The width of carbon clinchers has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years. Riders and wheel makers are realizing the benefits of a wider, fuller tire. Plus, gravel bikes have exploded, thus expanding the capabilities and clearances of today’s all-road bikes. New for 2019, Bontrager has entered the fray with the ultra-wide Aeolus PRO 3V wheelset for gravel and modern endurance bikes.
Bontrager Aeolus PRO 3V TLR Wheelset Features:
- OCLV Pro Carbon offers an optimized blend of weight, strength, and durability
- D3 Dual Directional Design profile cuts drag at tire-leading and rim-leading edge
- 25mm inner rim width (32mm outer) for added tire support to suit larger-volume road and gravel tires
- Rims are a moderate 35mm deep
- Rapid Drive 108 road hubs provide quick engagement for faster acceleration and increased control
- Tubeless Ready (TLR) rims allow for quick transition to tubeless system
- Centerlock disc with 12mm thru-axle and end caps available for 15mm conversion
- Carbon Care Wheel Loyalty Program offers no-cost replacement or repair of rim for first two years of ownership
- No rider weight limit
- Weight: 867 grams (rear) and 737 grams (front) — actual, including rim strips and end caps
- MSRP: $1299.98
Wider is definitely better
Rims have gotten wider and wider over the past few years. But, it wasn’t until disc brake standards settled down that wheel manufacturers could truly start pushing limits. We’re currently (and hopefully for awhile) set on 12mm thru axles and flat mounts. This combination is easy enough for all wheel makers to support. Now, the next battle ground will be in internal rim width.
The discussion of inner rim width wasn’t much of a thing before disc brakes because caliper breaks could only expand so far. During that time, 19mm inner widths would be considered wide. Some manufacturers pushed that up to 21mm while still targeting the rim brake crowd (see ENVE SES 3.4), but that’s the upper limit for pads and calipers. Beyond that width, it’s really disc-only territory. With that, Bontrager has gone even wider with the new Aeolus PRO 3V at 25mm internal width.
That extra width provides several benefits:
- Wider tire platform to better support today’s road and gravel tires (28c-50c)
- Fuller tire profiles
- Added tire stability and improved handling (think a light bulb vs arch shape)
- Ability to run lower pressures
- Wheels could be made stronger
- Easier tubeless setup
That’s just a start, but the most obvious reason is the ability to confidently roll wider rubber at lower pressures. So, that’s just what I did while testing the Bontrager Aeolus PRO 3V wheels.
Setup and performance
Bontrager has kissed flimsy tubeless rim tape goodbye in favor of their proprietary plastic rim liners. These liners lock into place and provide the perfect tubeless platform. With it, there are no worries of puncturing the tape or needing to re-wrap the rims ever. Just drop a valve in place (to maintain proper position), pop the liner into the rim and you’re done. From there installing and seating tires is wicked-easy. Good luck removing the liner though, should you ever need to (it’s possible, but very difficult).
Initially, I was running the3V’s with a set of Specialized Pathfinder Pro 38c gravel tires. These tires roll fast and still provide excellent traction and comfort for rough terrain. To round things out, I installed the new Bontrager R3 32c TLR tires for the ultimate in all-road speed, comfort and grip. The beauty of the Aeolus PRO 3V’s was immediately apparent as sidewalls were straighter and seating both sets of tires was a breeze.
As the summer rolled along, I had some equipment decisions to make ahead of SBT GRVL. Would I run 700c or 650b? In the end, 650b won the day, but it wasn’t without plenty of head-to-head battles. The decision was a nail-biter because these PRO 3V’s are such great wheels. But, the added traction, comfort and speed of 47c tires aboard the Roval CLX 650b wheelset had me going that route. The deciding factor was how fast those Roval wheels rolled along with their CeramicSpeed bearings. The PRO 3V’s roll adequately, but they don’t stand a chance against ceramic bearings.
Overall, the 3V’s do roll along just fine. They are middle-of-the-pack in my standard roll-to-stop tests with both sets of tires. That’s as well as I’d expect for Bontrager’s standard bearings at this price point.
With a moderate, 35mm depth, the Aeolus PRO 3V’s aren’t aiming to crush any aerodynamic tests. They are built using Bontrager’s D3 aero profile for optimal leading/trailing airflow, but large-volume tires will mostly negate those qualities. Should you stick to a 30-33mm tire width, you’ll maximize your aero here. (For reference, the Bontrager R3 32c tires measure out to 34.6mm.) Most riders will have 38c+ tires mounted on these, so if you’re buying these for aero advantages, you’ve mostly missed the point. These are burly, durable gravel-friendly wheels. That said, don’t feel like riding these mostly on pavement would be selling them short — they will tackle any road on any bike that has appropriate tire clearance. Something like the Open UPPER I’ve used throughout all tests, or the Trek Domane or Checkpoint.
With the rim shape/depth, you can expect very limited issues with crosswind stability. In all my test miles, not once did I feel like crosswinds were having their way with me. In fact, I can’t recall feeling their ill-effects at all. So, expect great stability during those inevitable crosswinds.
The Rapid Drive 108 rear hub does provide fast, smooth engagement, but it is really, really loud. It’s about the loudest free hub I’ve used. Make no mistake, your buddies will notice when you’re sucking their rear wheel. Bontrager does offer them in both Shimano/SRAM and XDR drivers. All testing was done with SRAM Red eTAP AXS.
Throughout my tests, the PRO 3V’s have tackled road, mellow gravel, rough gravel and singletrack. 100% of the time, these wheels simply performed. They roll up quickly, respond in a jiffy and track well. The sidewalls have taken their fair share of rocks and debris just to shed it off like nothing happened. They are as true as they were on day one after over 500 grueling miles.
- Incredible overall value
- 25mm internal width is magical
- Seating tubeless tires is easy
- Bladed spokes are awesome at this price
- Awesome gravel wheels
- Freehub is loud
- A touch heavy (but respectable for the price)
The Bottom Line: Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3V
The Aeolus PRO 3V’s are standard-equipment on a few 2020 Trek Domane and Checkpoint models, but are also available separately to hop up your current ride or round out your next custom build. For the money, the 3V’s are an easy choice. They roll along well enough, engage in a jiffy and feature 25mm internal width for fuller tires that can be run at lower pressures. True story… I was once on a ride with a SRAM/Zipp employee and was asked what wheels I’d recommend. I looked at the SRAM guy and said to the other rider, “Bontrager — because they pack a ton of value and their tubeless system is super-reliable.” Indeed, there are more expensive, lighter, faster and more aerodynamic wheels out there, but for the money, I’m still recommending these.
Bontrager's Aeolus PRO 3V's are among the widest gravel wheels on the market. And, at $1298, they are the widest, most affordable carbon clinchers you'll find. They set up tubeless with ease and deliver a wider, fuller tire -- whether you choose straight-up gravel tires or more road-oriented treads.