Friday, April 5, 2013

Review: Bontrager Race X Lite TLR Wheelset

The first time I tried tubeless tires was about ten years ago. I had purchased a top of the line pair of Bontrager mountain bike wheels. These were the ones with the Chris King hubs and the ceramic coated rims. These wheels were, and still are, hot stuff, but I wanted to try tubeless. So I marched into my local bike shop and asked what I needed to do to go tubeless. To my surprise, they sold me a pair of simple plastic rim strips that were designed to make my wheels to tubeless compatible. I easily inserted the rim strip, which required no adhesive, and never used a mountain bike tube again. The rim strip goes from bead hook to bead hook, and has the appropriate valve hole as well. And, it is removable and reusable when a spoke needs replacement.

Flash forward ten years, and I have just received a pair of Bontrager Race X Lite TLR road wheels and TLR tires (look for a review of these tires here soon). TLR stands for Tubeless Ready, and they come with the exact same plastic strip as I still use on my Bontrager mountain bike wheels.

And do you know what? It works as good on my road bike today as it did on my mountain bike over the last ten years.

Unlike conversion strips, there is no time consuming installation to worry about, it just pops on. And it only gets easier from there. I then proceeded to quickly install a the included Bontrager tubeless valve and a pair of Bontrager TLR Road tires. In fact, I was able to inflate the tires with a hand pump instead of a compressor.

Some background

The company's namesake Keith Bontrager, was a pioneer in mountain bike tubeless tires. Nevertheless, the company, now owned by Trek, made some early missteps in the area of road tubeless. The company hoped it would find success by re-branding tires from another manufacturer for use with wheels from a third party. When this strategy did not meet their expectations, the old product was pulled and they went back to the drawing board.

Their new TLR line contains three dedicate road tubeless wheelsets, the entry level Race TLR, the mid level Race Lite TLR, and their top of the line Race X Light TLR.

My impressions

Several things jumped out at me about the Race X Lite TLR wheels. At 23mm, the rims are wider than most road clinchers, usually 19-21 mm wide. The result is that the tires have a greater volume and width when inflated. Therefore, cornering is naturally enhanced. There is a reason that road racing motorcycles have such wide tires.

Next, I noticed that while wide, these rims are not very deep or pointy. The 23mm wide rim and and 23mm wide Bontrager TLR tires I tested had a cross section that might look like that of an egg, In contrast, I would describe most aerodynamic clinchers wheels and tires have these days as having a cross section like a big scoop of  ice cream on a pointy cone. So with Bontrager's design, you get a wider, more stable feel without really sacrificing weight.

Another interesting feature of these wheels is what Bontrager calls "Locally reinforced spoke nodes [that] reduce rim weight without sacrificing strength."  Translation: there is extra aluminum around the spoke holes where you need it, and less material between the spokes where you don't.

These wheels feature 18 spoke front and 24 spoke rear DT 14/17 bladed spokes in a straight pull configuration.
The result is that the weights come it at 642 grams front, 798 grams rear, and 1,410 grams total. These is not the lightest tubeless aluminum clincher out there, but they are pretty darn close. And it more than makes up for a few grams here or there by looking very cool! and if that doesn't do it for you, consider that you can replace drive side spokes, the ones most likely to fail, without removing your cassette.

In fact, these are the same Shimano/SRAM compatible, 10/11 speed hubs featured on their Aeolus line of carbon rimmed wheels, which retail for over $2,000 a pair.

Few downsides

I really like these wheels, but I have a few minor quibbles that are worth mentioning. First, it comes with quick release skewers, but they seem a little on the heavy side.Actually, they appear to be the same skewers included on many of their less expensive wheel sets.Therefore, skewer sommeliers out there might not find them to be a very good match for a wheel set of this caliber. I would be just as happy to see these wheels sold without quick release skewers in the same way that most high end bicycles are now sold without pedals. This would save money and allow the rider to choose his or her favorite skewers.

Next, this was actually my first experience with straight pull spokes, and I had an issue. The wheels were almost perfectly true out of the box, and I first went to make some minor adjustments. Note, a little truing is common with new wheelsets, at least those built with metal spokes.

Anyways, what I found was that these straight pull spokes were more prone to twisting when adjusted with a spoke wrench then traditional bent spokes. I was still able to true the wheels easily enough, but some of the blades where no longer pointing in the right direction. I suppose this is an issue for all wheels with straight pull spokes.Note that the Race TLR and Race Lite TLR wheels use traditional bent spokes.

And finally, these rounded, low profile rims probably won't be the choice for those more concerned with aerodynamics than weight. But for my rides in Colorado Rockies, they were perfect.


Like much of the bicycle industry, the team at Bontrager didn't seem to focus on road tubeless technology when it was first introduced. But recently, they have come back to the market in a way that seems like they are here to stay. The Race X Lite TLR wheelset is their top of the line road tubeless offering that combines an innovative design, light weight, and a competitive price.

The race to perfect road tubeless wheels is not over, and the team at Bontrager is trying hard to lead the pack.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Latest Hutchinson News

I have gotten a lot of reader inquiries on when they can get the new Hutchinson Atom Galactik and the 28c version of the Intensive.

Well today, my contact at Hutchinson confirmed that the Atom Galactik is now in stock and available while the Intensive 28c will be called the Secteur 28s and will be available "soon." 

I for one cannot wait to through the Secteur on my commuter bike and have a blast. As much as I love the standard Intensive, it just isn't wide enough to meet the needs of commuters. I have no doubt that this new version will be a huge seller.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review: Hutchinson Atom Galactik

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to review the Hutchinson Atom tubeless tire. In that review, I noted that as a dedicated racing tire, the Atom " just isn't providing the  level comfort I am looking for."

Now the next generation of the Atom is here, the Atom Galactik. I was fortunate to receive a pair for review at Interbike, and I have since put hundreds of miles on them in Colorado and even in the hills of north Georgia. So far, I am impressed.

The Atom Galactik Road Tubeless tire sheds 25 grams a piece from the previous version that it supplants. And while I am a committed weight weenie, I am also a rational member of the reality based community. Therefore, I would be lying if I told you I could instantly feel the difference in weight between the old Atoms and the Galactiks; I can't. This is especially true since I had previously mounted the stunningly light IRC Formula Pro Tubeless Light which claims to come in at 240 grams vs. the Galactik's 245. Unlike machined parts, tires are soft goods subject to greater manufacturing tolerances, so the difference here is negligible.

But in terms of riding characteristics, the Galactiks are very different from the IRC offering and even the previous Atom. The original Atoms felt so firm that they were almost rigid. It was as if they beefed up the casing while reducing the diameter of the Fusion 3s. In contrast, the Atom Galactiks feel somewhat more supple than the original Atoms. They accelerate well, grip nicely in corners, and tolerate road imperfections to a much greater degree than the old Atoms.

But at the same time, they still seem to retain the narrow profile, which appears much more like a 21c tire than the labeled 23c.  The IRC counterpart appears to be slightly wider and thinner, while offering an even more compliant ride, but the IRC it is a very thin tire and it appears to wear faster than the Galactiks.

The old Atoms were like a sports car that has bald tires and was lowered. It was great for racing, but not practical for luxury touring. The Atom Galactik is more like having a Porsche. It meets the needs of racers while being an acceptable tire for long distance riding.

With greater comfort and less weight, I have to say that I like the direction that Hutchinson is taking with their road tubeless line. Since the invention of road tubeless, Hutchinson has been the clear leader in the field. And as the peleton of road tubeless tires grows larger, the Galactik appears to be Hutchinson's statement that they intend to lead the pack and try to break away.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Latest From Interbike

I was at Interbike in Las Vegas this week and got caught up on all the latest road tubeless developments. I will have lots more to write, but here is a quick summary:

Hutchinson - Had a nice long talk with the Hutchinson people to figure out where there tire line is at for this year. Basically, they went from three tires to five +. Last year they had the Intensive, Fusion 3, and Atom. This year they added an Intensive 28c and the new Atom Galactic. 

The Intensive 28c may or may not be called "Top Speed" or perhaps some other name. Basically it is the mass market version of a tire they developed for professional riders racing Paris-Roubaix. I have seen it, and it is definitely 28c. One of the criticisms that the Intensive received was that it was marked as a 25c tire but was really closer to 23c, not sufficiently wide enough for a commuter. Rest assured the new 28c version finally plugs the gap between racing tires and cyclocross.

The Atom Galactic also addresses a valid concern. Many felt that the standard Atom cost more than the fantastic Fusion 3, but was barely any lighter (260g vs 290g). The Atom Galactik at 240 solves this problem and is an actual candidate for pro-tour use. I actually rode a pair of Atom Galactiks yesterday on a 3 hour training ride, and came away very impressed. I will have a full review shortly.

Finally, the Fusion 3 is now also available in a white striped color. No actual change to the compound, just a different look.

Schwalbe - As I have noted, their Ultremo ZX is poised to enter the market. What was cool to see was how heavily they were promoting it at their booths with a billboard sized picture saying "Go Tubeless". Wonder where they got that slogan from?

Maxxis - They were showing their Padrone race tire and a prototype of a radial tire that will be for training.

IRC- IRC has four great road tubeless tires, but they are hard still to find in the United States.

Others - Others I heard that were looking to road tubeless tires include Kenda, WTB, Bontrager, and Specialized, although none had products on display this year.

Wheels - American Classic is getting into tubeless in a big way. They already have their road tubeless wheelset is coming in at under 1200 grams, and they just showed another, slightly heavier version. This is in addition to their conversion strips and valves. Stan's reinforced its Alpha 340 and came out with a stronger Alpha 400. They now sell both in several models of tubeless road and cyclocross wheelsets for both disc and rim brakes. I also came away impressed with the Velocity A23 rim that can be built up in a variety of colors. Throw in great models from Shimano, Campy/Fulcrum, DT Swiss, and others, and it is clear that the major wheel builders are all-in on road tubeless.

Other - A company called Orange Seal is selling a tubeless conversion kit and an innovative sealant that coats the tire.I also liked the American Classic valves, and Hutchinson sealant which I just installed and am testing. Look for a full review of the Galactik, Hutchinson sealant, and American Classic valves really soon.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Will 2013 Be The Year Of Road Tubeless?

I have been writing here for two years, and during this time we have seen some slow and steady growth in road tubeless tire acceptance.  But in the last few weeks between Eurobike and the run up to Interbike next week in Las Vegas, I have seen a dramatic uptic in the number of companies releasing tubeless specific wheelsets and those announcing tubeless road tires.

For example, Bike Rumor announced today that Reynolds is releasing multiple wheelsets with rims licensed by Stans.  Add to that the recent announcements by companies like HED, American Classic, and others, and the only conclusion reachable is that manufacturers are seeing a critical mass (finally) forming around this technology. In essence, we are seeing the same type of industry consensus around disc brakes for road bikes.

At the same time, highly respected cycling experts like Lennard Zinn are recognizing how great this technology really is. According to his column in VeloNews, he has "only had two flats with tubeless road tires in many years and tens of thousands of miles of riding them." Its hard to argue with that kind of testimonial from a journalist, mechanic, and industry icon of his stature.

Next Wednesday, I am going to visit Interbike myself and take a close look at the state of road tubeless technology. I also have a forthcoming feature article about road tubeless technology that is scheduled to appear in a nationally circulated magazine. So please keep coming back and allow me to show you where all of this is heading.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Disc Tubeless Wheels

Alpha 340 Disc Wheelset 32 hole

A Go Tubeless Reader recently wrote me with this question:

So, I am a convert, but seriously high maintenance. Here's my dilemma:

I ride the Auger CX disc for work, off-road and three fast group rides a week. For work I have a set of x9 hubs laced to Velocity a23 rims (nmsw) with DT Competition spokes. these wheels are perfectly suited to be ridden hard and stand up to abuse, but I was curious about getting something more road-race specific. For 'cross I have a set of Industry Nine 29 wheels with Stan's Arch EX rims.What I need is a set of (in order of importance):

Tubeless specific
Non-machined sidewall (high maintenance)
Road wheels.

I love the 23mm width of the a23, but they just don't feel stiff. I understand that, with the right tires (Hutchinson Fusion3 Tubeless) I can convert a standard clincher rim, but I'd rather start with a road tubeless rim.

Carbon clincher with carbon brake track would be okay, not a metal brake track, that would be ugly.
Oh, and black, black, black.
Any ideas?


My Response

Thanks for the question Pat. I am a big fan of road disc brakes and think that they are a perfect compliment to tubeless tires.  Heck, I am sure your car has both, so why not your much more technically advance bike?

The good news is that this is turning out to be an exciting year for Road Tubeless wheel offerings, especially those with disc brake compatibility. For example, check out these Specialized Roval tubeless disc offerings.  I also think that the Volagi Ignite SL carbon wheelset could work for you depending on your dropout spacing. Finally, Stan's new A340 Cross wheelset seems to fit your bill as well and it is even black. And don't forget this HED offering.

On the other hand, I don't understand why you are so insistent on tubeless specific rims. Even Stan's tubeless rims still use rim tape, the same as I have been using since road tubeless came out.

I hope that helps.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

IRC Formula Pro Tubeless Light

It is great to see more coverage of road tubeless penetrating the mainstream cycling media. For example, Bicycling Magazine, a publication I have been reading since the mid 80s, has recently featured an article about this technology. It is a fine piece, but one inaccuracy bothered me. They review several new road wheels and tires that are tubeless compatible. They introduce the Maxxis Padrone by saying "Hutchinson has had a monopoly on tubeless road tires."  That sound you hear in the background is all the folks at Specialized, Bontrager, and IRC loudly clearing their throats. (The Bontrager tire does not appear to be available any more.) 

But that is not all. Over at Bike Rumor, a new post heralds the introduction of the Hutchinson 700x28c Intensive tire as well as the new Atom Galactik, which they say "claims to be the first sub-250g tubeless tire". 

I have received a pair of IRC Fromula Pro Tubeless Light tires, that put both these claims to rest. First, this tire weights 240 grams, less than the standard Atom, and certainly less than 250 grams.

About the IRC Formula Pro Tubeless Light

This is the top of the line IRC road tubeless tire. In fact, IRC now has four different tires in their line. They claim 20% less rolling resistance than their other tires. This 170 TPI casing is thin and supple, eschewing the reinforced casing that Hutchinson has gone with. Installation was no more of a challenge than any other road tubeless product, and it is a good looking, bald race tire.

The Ride

Let me cut to the chase: I love this tire. I never really took to the Hutchinson Atom tubeless tire because it was too narrow and had too harsh of a ride to justify the 20-30 gram weight savings over the Fusion 3, my favorite road tire. Now that I have spent a few hundred miles on the IRC Formula Pro Tubeless Light, it just might be my new best friend. The 70 gram weight savings per tire is noticeable over the Fusion 3 as you are dropping nearly a third of a pound in rotational weight. Climbing is fun and there really is no degradation in ride quality. In fact, I find the claimed 23c width to be much closer to the Fusion than to the Atom. Cornering was excellent as I descended my favorite Colorado switchbacks with all the confidence I would expect from a professional quality racing tire.

It is too early to talk about wear resistance, but I have noticed something unusual. The rear tire lost its excess rubber strips after the first ride, but the front still retains it. I suppose that with all the climbing I do, I put much more weight on the rear wheel than the front for the majority of my rides. All the more reason to inflate the rear higher than front. My rule of thumb is that I want to see approximately the same sidewall deflection from both tires when I am riding up a hill. For me, that equates to 105 psi in back, and 95 psi in front. But what this tells me about the tire is that it is more subject to deformation under load than the more rigid Hutchinson products.


IRC has been out of the US market for some time, but they are looking to make a comeback. This tire meets or exceeds the performance of a tubular, and if they can get it in the hands of enough riders, they will certainly succeed in this market. My only concern is that this tire has affected me like a drug, and I am not sure when I'll be able to get my next fix.