Bontrager has upped its mountain bike tires with a whole range of excellent choices; from thin, featherweight XC skins to full-on World Cup-winning downhill treads. The Bontrager XR2 Team Issue TLR leans heavily towards the light, low-rolling resistance XC side. Yet it’s surprisingly capable with durability that belies its weight and appearance.
Bontrager has been producing some very fine tires lately Russell Eich / Immediate Media
Bontrager XR2 Team Issue specs
- 29 x 2.35in
- 670g on my scale
- Fast rolling with consistent, predictable traction
- Excel in loose-over-hardpack and loamy conditions
- Tubeless Ready (TLR)
- Inner Strength casing
The side knobs are raised a touch for bite in the twisty bits Russell Eich / Immediate Media
Tire set up
My initial impressions of the XR2s were “man, these things are light! I’m gonna shred ’em to bits.” My next impression was one of frustration as the XR2 I was attempting to mount on my front wheel was putting up a serious fight. A floor pump wouldn’t seat it, but eventually with a lot of persuasion and my air compressor I was able to snap the beads to the rim.
In contrast to the loose front, the rear mounted super tight, even with the first bead slipped down in the rim’s inner channel it took quite a bit of strength to work the last few inches of remaining tire bead onto the rim. But from there, the rear aired up easily with a floor pump. It’s interesting how much variance there is between tires and rims.
Warning! Not really, just a note to use sealant or a tube like every other tubeless-ready tire Russell Eich / Immediate Media
Fast, oh so fast
You know those days when your legs have the snap, the quickness, and the power you want and expect? You probably do. Slip on some Bontrager XR2 tires and you’ll get a lot more of those days. Sure that’s an exaggeration, but on the right trails the XR2s can make you feel like your bike has dropped three pounds.
Let off the gas and the XR2s coast with the feeling of a tailwind at your back
On the road grind to the trailhead or shredding up the dirt it’s instantly noticeable from the first few cranks how much acceleration these treads allow you to spin up. The same goes for pumping the backsides of bumps and rocks, the bike scoots forward much more so than with heavier knobs.
Let off the gas and the XR2s coast with the feeling of a tailwind at your back. Make no mistake, they’re fast tires, through and through. Dipping the bars and weighting them through the corners takes a subtle touch; smashing and big heavy movements aren’t the techniques that will get the XR2s to respond. At least respond in a way you want if you desire to stay on the trail. Look ahead, ride smooth and avoid abrupt jerkiness and the XR2s are happy to carve.
The knobs are intact and look surprisingly fresh for the amount of rock they’ve been dragged over Russell Eich / Immediate Media
With all that speed, there are a few trade offs especially if you’re used to big, soft tires with loads of traction. My very first ride on the XR2s saw me blow right through two corners and into the weeds. I hit the brakes in my usual spot, but the lack of tread, and therefore braking bite, took me by surprise.
As mentioned, corners also required a bit more thoughtfulness. The XR2’s tread is pretty round, which provides predictably lean and consistent cornering, but again lacks the locked-in feeling that heavier, squared tires deliver. Pushing hard and loading the XR2s up results in the small side knobs quickly becoming overwhelmed and letting go. On the rear, this is actually pretty awesome, but on the front you need to bring your A game.
The Frank Stacy-designed tire features small, symmetrical knobs to skim the trails Russell Eich / Immediate Media
It didn’t take long though before I had adjusted my riding style. From those first frisky moments on, the momentum these tires brought became almost addictive, with other tires feeling slow and heavy by comparison. The last thing worth mentioning with regards to speed is tricky back-to-back turns can get pretty interesting. In spots where you have to weave the bars through trees, the extra speed the XR2s carry make you have to sharpen your reactions.
As mentioned above, I thought these tires would find a severely abbreviated lifespan given my rocky riding conditions, but they’ve managed to hold up extremely well. Kudos go to Bontrager’s Inner Strength casing, it’s the real deal for fending off sidewall slices and pinch flats. I’ve shredded more than my fair share of knobs and sidewalls on other tires and the XR2s are holding up.
Bontrager’s XR2 Team Issue TLR tire is all about going fast Russell Eich / Immediate Media
The XR2s would excel in endurance riding and racing, or on trail bikes where big mileage days are on the docket. Anywhere where you’re logging monster miles or demand slingshot-like efficiency and response, the XR2s should be on your shortlist. Cranking hard while reeling in the horizon seems to be their forte. The fact they’re able to do that and survive rocky, nasty terrain makes them incredible.