Long Term Review: Ditch the Tubes with Bontrager’s RXL TLR Road Wheels

Bontrager RXL TLR Wheels Road tubeless (7)

The road tubeless revolution has been a long time coming. At the start, tubeless technology coming to the road promised improved ride quality, lower rolling resistance, and increased flat protection. Road tubeless still promises those things, but getting there has been a bit harder than expected. Increased cost, complexity, and difficulty to change tires on the road have proven barriers to entry to many, but it seems that the horizon is near.

Enter Bontrager’s RXL TLR road wheels and R3 tires. Bontrager’s TLR system for mountain bikes has proven to be reliable and effective off road, so it only makes sense to bring it to the pavement.

Check out why your next road wheel may be tubeless after the break.

Bontrager TLR Road Tubeless RXL (25)

One of the best features of the Bontrager TLR RXL wheels, is that if you’re not running them tubeless, you can remove the TLR strip, and use a normal rim strip for use of non tubeless tires. This makes the tire bead easier to seat and remove, meaning you won’t be stuck unable to remove your flat tire on the side of the road.

However, even with the wheels set up tubeless, installing and removing tubeless tires has proven easier than any other road tubeless wheels I’ve tried. I’ll preface this with the fact that I’ve changed more tires than most people will ever see, but I was able to install and remove tires without tire levers. While it’s easy to mount the tires, the tire bead locks into the rim channel solidly preventing the tire from coming off the rim in the case of a flat.

Bontrager RXL TLR Wheels Road tubeless (31)

Running the recommended amount of sealant in 23, 25, and 28mm tires, I’m happy to say that in somewhere around 1500 miles I have yet to get a flat. Once I went to leave for a ride and found one of the tires had gone flat in the garage, but after inflating it and going for a ride no further action was necessary. I was convinced once I had hit something and heard hissing, only to get off the bike and find nothing. Did I mention much of this riding was on gravel, dirt, and in the rain? Throughout testing I used both Bontrager’s Tubeless sealant, and Hutchinson’s Protect’air, both with great results.

If I had gotten a flat, I always had a standard flat kit and tube on hand just in case. As long as you check the tire for foreign objects, fixing a road tubeless flat is as easy as removing the tire and installing a tube to get home. Once home, you can repair the tire in many cases, or replace it with a new one to switch back to tubeless.

Bontrager RXL TLR Wheels Road tubeless (33)

When it comes to ride quality, the Bontrager R3 tubeless tires seemed to roll smoother than Vittoria tubulars on carbon rims – mounted to the same bike. Whether they are smoother than tubies is up for debate, but there is no denying they roll much better than standard tubed tires. They really are an instant ride quality upgrade for any bike.

Bontrager RXL TLR Wheels Road tubeless (5) Bontrager RXL TLR Wheels Road tubeless (4)

Bontrager RXL TLR Wheels Road tubeless (6)

As for the wheels themselves, racers may be disappointed with the stiffness, but there are certainly better choices for racers. The RXLs are the perfect classics wheel, even they don’t have a classic 32 spoke pattern. It seems the reinforced spoke holes in the rim with non paired spoke design results in a stout build that has held up well to substantial abuse. With 11 speed compatible hubs running DT Swiss internals, the drive is direct and efficient without being noisy and the hubs are still spinning as smooth as ever. Couple this with a wide rim for improved tire performance and smooth braking, the hardware is all there.

Even with a lot of wet weather, muddy, non paved riding, the brake track is still in great shape as illustrated by the brake wear indicator.

Bontrager RXL TLR Wheels Road tubeless (10)

Really, the only knock against the RXLs is a problem that plagues many high end road wheels – the freehub body gets chewed up by the cassette. Short of running a Dura Ace cassette that has tighter tolerances and more cogs on the aluminum carriers, this is a fairly common ailment for light weight aluminum freehub bodies, where the individual steel cogs dig into the freehub splines. New standards are being force on us left and right these days, but this is one design I wouldn’t mind seeing improved.

Bontrager RXL TLR Wheels Road tubeless (32)

Is there any reason not to switch to tubeless? The biggest reason would be the initial set up. While some tire/rim combinations can be initially inflated with some floor pumps, if you get an unlucky combination you will have to resort to using an air compressor. Now, in my day in the shop any one of our regular customers (and non regulars, as long as you were polite) would be welcome to using our air compressor to pop the tires into place. Once their set, as long as you’re running sealant there is little to do other than ride.

bikerumor-new-thumbsup-4-5

Short of Tubeless road tires still being more expensive than their tubed counterparts, there is little reason not to jump on the road tubeless train, and the Bontrager TLR RXL wheels and R3 tires are an awesome combination to get started. Who knows, you may just save money in tubes.

Comments

Eyal - 09/04/13 - 3:17pm

I’d love to consider tubeless tires. They’re heavy compared to my Reynolds Thirty Two tubulars at 1040g

Pancakes - 09/04/13 - 3:42pm

You’re using 1000g tubs as everyday wheels?

Eyal - 09/04/13 - 3:43pm

@Pancakes why not? life is too short not to enjoy light gear. Couldn’t pass a 50% discount

CobraHawk - 09/04/13 - 4:16pm

Road tubeless is a pain in the butt!

The benefits do not out-way the BS that has to be dealt with during installation or flat repair!!

Don’t encourage this crap.

There is nothing wrong with tubes inside of tires! Lets not kid ourselves!

Lower rolling resistance with latex or light weight butyl tubes.

Use sealant (in tubes) or puncture resistant tires if you are so worried about flats!

Plenty of people ride 1500 miles on road bikes and do not get flat tires! Ride em to the cords if you want to prove something!!

Boo road-tubeless.

Cobrahawk

MarkV - 09/04/13 - 4:30pm

Tubeless road is awesome and after 3 years of using it, there is no going back.

Reasons why it is better are:
-Reduction of flats
-Safer, while descending at over 60mph I got a small hole in my front tire. With tubeless it sealed itself. With tubes I would be in the hospital.
-Lighter or even weight (IRC tires make this possible)
-Nicer ride using a little less pressure
-The ability to wear out tires since they are self healing with sealant.
-It is the future ( think MTB and where it went)

Unless you try it, don’t doubt it. It is coming soon!

nathan - 09/04/13 - 4:31pm

Cobrahawk: And there’s no need for anything beyond 8 speed Dura-Ace! Get off my lawn!

Batson - 09/04/13 - 4:35pm

Road tubeless is so much better…… less flats, lower tire pressures, better contact patch/grip, smother ride.

No BS with installation, so don’t be so scared bro…. and a flat repair is as simple as a….. uh…. flat repair.

Peter R - 09/04/13 - 4:48pm

Well, I setup a pair of Easton EA90 RT wheels a month ago with Schwalbe tubeless tires, and also like others are saying, there is not going back.
It took maybe 5 minutes more to setup the wheels from scratch compared to a normal tubed tires.
Where I am really loving the Easton is the wider (17.5mm) internal rim width. I switched from 5 year old Campy Neutron wheels, and there has been a marked improvement in the descending/grip confidence. I had close to 10K miles on the campy wheels, so I think I got a good “test period” out of them. After 1 month on the Easton, I am never going back to tubed tires again.

Andrew - 09/04/13 - 5:15pm

I’ve been on the R3 TLR’s on a set of cheap Bontrager Race wheels (stock on my Trek cross bike). Ride quality is profoundly better than anything I’ve experienced outside of carbon tubulars. One flat, big pieces of glass slashed the hell out of the rear tire and the sealant wasn’t enough to do the trick, popped a tube in no problem and on the road again… btw the tires were wrote off from over 3k of use before I got this one flat.

PRO TIP: If you ever have to take the tire off and want to set it back on tubeless, the indents in the rim strip (from spoke holes) may make it hard to get seated on the bead. Instead of buying a new rim strip, simply take the strip out and spin it 180 degrees, the indents will be in slightly different places and the tire will pop on no problem. You can repeat this trick basically indefinitely.

Ham-planet - 09/04/13 - 6:19pm

Who is changing tyres on the road anyway?

Andrew - 09/04/13 - 6:36pm

People with tubulars.

Jonny - 09/04/13 - 6:41pm

I’d like to see a review putting these up against the stan’s Alpha 340.

John - 09/04/13 - 8:53pm

I’ve had a lot of difficulty mounting Hutchinson Fusion 3 and Intensive tubeless tires on the Ultegra tubeless wheelset. Do you have any experience with those tires and wheels, and was it easier to mount tires on the RXL wheels? (It sounds like it could be, but I want to confirm.)

Jdog - 09/04/13 - 9:59pm

I would never ride a tube on my Mt bike. I would never ride a tube on my road bike. The End.

-S - 09/04/13 - 10:07pm

I rock these on a set of Mavic Cosmics set up with Gorilla tape and strapping tape. Sealed up with a floor pump and some Stan’s. They are great tires.

Mindless - 09/05/13 - 1:37am

Roadies slowly discovering progress made for mountain bikes… disks.. wide rims.. tubeless.

Now go discover trails without cars.

Brian - 09/05/13 - 7:29am

Have a set of the RXL TLR and love ‘em though I am skeptical about switching to tubeless. I can’t believe the Bontragers will roll as well as my Vittoria Corsa 25′s with latex tubes (which are amazing on these nice wide rims!) Maybe if/when the rumored Vittoria Pavé Tubeless are released I’ll give em a try… BTW I’ve had better luck running the plastic TLR strips with tubes than using cloth rim strips.

Cheese - 09/05/13 - 9:25am

*they’re

GReg in Ohio - 09/05/13 - 9:53am

I just recently converted my carbon Bonty 5′s to tubeless with Stan’s valves and gorilla hack rim strip. Working great thus far though I used to layers of tape to cover the spoke holes due to high pressure pushing it through. I used the R3 TLR tires with no issue mounting with a floor pump.

I’m skeptical about ride quality improvements over tubes/tubulars and did it more for flat avoidance since I ride off road tubeless and will never go back. Downside is changing a flat tubeless tire with sealant. It tends to get a little messy.

peter Hagemeyer - 09/05/13 - 9:54am

After converting a few sets of normal tubed wheels, I decided I needed a dedicated wheel-set. I heard the Ultegras were tight, and didn’t like the plastic strip in the noodly Bontrager’s. So I finally broke down and bought the Easton EA90 RTs because the 17.5mm interior rim. Throw away your tire levers and special rim strips- you’ll be able to hand mount just about any tire without tape or strip on the non-pierced rim bed, then inflate and set them with a normal pump (compressor not needed).

The EA 90s are the best tubeless hands down.

Seraph - 09/05/13 - 1:45pm

I love the IDEA of road tubeless. The execution leaves much to be desired. Bontrager’s foray into the road ust market is a little misguided at the moment, but that could be due to the fact that it’s a new technology for everyone. Their tires are impossible to seal and their sealant is awful…

Zach Overholt - 09/05/13 - 2:20pm

@Seraph, I’d have to disagree with you there. I have had zero issues with 3 sets of Bontrager Road tubeless tires (most of them have sealed with a floor pump), and have used their sealant for both mountain and road use. I pinch flatted pretty bad recently and the Bontrager TLR sealant surprisingly plugged it up.

Charlie - 09/05/13 - 8:10pm

I have Stans 340 rims and Bontrager R3 TLR tires. I used the new white Bontrager sealant. The first time I set them up, I had no problem. After a couple months, they wouldn’t hold air for more than a couple days so I figured I’d put in more sealant as recommended by Bontrager. No way could I get the tires to re-seat on the rims. I went back to tubes but became obstinate one day and retried the tubeless set up. I succeeded – probably due to two things: I first mounted the tire opposite the valve stem and worked my way around to the valve stem (tip from some kind soul on the web); I applied soapy water all around the rims and tires (tip from Stans). Then I could easily get the tires to seat with my Lezyne floor pump.
I run various forms of tubeless tires on all my bikes now. I have Bontrager rims, Bontrager rim strips and Bontrager tires on one mt bike and you don’t need soapy water to mount them. But with Stans rims, Stans tape and Bontrager tires, I need to use soapy water. With road rims, you need to mount the tire away from the valve first (probably because road rims are so narrow). Mt rims are a lot easier to run tubeless perhaps because they are so wide.
I’ve never had a flat with any tubeless set up. The ride is superior (grip and rolling resistance), safety is better and the weight is about the same as with light weight tubes. On the downside, sealant is expensive and doesn’t last as long as a tube. But you get what you pay for.

Seraph - 09/06/13 - 2:17pm

@Zach that’s nice. I work at a Trek dealer and have to deal with multiple sets of RXL TLR wheels. I’m glad that your one set of RXL wheels has worked great, but as a whole the product is far from perfect.

Zach Overholt - 09/06/13 - 2:43pm

@seraph, good to know. Just curious are you have issues with the tire and sealant on Bontrager TLR wheels, or others, or both?

Yep - 09/06/13 - 6:02pm

I run Bonty RXL’s set up with Schwalbe Ultremo ZX tubeless. Easy set up and superior ride quality. I can run 90 psi no worries. 700 miles and not a problem with wheels or tires. I’m no lightweight (190 lbs) but I’m not a Clydesdale either. I also work at a Trek dealer and we have had very little to no problems with the new RXL’s. I do recall the old RXL’s with paired spokes as being problematic. Since Trek worked on reinforcing the rims at the nipples and are now using DT guts they’ve been awesome.

bin judgin - 09/08/13 - 1:04am

I work at a pretty deep in the pocket Trek shop (bonty demo wheels, etc) and haven’t seen any issues with their wheels. I do have to pick a ton of crap off of the damn last generation Shimano tubeless rims because they react with every sealant, but the bontragers have been A+ the entire season. Maybe a few broken spokes, and they’re not for fat americans @ 200+lbs, but humans shouldn’t weigh that much. Haven’t seen many stan’s tubeless wheels, but in general stans is getting better by the minute.

Velociraptor - 09/10/13 - 2:07pm

I don’t see any tubeless R3′s on the Bontrager web site, and I don’t see any 28mm tubeless tires from Bontrager at all. So where do you find the tires you have been doing a long-term test with?

FastWayne - 09/14/13 - 8:53am

I understand that the sealant turns to watery mess after 3 months. No thanks.

S.Fuller - 09/15/13 - 8:16pm

I’ve been running a set of Hutchinson Secteur 28 tires combined with a set of Specialized Roval Control wheels and Stans sealant for about a month now. I’ve had no issues with this combination, riding on public streets, paved bike trails and gravel roads. Comfortable, fast and smooth. Running tubeless tires doesn’t preclude taking the standard precautions when out on the road (take a spare tube, etc). The sealant will seal your typical small holes from glass, thorns, and small rocks, but it won’t be of any use if you hit a large slice of metal and put a long gash in the tread or sidewall. Swapping in a tube takes a couple minutes longer since you have to remove the valve stem to put the tube in, but that’s really it.

It might not be for everyone, but I have plenty of confidence in them after running tubeless on other my mountain and gravel riding bikes.

Fisho - 09/16/13 - 1:01pm

Went tubeless mtn, then road, then cross. Not looking back.

My only difficulty has been that I have never been able to mount a tubeless tire without using an air compressor to set the bead. There are lot’s videos and people saying that you can do it with a floor pump, but I have never been successful.

I just use stans rims on shimano hubs, because static weight really does not matter unless you are a sponsored pro.

Ben - 09/17/13 - 11:24pm

@FISHO The trick to doing it without a compressor is to remove the valve core. This lets more air into the tire without the trouble of using an air compressor.
It’s hard to run tubeless without the proper tire, and sometimes, rim. Bontragers system (with their own rim “tape”) is one of the best.
At tires a tire. Tubeless is smart. But tubes are damn convenient too.

Sticky - 11/06/13 - 6:05am

Tried tubeless and ditched it. If you cut a sidewall a tire boot will get you back on the road only if you carry a tube. Putting a boot and tube on a tire filled with goo and also covered with it is a mess. Further, if you have tubes, you don’t need goo, just boots and patches. And last, the Bontrager tubeless R3 tire rolls poorly due to high resistance and feels like a lead weight, especially with liquid in it. Did anyone notice that water weighs 29 grams per oz? How many oz’s of Stan’s did the LBS put in there anyway? Well, it was enough to spray me when the tire cut.

I’d stack up the performance of Vittoria Open Corsas with Latex tubes against tubeless tires any day! Whoever came up with these never rode anything but a Schwinn varsity.

I ditched them the day I had four flats on a 125 miler. The flats were unavoidable due to Labor Day beer bottles, but the repairs should have taken 15 min vs. 30, and I had to borrow another tube to patch and a tire lever that broke getting the tire on! Almost as much hassle as a tubular with the performance of a tractor tire! Pure marketing and I was a fool to fall for it.

Just my opinion…

RGRHON - 07/31/14 - 12:09am

Had two sets of the RXL wheels crack below the reinforcements, both after about 4000 mi on relatively smooth SoCal roads. I weigh 200 lb, so theyre not as strong as this article would have you believe. BTW with the original Race wheels that came on my bike, I had three sets that cracked around the nipples at about 1500mi each, same roads, so they are stronger, just not strong enough for me. Certainly wouldn’t recommend them for classics.

As for tubeless, I tried them and better carry a tube anyway in case you cut the tire or you have multiple large flats like I did, and a bandanna to clean up the mess. BTW what does the liquid weigh and how does it affect wheel dynamics? Noone talks about it sloshing around in there. The Bontrager tubeless tires feel like lead weights to me. Try this for less trouble and a lighter, much better ride, try latex tubes in some Vittoria Open Corsa’s and use the Vittoria iPhone app to set the pressure to the average road condition setting… you’ll love it.

Dale James - 08/12/14 - 12:24am

I switched out my original wheels on my Domane 4.3 for Race XL Tubless and R3 tubless tires in May. After 460 miles the rear tire started to get a ‘blister’ which expanded out to about 8 inches. My dealer got Trek to replace the tire which I road about 50 miles before going to the RAGBRAI 2014. After 75 miles on the first day another blister on the (new) rear tire. About 2 inches, it ‘popped’ after a couple of miles but, thankfully the tire did not flat (sealant works). About 2 miles later the same thing happened to the front tire (again, fortunately, it did not flat). Got to the overnight town and bought a set of Gatorskins (with tubes). When I got back, my dealer had 2 more new ones from Trek. Right now I’m content to leave the Gatorskins on and put these on the shelf. I love the tubless system I have on my Cannondale Scapel but there is clearly something wrong with the Bontrager road tires.

Post a comment:

Comment sections can be a beautiful source of knowledge, conversation and comedy. They can also get pretty ugly, which is why we've updated our Comments Policy. If your comment isn't showing up or suddenly disappears, you might want to check it out.