Dear Bontrager, your tyres have very nearly squeezed out any enthusiasm I may have had for tubeless road tyres. I shouldn’t be too unfair about it, so I will do my best to explain why but the fit and forget idea of tubeless road tyres, that I had in my head, has now all but diminished.
I have been using these tyres with the Hunt Race Season Aero Wide wheels, using the valves and rim tape supplied by Hunt. As I explained in the preview, fitting the Bontrager R3 TLR tyres was a breeze – the beading is reassuringly tight, enough to give you confidence that they will seal easily once seated into the rim, but not too tight that it’s like wrestling with a gorilla just to get the tyre on the rim. Once air is pushed through the valve they seated themselves nicely and inflated without any particular fuss.
The first rides were promising, the tread is fairly slick so offered great rolling resistance and reassuring grip in dry conditions, even in the wet they offered confidence and I was happy to experiment with air pressure to find out what was best in what conditions. I usually inflate my clincher tyres to 8.2bars (120PSI in new money) – nice and hard to avoid pinch punctures. This comes at a price to comfort of course, but there’s nothing more annoying that faffing about with punctures.
With the Bontrager R3 tyres I was confident enough to drop the pressure down a few bars to 6bars (90PSI), this had the benefit of a comfortable ride and greater grip, especially in wetter conditions. Even at this low pressure the tyres were rolling nicely and I felt that the tubeless set up had something good to offer.
What I hadn’t really accounted for was how vulnerable these tyres would be to our Sussex flint. Wet conditions have left our roads strewn with all sorts of debris and, it seems, the tyres inflated to a lower pressure were attracting a great deal of the larger flints found in the road… it wasn’t long, about 2 weeks of use, that the rear tyre received a nasty gash that was too much for the latex within the tyre to plug – the Hard Case-Lite hadn’t done a great job in protection from punctures. The large gash proved to be a bit catastrophic and a boot repair was necessary – this worked for a time, but eventually this would fail, but not before the front tyre received a gash in the sidewall.
After a couple of month’s use the tyres are starting to look a bit ragged, tubeless set up with them no longer works and putting a tube in them just seems daft – given that the beading takes a bit of effort to get on and off the rim, having to faff about with this with cold and wet hands 30miles from home just isn’t all that appealing, so sadly they are being resigned to the recycle bin.
Is this just bad luck or is it more likely with tubeless tyres? Standard clincher tyres are, of course, susceptible to slashing and gashing, and I guess the more lightweight you make a tyre the more vulnerable it is. Bontrager R3 tyres are supple and lightweight, built for speed but I was confident that they would be able to handle most things our English roads could throw at them – the weather and conditions have been particularly challenging of late and road debris at the moment is quite something. Perhaps my expectations were just too high? No pinch flats though, so that’s something at least.
I still maintain an enthusiasm for the road tubeless concept – my experiences with CX tubeless have been great, and that’s with pressures as low as 1.7bars (25psi), and on the South Downs trails which is mostly flint and sharp rocks and slippy chalk.
In conclusion then, a really nice supple tubeless tyre, offering excellent grip and confident handling in all conditions but with a real vulnerability to flint and other sharp objects which leave the undesirable impact of completely ruining the tyre.
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