A tire brand I never considered trying was Bontrager. I haven’t heard anything negative or questioned how the tires would perform. Simply put, I don’t own a Trek and have only seen Bontrager tires on Trek bikes.
So when the opportunity came to give Bontrager tires a spin, I was excited to try this offering from one of the industry’s giants. Bontrager was kind enough to send Singletracks some trail tires to test, along with a set of carbon wheels.
Bontrager sent two sets of their SE5 Team Issue and SE4 Team Issue tires. I intended to run the 29×2.5 SE5 up front and the 29×2.4 SE4 in the rear. While this review focuses mainly on the SE5 as a front tire, I did ride it for a bit in the rear and will share my experiences and thoughts about the SE5 as a rear tire.
Bontrager SE5 Team Issue tire specs
- Weight: 1026g (29×2.5)
- Price: $84.99
- Buy from Trek
Bontrager lands the SE5 in the trail or enduro category as both a front and a rear tire. Options were limited when I looked at their website. The SE 5 is currently only offered in a 2.5-inch-width on either 29 or 27.5-wheel options, retailing for $84.99.
Unlike other tire manufacturers with different casing and grip compound options, Bontrager’s lineup is more limited. The SE5 comes with Core Strength Casing, “nylon inserts that provide strong, supple sidewall protection for added tire durability and support.” The 120TPI SE5 tire also comes with Bontrager’s proprietary TM-Grip, a dual-compound rubber that gives tire knobs a firmer base with a softer, grippier top. All this adds up to 1026 grams for a 29×2.5 SE5 tire.
I don’t get many flats, so casings and sidewalls compounds aren’t something I worry about much. That said, I understand that some may like all the variety certain brands offer. On the other hand, all that variety can be overwhelming, and sometimes fewer options can be better.
A knobby side tread allows you to lean the bike in the corners. Paired with a 2×2 pattern center tread, the overall look of the SE5 is aggressive. And while I haven’t ridden older versions of the SE5 Team Issue tires, I’ve heard Bontrager updated the SE5, creating a more consistent transition from the center to the side knobs of the tire.
Installing the SE5 Team Issue tire
First, I’ll mention that I had a hell of a time setting these tires up. The issue was an incredibly tight fight—nearly zero tolerance—between the tire and the wheel. It took me and a friend to get the tires on the rim.
I’ve set up different tires on different wheels—never have I worked so hard to set up tires as I did with this Bontrager tire/wheel combo. Once the tires were wrestled on the rim, there was no further issue with the tubeless setup process.
Riding the Bontrager SE5 Team Issue tire
Pulling the SE5 out of the box, I immediately noticed the tread pattern is similar to another tire I am familiar with: the Maxxis Minion DHF. While I wanted to test the Bontrager SE5 completely unbiased, it was difficult not to find similarities in the ride qualities between the SE5 and DHF.
Overall, I was impressed with the SE5 as a front tire. It stays connected to the trail and provides good traction when leaned into the corners. The transition from the center to the side knobs is very predictable, and I found myself adjusting to the SE5 as a front tire quickly.
It may be the width of the Bontrager wheel I had the SE5 rolling on, but the tire took a rounder profile compared to the more boxy DHF I am used to. Along with what seems to be well-designed and placed center and side knobs, the more rounded profile of the tire perhaps helps in that transition. This rounder profile isn’t necessarily better; just different and easy to get along with.
I ran the SE5 on several different styles of trails and in different trail conditions. The SE5 worked well with just about everything I threw at it. It wasn’t too aggressive for flowy jump trails but also hooked up well in the sandy, volcanic soil I have in my area and shed mud reasonably well. The tires are stout enough to take the jagged Central Oregon lava rock on our winter trails without puncture.
While I never experienced a flat or a puncture, I checked tire pressure and topped off the Bontrager tires before every ride. I ran the SE5 up front with 24-25psi and added about 5psi back each time I rode.
The SE5 Team Issue tire tracked well down steep, marbly descents, providing good braking traction when I needed it. At no time did I feel any sort of loss of control or skidding from the front on any steep sections.
This feeling was repeated when I put the other SE5 Bontrager sent me on my rear wheel. When braking on steeper, loose trails, my overall control was much better running SE5s front and rear.
Traction and braking while descending steeper sections of trail is where I felt the SE5 exceeded my expectations. And while the SE5 is certainly slower rolling as a rear tire than the SE4, it isn’t substantially slower that I wouldn’t run it as a rear tire. The SE5 was slow but not sluggish, and after a few miles, the slower rolling SE5 in the rear was essentially unnoticeable.
However, continuing with the SE5 as a front and rear tire didn’t work for me. I am too used to a less aggressive tire in the rear breaking free before my front tire. As I tried to run dual SE5s, I lacked confidence, feeling like both the front and rear would break free simultaneously. So, I went back to running the SE5 up front and the SE4 in the rear.
Pros and cons of the Bontrager SE5 mountain bike tire
- Predictable corning
- Good traction and braking on steeper trails
- Not overwhelmed by compound and casing choices
- Not a significant money savings
- Fewer options—width, casing, compound
The Bontrager SE5 Team Issue felt familiar and was a tire I quickly got along with thanks to a more rounded profile that makes for consistent and predictable cornering. The SE5 did exceptionally well under braking on steeper bits and provided overall traction on the steeper, marbly-loose trails I ride during the winter.
However, width, compound, and casing options are non-existent with the Bontrager SE5 Team Issue. And, at $85, the SE5 may be nearly as expensive as another tire you already know and trust.