a high modulus Kevlar bead that seems to be quite a bit easier to install and remove.
I will say the very first time you install the tire, it will be tight. You will have to use tools, so be careful that you don’t damage the tire or the rim. However, once the tires are installed and inflate, they stretch out just enough that you will be able to install them without tools in the future, and remove them with no more difficulty than many non tubeless road tires with the use of two standard tire levers.
Pro Tip: When you are installing the rim strip you will want to use the valve core to hold the strip in place while you snap the strip into the rim. This will guarantee that the valve hole on the strip lines up with the valve hole in the rim once it’s installed – it is very hard to move once in place. Most people know this, the important step is to remove the valve core once the strip is firmly in place, before trying to install the tire. Since the valve core has a big rubber block on the end, it prevents the bead of the tire from sitting in the center channel of the rim, decreasing the amount of slack you have when installing the tire. So remove the valve, install one side of the tire, then re-install the valve and install the other side of the tire. This makes it much easier to install the tire the first time around, and will lead to fewer curse words and thrown tools in the process.
On our scales the wheels came in at 810 and 660g for the rear and front, for a total weight of 1470, 10g less than claimed. Completely set up with Tires, strips, valves and sealant the weight for the entire system is 2180g with 25mm tires. As mentioned, setting the wheels up tubeless was a breeze, and after the initial inflation they have held the same pressure for days – hopefully a sign of good things to come. Inflation of the tires can be done with a simple floor pump or an air compressor if you have access to one. Once I unearth some aluminum road brake pads from the “archives” we’ll be giving these wheels the full review.