Bontrager have a wide range of road bike tyres, which in Australia fall into two classifications; The R3, R for road I presume and marketed as (an everyday road tyre), and AW3 where the AW stands for All Weather. Since the only aspect of weather that concerns tyre choice is rain, we are safe to assume that the main advantage over the R3 is wet weather grip levels. It’s also the “hard case” which is not a slight against its personality, but rather that it is equipped with additional layers of puncture resistant materials. Taking a glance at the supplied marketing materials we see that this is a “A durable road tyre with leading protection against flats and a long-lasting tread for confidence in all conditions. A set and forget tyre for commuters and road riders”. It weighs in at 315g and 60 tpi.
Initial thoughts out of the box
Hard case is right. With the additional layers of puncture protection “a nylon/aramid sub-tread weave and an additional bead-to-bead nylon layer” makes these very difficult to bend along the centre line of the tread (ie folding the beads together). That red layer is genuinely stiff as a board. The sidewalls are additionally stiff, even when compared to other durable tyres in my garage which doesn’t bode well for smooth ride. My mind wanders to puncture kings like the Maxxis REFUSE, and Continental Gatorskins. Although it is true I haven’t handled these tyres for some years no, I believe the AW3 to be stiffer yet. Looking over the marketing material I see comments such as “fast rolling” but nothing along the lines of “smooth” not unsurprisingly.
Fitted to a 24mm wide rim, these 25mm wide tyres measured at 26mm. Right on the money there. Fitting, was difficult but not unreasonably so and I did so with no tools. The tread pattern is directional – meaning you do need to pay attention to the arrows on the side wall when fitting. I failed to do this on the rear wheel and so was forced to remove it and re-install. Again, difficult but not impossible. With a tyre lever it would be easy enough. It’s worth mentioning that the rims I fitted these to were Rovals, and they are not tubless ready.
On the Road
Well, I can say up front my fears of these feeling as smooth as a steel rimmed wagon wheel were shown to be false in the first kilometre. The road feel, for the build they have, is excellent giving a confidence building smooth ride just like the advertisement said. Initially I found them to be a bit harsh at 75psi (for my 75kg plus 7kg bike) and after dropping 10psi out they produced plenty of road feel with not a hint of being harsh over bumps. Normally a soft sidewall is employed in a fast tyre to all the tyre to deform with as little energy lost as possible which leads to a nice road feel. Here, a lower pressure has achieved the same without getting low enough to worry about pinch flats. Sure, there is more energy lost in flexing the harder side wall but they are not race tyres. Bontrager claim extra low rolling resistance and the seat of my pants tells me this is likely to be true since I had no complaints there. I did not test the puncture resistance (I got no flats) but given the construction I have no doubt they stand up to marketing promises here too. I rode these on wet roads, and in reasonably fast corners and found no concerns with grip levels although I have obviously not tested them to their limits.
Despite my initial misgivings, these are indeed a tyre I would use and recommend for training, commuting, and for those who are not concerned with inking every ounce of speed on their rides. Indeed “set and forget” giving nice feel, with performance in the wet and dry. They stand up to their marketing claims as far as a short-term test can prove and having the ability to stress less about sharps on the road is certainly a boon. If you are not after an ultralight, ultrafast race tyre, then I reckon give these a go.