Review by Fred Robinson // Photos by Ian Collins
Bontrager has impressed us lately with the newer crop of components we've had the chance to test. So, when asked to give the new Rhythm Pro TRL wheelset a spin, we jumped on the opportunity. Featuring carbon hoops and Rapid Drive hubs for a total weight of only 1585 grams for the 27.5 wheelset, we wondered if Bontrager's claim of “ripping technical trail ascents while handing the nastiest descents” would turn out to be too good to be true. Could such a light wheelset really handle the rigors of aggressive all-mountan and Enduro riding?
Rhythm Pro TLR Disc 27.5 Wheelset Highlights
- OCLV Carbon
- Rapid Drive: 7 degree engagement hub design
- Stacked Lacing: Provides a better spoke bracing angle for a stiffer wheel
- TLR: TubeLess Ready system allows for quick transition from traditional tubed tires to tubeless
- OSB: Offset Spoke Bed reduces wheel dish, improving stiffness and stability
- Interchangeable Axles: compatibility with more frames and forks
- Construction: Carbon Rim (29mm outer, 22.5mm inner width), 3-pawl drive system, 28 front/rear DT nail head 14/15G spokes with Alpina alloy locking nipples
- Compatibility: 6 bolt ISO disc, 135/142 OLD rear QR/15 OLD front, Shimano/SRAM 10spd, and SRAM XD 11spd (freehub sold separately)
- Included parts: Bontrager TLR strip, TLR valve, interchangeable axle parts
- No rider weight restrictions
- Weight: 3 lb 7.2 oz (1585 grams)
- MSRP: $2199.98
The Bontrager Rhythm Pros look solid right out of the box. The inner rim width is almost as wide as some DH rims out there, measuring in at 22.5mm which helps provide a nice tire profile when paired with wider 2.3-2.5 inch tires. Naturally, at a (claimed) weight of 1585g for the set they felt fairly light as well.
Moving on to the heart of the wheels, Bontrager has definitely stepped their hub game up with sharp looking, oversized hubs featuring straight-pull spoke flanges and quick engagement in the rear. Bontrager's "Rapid Drive" freehub is based on a 3-pawl, 54-tooth ratchet system that provides less than 7 degrees engagement. The freehub sits on a central bearing which has been pressed into the hub shell, while the axle is also supported by a bearing on either side. The freehub is easy to remove for service, or to replace with the optional XD-driver should you move to SRAM's XX1/X01 drive train. The wheels are laced up with DT Swiss straight-pull double-butted spokes and Alpina alloy nipples. This all adds up to one promising looking wheelset that should be ready to rumble on the trail.
Setting up the Rhythm Pro wheels was straightforward. Included with the wheelset are Bontrager's TLR (TubeLess Ready) rim-strip and TLR valve which make converting the wheels to tubeless a breeze. Whilst the wheels feature an Offset Spoke Bed (which helps reduce the dish in addition to providing a straighter spoke interface), the rim channel itself is still symmetric, so the rim strip goes in either way. We went on to mount up Bontrager's XR4 tires, which with the help of a little sealant we were able to get seated with just a floor pump; no need for a compressor. Spoke tension out of the box was good, and the wheels were as true as they come. Time to hit the trails.
On The Trail
Already coming off a stiff, light, fast engaging and so far durable wheelset, the Rhythm Pro wheels were up against some solid competition. At 7 degrees, the engagement offered by the Bontrager hub is on-par with some of the other high-end hubs out there. For example compared to Chris King hubs, the very slight decrease in engagement points was hardly noticeable at all. Beyond the on-trail advantage of a quick engaging hub, Bontrager's Rapid Drive 3-pawl system makes a nice, loud but not overbearing “bzzzzzzz” sound when coasting.
For a lightweight wheelset, the Rhythm Pros handled surprisingly well during hard cornering. They were snappy and stiff, tracked well, and behaved predictably around the breakaway point. Also, we noticed an increase in how well the bike accelerated and handled quick directional changes due to the decrease in rotational weight.
Bontrager went with DT Swiss double-butted spokes to hold together the Rhythm Pro wheelset. The combination of the stiff rim and these slightly more flexible spokes gives the wheels a nice balance. They handle rough trail sections without deflecting but they still feel solid in corners and hold a line well, including during braking or accelerating hard where winding up or flexing spokes could be an issue. The straight-pull double-butted spokes should also be less prone to breaking than traditional J-bend straight-gauge spokes.
Long Term Durability
With no rider weight restrictions and the Rhythm Pro wheelset being toted as “Enduro-specialist” by Bontrager, it's fair to assume these wheels will see some abuse by a wide range of riders. We took these wheels down some of the fastest and roughest trails we have at our disposal with every intention of trying to destroy them. So far, the Rhythm Pro's have proven strong, resilient, and have handled everything we've thrown at them with ease. We ran 32psi rear and 27psi front during testing which kept most rock pings at bay, but we were still happy to find the rims dent-free after many runs and as solid as on day one. In the end we did have to true the rear wheel once due to a bad landing that resulted in a pretty big crash off a drop, which is still a good result for a sub-1600g wheelset. In summary, these wheels are among the lighter Enduro specific wheels available and they still handed everything we put them through with poise - we have no reservations trusting these wheels to get the job done for everything except proper DH.
Things That Could Be Improved
The only real gripe we had with the Rhythm Pro wheels was when it came time to dismount the tires. While the tires went on the rims without the need for tire levers, pulling them off was next to impossible. The TLR strip Bontrager provides with the wheelset has a lip that sits behind the bead in order to lock it against the outer portion of the rim. This inner bead-lock is probably what makes it so difficult to break the seal. While this is probably a blessing for riders prone to rolling tubeless tires off the rim, it makes it extremely difficult to remove the tire in the event of a flat. It took us nearly an hour of working the tire to finally remove it. Also, one could argue that a plastic rim strip has no business showing up on a wheel at this price point - there should be a way to provide the required bead-lock shape in the rim profile itself which would then allow the rim to be sealed with standard rim tape.
What's The Bottom Line?
What goes up must come down, and the Bontrager Rhythm Pro TLR wheelset wont slow you down in either direction. These wheels have proven themselves strong, stiff and durable despite their relative light weight. Tubeless ready, with a wide profile rim and fast-engaging hub to boot, there's not too much more you can ask for from an Enduro-specific wheelset. With tire changes being the only real area of concern on the Rhythm Pro TLR, we feel it is a more than solid choice for your trail bike - if you are willing to accept the hefty price tag that still comes with carbon rim territory, that is. At the same time, it is of course always possible to build wheels based on aluminum rims and faster engaging hubs for considerably less money, some of which may end up with quite similar weight and overall performance characteristics.
For more from Bontrager, visit www.bontrager.com.
About The Reviewer
Fred Robinson, a.k.a. "Derf," has been on two wheels since he was two years old. He picked up a mountain bike in 2004 and started racing downhill in 2006. He has seen moderate success racing CAT 1 but focuses his efforts on building, maintaining and riding his local trails. He's deceptively quick for a bigger guy and likes steep, fast trails where he can hang it off the back of the bike. As a SoCal native he mostly rides trails covered with loose, traction-less turns and sharp, immovable rocks. Besides downhill, he rides trail bikes, road, and also enjoys the occasional dirt jump session. He is currently a student at UCSD and a wrench at a local bike shop.