Tested: Bontrager Line Pro 30 Wheels

Saying the two words ‘carbon’ and ‘wheel’ would send your credit card running to hide under the couch, with brands like Reynolds, ENVE doing wheels around and above the $3K mark, yikes! Sure, there is carbon, and there is ‘carbon’, and there is also a myriad of lesser-known or even imitation brands selling wheels for under $1500.

The Line 30 are a $1698 pair of wheels for the trail/all-mountain/enduro segment, available in 27.5″ and 29″ in Boost hub spacing only.

The Bontrager Line 30s are understated in appearance, with the graphics sealed under a clear coat, so no peeling stickers!

Bontrager’s name is a very reputable one; they only do quality stuff, found primarily on Trek bikes. Though over the last few years we’ve seen products like their tyres, saddles, shoes, helmets and wheels become some of the best, and worthy to fit on any brand of bike. We doubt we’d have the same confidence with many other bike brand’s in-house componentry lines.


Cool, so they aren’t over the top expensive, and we dig Bontrager’s stuff. How did the wheels ride?

Stiff, very stiff. We fitted the Line 30s to our Norco Sight after an excellent term riding the Wheelworks Flite Wide Alloy wheels; a 35mm wide aluminium wheelset handbuilt in Wellington, NZ. The Wheelworks wheels felt great, they had a huge air volume and we relished in running lower tyre pressures for traction and feel. Swapping to the narrower profile Bontrager wheels which measure 29mm internally, the bike instantly felt less supple, but definitely more direct and laterally stiff.

Upgrading to carbon wheels added rigidity and speed to our Norco.

The freehub in the rear wheel feels nice and solid with great engagement and a sophisticated sound of quality. We only serviced it once, and give the sealing and ease of serviceability two thumbs up. And after five months of hammering, they are straight and true, never requiring any attention with a spoke key to tension or straighten.


Stiff is good, right?

Well, yes, and no, the best wheels achieve a balance. We’ve ridden wheels that are too stiff that lack feel and compliance, and on the other hand, we’ve found plenty of wheels with underwhelming performance due to their lateral rigidity.

We’d say they the Bontragers are on the stiffer end of stiff-o-meter providing a very direct feeling when you move the bike around and jump hard on the cranks. Holding a straight line through a rock-strewn trail or sliding the wheels sideways with the rear brake on displayed a wheel with good feel and a nice balance of stiffness and compliance.

Rolling along the 1700g set of wheels feels light and fast, a worthy upgrade to add some speed to your steed, for sure.


Arrgh, the terror of the tubeless rim strips!

In our first impressions piece on the wheels, we praised the hard plastic tubeless rim strips. We expected them to be robust, removable without the need for sticking tape, and to provide a firm connection between the bead of the tyre for a strong bond between tyre and rim. But my-oh-my was that last part true. The tyre and rim strip practically glued together after three months of use, the Schwalbe Performance Nobby Nic and Magic Mary with a standard dose of Orange Seal tubeless sealant were stuck on the wheels, no matter how hard we tried.

The hard plastic tubeless rim strips are a great concept but drove us up the wall.
We traded the supplied strips for standard tubeless rim tape.

We did find the thick plastic strips to make tyre installation a little tight, but it was the removal that had us swearing and bringing out unconventional techniques in an attempt to release the tyre’s bead from the inside of the rim strip. It broke us. We eventually (many failed attempts) broke the tyre away using a thin tyre lever, and have since removed the supplied strips and installed plain old tubeless rim tape, and we’ve not encountered any issue since. No rolling tyres off at low pressures, leaking air or anything. Maybe it was an unfortunate combination of Orange Seal sealant and Schwalbe tyres? We don’t know, but that’s just what happened.


Yay, or nay?

Our great experience with the Bontrager Line 30 wheels on the trail was a little marred by the tubeless strip saga; we can’t say the same for everybody experiencing what we did.

We like their understated appearance, stiff and precise feeling on the trail, the easy to service and well-sealed freehub and of course the impressive pricing, under $1700.


Want more specs, pricing and compatibility options?

Wander over to Bontrager’s wheel lineup page on their site for more: https://www.trekbikes.com/au/en_AU/equipment/cycling-components/bike-wheels/mountain-bike-wheels-wheelsets/c/E418/

Tested: Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5

It’s all about the new RE:aktiv Thru-Shaft…

Found on the Remedy, Fuel EX and Slash is a new shock design; RE:aktiv Thru-Shaft. Long story short, by replacing the classic internal floating piston design with a thru-shaft design, there are claims of reduced friction in the whole system.

The 2018 Remedy scores a new shock with some interesting tech.

RE:aktiv with Thru Shaft is the latest development from the brand’s partnership with Penske Racing Shocks with ties to Formula One Racing, while not unseen in the suspension world before it’s new to mountain bikes. The Thru Shaft tech is available on higher end Trek trail bikes, including Slash 9.8, Slash 9.7, Remedy 9.8, Remedy 9.8 Women’s, Fuel EX 9.9.

The shock has a unique shape, with a mini piggyback reservoir on top.
A closer look at the shock’s architecture, removed from the bike.
The shock uncompressed.
And compressed with the internal shaft breaking out into the light of day.

Want to know more, perhaps a moving image will help explain all the mumbu-jumbo? For the full story, video and technical details on the new shock, dive in deeper right here – All the details.


How does the Thru-Shaft change things on the trail?

We’ve always found the Trek suspension bikes – Fuel EX, Slash, Remedy etc – to be supple and very active in the rear suspension department, but add in the new shock design and that buttery smooth suspension takes one more slide across the dancefloor in your socks, like leaving the honey jar in the sun and now everything is a little bit smoother.

It’s most noticeable when you switch the shock into open mode and push down on the saddle with short and fast frequency, the shock compresses and rebounds with a delightfully light action. Even after a few solid rides, the shock felt smoother to push on than a blown coil shock in a 2003 Orange 222.

How many times can we say the word ‘smooth’ in this review?

On the trail, we forgot all about the shock tech and it all just blended in to make the Remedy feel very planted and grippy, with the supple suspension and generous traction the whole bike confidently glues to the ground where many others would skip about and feel nervous.

With the shock being so supple it pays to make the most of the three-stage compression adjustments on the shock or the bike feels a little slow to jump forward when you crank on the pedals. But in comparison to our Norco Sight long-term test bike (admittedly it’s only 130mm of travel) which uses a regular RockShox Deluxe shock, the middle mode feels far less sensitive than this one. We also found the shock to be still quite responsive when set in the middle mode, we could push off the rear suspension more with less wallow, but it would still react to small bumps, it made for a great setting for technical climbs with so much traction.


Trail time thoughts.

The Remedy doesn’t muck around when the trails turn nasty, with a huge amount of grip from the excellent tyres and supple suspension it is a total blast to throw into the corners and rip around them; our favourite thing to do on the Remedy was to cut inside on flat turns and drift out to the other side. We gained a lot of confidence in the way the Remedy would rip corners hard, and keep the rubber side down.

Good times exploring blind trails on the Remedy, not afraid of much.

Trek has the bigger Slash for the serious enduro race crowd, so the Remedy can afford to forgo that mini-downhill bike character of many modern bikes and retain ample agility.


Why roll on 27.5″ wheel when Fuel EX and Slash are 29″?

Do you sense a wheel size debate coming on, too? Don’t run off, just yet.

We’ve spent plenty of time on Treks on either side of the Remedy that use 29″ wheels; the 130mm travel Trek Fuel EX, and the monster-truckin 160mm travel Trek Slash. So we had to ask ourselves why did Trek decide to stick with the smaller wheel for the Remedy?

Well, while bike brands are becoming increasingly better at making the most out of 29″ wheels with fewer drawbacks, you simply can’t look past a 27.5″ wheel when it comes to throwing it around for the fun of it, and that’s precisely what the Remedy is great at. Whenever we jumped on board this thing, our attitude lightened, we darted around the place like a hyperactive kid on a double espresso Gu Gel. It reminded us of the time we reviewed the Whyte T-130, which we thought would have been a style of the bike better suited to a 29er, but damn did we enjoy the smaller wheels!


The weight, price, parts and what we’d change.

13.1kg is fair for this spec level, the bike’s not built for cross country racing, so this figure means that the frame and parts are pretty reasonable on the scales. Some weight could be saved with a lower tread rear tyre if your trails don’t require such chunky treads, other than that any weight savings would be big ticket items like the cranks, cassette, rims etc.

We think Trek is traditionally pretty fair with their pricing of their mid-high range carbon suspension bikes, and this Remedy is a good representation of that. Thanks to the trickle-down of great technology like the SRAM Eagle drivetrain to this price point gives the spec massive appeal; it works so damn well.

The 150mm travel RockShox Lyrik leads the way with absolute confidence.

All the Bontrager parts are so dialled, each year they prove to be a legitimate component brand holding their own amongst the best boutique options out there. The wheels, dropper post, tyres, cockpit etc. are great and give the Remedy an aesthetically stylish appearance with everything matching so well.

Even in its highest setting, the MRP guide still rubbed on the chain when pedalling the low range gears.

The little MRP guide is a nice addition, but in the lower range gears the chain rubs on the underside of the guide, we’d seek out a different size guide or just ditch it.

The bike doesn’t come specced with tubeless valves or sealant, so don’t leave the shop without adding them.


So many bikes, who is the Remedy for, and does the shock live up to the hype?

The Remedy has massive appeal for a rider that pushes hard and has the skills to turn the trails into a playground. Or if you’re after a fast and confident bike to make light work out of loose, steep, choppy and tight terrain.

And the shock? Well, like we said earlier, the Remedy has always felt really smooth and supple so unless you had a direct comparison to a regular shock, the Thru Shaft shock won’t blow you away with a huge difference in feeling. But we can feel it, and it just contributes to an already great feeling bike.

To see more of the Remedy range, head over to the Trek site here: Trek Remedy, please!

Flow’s First Bite: 2018 Trek Remedy 9.8

When we first saw news from Trek around this new Thru Shaft we had next to no idea what they were banging on about, what is a Thru Shaft and what does it do? We had to see a moving image of the shock for us to grasp the concept,

For the full story, video and technical details on the new shock, dive in deeper right here – All the details.

The new shock doesn’t look very different, but when compressed you’ll see the shaft exiting the lower end of the shock, and back in again as it rebounds.

Long story short, by replacing the classic internal floating piston design with a thru-shaft design, there is claims of reduced friction in the whole system. RE:aktiv with Thru Shaft is the latest development from the brand’s partnership with Penske Racing Shocks, while not unseen in the suspension world before it’s new to mountain bikes.

RE:aktiv with Thru Shaft is available on select Trek trail bikes, including Slash 9.8, Slash 9.7, Remedy 9.8, Remedy 9.8 Women’s, Fuel EX 9.9.


Enough about the shock, what else is new for 2018?

Plenty to get excited about with the new Remedy 9.8, especially as we had the 2016 model on long term test, and got to know it intimately. The 2018 model is even burlier with its spec and uses more SRAM across the board. The new model has also dropped in price, down $300 to $6499, that’s a bonus for sure.

Read more about the frame’s features like their massive down tube, Knock Block headset and more in our 2017 Remedy review here.

While the frame remains the same, spec highlights for us, include the shift from a Shimano XT drivetrain with a double chainring to a SRAM Eagle GX 12-speed single-ring drivetrain, though we’d traditionally prefer Shimano XT brakes over the Guide RS. The fork jumps from a RockShox Pike up to the Lyrik which uses a more robust chassis and feels more like a single crown downhill fork than a trail bike fork, a super impressive fork indeed.

SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, our first proper ride on the budget 12-speed kit.
RockShox Lyrik, move over, we’re coming through!
SRAM cranks with a little MRP chain guide, interesting!

Other highlights include seriously meaty tyres from Bontrager on their new Line wheels, and the 35mm clamp bar and stem for even more of an aggressive appearance up the front.

Full review to follow shortly, it’s time to shred this thing!

Flow’s First Bite: 2018 Trek Remedy 9.8 with new RE:aktiv Thru Shaft damper

When we first saw news from Trek around this new Thru Shaft we had next to no idea what they were banging on about, what is a Thru Shaft and what does it do? We had to see a moving image of the shock for us to grasp the concept,

For the full story, video and technical details on the new shock, dive in deeper right here – All the details.

The new shock doesn’t look very different, but when compressed you’ll see the shaft exiting the lower end of the shock, and back in again as it rebounds.

Long story short, by replacing the classic internal floating piston design with a thru-shaft design, there is claims of reduced friction in the whole system. RE:aktiv with Thru Shaft is the latest development from the brand’s partnership with Penske Racing Shocks, while not unseen in the suspension world before it’s new to mountain bikes.

RE:aktiv with Thru Shaft is available on select Trek trail bikes, including Slash 9.8, Slash 9.7, Remedy 9.8, Remedy 9.8 Women’s, Fuel EX 9.9.


Enough about the shock, what else is new for 2018?

Plenty to get excited about with the new Remedy 9.8, especially as we had the 2016 model on long term test, and got to know it intimately. The 2018 model is even burlier with its spec and uses more SRAM across the board. The new model has also dropped in price, down $300 to $6499, that’s a bonus for sure.

Read more about the frame’s features like their massive down tube, Knock Block headset and more in our 2017 Remedy review here.

While the frame remains the same, spec highlights for us, include the shift from a Shimano XT drivetrain with a double chainring to a SRAM Eagle GX 12-speed single-ring drivetrain, though we’d traditionally prefer Shimano XT brakes over the Guide RS. The fork jumps from a RockShox Pike up to the Lyrik which uses a more robust chassis and feels more like a single crown downhill fork than a trail bike fork, a super impressive fork indeed.

SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain, our first proper ride on the budget 12-speed kit.
RockShox Lyrik, move over, we’re coming through!
SRAM cranks with a little MRP chain guide, interesting!

Other highlights include seriously meaty tyres from Bontrager on their new Line wheels, and the 35mm clamp bar and stem for even more of an aggressive appearance up the front.

Full review to follow shortly, it’s time to shred this thing!

Tested: Bontrager Rapid Pack

One bottle, two pockets, and a whole lot of  ‘style’.

Why would I use it?

If your frame doesn’t take a water bottle, or has room for just one bottle and you want more water storage, then your options have traditionally been limited to wearing a backpack of some description, which has the downside of being rather heavy and hot, or stuffing a bottle in a pair of SWAT bibs or similar, which looks awful and feels worse.

However, with the re-emergence of the bum bag as a piece of acceptable cycling kit (ok, debatable), you’ve now got a third option, letting you store water a few spares but without the bulk of a full blown pack.

Room for just the delicious essentials, but this bag isn’t designed for long missions obviously.
A simple clasp holds it all in place securely and quickly.

Why do we like it?

Because it’s just big enough to hold the essentials, but small enough to forget you’ve got it on. Unlike other bum bags we’ve used (such as the Camelbak Palos), the Bontrager Rapid Pack doesn’t have a bladder. It’s simply designed to carry a single water bottle, which slips into a nice elasticised little pouch. Realistically, that’s enough water for a blast around the local trails.

Because it’s lightweight, it doesn’t bounce or move around on rough trails either, which have found to be an issue with the Palos when it’s got a full load of water on board. In fact, you barely notice you’re wearing it – it’s not particularly warm, breathing well, and as the weight is on your hips, it doesn’t have a perceptible impact on how you feel on the bike. The pack’s light foam backing is super malleable too, so it hugs close to your hips, helping it really stay in place.

Like other bum bags, it’s also super easy to spin around to your front when you need to get into the pockets to have a feed or grab your phone to tweet about it.

Neat little hook for your car key! Better than having it bounce out of your unzipped pocket somewhere in the shrubbery.

What will it hold? 

In addition to your bottle, there are two zippered stretchy pockets, with enough room for a tube, a CO2, multitool, phone, a bar or two. There’s even a neat little hook for your sweet Toyota Townace key. Obviously there’s not enough storage to embark on a mega mission (there aren’t any external straps for securing a jacket for instance), but if you’re out for a short ride then it’s ideal.

You’ve got three seconds to tell us what year Bontrager was founded in. 3…. 2…. 1…. Well done!

So you’d recommend it?

110%. When a bike doesn’t have room for a water bottle, it can be a real bugger – we really like being able to ride without a full blown pack on shorter rides. But with the Rapid Pack, we feel like we’ve got the perfect solution. It holds just the right amount of water and gear for those quick arvo loops.

We’ve been using the Rapid Pack for a few months now and it’s unscathed. We haven’t had it come loose or move on us once, and it hasn’t launched a bottle either. Our only gripe is the price, which at $99 seems a little steep all things considered, but that’s your choice to make. We like it a lot.

First Impressions: Bontrager Line Pro 30 Wheels

1700g, 29mm rims, 108 engagement point hub… where’s the catch?

Alloy is so 2016…

There has been an explosion of carbon mountain bike wheels (sometimes literally) in the past 18 months. A market that was once cornered by the likes of ENVE has been democratised and now proliferates with carbon hoops of all kinds of origins and qualities.

Along with the abundance of options, we have started to see prices come down, though not to the extent that we’d have anticipated or hoped. Most carbon wheels are still north of the $2000 mark, ouch. Bontrager, however, are doing their bit to make the performance of carbon hoops just that little bit more attainable, and without sacrificing features either.

You could’ve forgiven Bonty for taking short cuts with the hubs, but they didn’t.

Tell us the price!

The new Bontrager Line Pro 30 wheels are $1698 for the pair. That’s not chicken feed, but it’s very reasonable for a carbon wheelset from a top-tier manufacturer, and it’s a lot cheaper than many comparably featured wheels. The competition are on notice!

Proper tubeless rim strips for a tight tubeless seal.

So what do you get for the coin?

Fully modernised rims, for starters. With a 29mm internal width, these OCLV carbon rims are right in the sweet spot for trail riding / enduro riding.

They also come fitted with Bontrager’s tubeless rim strips, which are a robust, hard plastic strip, not just tape. These strips won’t budge or slip no matter how many times you remove or install tyres.

The six pawl freehub.

The freehub has 108 engagement points; there are six pawls (two sets of three) and they engage faster than a Bachelorette winner. We pulled the freehub off to take a look, and the sealing seems to be much better than previous Bonty free hubs. Let’s see how winter treats them.

Our 29er version weighs in at just on 1700g, so it’s not even like they’re a heavy set of hoops. Really, there’s nothing we don’t like about these so far, other than they took a bit of wrestling to mount our tyres too.

Stay tuned. We’re taking these bad boys to Rotorua next week to put some miles on them!

Tested: Bontrager Drop Line Dropper Seatpost

Subtle black in colour and an easy to adjust seat clamp too.

Suddenly it seems like just about every company has brought out a dropper post, either as an aftermarket alternative to the established players, or to spec dropper posts on lower priced bikes by manufacturing their own model (Giant, Specialized, Merida and Trek/Bontrager all have their own posts now).

The Bontrager Drop Line Dropper Seatpost falls into both of those categories – OEM and aftermarket – killing two birds with one stone by allowing Trek to spec dropper posts on more bikes, and providing an aftermarket upgrade for consumers.


How does the Drop Line work? 

The Bontrager Drop Line is an internally routed, cable actuated dropper post, operated by a lever that sits on the underside of the left-hand side of the handlebar. The cable stop simply ‘plugs’ into the base of the post, which operates the internals that offers infinite height adjustment. 

The under-bar lever is easily reached with the left thumb. An over-bar lever is available if you are using a left-hand shifter too.

What lengths available?

The Drop Line comes in 100, 125 and 150mm variants. Obviously, the more travel you go for, the more the post weighs, but we’re very pleased to see Bontrager offer different height options, as the needs of a shorter cross-country racer are very different to that of a lanky enduro rider.

A 150mm Drop Line weighs in at 624 grams, which is similar in weight to more established dropper posts such as the KS Lev Integra and the RockShox Reverb.


Is it easy to install?

Too easy. With the cable installing with the head at the post end – not at the lever – and fixing with a grub screw at the thumb lever, the install is quick. If you’re fussy about cable neatness like we are, you’ll appreciate how easy it is to cut down the cable in increments until you have the perfect length.

The head of the cable fixes at the post, making for quick installation and trimming of the cable length.

Is it reliable? 

We’ve ridden the Line post on dry trails and it feels super-slick, smooth and consistent. It’s only when the rides are wet and long that the post falters, the sealing suffers when there is mud flicking up from the rear tyre onto the shaft, so keep that in mind. Our suggestion would be to make sure there is no buildup around the seal area and learn the quick job of lifting up the seal (two allen keys and some thick oil/grease and you’ll be right) to clean and re-lube the sliding parts of the post.

The 125mm drop post on our Trek Slash test bike was a great performer.

While we are used to not servicing some of the more expensive posts like the FOX Transfer, we can accept paying less for a post that requires a little more love and care from the user.

Unlike many of the cheaper posts, the Bontrager didn’t develop an unacceptable amount of rattling or play – nobody likes a rattling post that you can feel when you ride, it’s super distracting. So, top points on this one, Bonty.


Is the post easy to actuate? 

The Drop-Line’s lever is fine. It’s somewhat similar in appearance to KS’s Southpaw remote, the lever isn’t a thin and wide paddle-like the KS, instead, it’s narrower and chunkier. Even with a slick and new cable, the actuation is slightly vague, though we’ll get used to it.


How much does it cost? 

Here’s where Bontrager gets a big thumbs up over other alternatives! The Drop Line retails for $359 in every size, which is great value compared to other offerings on the market, and of course, the Drop Line is backed by Bontrager’s excellent 30-day unconditional guarantee as well as a three-year warranty, so there are no worries there.

Fair value at $359.

Would we buy one? 

For $359, with a three-year warranty, we could definitely get used to the lever and frequent service intervals during the muddier rides. The Bontrager Drop Line is a great option to consider if you’re thinking about getting a dropper post or perhaps increasing your dropper post travel without breaking the bank.

For more – click through the Trek page here: Bontrager Line Post.

Tested: Bontrager SE4/SE5 Tyres

Traction galore!
Traction galore!

Going from some mediocre tyres to something that does exactly what you’re after will drastically increase the performance of your bike for a relatively small amount of cash.

Over the last few years, we’ve been impressed with the development of Bontrager’s range of tyres, so we were excited to get some trail time in on their new SE4 and SE5 offerings.

Bontrager's SE line is more aggressive than the XR range we've rated highly in the past.
The SE5 is one heavy duty tyre.

Who are Bontrager’s SE4 and SE5 tyres for?

Bontrager’s SE4 and SE5 tyres are a step up from Bontrager’s well-renowned XR trail tyre range, pitched as offerings for the all-mountain rider or enduro racer.

The SE4 tyre shares the same tread pattern as Bontrager’s most aggressive trail tyre, the XR4, but with a sturdier casing and stiffer sidewall for increased puncture protection and cornering stability.

The SE4 strikes a burly profile mounted to our set of Praxis Works C32 Mountain Wheels.
The SE4 strikes a burly profile mounted to a set of Praxis Works C32 Mountain Wheels.

The SE5 is a toned-down version of Bontrager’s G5 downhill tyre; however, it has slightly more puncture protection than the SE4.

The SE5 is Bontrager's sturdiest non-downhill tyre.
The SE5 is Bontrager’s sturdiest non-downhill tyre.

Due to the SE4 coming in a 2.4” width and the SE5 tyre only being available in a 2.3” width, and with the SE5 featuring increased puncture protection, we ran an SE4 on the front paired with an SE5 on the rear for the majority our testing.


How do they hook up?                                                     

Bloody well! The SE4 and SE5 tyres excel in rocky and loose conditions, but due to the wild shifts in weather Sydney has been experiencing recently, we’ve been able to test these tyres in all sorts of conditions, from bone dry and dusty, to drivetrain destructing slop.

In dry conditions, the grip from both tyres is very predictable, and the rolling resistance feels better than comparable rubber from other tyre brand alternatives with similar tread and casing.

The rolling resistance of the SE4/5 is exceptional.
The rolling resistance of the SE4/SE5 tyres is exceptional.

The SE5 is exceptionally stable under braking as a rear tyre, as well as shedding mud and other gunk when the trails are wet, however, we think Bontrager should produce a 2.5” version. The larger 2.5″ size would be a great tyre to have on the front of an enduro bike as a dependable all-rounder for all but the wettest conditions.

The SE5 only comes in a 2.3" width, which we think is a real shame.
The SE5 only comes in a 2.3″ width, which we think is a real shame.

It was only when it was very wet that we found the limits of the SE4 on the front, with the tread clogging up, and the side knobs not providing enough penetration to give the predictable handling we experienced in dry to medium conditions.

This isn’t unexpected, though, as, for a tyre that’s grippy in most conditions with such great rolling resistance, you can’t really expect it to double as a standout wet weather performer.


Do they wear out quickly? 

The SE4 and SE5 tyres do use a fairly soft rubber compound, especially on the side knobs. We chewed through a set in a solid long weekend of lift assisted gravity riding, but most tyres won’t survive multiple days of chairlift aided abuse on chopped out trails.

The wear rate on the SE4 and SE5 is about what you'd expect considering the rubber compounds used.
The wear rate on the SE4 and SE5 is about what you’d expect considering the tackiness of the rubber.

In terms of how fast the SE4 and SE5 wear from normal riding week to week, we would say it’s not drastically different to how quickly comparable tyres from Maxxis or Schwalbe will wear- for example, a 3C tyre from Maxxis or a Vertstar tyre from Schwalbe.


Do they puncture? 

Whilst the SE line of tyres from Bontrager does feature more puncture protection in the form of beefier sidewalls and casings to their XR line, we still had two punctures in the rear whilst running pressures in the high twenties, and on one occasion with the Huck Norris Anti-Flat Tubeless Protection System.

We experienced two punctures with the SE5 on the rear, including one with the Huck Norris installed.
We experienced two punctures with the SE5 on the rear, including one with the Huck Norris installed.

In comparison to other tyres on the market, the only other non-downhill tyre we’ve used that’s been 100 percent reliable throughout testing has been Maxxis’ Double Down offerings, however, they do weigh in around 100 grams heavier than the Bontrager SE models for a comparable size.

We experienced no punctures testing Maxxis' Double Down range.
We experienced no punctures testing Maxxis’ Double Down range.

We should disclose that these punctures occurred barging through rocks on less than ideal lines, so overall we were impressed with the SE4’s and SE5’s durability, especially considering their lighter weight than other ‘enduro’ focused tyres on the market.


What if I’m not happy with them?

One thing about Bontrager tyres we think is truly exceptional is their 30-day unconditional guarantee. Whilst we’ve been impressed with the SE4 and SE5 in a variety of conditions, if you pick some up and you’re not happy, you can return them to your Bontrager dealer within 30 days for a product replacement or full refund.

We're big fans of Bontrager's unconditional guarantee.
We’re big fans of Bontrager’s unconditional guarantee.

If you’re on the fence about trying these tyres out, you’ve really got nothing to lose.


Verdict?

Bontrager’s SE4 and SE5 offerings are well worth a look if you’re an aggressive rider or enduro racer looking for a tyre that’s dependable in a variety of conditions, but doesn’t weigh a ton. Our biggest gripe is the single width available for both tyres, as we think a 2.5” SE5 matched with a 2.3” SE4 on the rear could be an excellent combination.

Bontrager unveils all-new Line XXX wheels, new Drop Line dropper post, 35mm bars and stems, flat pedals, and tyres.

Bontrager has unveiled all-new Line XXX MTB wheels in addition to the new Drop Line dropper post, 35mm Line Pro bars and stems, Line Pro flat pedals, and updated tread patterns and sizes for the beloved XR4 and SE4 MTB tyres.Line_bike_2

14064_A_1_Line_XXX_TLR_29_Boost_Wheel
Bontrager Line XXX wheelset – $3900

SN_TrekBontrager_AustraliaMTB_086_editLine XXX wheels offer unsurpassed impact strength and a supportive 29mm inner rim that combine to give a no-compromise, precision ride feel for technical trails. Handmade at Bontrager’s North American research, development, and manufacturing headquarters in Waterloo, WI, the new Line XXX raises the bar for the brand’s mountain bike wheels, further distinguishing Bontrager’s long history of exceptional quality.SN_TrekBontrager_AustraliaMTB_267-editAlso unveiled is the new Bontrager Drop Line dropper post, a cable-actuated hydraulic locking post that gets out of the way on descents and comes right back to support the rider when the trail demands it. Drop Line is easy to install and remove by clamping the cable at the lever and is available in 3 sizes.

SN_TrekBontrager_ChileMisc_068
Bontrager Drop Line post – $399.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 11.09.39 AMSN_TrekBontrager_ChileMisc_069Line Pro bars and stems come in two levels and bring the sure handling of 35mm bars and stems to any bike. Available in 15 and 27.5 degree rises in both 750mm and 820mm sizes, the Line 35mm bars add a confidence to your bike’s handling while upgrading the aesthetic without adding any uncomfortable stiffness.

Line Pro - stem $129, bars $229.
Line Pro – stem $129, bars $229.

Two of the brand’s most popular tires, the XR4 and SE4, have been updated to include 2.4 and 2.55 sized options and feature new tread patterns that save weight and roll faster with the incredible traction for which the tires first became popular.SN_TrekBontrager_AustraliaMTB_073

14065_A_2_Kovee_XXX_TLR_29_Boost
Bontrager Kovee XXX – $3900

Along with the Line family, Bontrager is introducing the Kovee XXX, an OCLV Carbon cross country race wheel with 29mm inner width and wheelset weight of under 1400g. With a wide stance and durable rim, the Kovee XXX is pushing the boundaries of what an XC race wheel can be.mdelorme_03102016-06742

Flow’s First Bite – Trek Fuel EX 8 29

Trek’s incredibly popular Fuel EX range comes in both 29″ and 27.5″ flavours, and for 2016 the 29er goes under the knife to receive a very trendy facelift, scoring the updates we hoped and wished for. Tighter, zipper and adjustable whilst retaining that super-supple suspension we have grown to expect, the new Fuel EX 29 looks dialled.

Seven versions of the Fuel EX are on offer from Trek Australia, the large range priced between $3099 and $5999. A real testament to how well this type of bike caters to just about any type of mountain biker, the amount of travel, relaxed character and reliable components make it a real winner.

We snagged a Fuel EX 29 8 for a full review, until then here are our first impressions of this entry-level aluminium dually from the big T.

Trek Fuel EX 8 33

[divider]The Frame[/divider]

Dual suspension 29ers have come a long way, and are now better than ever across the board. We’re even at the point where we’re seeing die hard ‘small wheel’ riders finally appreciate the benefits of the larger wheels but without moaning that that can’t ride the bike exactly how they would like to.

29″ wheels are always going to be better at handling certain elements of off road riding than smaller 26″ and 27.5″ wheels, the rule that bigger is better just can’t be argued with in terms of rolling momentum or stability. Though there is a reason the Fuel EX is also available in 27.5″ wheels, it comes down to how you want to ride, where you ride and your personal preferences.

Trek Fuel EX 8 27

We’ve currently got two 27.5″ Treks on long term test – the Fuel EX 9.8 275 and the Remedy 9.8 27.5. Click the links to read our thoughts on those two sweet rides.

In the case of this bike the design team at Trek have been able to take advantage of the new Boost hub width standards to free up space and in return bring the rear end closer to the bikes centre, shortening the chainstays from 452mm to a snappy 437mm. We’ll get into more on how and why Boost is a good thing in our review. Yes it’s another standard that was pioneered by Trek, but there’s more to it than just more standards.

Trek Fuel EX 8 30

With 120mm of travel front and back, the Fuel EX is a semi-short travel dually that sits in between the bigger Remedy 29 and the amazing new cross country weapon, the Top Fuel. See more of the Top Fuel here.

When we reviewed the 2014 and 2015 Trek Fuel EX 29 the main gripe for us was the length, it got in the way of being the ideal go-anywhere bike, holding us back when corners got tight. We often wished for different geometry when we wanted to throw it around and play. So naturally we’re pumped to see that on paper it looks like that’s sorted for 2016, we can’t wait to see how it goes on the trails. To read our earlier reviews of the Fuel, read here: 2014 Trek Fuel EX 9.8 29 and 2015 Trek Fuel EX 9.9 29.

Trek Fuel EX 8 21
Boost 148 – a new hub and drivetrain standard that allows frame designs greater freedom to achieve better everything.
Trek Fuel EX 8 22
That bolt on the EVO Link and chain stay junction is the Mino Link. Swap the chips around for geometry adjustment.

[divider]The Parts[/divider]

With a good dose of Bontrager, FOX and Shimano the Fuel is well dressed for the dollars. In our experience the parts fitted to this bike will be up to the task, but we’ll deliver our verdict in the review.

Trek are all about a good range of gears, most of their Shimano drivetrain bikes are specced with a double chainring. With a 2×10 drivetrain, the low range is especially very useable and you won’t be running out of gears at either end.

Trek Fuel EX 8 9

FOX take care of the suspension with a Float 32 fork up front using the new FIT 4 damper that has brought FOX back into the game in a big way. Plus the addition of the EVOL large air volume air can this is surely going to be most excellent! The Fuel range was already a supple and smooth ride, with the new FOX parts it’s going to be off the charts! 

The rear shock uses Trek’s proprietary suspension damping system called the Re:aktiv damper designed in conjunction with FOX. It’s all about delivering better pedalling/climbing efficiency with a more seamless transition to bump absorption than other systems have been able to achieve. Read more about that here: RE:aktiv Shock Technology.

A RE:aktiv rear shock.
A RE:aktiv rear shock.

Bontrager handle the rest of the parts, which is good news to us. While the wheels may be a little weighty, we already love the tyres, saddle and cockpit.

The Fuel EX 8 29 looks pretty good to us! With a tubeless conversion it’d be perfect on our rocky trails, so we’ll be taping up the rims and sourcing some tubeless valves to make that happen, then we’ll be good to go. Let the testing begin, stay tuned for the full review soon.

Flow’s First Bite: 2016 Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5

The best travel companions are fun, interesting and relaxed. But when it comes to bikes and not people to travel with it pays to be light, smooth and versatile, right?

It’s our pleasure to introduce to you our new Pine Lime Express – the 2016 Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5.

The second half of our Flow Nation fleet that joins the Trek Fuel EX 9.8 27.5, this 140mm travel carbon beauty is winning us over already after one week of enthusiastic ‘new bike frothing’ riding. We’ll be throwing this on the back of the car, and packing it in a box to fly and drive around as we feature our next season of must ride destinations.

Check out our Fuel EX 9.8 27.5 first impressions here: Flow’s First Bite: Trek Fuel EX 9.8 27.5.

We’ll be putting in a lot of miles on this rig, and it’ll be used to test a lot of parts but in the meantime let’s take a look at how it came out of the box.

Trek Remedy  26
Remedy 9.8 27.5 for $6099.

Where does it fit in? With 140mm travel and fairly modest geometry, the Remedy sits just below the realm of the super-slack ‘enduro race bike’. It’s aimed to be ridden hard, but also isn’t going to shy away from flatter terrain, so to put the Remedy in a category we’d call it a big all-mountain bike.

There’s a near mirror of this bike with 29″ wheels available, same price, nearly the same spec just with 29″ wheels. We went 27.5″ for the fun of it, sure the 29″ may be faster but we’re not racing anyone.

It’s a well thought out bike, with nice features like a thinner rear tyre for less weight and faster rolling, the Mino Link little reversible chip in the rocker arm for geometry adjustment and frame protection underneath the down tube an on the sides of the seat stays.

Trek Remedy  2

Trek Remedy  4

FOX and Shimano. It’s a FOX and Shimano show here (with a RockShox Reverb seatpost sneaking in there) and the new 11-speed Shimano XT gives the Remedy an enormous range of gears, via the new wide range cassette and double chainring setup. We can’t sing louder praise for this new groupset, hear our thoughts in our full review here: Shimano M8000 11-speed tested. 

The new XT is closer in performance to the premium Shimano XTR stuff than ever before, the brakes are so dialled and light under the finger and shifting is even more precise and solid to engage gears.

It does have a double chainring and front derailleur, we’ll be swapping to a single ring as we like the neater and less cluttered loop

A FOX 36 fork is not exactly a common sight on a bike of this travel amount, typically reserved for bigger 150mm+ bikes the big legged 36mm diameter legs look huge on the front of this bike and sitting down at 140mm travel its going to be amazingly stout when ploughed into rocks, woohooo! We reviewed the older version of the FOX 36 at 160mm on the front of a Norco Range, check that review out here. FOX 36 review. But with the new FIT 4 damper and a regular 15mm quick release axle, the new version is more user friendly and feels extra supple.

RE:aktiv: Out the back the FOX rear shock uses Trek’s proprietary RE:aktiv with a 3-position damper. But the DRCV (Dual Rate Control Valve) dual air spring system has gone from the 2016 range due to the new FOX EVOL large volume air can giving the bike its targeted spring rate curves and suppleness.

We’ve ridden the RE:aktiv damper a few times, and it sure does remain active and supple whilst in trail and climb mode, breaking away the instant a bump hits the rear wheel. We find ourselves riding in the middle rear shock setting a lot, which keeps the shock riding high in its travel and with less wallowing, but thanks to the fancy damper it still takes a hit without spiking harshly.

Trek Remedy  10
The FOX/Trek RE:aktiv damper keeps things firm yet sensitive.
Trek Remedy  22
Chunky legs up front! A FOX 36 fork at only 140mm.

The other bits. Bontrager make up the majority of the cockpit components and the tyres. A big 2.4″ XR4 up front is a great sight, we’ve been huge fans of this exact tyre for a couple years now, the big volume and tacky tread wins us over every corner.

You could dress it up, or down. The Remedy is the bike we want for exploring new trails, it blurs the lines between an all-round trail bike and a hard hitting enduro machine with the ability to go either side really well.

If only the Remedy was available from their cool Project One custom paint job and spec program, this is a bike that we’d love to have as our own but we’d probably just select this colour and build with Shimano XTR Di2 anyhow… Did we say Di2? Stay tuned.

Fresh Product: Bontrager Rally Helmet

Bontrager’s latest lid is going to be a hit with the new-school enduro crowd. The Rally is all what we want from a helmet, but with increased protection over your standard brain bucket, an eyeball burningly bright colour option and an adjustable visor to make space for goggles.

The moment we popped the Rally on our heads, we decided its a new favourite.

For $179, it’s also a pretty good price for a cool new lid, check it out. Comes in black, too.

Bontrager Rally 3 Bontrager Rally 7 Bontrager Rally 10 Bontrager Rally 8 Bontrager Rally 5

Features

  • In-mold composite skeleton allows a greater variation of vent shape and size
  • Headmaster – One-handed fit system adjustable by height and circumference
  • FormFit – Flexible head-conforming brow band improves comfort and ventilation
  • FlatLock Strap Dividers – Strap management made simple with a fixed position fit
  • Internal, recessed channels manage airflow through the helmet and over the head
  • Drop-in Coverage – Coverage below traditional bottom edge for more protection
  • Crash Replacement Guarantee

Flow’s Freshies: Products We’re Using, Testing or Loving

Welcome to another round of Flow’s Freshies; products we’re using, testing or just loving at Flow HQ. This time around, we have the very frothy Effeto Mariposa Cafe Latex sealant, Bontrager’s feature-packed RXL shoes and a new Camelbak that aims to save your spine.

Effetto Mariposa
The Caffe Latex trio: sealant in a pressurised form; in a 250ml bottle; and the ZOT! super sealant activator.

Effetto Mariposa Caffe Latex tubeless sealant:

http://www.effettomariposa.eu/en/products/caffelatex-family/caffelatex-sealant/

250ml, $23.95. 1000ml, $56.95

Effetto Mariposa Caffe Latex tyre sealant (centre in photo above) may be a lesser known product here in the Australian market for now, but the technology behind the Italian product deserves a lot of recognition. Unlike other sealants, whilst the wheel is moving, the sealant froths up like a delicious frothy cappuccino, with the foam filling the entire internal cavity of the tyre. This, in contrast with conventional sealant that merely sloshes around in the tyre, is said to create far quicker and more effective puncture protection for tubeless setups, particularly on sidewall cuts where traditional sealant mightn’t reach so quickly. Thanks to the addition of “microscopic silicate particles” within the sealant, the sealing of punctures up to 5mm is claimed to be five times faster than a standard sealant. Interestingly enough, Cafe Latex is actually the sealant of choice used by none other than Nico Voullioz for his Enduro racing! The Effetto Mariposa Latex is available in 250ml, 1 litre and whopping 10 litre volumes, just in case you want to bathe in it.

We’ve also been testing the ZOT! Caffe Latex Activator, which is designed to be used in conjunction with the Cafe Latex to seal up those really big cuts which would normally require the tyre to be patched. We’ll have our review up on Flow shortly.

Bontrager RXL shoes 1
For a fully-featured cross country shoe, the RXLs appear to be very robust too, with lots of toe/scuff protection.
Bontrager RXL shoes 3
9 on the stiffness’o’meter. Big tread blocks make rock clambering easier.

Bontrager RXL MTB shoes: 

http://www.bontrager.com/model/09604

$329

Here at Flow we’ve been fans of Bontrager kit for a long time, and the RXL shoe is a truly premium offering. If you’ve tried heat molded insoles, you’ll know that it really is the only way to get that truly snug, custom fit. The heel-tap feature allows the rider to further personalise their kicks, as the heel cup can be flexed/molded to suit your heel width. Heel security is further boosted by the use of a grippy ‘cat’s tongue’ style material inside the heel cup. The Micro-fit buckle is yet another great feature, allowing the rider to dial in the retention system in finer increments adjustments than a normal buckle system. All in all, definitely one to look at if you’re after a light and stiff shoe – even for trail riding, as this shoe has more tread for scampering up unrideable sections than most pure cross country shoes.

Camelbak Kudu 1
The wide profile of the pack at its base helps keep it very stable.
Camelbak Kudu 2
Plenty of room for all your Enduro adventures, it’ll fit a helmet with ease.
Camelbak Kudu 3
This sleeve houses the three-layered protective insert.

Camelbak Kudu 12 pack: 

$249.95

This new pack from Camelbak is so fresh it hasn’t even made it onto their website yet! Spine protection may not be the first thing you think of when you’re considering a hydration pack, but with the continuing evolution of trail and all-mountain bikes tempting riders into terrain once left for bikes with triple crown forks, we see it as a relevant development; spine protection in your hydration pack could be the difference between walking away from a crash… and not walking. The Kudu 12 features lightweight, high density padding inserts that will help dissipate impacts that could otherwise do you real damage. Aside from the Spine protection, other developments with this pack include helmet/pad integration that fits your descending essentials tight and snug to the pack, meaning your stuff wont jiggle about climbing to the top of that epic descent. On the way back down the pack won’t sway either; the pack’s profile is wider than it is deep, in order to maximise stability and keep the contents of the pack firmly in place on the riders back. Genius!

 

 

Tested: Bontrager Rhythm Pro TLR carbon 27.5″ wheels

Stiffer than your legs after a 100km race and packing a freehub that engages faster than Christian high school sweethearts, the new Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels are amongst the finest trail / all-mountain hoops we’ve seen.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -3

We’ve been running these glamorous wheels on our Giant Trance SX long-term test bike since March, and while the Giant’s stock wheelset is certainly not to be sneered at, the Bontrager Rhythm Pros are a very desirable upgrade.

Carbon wheels are admittedly still expensive, but they’re no longer a pro-only item as once was the case. When they’re built right, carbon wheels can really change a bike’s performance. And Trek, Bontrager’s parent company, have long been a leader the carbon game; their OCLV carbon road frames redefined performance and that experience has all been brought to bear in the mountain bike world now too.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -5
We feel that Bonty missed an opportunity to do something really wild with the graphics on these wheels. They’re special wheels – draw attention to it!

The Rhythm Pro TLR wheels use Trek’s OCLV (optimum compaction, low void) carbon to form the very stiff rims which are at the core of this wheelset’s performance. Trek haven’t gone down the super-wide route that we’re starting to see from a number of specialist carbon rim manufacturers – the Rhythm rims measure up at an external width of 29mm and just shy of 23mm internally. While wider rims do have some benefits, we think that the Rhythm Pro hoops strike a pretty good balance between width and weight, tipping the scales at 1620g.

We have been running 2.35″ and 2.4″ rubber at very low pressure on these rims and enjoying mountains of grip. Even with the tyres in the low 20 psi range, burping or tyre roll hasn’t been an issue. Such low pressures aren’t going to be suitable for all riders (our test rider is not a large unit), but we felt happy running the Bontrager XR4 rubber in this pressure range.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -11
The rim profile is offset in order to provide more consistent spoke length and tension across drive/non-drive side spokes.

Our confidence to hammer these wheels at low pressures stems from a couple of areas. Firstly, the Bontrager tubeless rim strips hold onto the tyre bead tenaciously, so it’s very hard to roll the tyre off the rim or burp any air. The flip side is that changing tyres requires hands like a Bulgarian coal miner. Secondly, the rims seem to be completely bombproof – even when we’ve felt the rim smack into a rock, the sound is more of a muted thud than a ‘ping’ like you get with an alloy rim, and when we’ve inspected the rim for wobbles or signs of the impact, there’s never been a mark. We’ve done some serious damage to alloy rims (including Bontragers) before with this kind of treatment, but we can’t draw a whimper from these guys.

With 54 engagement points, the take up under power is rapid and positive. Every quick stab at the pedals, be it mid-way up a techy climb or getting a half pedal stroke in between corners, results in forward drive. Shimano and XD freehub bodies are available, and pulling the freehub off for a quick clean or preventative lubing is easy – just give it a tug. For what it’s worth, these wheels do sound good too – like someone is chasing you down the trail ripping up a bed sheet!

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -12
The freehub can simply be slid off the axle. Good from an ease of maintenance perspective. Less good from a sealing perspective.

We’re incredibly impressed with the stiffness of these wheels too. This perhaps the area where we noticed the biggest and most immediate difference when compared to the stock wheelset on our Giant. The offset spoke design means there’s more consistent tension across both sides of the wheel, and the spoke tension is very high out of the box. Couple this with the robust rims themselves you’ve got a wheel that goes exactly where you tell it and which allows your suspension and tyres to work their magic effectively.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -16

On the durability front, we’d recommend regular cleaning and lubing of the freehub pawls and drive ring. The freehub mechanism isn’t as well sealed as some, so after really wet rides, a 30-second wipe out and re-lube wouldn’t hurt. In terms of rim/spoke/truing maintenance, we’ve not needed to so much as look at a spoke key yet. These wheels are straighter than an accountancy convention and still packing more tension than a hostage negotiation.

With an ever increasing number of options for riders looking for carbon trail/all-mountain wheels, we feel that the Bontrager Rhythm Pro rims are much more than just ‘me t00’ wheelset. Whether or not these wheels can steal some glory from the likes of Enve will have to be seen over the longer term, but our initial three months would suggest these hoops could be a serious contender. We’ll endeavour to keep these wheels in the family for another six months or so and report back again.

Bontrager Rhythm Pro carbon wheels -1

 

Flow’s First Bite: Bontrager Rhythm Pro TLR 27.5 carbon wheels

Test_BontragerRhythmWheels0003

One of two all-new carbon mountain bike wheels in the Bontrager line-up, the Rhythm Pro TLR carbon 27.5″ wheels have just found their way into the dropouts of our long-term test Giant Trance Advanced SX all-mountain machine. And all of a sudden our bike just got a whole lot sexier.

Test_BontragerRhythmWheels0004

Built from Trek’s OCLV carbon, these are a tasty set of hoops. While the 1670g weight for the pair won’t necessarily sizzle your sausage, these wheels are built for bombing, not mincing around the trails, so weight alone isn’t the driving design consideration. Our initial impressions of these wheels’ stiffness after just the one ride is very positive; they come out the box with a whopping amount of spoke tension which, when combined with the stiffness of the carbon rim, makes for a rock-solid set of rolling gear.

The rim is offset, to reduce wheel dish and allow more consistent spoke tension.
The rim is offset, to reduce wheel dish and allow more consistent spoke tension.
Test_BontragerRhythmWheels0012
Unlike increasing numbers of wheels which use a tape to seal up the rim bed, the Bonty wheels use these plastic rim strips.

As with other Bontrager rims, converting to tubeless is incredibly clean and simple; Bontrager rim strips snap into place, providing a rock solid seal that won’t lose air over time like some tubeless tapes can. With an internal width of 22.9mm, they’re wide enough to offer good support for 2.3″+ tyres (though not as wide as some other similar offerings, such as Enve’s AM or Specialized’s Traverse rims). To complete the Bontrager setup, we’ve fitted a set of chunky XR4 tyres in a 2.35″ width and we think they’ll totally dominate in loose conditions.

Test_BontragerRhythmWheels0001
Snap the rim strip in place, fit the valves and you’ve got one seriously bombproof tubeless setup.

With the tight tubeless seal and obviously robust nature of the rim construction, we’ve already begun playing with lower tyre pressures than usual, dropping down to around 22psi in the rear and even lower up front. Unlike alloy wheels, you don’t feel compelled to wince every time the rim bottoms out against the tyre – they just feel tough!

Test_BontragerRhythmWheels0002

One of the other highlights of these wheels is the new Rapid Drive freebub, which has exceptionally quick pick-up, thanks to 54 engagement points. Of course, they sound bloody great too. We’ll be running these wheels for the next few months and we’re looking forward to seeing just how hard they can go.

Test_BontragerRhythmWheels0016
Meaty. Will the XR4s prove a worthy replacement for the Schwalbe Hans Dampfs we like so much?

Tested: Four great trail bike treads

Looking for some rubber with bite? Feast your eyes on these four tyres – treads that roll fast but fill you with confidence in corners and when it gets rough.

Maxxis Ardent

Sizes available: 26, 27.5 and 29″ diameters in 2.25 and 2.4″ widths.

Ardent Masthead

The Ardent has been part of the Maxxis lineup for years. It’s a trail tyre, through and through, sitting somewhere between the Crossmark and legendary Minion in terms of rolling speed/grip stakes. As an all-weather, all-rounder, we rate the Ardents very highly.

In a 2.25″ size, the Ardent has a good, tall bag to it, offering plenty of cushion and encouraging lower pressures. It’s also available in a 2.4″ which we’d consider as a great front tyre option for looser or sandier conditions; 2.25″ out back, 2.4″ up front = aggressive trail riding perfection.

Ramped centre tread for speed. The intermediate 'shoulder' area is very open meaning it's quite a transition from centre tread to the side knobs.

The tread pattern is pretty unique. It’s a fast rolling pattern, thanks to the sloped centre tread, and the side knobs offer good support whilst still retaining enough sensitivity for grip on wet roots thanks to extensive siping. The intermediate zone, between upright and full leant over, is a little vague – the knobs in this space are sparse and fairly flexible. We noticed this most on hardpack or sand, while in loose conditions it didn’t seem to affect the tyre greatly. In a nut shell, this tyre works best if you’re fully committed to a corner and tip it in!

Strengths: Fastest rolling of this bunch. Lightweight. Durable compounds. Good range of sizes.

Weaknesses: A bit vague in intermediate corners.


Bontrager XR4

Sizes available: 26×2.2″, 26×2.35 and 29×2.3″

Web Test Bontrager XR4

Bontrager have really hit the mark with the XR4 tyres for all round aggressive trail use. The XR4s are quite voluminous for a 2.35″ tyre and exhibit a wide footprint. That, in combination with a round profile, make for a lot of traction and predictable cornering behaviour.

The blocky tread is somewhat of a wonderment, being very grippy on the loose stuff as well as equally adherent on bare rock – something we weren’t expecting. This property in a tyre can often result from a softer, faster wearing compound – not so with the XR4s. The XR4s actually surprised us with their durability and resilience considering the irreverent treatment we gave them.

The aggressive XR4 in 2.35" size

We only had one small gripe with the tyre in that we had to use a bit more sealant than we were used to prevent them losing air during the ride. Otherwised they ticked all the boxes. Overall a well mannered tyre and a better choice for those whose trail choice is more rocky road than caramel slice.

Strengths: Meaty, moto-style tread digs into loose surfaces. Great under brakes.

Weaknesses: Not the best for tubeless use.


Continental Trail King

Sizes Available: 26×2.2″

Continental Trail King

The most aggressive trail tyre in the Continental line-up is the Trail King (previously known, rather kinkily, as the Rubber Queen). It’s a blocky tread that reminds us vaguely of the pattern found on Schwalbe’s Hans Dampf – that can’t be a bad thing – and was developed with input from freeride guru Richie Schley.

There are UST or ‘Revo’ Tubeless Ready versions of this tyre – unless you’re very hard on tyres, we’d suggest the Revo version is fine. With the Protection reinforced sidewalls the casing is very tough and while the lovely  logos of our test tyres are pretty scuffed up, we haven’t experienced any sidewall cuts or tears.

Continental Trail King Protection

Conti’s Black Chili compound seems to improve with use. The grip afforded by the Trail Kings got better with a bit of trail time, the tyres losing their coating and the knobs becoming more pliable (but still supportive). Given their robust almost ‘paddle-style’ centre tread blocks, the Trail Kings aren’t sluggish at all, something we can only attribute to the Black Chili compound. Compared to some of the other tyres here, the Trail Kings are a little lean on air volume. They are available in a 2.4″ as well, but not in Australia at present.

Strengths: Resilient sidewall. Black Chili compound wears well.

Weaknesses: Not available in 27.5 or 29″ in Australia yet. Skatey at first.


Schwalbe Hans Dampf

Sizes available: 26×2.35″, 27.5×2.35″, 27.5×2.25″, 29×2.35″

Schwalbe Hans Dampf

Like crack cocaine, the Schwalbe Hans Dampf tyres are expensive and addictive. Billed as a Jack of all trades tread, we’d have to agree that this is some of the best all rounder rubber available and we’ve used these tyres on multiple bikes now.

The sheer size of these tyres comes as bit of a shock. Marked as a 2.35″, they dwarf just about all other non-downhill specific tyres out there. But despite this, their weight is  reasonable and their rolling speed remarkable too.

At low pressures, the Hans Dampf has a large footprint that floats beautifully over sand and delivers mountains of climbing traction. All round grip is superb; from hardpack to rubble to mud, the Hans Dampf is versatile like few other treads we’ve ever used. They’re very tough too, particularly in the Snake Skin sidewall option.

Hans DampfThe harder-wearing PaceStar compound is recommended for the rear or you’ll be shelling out for new rubber very quickly. On the front, we’ve found the durability fantastic, even with the softer TrailStar compound. The tyres in the shot above were installed at the same time, and you can see how pronounced the rear wear is.

Strengths: Huge volume at a reasonable weight. Grippy compound. Stable sidewalls.

Weaknesses: Big dollars.

Interview: Frank Stacy, Bontrager’s Rubber Wizard

Frank Stacy’s life is an exercise in traction. A tyre engineer and designer, Frank has spent years defining that perfect balance we take for granted when we roll our treads out onto the dirt. During his recent visit to the Antipodes, Frank took some time out from field-testing to explain to us the challenges, processes and black arts of tyre design and construction. Here’s what he had to say.

 

The evolution of a tyre designer

I grew up in the motorcycle industry. My family owned a motorcycle dealership near Buffalo, New York and we all practised and raced together. Dad had an amazing work ethic and he was a top local racer. He taught me so much about the business, about motorcycle mechanics and how the smallest of changes to the bike, such as tyre pressure, tread pattern or suspension can add up to big gains on the race track. I’ve never forgotten this and I continue to emphasise this to the young riders I work with today: Pay attention to the little things. Small differences, they add up in the end.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview2
Frank Stacy and Emily Batty. Beauty and the Rubber Beast. No second guesses who’s who…

I raced motorcycles as a professional from age 18 to 28 when, in 1981, Dunlop Tire Corp hired me as their lead test rider. They sent me around the world to work with incredible groups of tyre engineers and test riders to learn the art of tread design, casing structure, rubber compounding, tyre manufacturing and tyre testing.

In early 1995 my wife Carol and I started our own company, Stacy Testing and Tire Specialist Inc. Later that year Specialized Bicycle Components approached me about designing and developing its complete tyre line for the US and the world. I worked with Specialized until June 2010 – after 15 years, I was eager to grow and focus on the latest technology and innovation in the bicycle tyre industry. I received a call from the tyre management team at Trek Bontrager. I met with them and after one meeting they had convinced me they were eager to improve, and that they would provide the backing needed to build the Bontrager tyre line to be a leading brand. So in July 2010 I signed on to be Bontrager’s director of Tire and Rubber Technology.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview3
Seeing Aaron Gwin on top of the downhill world riding Bontrager rubber must’ve been one hell of a feeling for Frank and Carol Stacy.

My hands-on experience in motorcycles has given me an advantage in what I bring to the bicycle tyre industry. I’ve always felt that off-road motorcycle tyres have a lot of cross-over to mountain bike tyres. For example, the tread pattern ‘land-to-sea’ ratio, the casing structure and the rubber compound are all key points. Where there is a big difference is weight and rolling resistance. These two areas are low priority on a motorcycle tyre because a motorbike has power to spare, but with bicycles it’s very different. Also, pinch flats on motorcycle tyres are almost non-existent, but they’re a huge factor for mountain bike tyres.

On working with Bontrager

Working with Bontrager now on its tyre program has been a very positive experience and I feel like we’ve made some great changes. The thing that surprised me the most when I came to Bontrager was that some of its factory mountain bike race teams were racing on other brands of tyres. This blew me away. First on my list was to prove to those teams that with their help and the right people behind the tyre program, we can make winning tyres. After one year of designing treads, casing structures and compounds, and tons of work, we now have all the factory mountain bike teams, and several support teams all using Bontrager tyres. We enjoyed huge success over the past two years in cross country, enduro and downhill. Seeing Aaron Gwin on the podium at the Downhill World Cups, arguably the best proving ground for mountain bike tyres, was definitely a good feeling.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview9

Proving the product at the highest levels is our top priority at Trek Bontrager. I’ve always been a believer in field-testing, and to me, results at the top tier of racing are a true indicator of tyre performance.

Having said that, there’s a huge development process that leads to a tyre being raced on that kind of stage, a mixture of both lab testing and rider feedback. I’ve always believed you have to understand the tyre’s intended application before you even begin. For example, for cross country, fast rolling and lightweight are a priority, traction a close second, with handling and wear in third. For downhill tyres, traction is way out front in priority, handling is second, weight is third and wear is a distant fourth. Once you have your priorities, you can begin to decide what the tread should look like and what materials are used for casing and compound spec.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview11

Designing rubber compounding is an art. There are four main properties in rubber compounds: polymer (rubber can be natural, synthetic or a mixture of both), carbon black (which affects the tyre’s durability, hardness and traction level, and makes the rubber black), oils (which alters traction and hardness) and fillers (basically to protect against cracking, ozone and those types of things). I’m not a chemist but I have many years of designing the basic formula for rubber compounds to learn which part of the formula affects what. I determine the basic formula by analysing competitors’ compounds through field-testing and laboratory research. Across the Bontrager tyre range we use around eight different compounds, some of which are proprietary to Trek Bontrager.

The best proving grounds

In terms of the actual testing, we focus on four main elements in the lab: rolling resistance, puncture and cut resistance, compound analysis and wet/dry traction. For some of our lab testing we engage a third party, based in Finland, too. The testing in the field is where my passion lies – I’m very hands-on with my testing programs. I monitor everything from the fitting of the tyres to tyre pressures, and I watch the tyres with my own eyes, on various areas of the course, and I collect data from the riders firsthand.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview15

The first thing I tell the test riders is, go out and learn your lines and set the bike up how you want it. Once you’ve done this, the only change we’ll make is to the tyres under you. Be consistent with each set of tyres: hit the same lines and do your best to carry the same amount of speed everywhere. If you mess up, throw that lap away and start over. I don’t need lap records, it’s most important to be consistent and pay attention to the small differences.

I’ve worked with several of the best riders in the world, motorcycle and bicycle. I’ve learned that just because someone can go fast doesn’t mean they will be a good test rider. It takes a certain feel to be a good test rider, and only a small percentage of racers have it. Over time it’s rewarding to see their education in tyre-testing develop and grow, and to ultimately choose the right tyre for the right conditions to race and win.

My wife Carol comes along to the tyre tests and takes photos. That gives us the ability to review the terrain and the surfaces after the test, and to compare with other tests we’ve completed. Additionally, Carol’s photos go with my test reports so the Trek staff can get a better visual of our test without being there.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview14

It’s undeniable that tyres have come a long way in the past 15 or so years. Just take a look at tubeless-ready technology for an example. Tubeless didn’t start out so good because too many companies rushed it to market before they understand the application. Now, however, even the weekend rider can set his or her tyres up tubeless and enjoy the benefits. Having said that, tubeless technology for downhill is one area where there’s room for considerable improvement. There are a few top brands testing downhill tubeless and this drives technology, but it’s not going to be nearly as easy as it was for cross country, trail or even road tubeless. Motocross tyres are still tube type – I worked on a motocross tubeless project for Dunlop Tires back in the mid 80s. Even though we won races with it, it had too many teething problems so it never went to production. But I’m pretty confident that, with Trek Bontrager design, technology and resources, we’re going to get it right, so stay tuned.

I’ve always said if you’re in it to be the best, you never down tools with design, development or testing – we’ve just scratched the surface of where tyres can go. I’m constantly searching for the next generation rubber compound, casing material and tread design… There’s always lots more to do!

 

Interview: Frank Stacy, Bontrager's Rubber Wizard

Frank Stacy’s life is an exercise in traction. A tyre engineer and designer, Frank has spent years defining that perfect balance we take for granted when we roll our treads out onto the dirt. During his recent visit to the Antipodes, Frank took some time out from field-testing to explain to us the challenges, processes and black arts of tyre design and construction. Here’s what he had to say.

 

The evolution of a tyre designer

I grew up in the motorcycle industry. My family owned a motorcycle dealership near Buffalo, New York and we all practised and raced together. Dad had an amazing work ethic and he was a top local racer. He taught me so much about the business, about motorcycle mechanics and how the smallest of changes to the bike, such as tyre pressure, tread pattern or suspension can add up to big gains on the race track. I’ve never forgotten this and I continue to emphasise this to the young riders I work with today: Pay attention to the little things. Small differences, they add up in the end.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview2
Frank Stacy and Emily Batty. Beauty and the Rubber Beast. No second guesses who’s who…

I raced motorcycles as a professional from age 18 to 28 when, in 1981, Dunlop Tire Corp hired me as their lead test rider. They sent me around the world to work with incredible groups of tyre engineers and test riders to learn the art of tread design, casing structure, rubber compounding, tyre manufacturing and tyre testing.

In early 1995 my wife Carol and I started our own company, Stacy Testing and Tire Specialist Inc. Later that year Specialized Bicycle Components approached me about designing and developing its complete tyre line for the US and the world. I worked with Specialized until June 2010 – after 15 years, I was eager to grow and focus on the latest technology and innovation in the bicycle tyre industry. I received a call from the tyre management team at Trek Bontrager. I met with them and after one meeting they had convinced me they were eager to improve, and that they would provide the backing needed to build the Bontrager tyre line to be a leading brand. So in July 2010 I signed on to be Bontrager’s director of Tire and Rubber Technology.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview3
Seeing Aaron Gwin on top of the downhill world riding Bontrager rubber must’ve been one hell of a feeling for Frank and Carol Stacy.

My hands-on experience in motorcycles has given me an advantage in what I bring to the bicycle tyre industry. I’ve always felt that off-road motorcycle tyres have a lot of cross-over to mountain bike tyres. For example, the tread pattern ‘land-to-sea’ ratio, the casing structure and the rubber compound are all key points. Where there is a big difference is weight and rolling resistance. These two areas are low priority on a motorcycle tyre because a motorbike has power to spare, but with bicycles it’s very different. Also, pinch flats on motorcycle tyres are almost non-existent, but they’re a huge factor for mountain bike tyres.

On working with Bontrager

Working with Bontrager now on its tyre program has been a very positive experience and I feel like we’ve made some great changes. The thing that surprised me the most when I came to Bontrager was that some of its factory mountain bike race teams were racing on other brands of tyres. This blew me away. First on my list was to prove to those teams that with their help and the right people behind the tyre program, we can make winning tyres. After one year of designing treads, casing structures and compounds, and tons of work, we now have all the factory mountain bike teams, and several support teams all using Bontrager tyres. We enjoyed huge success over the past two years in cross country, enduro and downhill. Seeing Aaron Gwin on the podium at the Downhill World Cups, arguably the best proving ground for mountain bike tyres, was definitely a good feeling.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview9

Proving the product at the highest levels is our top priority at Trek Bontrager. I’ve always been a believer in field-testing, and to me, results at the top tier of racing are a true indicator of tyre performance.

Having said that, there’s a huge development process that leads to a tyre being raced on that kind of stage, a mixture of both lab testing and rider feedback. I’ve always believed you have to understand the tyre’s intended application before you even begin. For example, for cross country, fast rolling and lightweight are a priority, traction a close second, with handling and wear in third. For downhill tyres, traction is way out front in priority, handling is second, weight is third and wear is a distant fourth. Once you have your priorities, you can begin to decide what the tread should look like and what materials are used for casing and compound spec.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview11

Designing rubber compounding is an art. There are four main properties in rubber compounds: polymer (rubber can be natural, synthetic or a mixture of both), carbon black (which affects the tyre’s durability, hardness and traction level, and makes the rubber black), oils (which alters traction and hardness) and fillers (basically to protect against cracking, ozone and those types of things). I’m not a chemist but I have many years of designing the basic formula for rubber compounds to learn which part of the formula affects what. I determine the basic formula by analysing competitors’ compounds through field-testing and laboratory research. Across the Bontrager tyre range we use around eight different compounds, some of which are proprietary to Trek Bontrager.

The best proving grounds

In terms of the actual testing, we focus on four main elements in the lab: rolling resistance, puncture and cut resistance, compound analysis and wet/dry traction. For some of our lab testing we engage a third party, based in Finland, too. The testing in the field is where my passion lies – I’m very hands-on with my testing programs. I monitor everything from the fitting of the tyres to tyre pressures, and I watch the tyres with my own eyes, on various areas of the course, and I collect data from the riders firsthand.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview15

The first thing I tell the test riders is, go out and learn your lines and set the bike up how you want it. Once you’ve done this, the only change we’ll make is to the tyres under you. Be consistent with each set of tyres: hit the same lines and do your best to carry the same amount of speed everywhere. If you mess up, throw that lap away and start over. I don’t need lap records, it’s most important to be consistent and pay attention to the small differences.

I’ve worked with several of the best riders in the world, motorcycle and bicycle. I’ve learned that just because someone can go fast doesn’t mean they will be a good test rider. It takes a certain feel to be a good test rider, and only a small percentage of racers have it. Over time it’s rewarding to see their education in tyre-testing develop and grow, and to ultimately choose the right tyre for the right conditions to race and win.

My wife Carol comes along to the tyre tests and takes photos. That gives us the ability to review the terrain and the surfaces after the test, and to compare with other tests we’ve completed. Additionally, Carol’s photos go with my test reports so the Trek staff can get a better visual of our test without being there.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview14

It’s undeniable that tyres have come a long way in the past 15 or so years. Just take a look at tubeless-ready technology for an example. Tubeless didn’t start out so good because too many companies rushed it to market before they understand the application. Now, however, even the weekend rider can set his or her tyres up tubeless and enjoy the benefits. Having said that, tubeless technology for downhill is one area where there’s room for considerable improvement. There are a few top brands testing downhill tubeless and this drives technology, but it’s not going to be nearly as easy as it was for cross country, trail or even road tubeless. Motocross tyres are still tube type – I worked on a motocross tubeless project for Dunlop Tires back in the mid 80s. Even though we won races with it, it had too many teething problems so it never went to production. But I’m pretty confident that, with Trek Bontrager design, technology and resources, we’re going to get it right, so stay tuned.

I’ve always said if you’re in it to be the best, you never down tools with design, development or testing – we’ve just scratched the surface of where tyres can go. I’m constantly searching for the next generation rubber compound, casing material and tread design… There’s always lots more to do!

 

Tested: Bontrager XR4 Expert TLR Tyre

Bontrager have really hit the mark with the XR4 tyres for all round aggressive trail use. The XR4s are quite voluminous for a 2.35″ tyre and exhibit a wide footprint. That, in combination with a round profile, make for a lot of traction and predictable cornering behaviour.

The Bontrager XR4s are aggressive trail tyres.

The blocky tread is somewhat of a wonderment, being very grippy on the loose stuff as well as equally adherent on bare rock – something we weren’t expecting. This property in a tyre can often result from a softer, faster wearing compound – not so with the XR4s. The XR4s actually surprised us with their durability and resilience considering the irreverent treatment we gave them.

We only had one small gripe with the tyre in that we had to use a bit more sealant than we were used to prevent them losing air during the ride. Otherwised they ticked all the boxes.

Overall a well mannered tyre and a better choice for those whose trail choice is more rocky road than caramel slice.

Comparison: Shimano vs Bontrager Shoes

Designed specifically for riders with X-factor, Shimano’s SH-WM82 and Bontrager’s RL Mountain WSD race shoes will have you putting the foot down with confidence in a range of performance-demanding riding scenarios.

Flow tested the shoes head-to-head and read on to see which one will suit you better.

Shimano SH-WM82

Shimano SH-WM82 mountain bike shoe.

Positives: Light and stiff for good pedalling efficiency! Deep tread recesses the cleat.
Negatives: That hot pink trim ain’t for everyone. Synthetic upper is less malleable.

Contact: Shimano Australia
Price: $189
Weight: 315g each or 630g/pair (size 39)

We loved the SH-WM82’s ski boot-style ratchet buckle across the arch/ankle, with its two buckle-levers. The larger lever lifts to tighten the strap; and smaller top lever presses to loosened the strap. This escape lever was a real favourite, especially when it came to post-ride shower queues. But the real beauty of this fancy lever system is that we could operate it on the fly, meaning we could tweak the shoe-fit without having to pull over.

We loved the racket buckle.  It was comfortable and worked well.

The sole on the SH-WM82 is good and stiff, with no torsion. This gave us a solid contact point with the bike, one that did not absorb any of that force we put into our pedal stroke, and we could feel variations in the bike’s handling and the track surface through the shoe. And hint of lateral bend, barely detectable to the naked eye, meant our feet were not left fighting to bend against the shoe through every stride or stroke.

The WM82’s hardy rubber sole has a well spaced, high-profile tread that rises above the cleat (we used the SM-SH51 SPD), and the benefits of this arrangement were immediately clear. The ‘recessed’ cleat meant we could clomp around HQ and even down the stairs to the car without going for a skate.

Placing the cleat a little lower than the sole makes on-foot journeys a little safer.

Out on the trails, the combined effect of the sturdy, non-slip sole and the deep tread meant we could walk over rock and through sand, mud and damp grass with confidence – especially useful at this year’s Scott24, when the rain played havoc with track conditions, and while we were filming on the rocky trails around Alice Springs.

The WM82s have held up well to two months of abuse on the sharp rock and gritty sand of our test tracks in Alice Springs and on the dust and rock in Darwin and the mud trails of the Scott24 in Canberra. (If mud is a regular feature in your riding diet, you can get spikes for the WM82 from any Shimano stockist.)

After two months, the synthetic leather shows no tears or general wear, and it shines up well with a quick wipe with a damp cloth. The soles have a bit of rock scuff – around the spike holes – but this is pretty good compared to the amount of wear we usually see on shoes worn on the trails around Alice Springs, where the rocks are super-sharp.

The Shimano Wm-82 on the trails of Alice Springs.

 

Bontrager RL Mountain WSD

Bontrager RL Mountain WSD mountain bike shoe.

Contact: Trek Bikes Australia (Bontrager)
Price: RRP $169
Weight: 310g each or 620g/pair (size 39)

Positives: Light shoes with stiff soles, comfy leather upper and stylin’ looks.
Negatives: Cut very low around the ankle. The ‘two-position’ Micro Fit buckle is a pipe dream.

Bontrager’s latest race offering for women, the RL Mountain WSD, scored high in style points and comfort, with good energy-transference capabilities, and shares many of the features to be found in Bontrager’s pro-level race shoes.

Like the Shimano SH-WM82, the Bontrager RL Mountain has two velcro straps along the foot and a ratchet-style fastener around the ankle to help the shoe clamp around your foot. As well as looking high-tech, the RL Mountain’s two-in-one silver ratchet buckle held firm and offered a snug fit, though the split-unit catch in the buckle seemed to deliver more gimmickry than subtle ‘two-position’ Micro Fit adjustment.

The RL’s silver ratchet buckle held firm and offered a snug fit.

Fit-wise, the RL Mountain differed from its Shimano cousin in that it was cut lower around the ankle, and the heel cup felt a trace shallower, with a narrower general shape and a slightly more pronounced arch. For us, this amounted to less surface area for the shoe to grab our foot with and a trace more wriggle room around the ankle while we were pedalling. But the leather upper and tongue on the RL Mountain did give a more subtly moulded fit than could be achieved by the Shimano’s synthetic upper, making the Bontrager a comfier choice for those longer rides. And shucks, if you have the Cinderella hoof this shoe is made for, you’d be winning in the style stakes because the Bontrager RL Mountain WSD is one good-looking clodhopper. Black with aqua-blue and silver – we love it!

The Bronze Series Composite sole was not quite as grippy on rock as its Shimano cousin, and the tread’s tighter, more intricate tread pattern collected a few Central Australian pebbles under the ball of the foot. But overall, the Bontrager RL Mountain held up to the test conditions we stomped and pedalled it through in Alice and on the dried-out, sandy clay trails around Christchurch, and the silky dust of an intemperately warm Mt Buller in Victoria.

A good sole, but also a stone collector at times.

After two months of steady hammering, the RL Mountain shoe still looks sharp. The buckle on this shoe has fewer scratches and dings than its Shimano counterpart, and the leather upper and synthetic rand has few if any abrasions. On the under-side, there are a few cuts under the toe, but generally the sole shows little wear – the RL Mountain is still revving to go.

Collecting dust, for testing purposes.

The Verdict

The Shimano SH-WM82 and the Bontrager RL Mountain WSD race shoes have been cut to fit the female foot, with a narrower, lower-volume toe boxes and shallower heel cups, and offer a snug fit, if the shoe fits, of course.

Matching the right shoe to your foot shape and size is the key, though. If you’re looking to add one or both of these race shoes to your riding kit, try them on later in the day, when your feet have walked a few kays. ‘Cause let’s face it, for most of your racing, you’re not going to be daisy-fresh.

The bottom line: these two high-performance race shoes are topnotch. But epic backcountry tour riders and comfort queens beware: these podium-hoppers are not for you. Stiffer than that proverbial banana in the pocket, the Shimano SH-WM82 and the Bontrager RL Mountain WSD offer good connection with your bike, improved pedalling efficiency and plenty of opportunity to adjust your shoe-fit without interrupting your cadence. Put a pair on and get ready to put a foot on that podium!