Review: Bontrager XR3

Keith Bontrager, a former motorcycle racer and Physics major at the University of California Santa Cruz, started building bicycles in 1979. Through the 80’s & 90’s he pioneered many design and manufacturing techniques within the industry. Bontrager then joined forces with Trek Bikes where he now continues to develop products. His no-compromise approach to engineering, inquisitive mind and penchant for testing continue to guide the product development process today.

The latest from the Bontrager stable is a fast-rolling, high volume, versatile XC tyre which debuted on the 2020 Trek Top Fuel. XC racing is changing, riders are charging faster and the courses are becoming more demanding so it’s high time for bigger volume, soft, supple yet durable tyres which bite in and provide traction at speed. As it happens, these are the same needs as riders who are simply charging trails…

Bontrager XR3 tyre on test for Bike Network by Myles Kelsey.
The redesigned XR3 is a fast-rolling, bigger volume, XC race or trail rally tyre.

Features and intended use

Available in a 29 x 2.4″ and a 27.5 x 2.8″ the XR3 from Bontrager is designed to be a do-it-all trail or race tyre that excels in a variety of conditions. The tread pattern through the centre of the tyre is designed to optimize rolling speed with small, siped knobs. The shoulder or side knobs are more aggressive in design to boost cornering traction on all surfaces and are also siped.

Bontrager used a 62a center knob durometer to further optimize rolling speed with a slightly softer 60a shoulder knob durometer to improve bite when on the edge. Despite the beefy side knobs the tyre profile is fairly round. A lightweight 120 TPI casing optimizes ride feel and rolling speed. The casings contain nylon inserts which improve support at lower pressures and improve the durability.

Bontrager XR3 tyre on test for Bike Network by Myles Kelsey.
The aggressive side knobs are tucked into the shoulder and provide a rail to carve turns on.

As with all Bontrager gear and components the XR3’s carry an ‘Unconditional Guarantee’ warranty. If you are unhappy with the purchase simply return the item within 30 days (with original receipt) for an exchange or refund.

On the trail

For the varied terrain I ride I settled on a 18psi front and 24psi rear setup which offered a good compromise of rolling speed, traction and rim protection. I have done over 200km on these tyres and have a pretty good handle on their performance. The rolling speed is excellent. They absolutely chuck it along tar, loose gravel type surfaces, forest trails and singletrack. Naturally this good rolling speed assists and rewards climbing efforts.

Bontrager XR3 tyre on test for Bike Network by Myles Kelsey.
The bigger volume XR3 does a good job of muting rowdy marathon trails.

The advantage of a bigger volume tyre like the XR3 is that despite having small centre knobs the traction under power on loose surfaces is actually really good. The contact patch (amount of rubber that is on the dirt) is the key here. The bite of the rear wheel when riding up steep rocky trails like Dead Man’s Tree on the Cape Epic route is quite impressive.

At high speed the ability to hold a line, or make small corrections to bad line choice is good. The front tyre responds well to any steering / directional changes made. The performance in wet and muddy conditions is better than the small tread pattern suggests. I experienced very little clogging up of mud or mucky stuff.

Bontrager XR3 tyre on test for Bike Network by Myles Kelsey.
Traction under power on loose surfaces is excellent.

The most impressive performance attributes are it’s cornering traction and supple feel on rougher trails. I’d say there is more rider confidence when tipping the bike into a turn knowing that the shoulder or edge knobs will bite in and prevent washing out. I experienced that for sure. On some of the trails, when really pushing it, I experienced a slight push of the tyre across the dirt before the shoulder knob bites in which reinforces their existence – and mine. The supple feel of the XR3 compound and casing smooths out trails which helps carry speed and charge a little harder. In terms of lifespan, there is very little wear on the tyres after 200km – in fact, they look new.


The 755gram, 29 x 2.4″ XR3 provides a great combination of rolling speed, corner traction and trail damping. Hard charging XC racers and trail riders will love the performance of this big volume, durable tyre. For certain race conditions – say on predictable courses which are very smooth – the lighter 29 x 2.2″ XR1 or XR2 is a good option but for pure versatility and confidence under all conditions – including unsighted trails – the XR3 is excellent.