While we’ve just scratched the surface of our new product coverage from Interbike, not all companies were at the big show in Las Vegas, and new cyclocross products continue to roll into our muddy offices. Today, we’re looking at the just-released Bontrager TLR tubeless-ready cyclocross tires, wheels and tubeless accessories.
Trek’s Bontrager brand has been active in the tubeless arena, with mountain and road offerings for several years. Cyclocross tubeless has been the last, unexplored territory for the Waterloo, Wisconsin bike giant, but that changed this month, just before Interbike, with the release of a suite of cyclocross tubeless products and other tubeless accessories designed to get racers shedding their inner tubes and glue in a flash.
By our count, Bontrager represents the tenth company to enter the cyclocross market, after Hutchinson, NoTubes, Kenda, Vittoria, Specialized, Vee Tires, IRC, WTB, and Maxxis, in approximate order. Sure, there are readers rolling their eyes right now at yet another cyclocross tubeless product (and article), and we get it, as many have had a less-than-awesome initial experience with a less-than-ideal combination of factors. When you don’t have all the variables mastered, and the time and motivation to get the right combination, it can be a frustrating experience. Our Issue 25 is a must-read for anyone who prefers to avoid the pitfalls of tubeless, including the top myths and an easy how-to guide on tubeless installation.
Bontrager’s tubeless options are so complete that you really don’t need anything that’s not branded by Bontrager. With two cyclocross tire options, a wheelset with molded plastic rim strips, sealant and an injector, you can be flying the Bontrager flag completely. More on these products shortly.
We are testing the full set of products, but perhaps most relevant to the masses are the tires. The CX0 and CX3 cyclocross tires provide a grippy and fast-rolling option to meet the traction and speed needs of most courses.
The CX3 is the versatile tread for most conditions, and offers a block-based tread that reminds us a bit of the Schwalbe Rocket Ron or Continental CycloX King treads.
The CX0 is a lower profile tread, for hardpack, grass and dry, fast conditions. The tread reminds us a bit of the Hutchinson Black Mamba and Dugast Small Bird.
Both tire have some clear reinforcements under the belt to strengthen the sidewall and be sealant compatible. The additional rubber adds weight, as is typical of tubeless tires, and these are no flyweights, as the CX3 comes in at 404g on our scale, and the CX0 at 395g. Both weights are a few grams less than the list weight of 410g.
It’s a Snap: Installation and First Ride
The Bontrager tubeless bead is a boxy bead, and the tire sits tightly on Bontrager or Road Tubeless rims. We were impressed with the ease of seating the tire on an Easton EA90 XD Road Tubeless Disc wheelset (reviewed in Issue 20), and with just a standard floor pump, not the Flash Charger tubeless pump that just arrived, the tire instantly held air and snapped into place. No furious pumping, compressor or soapy water was necessary.
With sealant, the tire held air overnight without leaking a single psi or drip of sealant, which was promising. Deflating to a riding pressure the next day (under 30 psi for a 170-pound tester), the tire actually failed the finger pinch test in certain spots, particularly around the valve on the Easton wheel. But we were anxious to hit the hot laps, and riding at 27psi, the tire held fine without burping. Stay tuned for further testing of the tires on Bontrager’s new disc brake Affinity Pro Road Wheels.
The 120tpi casing feels comparable to other tubeless tires we’ve tested. It’s not the stiffest—Vittoria TNT and second-generation silver Hutchinson tires feel stiffer—but it’s not as compliant as riding a tubeless conversion tire.
The CX3 tread is a great, all-around tread, and on hard pack, loose gravel, and loose dirt it provided good driving and cornering traction without a ton of rolling resistance. Stay tuned for more ride impressions of the Bontrager CX3 and the low-profile CX0 tires.
Trek/Bontrager markets their tubeless tires as offering “lower pressures and…traction performance that goes head to head with tubular tires for a fraction of the cost.” We’ll be testing this low pressure and traction claim, but long-time tubular loyalists will take issue with the “fraction of the cost” boast, as these TLR cyclocross tires retail at $89.99 each. One can certainly purchase affordable models of tubular tires for less than this, and alloy tubular wheels don’t have to be more expensive than alloy clincher/tubeless wheels, especially the $1100 Affinity Pro TLR Disc wheelset that came with these tires. But if you shred or puncture a tubular tire after one ride, Bontrager’s claim will start to ring true.
As for the low pressure benefits, initial rides appear to confirm that the tire will hold air on certain rims at pressures lower than we’d run inner tubes, but the fact that we can burp the tire with a finger pinch on a Road Tubeless rim is certainly disconcerting. We’ll test more variations in the coming weeks.
Anyone who has followed us for a while knows that we’re consistent with one opinion on tubeless cyclocross tires. 99% of cyclocross tubeless riders and racers don’t care about UCI rules or points, and thus we’d really like to see a higher-volume version, like 35c model. WTB (with its Cross Boss and Ritchey (with its WCS Shield tire) are heading in this direction, and we hope Bontrager follows suit.
Bontrager TLR – Total Tubeless Integration
While most customers will be mostly be interested in the Bontrager tubeless tires and don’t have the luxury of buying the whole system, Bontrager has a number of tubeless products designed to make the total system work. From the Flash Charger tubeless-seating floor pump (stay tuned for more details and a review), to the Affinity Pro TLR wheels with a molded plastic tubeless rim strip, the company hopes to become the tubeless cyclocross leader.
Bontrager is offering its own tubeless sealant, a white latex-based sealant which appears similar to NoTubes. What really caught our eye was their own sealant injector. It has a few nice touches that might relegate our trusty Stans No Tubes Sealant Injector to the bottom of the toolbox.
The injector is very PRO, and yet very much DIY. Bontrager grabbed a medical syringe from Terumo Medical Corporation, kept the branding and confusing “Single Use Only” instructions, but added a hose clamp and a built-in presta valve core to prevent sealant spillage and inaccurate measurements that often happens with the NoTubes injector. Remove your valve core, thread in the core from the syringe, close the hose clamp, pour your sealant to the desired measurement, open the clamp and inject away. It’s a smartly-designed system. Based on our experience, we’ll ignore the “Single Use Only” labeling and use this one a lot.
We’ll bet that we won’t see Nys or Compton riding tubeless anytime soon in races, but for most of us weekend warriors racing without personal mechanics or pit crews, just racing for bragging rights, tubeless, when done right offers a lot of promise, speed gains and thorn protection over inner tubes.
Had a bad cyclocross tubeless experience? We can’t quite endorse the Bontrager options quite yet with our limited ride time, but stay tuned for the full review and detailed testing from the editorial team with the most experience with tubeless cyclocross setups and racing.
Bontrager CX0 and CX3 TLR (Tubeless Ready) Cyclocross Tire Specs:
Weight: 404g (CX3), 395g (CX0)
Casing: 120 tpi