Bontrager’s R4 Classics tyres are beautiful handmade clinchers that offer a smooth and very quick ride. You get great cornering grip and such a supple casing really helps on rougher roads.
- Pros: Very supple, look amazing, fast rolling
- Cons: Sidewalls will stain in proper 'Classics' conditions
Tyres are probably the best value for money component on your bike. Even a premium set like these won't break the bank, but they'll offer heaps of cornering confidence, extra puncture protection or even free speed.
These R4 Classics have, as the name suggests, been designed to tackle the road conditions commonly found in the spring races. They boast many of the features found in the tubular version that is used by Trek Segafredo for those very races. In fact, this is exactly the same tyre, with the only difference being that it isn't sewn around an inner tube!
In fact, the tyres are also very similar to the regular R4, with the difference here found in the file tread pattern used on the Classics rather than the slick rubber of the regular R4.
Installing the tyres is a little more involved than a standard clincher as these arrive completely flat. I picked up the trick of mounting without the inner tube and then leaving overnight. It works well and makes putting in the inner tube, especially a latex one, so much easier as you've got just enough shape to work with.
Once installed, the wide tread sits bang on 28mm on my Fulcrum Speed 40C wheels. They're not the widest rims, so I wouldn't be surprised to find these nudging 30mm on a wider rim.
Out on the road, these are simply beautiful to ride, with the supple casing and wide profile soaking up lots of road buzz. Throw these into a corner and the rounded profile results in loads of grip and zero skittishness.
The tyres have been really well made and spin perfectly straight when mounted. Handmade tyres like this can be a little wonky sometimes, so it's good to see none of that present with the R4 Classics.
Even though it's a larger tyre with a bit of a tread, this isn't a slow tyre. In fact, this would be a brilliant summer race tyre for larger riders and crit racers looking for maximum grip on tight city centre courses.
Bontrager has used its Hard-Case Lite puncture protection, but these are still a supple tyre, so try to avoid that broken glass.
I personally love the look of tan wall tyres on my bike but I would urge caution. These will stain with regular use in the rain. If left to go bad, they'll eventually develop rot in the casing, which can be very dangerous. That is, however, just the trade-off with tyres like this.
So, how do these stack up against similar options? Earlier in the year, I was testing Challenge's Strada Open Tubular (£54) which are very similar in construction. Both have a 320tpi casing, both get a file tread pattern and both cost about the same. The R4 Classics are a little heavier at 284g, but you're getting a 28mm tyre, 3mm wider than the Strada, which makes them perfect for larger riders on poor road surfaces.
If you're a fan of high-end tyres then you won't be disappointed with these. The R4 Classics are supple, roll well and give you great grip on dodgy corners: an excellent choice for larger riders or those wanting 28mm rubber.
Supple, fast and very pretty – expensive for some, worth it for me
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Bontrager R4 Classics Hard-Case Lite Road Tyre
Size tested: 700 x 28
Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
From Bontrager: "A fast-rolling road race tyre for when traction and confidence matter most. A high grip tread and compound performs in wet and dry conditions"
They roll really nicely and grip very well indeed.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Casing - 320 TPI casing
Compound - High grip tread and compound
Puncture Protection - Hard-Case Lite
With handmade tyres, there can be slight wobbles in the line of the tread. These are perfectly straight when mounted up, showing top quality construction.
This is one of the best bigger road race tyres I've used. You get fast rolling speeds with brilliant comfort and excellent grip. That's exactly what having wider tyres on a race bike is all about.
They have lasted very well, especially the rear, which usually shows signs of wear. Use these in dry conditions and they'll easily last a full season. Run them in the rain too much without caring for them and you might find that they don't last so well...
Weight is okay for a 28mm tyre like this. That said, it's not really the point of the tyre.
The wide profile and supple casing mean you can happily run these a little lower than usual and be very comfortable.
They're expensive for sure, but for many people they will be worth the cash.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Really well. Take these down a surface-dressed back lane and they're noticeably less jumpy than a standard tyre. These will be excellent for larger riders.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The general feel of riding these tyres is brilliant. They're fast, grippy and comfortable on poor roads.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
It's a shame that such a nice tyre can be spoiled by a few rainy rides. Probably best to save these for dry days. You could Aquaseal them or coat them in polyurethane, but only if you know you'll be using them repeatedly in the rain.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
They're 99p more than the excellent Challenge Strada tyres that I tested earlier this year. Both do a fabulous job, but I'd suggest you go for the R4s if you're a bigger rider.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? As I'm not that big, I'd have the standard R4 in a 25mm version.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
I loved riding these tyres. They get points for being supple, well made, grippy and fast. I've dropped them half a mark as they're one of the most expensive clinchers around, and they won't stay fresh in poor weather.
About the tester
I usually ride: Cannondale Supersix Di2 My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 5-10 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, club rides, general fitness riding, I specialise in the Cafe Ride!
Son of a Marathon runner, Nephew of a National 24hr Champion, the racing genetics have completely passed him by. Liam spends his time plodding his way through cyclocross races, very busy not winning. As an advocate for perfectly clean chains, he can be found cleaning his bike instead of training. A shop mechanic, Liam has many helpful skills, such as being able to identify 'cross tubs by the tread pattern alone. If you bump into him, he'll probably be eating.