I rode the previous Bontrager R3’s tubed and tubeless with great success. They felt supple and rolled well. For 2019, Bontrager has completely revamped their R3 Hard-case Lite tire line with 23, 25, 28 and 32mm models. With the 25 and 28mm tires on test this spring, let’s see how the improvements worked out. (Note: View our R3 Hard-Case Lite 32mm TLR review.)
Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite Tire Features:
- Designed for speed, traction, and durability while racing and road riding
- Proprietary TR-Speed compound provides confident, fast-rolling performance
- Hard-Case Lite with improved Nylon105 beaker belt provides lightweight puncture protection, great ride feel, and extra durability
- Fast-rolling, lightly-treaded design adds traction and confidence
- Low rolling resistance and excellent cornering grip
- Tread styling gets more aggressive as size increases to better suit intended use
- Weight: 215 grams (25mm) / 230 grams (28mm)
- Width: 25mm and 27.8mm on Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3’s
- Tread thickness: 3.6mm (at center)
- MSRP: $54.99 (23-28mm)
An R3 for all the roadies
Whether you still have a bike with limited clearance or if you have a gravel bike and are looking for an all-day road tire, the new Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite tires have you covered. As widths increase, tread patterns change from inward dimpled shoulders to outward threads for increased traction over more terrain.
Installation of both the 25 and 28mm versions were a breeze. I’ve got the Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3 wheelset, which served as the perfect testing whips for these tires. The beads stretch easily on the rims without tools — just the usual tricks. In my testing, the Zipp wheel/tire combo is the easiest install and the Bontrager wheel/tire combo is about the same. Removal is a little more difficult, but also tool-free. I rode the 25mm tires at 90/95 psi and the 28mm at 80/85 psi for my 170 lb. rider weight.
I’ll note that these tires are directional. I can’t find much visual difference in each direction, but there is a direction arrow. That arrow proved difficult to find, however. Hunt for it… it’s there.
I’ll start with the 25mm R3’s. With an inward-dimple pattern and seemingly-narrow width, these are made for speed. It’s funny how 25mm tires feel narrow these days and especially so aboard the Trek Emonda SLR Disc with it’s generous tire clearance. At 90/95 psi, these ride a little harsh, but do have excellent cornering traction. I did venture onto some gravel and ended up flatting — doh. Upon inspection, I couldn’t really identify the exact cause, but it looked like a pinch flat. If your frame has limited clearance, the 25mm tires do roll fast and corner well.
I swapped out the 25’s for a set of 28’s for a better all-around ride. Treads are different, but the same Hard-Case Lite construction is employed throughout. I confidently rolled over glass and other debris without worry.
The 28’s roll just as fast as the 25’s in the lab, but in the wild, they roll faster. Again, wider tires and lower pressures will typically win every time. I felt more comfortable aboard the 28’s and the ride was noticeably-smoother. The results were faster times on the same segments — uphill and down.
Tire manufacturers are all across the board on their sizing, so it’s honestly surprising to see these tires measuring exactly and slightly under their stated sizes. Most of the time, tires measure larger than their stated width — particularly on a 19.5mm internal width rim. If you know your frame’s clearance, you can pretty reliably stay within it with this tire/rim combo. Wet traction was tested on both and I didn’t have any hesitation on either set. It was good and reliable.
While the Hard-Case Lite construction does protect straight-on debris, the sidewalls are just as susceptible as any other lightweight tire on the market. And, unfortunately, my rear tire suffered an untimely death due to a sidewall puncture. I’ve had that happen to almost every tire at some point in its life, I just hoped for a few more miles. Sad panda.
- Reliable, all-weather traction
- Roll well (28’s are faster and more comfortable in my tests)
- Tool-free install/uninstall
- Width-specific, optimized tread patterns
- Straight-on tread protection with Nylon105 insert
- 28’s don’t measure out to 28mm on 19.5mm rims
- Only get 25’s if clearance prevents 28’s from fitting
- Direction arrow is hard to find
The Bottom Line: Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite Tires
Bontrager’s latest top-of-the-line racing tires are built for speed and reliability for everyday use. The 23/25mm widths are only options if your frame won’t fit 28’s in my book. Traction has been reliable and rolling speed feels on par with other comparable tires.