Bontrager is Trek’s house brand for bicycle components, clothing, and and accessories. If you buy a Trek, you’ll probably see Bontrager-branded parts where some other bike company might use a generic or minor name component. And my experience with Bontrager has been pretty good. To me, one alloy seatpost is generally as good as another. If it keeps my ass off the top tube, I’m a happy camper.
Bontrager also markets tires. My Trek SOHO, which I’ve paired with an Xtracycle Free Radical hitchless trailer, was delivered with a set of Bontrager street slicks. They wore a bit quickly, but my local bike shop had a similar set of Bontrager Hard Case tires on hand when my original equipment came to sudden grief one afternoon. They offered them at a generous discount, so I bought a pair and headed down the road.
Puncture-resistant, but …
I’ll say one thing for these tires: They’re clearly puncture-resistant. I can’t remember the last time I changed a roadside flat on the cargo bike, despite Pensacola’s poorly maintained streets. But the casings aren’t much more durable than the kind which hold together your average breakfast sausage.
I began noticing cuts in the casing almost immediately. One was sufficiently distressing that I bought a spare tire, just in case (I rely on the cargo bike for primary transportation).
Of more concern was unusual wear and scalloping on both the front and rear tread. The Hard Case has a raised center ridge, but this took on a dappled appearance, and was uneven to the touch. It wasn’t long before the tires were noisy (imagine a scaled-down knobby), and I could feel vibration at speed.
On Friday, my front tire began to disintegrate on a downhill. I was lucky — the tire held pressure, and I managed to limp home. But you can see the tread separation in the photo above. It was time to mount the spare.
Which seemed to go fine. I worked in a shop way-back-when, and have changed hundreds of tubes in my time. So I’m careful about getting a tire properly seated before applying full pressure. I usually wear eye protection when inflating a tire, and keep my face well away in case something gives.
That’s what happened with the brand-new spare. At about 90 pounds of pressure, a section of tire bead separated from the sidewall. The resulting pop rendered tire and tube into garbage, and ensured that Stella the Housecat has regular bowel movements for at least the next week.
Time to go shopping
So that’s probably it for Bontrager tires around here. I’ll ask my shop about a warranty replacement, since the spare was obviously defective. Barring this, I’m in the market for a pair of 700C touring/commuter tires in the 32 to 35mm range. I’ve had good luck with the Vittoria Randonneur, like the Continental Contacts on my Surly LHT, and would obviously be happy with Schwalbe. In the meantime, my Trek SOHO sits sadly in the corner.