The best thing about a good tire is forgetting about it. Not losing a wheel. Not fixing a flat. Not worrying about the rock you think just touched your rim.
The Bontrager AW3 Hard-Case Lite is that tire: it’s nothing flashy to look at, and it’s not super light. It replaces the popular RXL Hard-Case All Weather tire, aimed at the same poor roads and winter riding as its dad, and it does a fine job of it. The long and short of it is that this all-season tire doesn’t leave you hanging, even over the roughest dirt roads. And while not cheap at $69.99, the AW3s are hardly the most expensive on the market.
I was looking for a 25mm tire to get my legs back after a stint in Europe, a tire I could ride on western Colorado’s pockmarked dirt roads, because in the mountains around Telluride and Steamboat, sometimes the paved options become a bit tiresome. But throw on a capable tire, and the same old rides become new again, flush with dirt connectors and 15 percent grades. I grabbed the Bontragers from the Velo tech room because, frankly, it was the only set of 25mm clinchers I could see. It wasn’t regretted.
Sure, they’re a little slower than a super light tire, at 305 grams in the 25mm size. But we think a good tire isn’t limited to one application or another. And if you’re like us, most of your memorable riding comes when you’re wandering unique roads old and new, not mashing up laps on perfectly swept streets. The Bontragers pass muster here.
On one ride outside of Steamboat, I thought my bike was about toss me onto the washboard dirt roads at 30 miles per hour, and a spoke even broke under the pressure. The tires? No problems at all. It felt almost criminal, not flatting on some of the roads they were abused upon. Bontrager employs a treated compound it calls Hard-Case to reduce punctures, but the road feel isn’t totally wiped away by the thicker tire; they were impressively supple given the girth, and the excellent protection allowed for lower tire pressures, too.
The company also uses what it calls Aero Wings, a bead profile that closes the gap between the rim and tire for improved aerodynamics. I found they mounted up to a set of Zipp 202s with relative ease and that the rim and tire matched up nicely — no bulging sidewalls here. Cornering and descending were unremarkable, but in the way previously mentioned: you won’t be worried about it. The tires also employ a siped tread, meant for cornering in wet conditions — although siping is largely irrelevant on a bicycle tire, for some reason looking down and seeing those little grooves makes me feel better.
The less good
Like any tire, this set certainly has its limits. Namely, it isn’t a mountain bike tire, or a race tire. After riding hard for two months over rough roads, I flatted twice in two days: once on an admittedly borderline road for road biking (Sunshine Mesa, outside of Telluride) and the next day on a smooth, paved descent. The moral? When they’re done, they’re done. But that’s true of any tire, and again, we probably shouldn’t have let it get that far. It had been 850 hard miles over some roads that made us wince — stick to tarmac and you’ll get well over twice that figure out of them.
The last word
For some people, all that really matters is that a tire hold its own and not leave them bent over on the side of the road, hoping the air cartridge has enough to get them home. This is that tire. It’s not revolutionary or new and fancy, but it does what it says. And that’s all we can ask for. We’ll mount another set, and soon.