Bontrager tires are most often spotted on Trek bikes in the wild, but for the last 6 months we’ve been riding Bontrager’s XR 4 and XR 3 Team Issue tires on our all mountain trail rigs with great results. Highlights of the XR Team Issue tires include ramped center knobs that roll quickly, and confidence inspiring square edged blocks on the outside. There are plenty of good treads out there though; it’s the stuff beneath the surface that impressed us.
All Mountain All-Arounder?
Ask any mountain biker what their favorite tires are, and you’re sure to get a number of enthusiastic responses from fans stating their choice is the best, although they might “wear out fast”. Personally I prefer my cornering traction packed with performance with a side helping of longevity.
Though entry level models of popular treads exist, premium rubber is not cheap. Maybe I just want to have it all, and truth be told, I’m a bit lazy when it comes to changing tires, especially when you consider the extra hassle of setting up tires tubeless. Because of that, we prefer to run tread patterns that work in a variety of conditions, and hope to get some decent mileage in before having to replace them.
My main trail bike currently is a Nomad, an extremely capable bike that requires tread that can hold up under duress. For the last year, we’ve done a lot of rides where we earned our turns, so an all around tire like the Bontrager XR4/3 has been key. Large air volume and reliable and predictable performance is a major consideration as is the tire casing. We’ve tossed more than a few tires that failed with large punctures, torn sidewalls or had issues with side knobs ripping off. At the same time, we’re willing to give up uber burly tread and heavy duty casings for the ability to ride all day. The Bontrager XR 4 and XR 3 have fit the bill quite nicely.
The XR 4 and XR 3 feature center knobs ramped edges for fast rolling characteristics, and are siped for increased traction in a variety of conditions. They use Bontrager’s Inner Strength casing, which adds sidewall protection without bulk. They use a dual compound (62a/60a) with Bontrager’s Inner strength 120 TPI casing, aramid bead and of course are tubeless ready.
Both measuring in at 27.5x 2.35, the XRs are suitable for aggressive trail riding, though we subjected ours on everything from XC epics to DH shuttle runs. The Aramid bead edition of the XR4 has a listed weight of 780g. XC tires these are not, but true all mountain meats that are light for their class, capable of abuse while still remaining nimble on all day adventures.
On the Trail
The XR 4 isn’t the most aggressive tread, but punches high above its weight class. It’s a more aggressive tire than the XR 3, so we put it to use in the front, paired with the faster rolling XR3 in the rear. The XR 3 weighs in at 705g, one of the lightest rear tires I’ve run in some time. (Maybe too light for the Nomad)
Wrapping up another day of flat free riding in Sedona, Arizona.
The tread of the XR 4 is inline with what we’d expect from a good all around tread. It carries speed well in a variety of trail conditions without feeling slow on hard pack. The dual compound 62a/60a durometer rubber adds a bit of corning bite while maintaining durability.
The setup has performed well almost everywhere we’ve taken them. From our local stomping grounds in the Bay Area to the southwest, they’ve proved to be reliable, long wearing treads with solid performance. Considering the light weight, durability and versatility of these tires, they’re a solid value.
The area they didn’t excel in was the wet sticky soil in Ashland. While they shed mud adequately and didn’t pack up, on the steep, loose and wet secret trails the XR 3 is too diminutive to inspire confidence. Running the XR 4 both in the front and rear would have been much preferred in these conditions, but the reality is you trade fast rolling for grip in the wet. No tire works well everywhere.
Mid ride rest stop in the Las Vegas area.
I generally run more air pressure than many of my peers, and typically run 32-35 in the front and 34-38 in the rear. I like to load tires aggressively in the turns, and while 3-5 psi less would undoubtedly provide more traction, I’m simply more comfortable with the feel of a stiffer tire and would rather force knobs into dirt than allow the tire to deform to provide traction. I also hate the feel of my rim on rocks, which seems to happen when I run less pressure. It’s a compromise, but one that’s kept my rims round for almost a full season and usually keeps my tires intact.
For tires weighing less than 800 grams, I’m amazed by the durability of the Bontrager casing. They held up on a trip to the southwest and paired with Bontrager’s sealant, we didn’t have issues with flats, though we picked up more than our share of thorns.
Picking out thorns and topping off tires before heading out for another day on the trail near Las Vegas.
Experimenting with lower pressures unfortunately led to the demise of the XR3. While riding a rock garden on a local trail popular with gravity riders, my rim came into contact with a sharp rock. I was running 28-30 psi in the back and I ended up with a puncture in the casing the sealant valiantly tried to fill. It failed to do so, and I ended up retiring the tire after running a tube for a few more rides. I don’t blame the XR3 in anyway, I’ve blown up at least two other tires in the same spot and I know better than to run pressures that low with my riding style. A bike like the Nomad is usually better served with more durable casings, and I’m impressed I got away with as much as I did.
If I get another set I’d run the Super Enduro SE3 Team issue version of the XR3 for a rear tire. It’s 130 grams more, but offers more sidewall and subtread protection, and is still decently light at 835g for the 27.5″ x 2.35.
I’m still rolling the XR4 in the front, and it’s probably the first tire I can remember I’ll be replacing from actually wearing it down. It’s starting to show the use and abuse, plus we’re in the wet season here in the northwest, so it’s time to swap it out for something with bigger lugs, but it definitely is a tire I’d run again.
Inga’s been running her set for almost a full season and while her rear XR3 is starting to look worn down, her XR 4 in the front is still going strong. All knobs are still connected to the casing too — more than can be said for other popular models in this category!
The XR4 Team Issue Tire 27.5 x 2.35 has a listed weight of 780 g and sells for $74.99
Check it out at Bontrager.com
The XR3 27.5 x 2.35 has a listed weight of 705 g. and sells for $74.99
Check it out at Bontrager.com
Locations tested: Portland area, Bay Area, Ashland/ Medford, Las Vegas, Sedona.