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review

Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR tyre

9
£52.99

VERDICT:

9
10
Long-lasting, puncture-shy tyre that's dependable for longer distances
Longevity
Puncture resistance
Tubeless comfort
A little leaky
Weight: 
324g
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This product has been selected to feature in road.cc recommends. That means it's not just scored well, but we think it stands out as special. Go to road.cc recommends

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The Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR Road Tyre in this 700x32 format is an excellent puncture-shy, durable and comfortable choice for crappy roads and long distances. It needs regular topping up with air, though.

For more road-focused options, check out our guide to the best road bike tyres – and if you're wanting something for more adventurous outings, our guide to the best gravel tyres should help.

The R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR is a lightly treaded, tubeless-ready road tyre available in 25, 28 and 32mm widths, made with proprietary TR-Speed compound rubber and puncture protected with an improved Hard-Case Lite breaker belt. It's the girthiest one on test here that's best suited for any long distance, endurance, go all the way over there and back again, whatever you want to call it road bike.

Fast-rolling for their size, they've proved to be entirely trouble free, throwing no surprises under any conditions, suffering no punctures and proving to be extremely durable.

The tubed and much older version of the R3 Hard-Case Lite I tested a long while back was my favourite tyre for both just mucking about on the local lanes and for heading off on much longer distances, and after the review pair wore out I bought another set, rode around a lot, and then bought another pair. They were fast rolling, comfortable, puncture resistant enough, and could cope with a bit of routing error genteel off road to make them a no-brainer for the jaunts I did on the bike both from home and away across entire countries. But that was in the days of inner tubes and we're all about tubeless now aren't we, so I was keen to see if the new tubeless version could live up to the high happy bar of their tubed namesakes and take their place as my new favourite tyre.

Fitting

The R3 has a claimed weight of 340g, but the pair I tested came in significantly under at 324g and 325g, which is nice. Mounted to a set of wheels that measured 27mm externally and 21mm internally, the tyres inflated true to the stated size.

As seems to be the way, based on my many years experience with setting up a pair of tubeless tyres on a bike, one was easy to install and one was a bit more troublesome. The tricky one required several attempts to get it to seat, with only the dump valve track pump inflated to its highest wincing pressure being able to punch and pop the bead into place, but since then there have been no tyre/rim interface issues.

As with the majority of tubeless tyres, there is a bit of air loss over time, and the Bontys seem to be more leaky than others, but as a gear, brake and tyre pressure check is part of my pre-ride routine, keeping on top of this was never an issue.

These R3 tyres in 32mm size have a 14mm wide bald centre strip of rubber that's bracketed each side by a 14mm-wide pattern of tiny oval lugs of tread that get incrementally yet subtly larger as they extend round the edge of the tyre, all the way to the top of the amber wall. The tyres are marked as directional, with the pattern of this tread pointing towards the front of the bike.

2023 Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR Road Tyre Side Tread.png

It's hard to measure the efficacy of this side tread. I know that tread on road tyres is mainly there for placebo effect and the side lugs here do play into the tyre's all-road endurance image, and it might help a little if you're riding on rougher road and lighter gravel paths, but in all the testing over a thousand varieties of tarmac, potholes, broken roads, mud-covered lanes and graded gravel paths, I felt they were neither a benefit nor a hindrance. So maybe it did work. I can't say I ever felt the need to back off in a corner, and the only skid was from sudden panic, noticing a deep ford at the bottom of a steep hill, in the dark.

As tan wall tyres go (they're available in black, too) it's quite a darkly shaded one, and in its defence Trek does call it Dark Brown. It's 75-year-old Italian man in Speedos tan, if you will, a leathery brown that might challenge your love of tan walls over plain black, but I quite like them, and on the plus side they show the dirt less.

The tyres have a 120tpi carcass (the narrower options are 170tpi) which keeps them nice and supple, especially when you add in the lower pressures you can run these fatter tyres at. Trek recommends a maximum pressure of 70psi on these 32mm ones.

In use

On the road the R3 TLR is a fuss-free, no surprises, dependable tyre. For the type of scenario a 700x32 tyre is likely to find itself in, you don't need outright speed or gossamer lightness, you need something that's going to get you to where you need to go without mishap, and these tyres do that incredibly well.

That doesn't mean they're overbuilt and boring – they're nippy enough to have fun on if you want to rag it about, although they don't necessarily feel fast thanks to their large volume and ability to benefit from lower pressures. The sensation of speed you get from a thinner and harder tyre, because you're feeling every bump of tarmac, just isn't there.

In this 32mm guise they're not designed for seeking every ounce of speed as you sprint out of a crit corner but for rides over less-than-perfect tarmac and across longer distances, and it's here where they really shine. That volume and squish make them a comfortably swift tyre that effortlessly eats up the miles and makes sure you're not battered to exhaustion by the end of a ride, no matter how short or long.

Bontrager's proprietary TR-Speed rubber compound is really very good. The roads where I live are hard on tyres, as well as being in a poor state of repair and the resting place for hawthorn and flint – the latter once useful for arrow heads, so it has an easy time with a bicycle tyre. Over the course of the test period the R3 Hard-Case Lite TLRs succumbed to absolutely no punctures. I know, right. While judging resilience to flatting is hardly a precise art, it should have been expected, and not much of a disappointment, considering the time and terrain these tyres have been pointed over, but that Hard-Case Lite puncture-resistant strip made from a Nylon105 breaker belt appears to do its job very well.

> Puncture prevention 101: learn how to swerve flats with these 11 top tricks

The R3 tyres are also remarkably free of any of the nicks and cuts that would usually decorate and deteriorate a tyre that's seen a similar mileage. There is a small amount of damage, but it's only visible in the tiniest of pinprick indentations to the tread. It's a durable rubber; the front tyre still has the shadow of its central moulding strip on it and it's heavily into four figure distance rolled by now. And that longevity doesn't come at the expense of grip – the tyres have happily dealt with variable tarmac conditions and been leant into corners with gusto without any interesting moments.

Value

No tyres are cheap these days, eh? But while £53 isn't to be sneezed at, it's in the same ball park as similar options we've been impressed with on road.cc.

The Panaracer Agilest TLR Road Tyre that Steve tested recently seems to be a fine competitor, for just a few quid more. It's a lighter tyre and nippy (at least in the 28mm guise) with good manners on poor road surfaces, and robust enough to deal with them too. The slick rubber makes them look more road than the mixed rufty-tufty tread of the Bontragers.

While not marketed as a road tyre, the Panaracer GravelKing Slick TLC that Hollis tested last year is in a similar wheelhouse to the Bontrager R3 in being able to tackle poor tarmac and sometimes surfaces that might be a little rougher. Despite fitting woes they proved to be swift and dependable on road, for just under £50.

The Bontys are just a few quid more than the £49.99 Teravail Rampart All-Road Tyre I reviewed a year ago, a similarly good tyre to the Bontrager for longer distances and variable road surfaces. They feel a little swifter but definitely a little more fragile.

If you're happy using tubes, you can get considerably cheaper tyres, such as the Vittoria Zaffiro Pro V Graphene 2.0s that Matt tested in 2021. It's a hardwearing and puncture-resistant design but also a heavier, slower-rolling option that offers little feedback. A more traditional sturdy winter training tyre – but just £24.99.

Conclusion

I've ridden these Bontrager tyres across all kinds of tarmac, broken road, crappy bike lanes, mud-covered and debris-sodden roads, and along routing glitches that might be a little off road for a bit, on short local loops and longer all-day across several counties rides, and struggle to find fault with them despite my best efforts to put them in harm's way. For longer rides these 700x32 Bontrager R3s seem to have found the sweet spot of durability, grip and fun to ride, and are my new favourite tyre.

Verdict

Long-lasting, puncture-shy tyre that's dependable for longer distances

road.cc test report

Make and model: Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR tyre

Size tested: 700 x 32

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?

Trek says its Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR Road Tyre is a lightly-treaded tubeless ready road tyre with proprietary TR-Speed compound and improved Hard-Case Lite puncture protection that's easy to set up and packed with performance.

I'd agree wholeheartedly to that. Setting them up was a little tricky, but apart from that...

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?

Bontrager lists:

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 breaker belt provides lightweight puncture protection, great ride feel and extra durability

Tubeless Ready (TLR) design allows for easy tubeless set-up and added puncture protection

Fast-rolling, lightly-treaded design adds traction and confidence

Low rolling resistance and excellent cornering grip

Rate the product for quality of construction:
 
10/10

Been treated badly, still in almost perfect condition.

Rate the product for performance:
 
9/10

For what these 700 x 32 tyres are designed for, I'd say they're near perfect.

Rate the product for durability:
 
10/10

I've put these tyres through a lot over the miles and they've come out the other side without a single puncture and barely a scratch or scuff.

Rate the product for weight (if applicable)
 
5/10

About par for this style of tyre.

Rate the product for comfort (if applicable)
 
10/10

In this 700x32 size run tubeless they're a lovely road-softening tyre.

Rate the product for value:
 
5/10

On a par with similar tyres we've been impressed with. You can get these on discount if you look, but even at full rrp their longevity and puncture resistance makes them worth it.

Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose

As a larger volume tubeless tyre that might be best suited to longer rides over less than perfect tarmac, it was flawless, not necessarily the fastest, but comfortable and get-you-home reliability.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

Puncture resistance, longevity, rollin' for miles.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

Nothing much, but needed air topping up regularly.

How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?

Slightly cheaper than the Panaracer Agilest TLR Road Tyre that Steve was impressed with recently, a lighter tyre and nippy, with good manners on poor road surfaces and robust enough to deal with them too, though their slick rubber makes them look more road than the mixed rufty-tufty tread of the Bontragers.

It's a few quid more than the Panaracer GravelKing Slick TLC, which is in a similar wheelhouse to the Bontrager R3 in being able to tackle poor tarmac and surfaces that might be a little rougher. Despite fitting woes they proved to be a swift and dependable tyre on road and the gravel bit in their name best ignored.

The Teravail Rampart All-Road Tyre I reviewed a year ago are also slightly cheaper, £49.99, and a similarly good tyre to the Bontragers for longer distances and variable road surfaces. They feel a little swifter but definitely a little more fragile.

Stay with tubes and you can go a lot cheaper: Vittoria's Zaffiro Pro V Graphene 2.0 boasts a hardwearing and puncture-resistant character, but is also a heavier, slow rolling option that offers little feedback. A more traditional sturdy winter training tyre. But just £25.

Did you enjoy using the product? Yes

Would you consider buying the product? Yes

Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes

Use this box to explain your overall score

Sometimes there's nothing much to say about something because it just does its job without fanfare or fuss. Since putting these Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR tyres on they've not put a tread wrong; they've been fast enough and fun enough for quick local blasts yet dependable and comfortable enough for much longer rides. Despite the wide variety of crappy tarmac and mud-coated lanes they've been down, there have been no punctures and very very few nicks and cuts from roadside debris. They're excellent.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 50  Height: 180cm  Weight: 73kg

I usually ride: It varies as to the season.  My best bike is: The one I\'m on at the time

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Experienced

I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Fun

Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.

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6 comments

Avatar
MattieKempy | 1 year ago
0 likes

Like @Miller I previously ran a set. I was a bit disappointed at the darkness of the sidewalls as I'm a confirmed tan-wall fan and the photos on the SigmaSports website made them look significantly lighter, but in a practical sense they were great tyres - not fast, but hardly slow, and I don't recall having had a puncture in well over 4000km on sh1tty roads. I do remember them coming up at 33mm on my 19m-internal rims and barely fitting into my frame, though, which was probably why I didn't buy a new set. I swapped them out for Challenge Stradas and later for Enve SES as the Challenges were near-impossible to get onto the rim.

Avatar
Miller replied to MattieKempy | 1 year ago
0 likes

MattieKempy wrote:

I swapped them out for Challenge Stradas and later for Enve SES as the Challenges were near-impossible to get onto the rim.

Challenge tyres are something else. I have a pair of Strada Bianca in 30mm and my god, what a struggle they were to get on the rim. At first I thought I'd bought the wrong size. However once mounted they become more docile and the ride quality is fantastic.

Avatar
Miller | 1 year ago
0 likes

I'm running these exact tyres, well, black wall but otherwise the same, on my mudguarded bike this wet and gritty winter. This review is very fair. They roll nicely at my preferred 60psi, I haven't had to worry about punctures, and they do leak a bit of air over time but we all check tyre pressure before going out don't we? I think of them as dependable rather than exciting. Despite that I notice they come fitted as standard on the £10k Trek Domane SLR7.

Avatar
galibiervelo | 1 year ago
0 likes

LOVE these. Super fast rolling

Avatar
Sriracha | 1 year ago
0 likes

You can buy car tyres brand new and fully fitted for less. Given the extra material, distribution, fitting and disposal cost in a car tyre's price, how much must the bicycle tax be to make up the price in bike tyres?

Avatar
VecchioJo replied to Sriracha | 1 year ago
4 likes

Are you comparing like for like?
These could be seen as a performance bike tyre so you should be comparing them to the cost of a performance car tyre.
Bicycle tyres are a high end low volume production item, day to day car tyres are low end high volume items in a competitive market so economies of manufacturer and scale come into play.

Of course it's not compulsory to fork out these, you can buy a bicycle tyre for £10, feel free to use them if you consider the bicycle tax too high.

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