Bontrager Aeolus 3 TLR D3 wheelset – review

Expert road bike reviews and the latest road bike news, features and advice. Find rides & events, training articles and participate in our forums

Share

Wheels

Bontrager Aeolus 3 TLR D3 wheelset – review

Superb all-around carbon wheels that are now lighter and tubeless-compatible, but let down as a package by very poor brake pads

Bontrager have redesigned all of their Aeolus carbon fibre race wheels this year, and the clincher versions in particular have dropped weight across the board as well as becoming tubeless compatible. So even if you don’t fancy venturing into the world of road tubeless, you’ll still find yourself with a lighter set of wheels than ever before, which can’t be bad.

The Aeolus range is made up of 12 wheelsets – four clincher, four tubular and four disc – in a range of depths, from the 35mm-deep Aeolus 3 wheels we have here to the 90mm-deep Aeolus 9s. At one of the scale you’re focusing on weight, with our Aeolus 3s weighing 1,356g (slightly over the 1,348g claimed weight), and at the other end you’re going big on aerodynamics, though naturally on wheels like this there’s some crossover. All of the wheels are made from Bontrager’s top-end OCLV carbon fibre and spin on DT Swiss hubs.

The 27mm-wide rims (19.5mm internal width) are right on trend with the current thinking from all the biggest wheel brands around. And those wide rims interacted wonderfully well with our set of 25mm IRC Formula Pro tubeless tyres (review coming soon, so keep your eyes peeled). The bonus of such wide rims is that they really let the tyres open up and create a very good contact patch indeed.

Related reading: Bontrager update Aeolus carbon fibre wheel range with tubeless-ready and disc brake options

And on the subject of tubeless compatibility, mounting the tubeless tyres on the D3s was really easy. Now, mounting tubeless tyres depends on three factors: 1) the rim, 2) the tyre and 3) whether you’re any good at it.

If you fail on point three – even if one and two are good quality – chances are you’re going to have a frustrating time. Worse than that, it can be a frustrating and pretty messy time if you’re using sealant, which you probably should. Back in the early days of road tubeless I once covered a magazine art editor in tubeless sealant trying to inflate a tyre in the office. He was not amused. Happily though, I’m a little better at it now but even with that in mind I was surprised at just how easy these were to mount. I didn’t even need a compressor, just a track pump, and not a drop of sealant was spilled in the process. It also helps that the rim strips are pre-installed, so all you need to do to make the wheels tubeless-ready is bung in the supplied valve stems.

Outside of a large contact patch, the other bonus of the wide rims (and tubeless compatibility) is comfort. Tubeless tyres can be run at lower pressures than conventional clinchers, since no tubes means no danger of pinch flats, and lower pressure means a more comfortable ride. I ran these at 80psi tubeless, which was pleasingly comfortable, and conceivably you could drop the pressure a fair amount on a standard clincher setup.

The biggest strike against the Aeolus 3s would be braking. It’s not great. Actually, no, that’s not strictly true, because braking isn’t that bad at all, rather it’s the supplied cork pads which are the culprits and turn a perfectly decent braking set of wheels into a nightmare. In the dry the cork pads do their job, and do it acceptably well (and the key word there is ‘acceptably’) but in the wet they’re absolutely awful. Five or six years ago you could have simply shrugged and put that performance down to the fact that carbon just doesn’t brake as well as alloy, but carbon braking surfaces have improved considerably in that period (these wheels included), and the bar has raised considerably as a result.

And the thing is, I quite like corners. They break up the monotony of straight roads and turn upsetting, thigh-burning straight drags into fun, twisty challenges but riding with the supplied brake pads, they became reasons to worry. Well, not all corners, of course, only those that required braking. The same with traffic lights. While I’m not as fond of traffic lights as I am of corners, I can see their use and I like to stop at them in an attempt to prolong my lifespan. Sure, it’s an exaggeration to make a point, but for a company that have clearly put a lot of work into their wheels over the last few years, to pull them out of the box accompanied by such sub-par brake pads is disappointing*.

Interestingly, Bontrager also approve SwissStop’s Black Prince brake pads for the D3s although quite why they don’t provide them as standard is anyone’s guess. Bontrager themselves say that those pads may improve wet weather performance, and not supplying the best all-around pads with their wheels is very frustrating.

But that really is the only complaint – and one that can be remedied – because overall the Aeolus 3s are a very good set of wheels indeed. Being 27mm wide and 35mm deep clinchers, they’re never going to be super light wheels in the way some tubulars can be, but weighing in at under 1,400g is a good effort, especially with dual clincher and tubeless compatibility. That low weight manifests itself in an eager and sprightly set of wheels which climb well, and if you’re upgrading from a standard set of clinchers which weigh a few hundred grammes more then you’ll definitely notice a pleasing difference. They’re stiff too, showing no signs of flex under effort.

Being 35mm-deep you will get a slight aero benefit over standard alloy clinchers, and Bontrager claim the wide D3 rim shape used across the Aeolus range interacts better with the tyre to smooth airflow over the two. D3, if you don’t know, stands for Dual Direction Design, which is Bontrager’s assertion that both the leading edges of the wheel (tyre edge in front of the hub and rim edge behind the hub) are aerodynamically efficient. While it’s difficult to say – sans wind tunnel – how aerodynamic the wheels really are, one thing I can say for sure is that the comparatively shallow rims are wonderfully predictable in crosswinds, meaning you’d happily ride them in all conditions (brake pad concerns aside). Nobody wants to drop two grand on a set of wheels and only be able to ride them when the wind’s relatively calm, and that certainly won’t be a problem with these. When we reviewed the previous version of the Aeolus D3s in 2012 we were impressed by how well the wheels climb and their supreme stability in crosswinds, and they’re just as good in that regard.

While it’s not outlandish to believe that you’ll find an aerodynamic improvement riding these over a set of alloy clinchers, if you buy a set of 35mm-deep wheels hoping to find a huge aero increase then you’re better off looking elsewhere. After all, that’s why the Aeolus range has 35mm, 50mm, 70mm and 90mm options, with the aerodynamic benefit growing accordingly.

What you’re actually getting with the Aeolus 3s is a set of wheels that don’t necessarily excel in any one area, but do everything well, whether it’s being light, reasonably aero or when it comes to handling, and that’s no bad thing.

And riding them on various terrain did nothing to dispel that idea. Uphill, downhill, on the flat and even a little bit of off-road were all handled very well firming the idea in my mind that these are the sort of wheels you could put on a bike and rarely take off.

Conclusion

Despite the laboured explanation of the brake pad issues, the new, improved, tubeless-ready version of Bontrager’s Aeolus 3 D3s really are a very good set of wheels. They’re light, well built, responsive and they do everything well. Sure, they don’t easily fall into a category as they’re not super, super light or highly aero, but if you just want one set of carbon wheels that you can train on, race on, climb on, even stick some fat tyres on and go gravel, these would be a great choice. Plus, they’re tubeless, which means that even if you don’t want to run them tubeless initially, you have the option. Just change the brake pads.

* Chris Garrison from Trek got in touch to tell us that Bontrager don’t supply the Black Prince pads as standard because they only recommend them for wet conditions rather than general use. Cork pads preserve the integrity of the braking surface better than anything else they’ve found, and even though cork presents a challenge in wet conditions, the harsher compound in the Black Prince pads that aren’t good for your rims over a longer period. Ultimately, it’s a choice that’s up to you: better braking performance but shorter braking surface lifespan, or poorer braking in certain conditions but your wheels will last longer. You could, of course, switch out the pads every time you ride in the rain. But if you’re happy to do that you have far more patience than me!

Pros 

– Light, wide and strong
– Tubeless ready
– Versatile

Cons

– Supplied brake pads don’t do these wheels any justice at all

Specification

Price £2,099.98 I Weight 1,356g I Depth 35mm I Width 27mm external, 19.5mm internal I Website Bontrager

Share

Newsletter Terms & Conditions

Please enter your email so we can keep you updated with news, features and the latest offers. If you are not interested you can unsubscribe at any time. We will never sell your data and you'll only get messages from us and our partners whose products and services we think you'll enjoy.

Read our full Privacy Policy as well as Terms & Conditions.

production