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)
Bontrager R3 25mm Tire Review

The 23/25mm tires feature inward dimpled shoulders (rain drops too).

Bontrager R3 28mm Tire Review

The 28mm version has outward bumps and a larger contact patch.

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.

Bontrager R3 25mm Tire Review

The 25mm R3’s are narrow and fast with a rough ride.

Bontrager R3 25mm Tire Review

The 25’s appear minuscule aboard the Trek Emonda SLR Disc.

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.

Bontrager R3 28mm Tire Review

The 28’s are more like it — touch more comfortable and real-world faster too.

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.

Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite Tires Review

All testing was done aboard the Trek Emonda SLR Disc.

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.

The Good

  • 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

The Bad

  • 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.

Buy Now: Available at Bontrager.com or Your Local Dealer


About Author

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Jason quickly developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 -- sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.


  1. Thanks for this review. Why a french flag on this american tires ? Are they made in France (by Hutchinson like Pirelli P-Zero Vélo ?) ?

  2. I do not find a directional arrow on my R3 tire. Why didn’t he just tell us where the arrow is if it is so hard to find? I am very suspicious he made this up. i am looking forward to his reply.

  3. my apologies. the direction arrow is on the drive-side sidewall, not on the other side that i initially only looked at. sorry.

    • Yup… it’s quite hidden, as I stated. Right on the bead almost and only on one side of the tire about 1/4 tire circumference from the sidewall label. Again, super-hidden and hard to find. Glad you found it.

  4. Thanks for your review of these new 2019 Bontrager R3 tyres. It is probably the most in-depth available. I just bought one 28mm to test my frame clearance (and for the tread pattern, honestly). Sadly you’re right, they measure quite a bit narrow – 26mm at 100psi on my Fulcrum 5 LG rim 20.5×700 (17mm internal). In fact, that’s 0.5mm narrower than (or virtually the same as, give or take) my Continental GP4000s2 25mm at 60psi! Here’s hoping they stretch or I’ll be using their 30 day unconditional guarantee. It’s now got me thinking how the 32mm versions measure up or I should look at other brands.

  5. alex ioannides on

    I want to know if the R3 are getting larger after 3000-4000km like many tyres in the market the do like continental tyres.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Alex. I’m not sure I can speak to that. I used these for a few hundred miles only. Others may be able to chime in. Sorry I couldn’t help you out!

  7. Chauncey Messino on

    Thanks for the review. I put a pair of the 28 R3`s on my Trek Domane with bontrager paradigm elite tlr wheelset. My 28 measured 28.31mm on 19.5 internal wheels. After two 30 mile rides at 80 psi 160lb rider weight on smooth road I had a slow leak on rear tire. Same as your experience. Looked like a pinch flat though I dont recall running over and bumps or rocks.

  8. Now I’m bummed,

    I let my local dealer talk me into changing my Nimbus Flak Jacket “28s” for a set of these R3s in “25s.” Now I’m wishing maybe I had stayed with size 28.

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