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