14 June 2010

bikefix Initial Review: Bontrager Race X Lite TLR Disc CL wheelset

While many bike companies' in house component lines seem to be a way of keeping complete bike costs down and making cross shopping difficult, Trek's Bontrager range and its namesake Keith Bontrager have some serious bona fides behind them. By re-rolling 36 hold Mavic touring rims into smaller diameter 32 hole mountain bike rims 25 years ago, Bontrager helped to kick off the lightweight mountain bike wheel industry. Before becoming part of the Trek empire, Bontrager's component designs were produced by companies like Titec and Rock Shox. Nowadays, KB spends his free time doing long-distance mountain bike racing- suffice it to say, he sounds like our kind of guy and certainly knows his way around bikes and bike parts

Though Keith himself is apparently no longer closely involved in designing the products that bear his name, that name does bring back some fond memories (120mm T-slot steel stems anyone?) and does carry Trek's engineering weight behind it. When I mentioned to a friend and sponsored racer that I needed wheels to complete an older frame I was reviving, he mentioned having a pair of OEM Bontrager Race X Lite wheels just sitting in his garage. The price was right and the deal was made.

Bontrager's Race Lite wheelsets have traditionally been excellent value. Over the years, they have used high-end (Chris King and later DT Swiss) hubs in a low-key manner. For 2009/2010, the aftermarket companies' hubs are gone in favor of Bonti's own proprietary design, but the large box section tubeless-compatible (with sealing rim strip) rim and 28 standard spoke count remains. The claimed 1525g weight is competitive with sensible XC wheelsets but doesn't seem to include the rim strips- tubeless reality is closer to 1625g.

I've been riding the RXL's for a little over 2 months and have zero complaints so far. Apparently some of those earlier proprietary freehub mechanisms did spontaneously combust- but mine haven't yet made any unexpected noises. They are about as loud as I'd like- noticeable but not obnoxious and lower key than I9, King, or DT hubs. The brushed silver scandium rims (aftermarket versions are black rather than silver) don't show scratches and have sustained direct hits from rocks without the beads bending. The standard external nipples make truing easy- though they haven't needed it yet and the RXL's feel stiffer than a comparably light (within 50g) wheelset built using Stans 355 rims on American Classic hubs.

As nice as they seem, as an aftermarket purchase the Bonti's could be a tough sell. There are a lot of tubeless compatible wheelsets hovering around 1600g- many of them well below the Bontragers' $900 price. Faced with the reliability of DT Swiss, the sexiness of Crank Brothers, or the ready parts availability from Mavic- or even the sturdiness and wide footprint of Easton's 1650g Havens (many of which are cheaper) I have trouble seeing anyone choosing the RXL's at full retail. Fortunately, the street price seems to be far lower than $900 and as an original equipment wheelset, they seem to be a reasonably light, sturdy, and good looking choice. More information in several months' time...



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Bro (same name!) ;)

i've bought a Set of these wheels about <1000km ridden, for under 170 EUR. They're looking like new. Was a great bargain. :)

I'm way glad to have them, even mine are silver just like yours here - 100% the same. Have had these Wheels as 2007/8 Model before, butnot RXL, the cheaper Race Lite Series with DT Swiss Hubs for Bontrager...are the propritary freehub Design is good? think so...

greetings from germany,