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Review: Bontrager Aeolus 5 aero, tubeless disc brake carbon clinchers & R3 tires

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights
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Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

Wasn’t too long ago that the terms “disc brake” and “aerodynamic” were mutually exclusive, but as things slowly proceed to put rotors in the pro peloton, the two concepts were bound to come together.

Bontrager is one brand that’s prepped and ready, even if all their top-level race bikes haven’t made the switch yet. I’ve been riding the Aeolus 5 TLR wheelset since last summer and they’ve proven fast, strong and able to handle some abuse. That last bit, plus their beginner-friendly setup, helps set them apart in a world where aero gains from brand to brand are so minuscule anymore…

TECH SPECS & ACTUAL WEIGHTS

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

The wheels come pre-installed with Bontrager’s TLR rim strip, which makes set up easy by raising the bead seat of the rim and helping shape the center channel so the tire can slide and pop into place. With the standard QR end caps, wheels came in at 760g front and 868g rear. Claimed weights, which are made without the rim strips installed, are 722g and 836g…which is about right considering the rim strip’s weight:

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

Included skewers are 138g, long tubeless valve stems are 12g, and the TLR rim strips are 43g. That’s not the lightest way to seal the rim bed, but they do replace tape by fitting tightly into place and being molded to match the rim’s internal shape.

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

Bontrager sent four of their R3 TLR 700×24 tires, which weighed in at 297g, 290g, 286g and 296g.

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

Inside width came in at almost 20mm (19.5mm claimed) and external width hit the mark at exactly 27mm (matches claim).

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

One nice feature is that their number scheme for the wheel names matches up with even 10mm increments. So, a “5” is 50, the “9” is 90, etc. They have Aeolus 3/5/7/9 options, and front and rear are sold separately if you’d like to mix and match.

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

The revised Aeolus wheels were introduced in early 2015 as a lighter, wider and overall better version of the prior model. Manufacturing of the OCLV carbon rims was brought in house, which gave them better control over the layup and design, so they were able to pull weight out of the body of the rim while still increasing the tire well and bead section thickness. The result was a stronger wheel that came in about 110g lighter than before, depending on size.

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

The TLR strip shapes the inside of the rim to make tire installation and tubeless set up easy. It also provides a nice little seat for the tire bead to lock into. Bontrager strongly recommends their use for the best experience, but even they admit the strips do add more weight than tape…and that you could use tubeless rim tape if you’re comfortable setting up tubeless tires. It may not be quite as easy, but it works and is safe. For our test, I used the TLR strips as intended, but will switch to tape for testing their cyclocross tires later this year.

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

The wheels are compatible with standard QR (tested) and 15mm front / 12×142 rear thru axles thanks to tool-free swappable end caps. The hubs use the Centerlock disc brake rotor interface, which keeps them lighter, but limits rotor selection unless you use adapters. I ran them with the newish TRP rotors paired to SRAM Red Hydro brakes…more on that combo in a separate review.

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

Both hubs spin on sealed cartridge bearings, two up front and four in the rear (two in the hub shell, two in the freehub body). Forward propulsion is courtesy of the DT Swiss 36-tooth Star Ratchet system. It’s only offered with a Shimano/SRAM 11-speed freehub body, no Campy option.

Available upgrades include ceramic bearings and their exclusive 54-tooth ratchet rings, the latter offering quick engagement and a little more noise.

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

Bladed spokes further improve aerodynamics, and a “stacked” offset spoke hole drilling at the hub helps create a stiffer wheel.

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

The skewers are a little chunky, but they are incredibly easy to use and hold tight. There’s plenty of leverage on them, with a nice wide thumb pad for pushing them closed. I didn’t have any issues with them coming loose. You know, if you’re still running quick release skewers on a disc brake bike.

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

Now, about the aerodynamics. That is, after all, why we’d get 50mm or deeper rims. Sure, they look good, but the aerodynamics need to offset the added weight for them to make sense. And here, they seem to, and 50mm is typically the upper limit of an “everyday, all-purpose” aero wheelset. I mostly rode the wheels all through our local hills and rolling North Carolina terrain, but also give them a big tour around Keuka Lake in upstate New York last summer. That ride mixed long descents down the west side of the lake with a long, gradual climb up the east side. And it’s all punctuated by a few steep grunts, particularly on the bluff at the top. (It’s also beautiful, I highly recommend it if you’re in the area…plus a visit to Watkins Glen for the hike up and down the waterfalls!).

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

Bontrager’s D3 shape designs the rim to use the tire as part of the overall aerodynamic shape, proving optimal air flow on the leading and trail edges of the front half (tire leading) of the wheel and the rear (rim leading). Not just in a straight line, but also at common yaw angles. I found them to be predictable and fairly stable in crosswinds, and darn fast in a straight line. Which is to be expected these days…there are only so many ways to skin a cat, and Bontrager’s shapes do the job. If you wanna dive deeper, check out their white paper here (PDF).

Bontrager Aeolus 5 TLR tubeless ready aero disc brake road bike carbon clincher wheels review and actual weights

So they’re fast and can scoot up a hill well enough, so what makes them special? In my opinion, it’s their toughness. I like to venture off road now and then, even on a normal road bike. Sometimes that involves a little gravel, sometimes a lotta potholes. With things flinging into the rims. And in New York, I veered onto a road under construction and rode a long stretch of gravel over fresh blacktop, which made for a very hot, kinda weird surface texture that also flung a lot of stuff against the rims and the bike. Some of which stuck to it, which you can see in the pic above. Through all the jostling and more than a year of riding, the rims are (almost) scratch free and perfectly true. If you’re hard on wheels, these are worth a look.

The tires are also tough…I finished the review on the same set I started with. None of the rocks inflicted any visible (let along worrisome) cuts, nicks or scrapes. They use Bontrager’s Hard Case Lite inner puncture protection under the center of the tread. I never flatted, and air retention over time is respectable. The tires use a butyl inner lining, and I tested it with the provided Bontrager sealant. Grip is also good, as is comfort. I weigh in about 190-192 pounds dressed for road and ran about 90psi. At that level, they felt both efficient and comfortable. I ran as low as 85psi a couple times, but preferred the slightly firmer feel of 90.

As a package, Bontrager’s tubeless ready wheels offer an easy to use, durable and fast setup. Newbies will appreciate the quick tubeless install, and “pros” will like that they can make them even lighter by just using standard tubeless rim tape. And, should you prefer to run a stealth build (or just don’t want Bontrager branding on your non-Trek bicycle), the logo decals are easily removable.

Retail for the Aeolus family of wheels ranges from $2,850 to $3,000 $2,400 to $2,600 for the pair (UPDATE: price drop as of Nov 10, 2016), depending on depth. As tested, the  Aeolus 5 TLR Disc sells for $1,275 front and $1,575 rear (check Bontrager’s website for latest single wheel pricing). The R3 TLR tires run $90 and come in 24mm and 26mm widths.

Bontrager.com

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19 Comments
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thesteve4761
thesteve4761
6 years ago

Great review. 54 tooth ratchets are not Bontrager exclusive any longer. They are a standard DT upgrade item.

Greg
Greg
6 years ago

For cross, I’d leave the molded strips in for the best tire retention at low pressures. For road next season, go ahead and pull them out.

John
John
6 years ago

Love that wider rims are a thing now. Hate that rim brake hardware many times is now the limiting factor on tire size (I’m looking at you, Ultegra).

John
John
6 years ago

BTW, the Bontrager R3 tires that came on my Domane had crazy long life, but a much harsher ride vs. my preferred GP 4000 IIs.

Marin
Marin
6 years ago

Do deeper rims really matter when you add disc brakes? When it comes to aerodynamics seems like caliper brake would offer less drag and less dishing stronger wheels if all other things were equal.

Robin
Robin
6 years ago
Reply to  Marin

An aero rim with a brake disc is going to be more aero than a non-aero rim with a brake disc, so yes deeper, aero rims do matter. Whether the aero drag difference between the two is meaningful for a given rider is an entirely different question.

Marin
Marin
6 years ago
Reply to  Robin

There’s no such thing as aero or non aero wheels.
There are only more and less draggy wheels and I wonder if modern 20-30mm deep rims with caliper brakes have any more drag than 50-60mm deep rim with disc brakes but entire setup is 1kg lighter probably.

Robin
Robin
6 years ago
Reply to  Marin

I used a term in general use, and you know what I meant.

lop
lop
6 years ago
Reply to  Marin

What a ridiculously pedantic viewpoint. You know exactly what he meant.

Beat_the_trail
Beat_the_trail
6 years ago

I’ve run through two sets of R3 TLR tires so far. I’m 220lbs in kit and ran the 700×25 for the first round and 700×26 for the second. I consistently ran 85psi rear 80 front and have to say, the cornering traction is impressive. I got about 3000mi per rear tire, and the first I ran to the cords without a real flat. My only complaint with the bontrager TLR system is the sealant. The recommended amount is 1fl oz per tire, which is half of what I typically installed. The other problem is that it seems to dry up rather quickly, and not seal as well as Stan’s. So, for my new setups, I’ve been running 2oz of Stan’s and am pleased with the performance. Currently I swapped to the AW2 TLRs in a 700×26 and find them to be slightly longer lasting (on pace to get 4000 from the rear) and have only a minimal loss of cornering traction. The R3s do however fell faster in a straight line. The bontrager rim strip is worth the weight if you’ve ever spent the afternoon trying to get a tire to seat. I can typically seat any quality road or MTB tire on a TLR rim with just a floor pump. The only real problem I’ve had with the system is that the TLR strips will overtime dimple into the spoke holes, which makes seating a new tire impossible, even with my air compressor. I typically replace the rimstrips with the tires, but since most of my LBSs customers opt to leave the rimstrips behind when they buy bontrager wheels, they been giving me free rimstrips a couple times a year.

Andrew
Andrew
6 years ago
Reply to  Beat_the_trail

80/85psi? 220lbs? No wonder you go through tires so fast.

Beat_the_trail
Beat_the_trail
6 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Great handing and good dampening, plus I commute 125 mi a week in all conditions and do the odd 50-70mi on the weekend. I like keeping the vibe out of the bike. Plus, through the Trek ninja program, the tires are damn affordable.

coreying
coreying
6 years ago
Reply to  Beat_the_trail

Apparently the “rimstrip dimple into the spoke holes” issue only affects the alloy rims, but the Aeolus do not suffer from it. It’s only an issue where the spoke holes protrude into the “bead bed” (flat outside section of the rim interior). This was according to my Trek dealer when they gave me the run down before I converted to using the R3 700x26c.

Thanks for your post, makes me hopefully I’ve done the right thing, despite lots of people telling me not to go tubeless on the road!

P.s. what do you have to do when the sealant goes dry? Just add more?

jpvincx
jpvincx
6 years ago

What bike brand & model is that in the first pic of this article?

Bill
Bill
6 years ago

Keuka Lake eh? Rode it last week! Pretty much my backyard but you should head a little farther west to Canandaigua Lake, (the backroads on the western side are spectacular, lots of steep climbs in the 10-18% range plus). Just a great region to ride around and the wineries in the Finger Lakes Region are beautiful and plentiful. Might want a set of A3’s over there…

Don't Interrupt Daddy
Don't Interrupt Daddy
6 years ago

$3,000? I could get new veneers for that kind of money.

CL
CL
6 years ago

Can one use open tubulars in these rims? I read some brands won’t recommend using a 25mm tyre into anything bigger than a 17C rim. Presumably for ERTRO safety standards, but maybe these Aeolus wheels are shaped accordingly…?

Matt Naylor
Matt Naylor
5 years ago

I have a set of these wheels and have been running them since march. Noticeably stiffer and faster than the bontrager paradigm comps (which are excellent by the way) that came on the bike. I run a 32mm bontrager r3 at 80 psi on these and the feel is amazing. Highly recommend this product. Tempted to drop down to a 25 just to see if there is speed difference, I do like my comfort though. These make any bike look amazing too

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