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Wider road bike tyres are gaining an almost unstoppable momentum as people discover they can be both fast and comfortable, and with the emergence of the endurance road bike genre, Rubenesque road rubber is only going to become more common as bikes are designed to fit fat slicks. The Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite 700x32c pushes the plump limit to the point where once upon a time it might have been considered a humourously slick cyclo-cross tyre.
The R3 Hard-Case Lite comes in 23, 25, 28 and 32mm widths, and the full fat version here is something to behold, turning your road bike (if the rubber will fit) into something like a SuperMoto bike, although sideways drifts are not required on every corner, however tempting.
The R3 pumps up true to stated size on the rim, and yet both tyres came in slightly lighter than the published 290g weight at 281g and 283g. There's also a TLR – tubeless ready – version if you and your wheels are up to speed with that sort of technology.
You could argue, and some have, that over the course of a long ride over crappy roads a fatter tyre is going to be more efficient and faster overall than a slimmer tyre. Rolling resistance is less, and as you're not getting beaten about so much by the road surface, especially if you drop to a lower pressure that a fatter tyre will allow, you will stay fresher and stronger for longer. And on a more tangible level you'll waste less time trying to weave around holes and debris looking for the less puncture-prone line.
The R3 Hard-Case Lite 32s are a noticeably more comfortable tyre than the 25s they replaced – by quite some margin, as you might expect. And yet they don't feel noticeably slower. That's not to say they produced an awesome magic-carpet ride over the moonscape of standard country lanes, but they handily cut out a significant amount of tedious road buzz and bump without divorcing you from the road characteristics underneath you, which is important. And they made holes, drains and craters a little less of a pinch-flat worry.
Overall riding is easier, less stressful as you aren't worn down by constant road vibration, and you don't have to concentrate continually about the road surface and what you might need to avoid, ensuring you're less fatigued, both mentally and physically.
Should you want to venture away from the tarmac, the oversized diameter of these Bontragers means you can do so with confidence and a little bit of comfort. The R3s tackled a fair amount of gravel paths both intentionally and otherwise, and even some mild off-road, and they performed admirably. Obviously you have to tip-toe around a bit at times if the terrain gets overtly rocky and bumpity, and you can get a pinch-puncture by riding, um, over-exuberantly, but they can extend the range of your road bike further than you might have thought possible down not-really roads.
Bontrager says there's a unique Aero Wing bead that eliminates the gap between rim and tyre for aero advantage. If it didn't have that written in the description then I wouldn't have noticed that at all, in any way. That said, if you're running 32mm tyres aero isn't necessarily your priority. Oh, wait, unless you've got one of those new aero gravel bikes.
The combination of tyre width and rubber compound makes them incredible tyres for cornering and descending. The first proper corner done on them produced uncontrollable giggling (back to those SuperMoto bikes) and every bend approached since then has been leant into without even having to think about it, and then leant into a little bit further, even on drizzlegreasy roads where traction can usually be compromised.
In a similar fashion, descending on them is fast, furious and decidedly assured. Their voluminosity means that they soak up any vibration and pocked road surface that might make a thinner tyre nervous, and you're not at risk of getting knocked and shimmied off line. If you do hit something untoward you can ride it out instead of getting skitted across the tarmac like you might on a more slender tyre. They make descents even more fun than you might normally find them.
Those none-too-sluggish yet all-day-comfy and road taming characteristics come into their own if you're a rider who likes a proper long ride, maybe one that creeps into night, and then out the other side, at some pace, and might be carrying some sort of pannier or more on-trend strap-on bike-packing luggage as well. The extra width copes well with loads without making the ride harsh, giving things a bit more float so you can shoe-horn yourself off the saddle at the end without feeling battered. The tackiness of the rubber gives a surefooted assertiveness to tired and/or laden progress too.
The trade-off for all that cushy rolling comfort is a certain amount of sluggishness on hills and a slight delay when stamping on the pedals. On climbs you can feel that they're a bit listless to turn around at slower speeds, and when you stand up to sprint, or put a bit more effort into an ascent, they don't snap forward like a scrawnier tyre might. But to be fair, blistering speed and lightning acceleration aren't this plump tyre's intention, and the cush and speed over pock-marked surfaces over the whole rest of a ride will more than make up for these shortcomings.
Wear is very good despite the mileage (many, many miles, of the sort you might do while training for the Transcontinental, including a 400km audax and four stages of the Tour de France route), with the rear flattening off just a little bit, and more impressively there are only a very few nicks in the rubber. The roads round my way are notorious for cutting tyres up and the depressing appearance of to-the-casing gashes can prematurely age a tyre, but the Bontragers are notably and significantly wound-free. This is a hardy claim backed up by the fact that they've had only the one (slow) puncture, gained on a climb even, thanks to the Hard-Case Lite protection – especially noteworthy considering some of the roads and tracks they've been inappropriately rolled over.
These Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lites have done a lot of miles, most of them on tarmacked roads, of every kind of quality, and some loose off-road – some of these on a baggaged bike – and they've performed remarkably. If they fit in your bike they're a tyre that you don't have to think about or make adjustments for, they just do their job without incident. Speedy enough to be fun on the road and yet tough enough to wander off it should you wish.
A most comfortable, durable, yet nippy and fun tyre for both on and mild off-road use, if they fit in your bike
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite 700x32 Clincher Road Tyre
Size tested: 700x32
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Bontrager says these are for "diving into corners. Hammering climbs. City-line sprints. Speed is your thing, and you need tyres that can handle those demands. The R3 boasts 120TPI casing for supple handling and great rolling resistance."
These 32s aren't the speediest, the slimmer sizes maybe, but despite their girth they're a tyre you can play about on, be that on the tarmac or dirt tracks usually unsuitable on a road bike.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Bontrager lists these features:
Low rolling resistance with excellent cornering grip
A unique Aero Wing bead eliminates the gap between rim and tyre for aero advantage
Hard-Case Lite protects against punctures with superior, lightweight, sub-tread material
Available in a wide variety of sidewall colours to customise the look of your bike
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
A brilliant tyre if you like to travel long distances on a variety of terrains with some speed.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Comfort, over all sorts of terrains, puncture resistance.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
A bit sluggish on climbs.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
The Bontrager R3 700x32 tyres have been a bit of a revelation: comfortable, tons of grip, hardwearing and yet not noticeably slower than the 25s I usually run. And it's been amazing to find out how little you have to react to the vagaries of tarmac surface with a fat road tyre which, when combined with the comfort, makes a huge difference to weariness over the course of a long ride. Impressive performance and giggles away from tarmac as well. How the hell did we ever survive clattering around on 700x21s?
About the tester
I usually ride: It varies as to the season. My best bike is: The one I'm on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo-cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking, fun
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.