For the 2014 model year, Bontrager is giving a huge push to their mountain bike and road wheel ranges, with the introduction of several new models as well as a re-branding of the line. Having introduced the ‘Bontrager WheelWorks’ label last year, the rolling-side of the company is looking to hone in on their roots, or rather founder Keith Bontrager’s roots, when he first began rolling down 700c rims into a 26″ diameter for use on the very first mountain bikes. 30 years later, and while the Bontrager brand has changed somewhat from those humble beginnings, the handbuilt wheel is still dear to their heart. To celebrate the recent milestone, they’ve released this snazzy video that better explains some of the unique features they have going on with their wheels, and the motivation behind putting more of Trek’s R&D might into the Bontrager WheelWorks brand.

Warning: Video contains road cycling content that may be disturbing to some viewers 

In our experience, Bontrager wheels have typically neither been here, nor there. We’ve ridden a lot of them, as they come on every Trek mountain bike, since Trek own the Bontrager brand and utilise it heavy for speccing wheels, tyres and cockpits on their complete bikes. It’s not that we’ve ever had a beef with them, but there’s never really been a lot that has caught the eye. This may be the harsh reality of the ‘standard’ built wheel however, as Bontrager has for the most part stood by their non-nonsense mountain bike wheels with regular spoke lacing, stiff and wide alloy rims and sealed bearing hubs for quite a few years now. The unassuming black hoops have typically performed well, with one of the best tubeless systems on the market (TLR), interchangeable hub end caps and higher end models receiving DT Swiss internals.
All good features for sure, but when companies like Mavic and DT Swiss make a habit of producing wild-looking system wheels with proprietary spokes and loud graphics, you can understand why Bontragers offerings might slip under the radar. Well, it seems that Trek is well aware of this, and for 2014 it looks like things will be changing quite a bit.

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There are 3 new complete wheelsets joining the Bontrager Wheelworks range for 2014; the XXX, the Rhythm Pro and the Rhythm Elite. The Rhythm name denotes the wider, more trail-oriented range of components from Bontrager, which includes wheels (obviously), handlebars, stems and seatposts. Compared to the lighter RXL and XXX wheels, Bontrager have specced wider and thicker-walled rims for the Rhythm wheels, which is to aid the use of fatter tyres that All Mountain bikes typically use. Spokes also change to a thicker gauge, and chunkier hubs provide increased axle strength and stiffness when mounted up to longer-travel bikes such as the Trek Remedy. The Rhythm wheels are available with a carbon rim (Pro) and an alloy rim (Elite), and will come in both 27.5″ and 29″ diameters – no 26″ hoops until you go down to the cheaper Rhythm Comps. The Rhythm Pro wheels are the first mountain bike rims to make use of the Trek OCLV carbon fiber that is normally reserved for their top-shelf frames like the Superfly and Fuel EX. Overall weight drops about 200 grams for the carbon wheelset over the alloy variety, all with claims of increased strength and stiffness.

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Bontrager Rhythm Pro Wheels

– High-end All Mountain wheelset
– Rim construction: OCLV Carbon Fiber with OSB (Offset Spoke Bed)
– Rim dimensions: 29mm external width, 21.5mm internal width
– Hubs: Machined Alloy w/sealed cartridge bearings & 6-Bolt rotor mount
– Interchangeable end caps to suit 9mm or QR15 forks & 135mm quick release or 142x12mm frames
– Freehub: Rapid Drive Freehub Mechanism w/54t points of engagement, 3-pawl design
– SRAM XD 11-speed freehub available aftermarket
– Spokes: Straight-pull DT Swiss double butted (14/15/14) w/Alpina alloy locking nipples
– Build: 28 spokes per wheel w/Stacked Lacing
– Tubeless Ready rim strips and valves included
– Weight: 1540gm (27.5″), 1585gm (29″)
– RRP: $2300 pair

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Bontrager Rhythm Elite Wheels

– High-end All Mountain wheelset
– Rim construction: 6061 Alloy with OSB (Offset Spoke Bed) and Reinforced Spoke Nodes
– Rim dimensions: 28mm external width, 21.5mm internal width
– Hubs: Machined Alloy w/sealed cartridge bearings & 6-Bolt rotor mount
– Interchangeable end caps to suit 9mm or QR15 forks & 135mm quick release or 142x12mm frames
– Freehub: Rapid Drive Freehub Mechanism w/54t points of engagement, 3-pawl design
– SRAM XD 11-speed freehub available aftermarket
– Spokes: Straight-pull DT Swiss double butted (14/15/14) w/Alpina alloy locking nipples
– Build: 28 spokes per wheel w/Stacked Lacing
– Tubeless Ready rim strips and valves included
– Weight: 1745gm (27.5″), 1815gm (29″)
– RRP: $1200 pair 

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The last time we saw a Bontrager XXX mountain bike wheelset was the carbon 26″ set on the incredible Trek Elite 9.9 SSL. While the carbon rims faded away along with high-end 26″ hardtails, the XXX is back for 2014, though this time with a lightweight extruded 6061 alloy rim that utilises the Bontrager Tubeless Ready rim profile, along with a wider 21mm internal width. System weight is down to an incredible sub-1300 grams for the 26″ set (yep, you can still get them!) and a claimed 1380gm for the 29″ set – damn impressive considering carbon hoops struggle to get down to that weight. Like the new Rhythm Pro and Elite wheels, the XXX makes use of a brand new freehub mechanism produced by Bontrager called ‘Rapid Drive’. Moving away from using DT Swiss internals, the Rapid Drive mechanism uses a hardened steel 54t drive ring, which is engaged by 3 hardened steel pawls that utilise 3 teeth-per pawl. The result is faster pickup, and claims of boosted durability thanks to a unique bearing layout that sees a hugely wide cartridge bearing that slots in between the freehub and main hub shell. The hubs are slimmed down in comparison to the Rhythm wheels, but they still feature cartridge bearings and interchangeable end caps for easy setup with quick release forks/frames and thru-axles.

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Bontrager XXX Wheels

– High-end XC racing wheelset
– Rim construction: 6061 Alloy with OSB (Offset Spoke Bed)
– Rim dimensions: 24mm external width, 21mm internal width
– Hubs: Machined Alloy w/sealed cartridge bearings & Centrelock spline
– Interchangeable end caps to suit 9mm or QR15 forks & 135mm quick release or 142x12mm frames
– Freehub: Rapid Drive Freehub Mechanism w/54t points of engagement, 3-pawl design
– SRAM XD 11-speed freehub available aftermarket
– Spokes: Straight-pull DT Swiss Nail Head bladed (14/17/14) w/Alpina alloy locking nipples
– Build: 28 spokes per wheel w/Stacked Lacing
– Tubeless Ready rim strips and valves included
– Weight: 1260gm (26″), 1380gm (29″)
– RRP: $1300 pair

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TLR Tubeless Ready System
While it’s not new, it has to be said that the Bontrager TLR system is one of the best tubeless setups on the market. Some brands resort to using a rim on their mountain bike wheelsets that has a solid internal rim channel without drillings, in order to create an airtight seal between tyre and rim. Without a bore all the way through the rim however, this requires a specific way of mounting the spokes, which Mavic use special threaded nipple cups. Other brands simply use a thin plastic or rubber rim strip that lays over the top of the spoke holes to create an airtight seal. Bontrager go for the latter style, but instead utilise a much thicker and rigid plastic rim strip that firmly locks into place in the rim channel during installation. The profile of the strip mimics a UST tubeless rim, so it creates a very tight interface between tyre bead and rim strip, that ‘snaps’ into place as you inflate the tyre. The beauty about the TLR system however, is if you have to replace a broken spoke, you simply remove the strip, take out the old spoke, thread in a new one and fit the rim strip back.

With all of the wheelsets listed above, and also with some of the cheaper Bontrager mountain bike wheels, you will find the full TLR kit included in the box, with 2 x rim strips and 2 x tubeless valves to carry out a conversion. The only thing you’ll need is some latex sealant, such as the Bontrager Super Juice that most Trek dealers will carry.

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We’re looking forward to checking out the new range in more detail, and seeing just how the new Rapid Drive freehub mechanism fares durability wise. In the meantime, you can check out all the necessary info on Bontrager wheels, as well as the rest of their component, apparel and accessory lines on their brand new Australian website: www.Bontrager.com, which now includes Aussie RRP pricing and a list of your nearest Trek and Bontrager dealers.