The not-so-minor details
Bontrager Rhythm Pro TLR Disc wheels
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Cross country weight.
Easy to maintain hubs.
Freehub sealing is only average.
Hard to remove tyres.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.