Tubeless wheelsets have been widely available in mountain biking for around five years but it’s taken some time for the technology to cross the divide into the road market.
But Bontrager have made the leap for 2013, introducing a three-strong range of tubeless-compatible road wheels, two tubeless-ready tyres and, to ease the transition for riders switching from tubes to tubeless, an upgrade kit which includes tyres, rim strips, valves, sealant and a valve tool.
We spotted the full TLR (that stands for Tubeless Ready) range at Trek World last summer. It’s now hit the market and we’re going tubeless having received the Bontrager Race Lite TLR wheelset (£450) and TLR Road Upgrade kit (£124.99) for review.
How does it work? The TLR road range borrows the same proven technology as Bontrager’s tubeless off-road range, using a moulded plastic strip to seal the rim, a latex-based and ammonia free sealant to achieve an air-tight, tyre bead-to-rim interface and a removable valve stem to ease sealant installation.
This marks our first experience with tubeless wheels for road and the claimed benefits are significant. Bontrager say the absence of an inner tube reduces weight and eliminates the possibility of pinch flats, while the tyre and sealant work together to seal up small punctures as they occur, and the ability to run tyres at a lower pressure increases traction and comfort.
The Race Lite wheelset sits in the middle of Bontrager’s TLR range at £450 and with a claimed weight of 1,500g, above the entry-level Race TLR hoops (£220, 1,690g) and beneath the top-of-the-range Race X Lite wheelset (£750, 1,480g) which, while not much lighter, have a DT Swiss-assembled hub to justify the extra cost.
Our test wheels, which are compatible with Shimano and SRAM 9/10-speed and Shimano 11-speed cassettes, have 18 straight-pull spokes at the front and 24 at the rear, using a stacked spoke pattern on the driveside of the rear wheel spokes to improve wheel rigidity. Bontrager describe it as a “agile, lightweight road wheelset for racing and training.”
The wheels are compatible with traditional clincher tyres but we are, of course, more interested in going tubeless, and in bundling everything you need to convert into one package, Bontrager are trying to make it as easy as possible for tubeless-compatible wheel owners to ditch tubes and go tubeless.
Included in the TLR Road Upgrade kit box are two rim strips and matching valves to convert your wheels to tubeless, a 59ml bottle of TLR sealant (enough to fill two TLR Road tyres, according to Bontrager), a valve tool and two tubeless-ready Bontrager TLR tyres.
Two models make up Bontrager’s new TLR tyre range. The R2 TLR (available separately for £39.99 each, 280g per 23mm tyre) has a 60tpi casing, but it’s the lighter and more supple 120tpi R3 TLR (available separately for £49.99 each, 265g per 23mm tyre) that is included in the Road Upgrade kit.
The tyres have a kevlar bead, rather than carbon, as carbon stretches under inflation and that is often compensated by an undersized bead. Bontrager believe their high-modulus kevlar bead is resistant to stretch and easier to install.
The Road Upgrade kit isn’t essential if you want to go tubeless. All wheels in the TLR range come with a rim strip and valve if bought separately, as opposed to hoops specced on a 2013 Trek Madone or Domane, so all you need is tyres and sealant to make the switch.
But we’re most interested in testing Bontrager’s tubeless technology as an overall system – wheels, tyres and upgrade kit. How easy is it to go tubeless and are the benefits worth it? Time to find out.
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