Bontrager has been a long-time player in the competitive carbon fibre wheel market, and its Aeolus Pro 3 TLR wheels are a really solid all-round choice with tubeless compatibility, good braking performance, dependable durability and speed in abundance. They look good, too, with understated decals.
- Pros: Aero, low weight, stiff, look great, braking
- Cons: Still a fair amount of money, tubeless rim strip fiddly to install
The Aeolus Pro range is Bontrager's most affordable offering, made in the Far East rather than in the US like its range-topping wheels, and consists of full carbon fibre clincher rims in a choice of depths with easy tubeless compatibility and reliable hubs. There's a disc version as well. Bontrager reckons the wheelset 'balances durability, weight, and aerodynamics for pro-level performance that doesn't break the bank'.
The rims are made from OCLV Pro Carbon using a tried-and-tested D3 Dual Directional Design profile, measuring 35mm deep and 19.5mm wide internally. That's the sort of depth that makes them a really good all-round choice, providing aerodynamics for racing yet keeping the weight low for mountain goats.
Bontrager used the rim profile on its previous Aeolus 3 D3 wheels. It's a shape that has been developed using CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and wind tunnel testing and follows the current trend for a wide bulbous profile, aimed at offering improved aerodynamics in a wider range of wind directions. The profile is claimed to reduce drag at the tyre and rim leading edge.
Braking on track
One of the big changes is the new textured brake track. Braking performance has been the common downfall of carbon fibre wheels over the years, but things are thankfully much better than those early ventures a decade or so ago. With the supplied SwissStop Black Prince brake blocks, the retardation in all weather conditions is good. Yes, even in the wet the braking is pretty decent, as good as any other carbon wheels I've tested. It's nowhere near as good as disc brakes, but let's not get into that debate here...
The rims are laced to Bontrager's own aluminium hubs with a 3-pawl freehub with 24 points of engagement. It provided no fuss during the test, and is very responsive when getting on the power instantly. DT Swiss Aerolite bladed stainless steel spokes (18 front and 24 rear) and brass nipples hold everything together.
It's a solid build as regards the spokes and hubs, nothing fancy but all reliable and proven kit. Choosing brass over aluminium nipples is a mechanic's delight: they're more robust should you need to adjust the spoke tension. I didn't have any need to take a spoke key anywhere near the wheels in my time riding them.
The TLR in the product name stands for tubeless ready, as more and more wheels are these days. By default they come with regular rim tape installed but if you do want to go down the tubeless route there's a special plastic rim strip that snaps into place and provides the necessary airtight chamber.
It's a bit tricky to install but once in place, and with the tubeless valves (supplied) and sealant (not supplied), I had no issues with different brand tubeless tyres installing on the first attempt. The wheels also work well with inner tubes and regular clincher tyres too, should you not be ready for an inner tube-free ride.
What are they like to ride?
I've been pounding these wheels for months and they've not given me any cause for concern. They've been used for road races, long training rides and short and sharp chain gangs, and they've shone every time I've spun them up to speed. They're comfortably equal to many more expensive wheels I've tested over the years.
The main reasons for choosing carbon wheels (other than the pimp looks) are aerodynamics, stiffness and weight savings. The 1,560g actual weight is only a smidgen higher than Bontrager's claimed 1,506g, which puts them in the ballpark with other carbon wheels from leading brands; a Zipp 303 Firecrest is a claimed 1,480g.
It's hard to test aerodynamic claims without a wind tunnel, but there's no doubt they feel faster than the box section aluminium clincher wheelset they replaced on the test bike. I used power, heart rate and speed to provide some data, though removing all variables is a tricky old business in the real world.
They handle well whatever the conditions, particularly so in strong crosswinds. Being a lightweight rider I do literally feel the downside of some deep-section carbon wheels when exposed to sidewinds. The Bontrager wheels are as stable as you want, a benefit of the shallow depth but also that profile doing its thing.
Stiffness is a benefit of a carbon fibre wheelset and the Aeolus Pro 3s feel snappy, responsive and immediate, whether sprinting for a finish line or surging up a steep climb. There was no noticeable brake rub when cranking out of the saddle. Although stiff, they can handle rough roads without feeling harsh or rigid, paired with 25mm tyres at about 80psi.
Are they worth it?
Although the Aeolus Pro is Bonty's 'affordable' range, £1,200 is a load of money to spend on a set of carbon bike wheels. That puts them in a competitive middle-ground between bargain and premium wheels. They're cheaper than Giant's SLR 0 42mm wheels at £1,549.98, the DT Swiss PRC Spline 65 at £1,674.98 and Roval's CLX 50 at £1,870, but you can pick up the Hunt 3650 Carbon Wide Aero wheels with tyres for £1,078 or the Prime RR-28s for £624.99.
Based on their impressive performance and reliability, I'd say these do offer enough to justify the extra outlay over some of the cheaper wheels: the good aero performance, solid build and Bontrager's Carbon Care Wheel Programme, which 'ensures the replacement or repair of Bontrager carbon wheels at a discounted price in the unlikely event that they are damaged'.
How much you spend on carbon wheels is down to many personal factors, but it's worth realising just how much choice there is now compared to five or ten years ago, and even the cheaper wheels are a reasonably safe purchase.
High-end performance at a reasonable price
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3 TLR Road
Size tested: 700C
Tell us what the wheel 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?
Full-carbon, tubeless-ready road bike wheel that perfectly balances durability, weight, and aerodynamics.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the wheel?
The D3 Dual Directional Design profile cuts drag at the tyre-leading and rim-leading edges
OCLV Pro Carbon offers an optimised blend of weight, strength and durability
Tubeless Ready (TLR) rims allow for quick transition to a tubeless system
Confidence inspiring brake track increases stopping power while dissipating heat
35 mm depth OCLV Carbon rim (27 mm outer, 19.5 mm inner width) DT Aerolite spokes and Alpina locking nipples
Quick release hubs, Bontrager 24 point engagement, 3 pawl hub
Compatible with Shimano 10/11-speed, SRAM 10/11 free hubs
Includes TLR rim strip, TLR valve, valve core removal tool, Black Prince carbon pads, and traditional rim strip
Up to Bontrager (and Trek's) usual high standards. They have a premium finish that some cheaper wheels don't have.
They're fast, silky smooth, stable in crosswinds and the brakes work pretty well in all weathers.
I've pounded them over my local very rough roads and they've been fine on the durability front. The Carbon Care Wheel Programme offers extra peace of mind.
Pretty good weight for the rim depth and wide profile.
You're getting a lot of solid R&D and expertise at a pretty attractive price point.
Did the wheels stay true? Any issues with spoke tension?
How easy did you find it to fit tyres?
Very easy, with tubes or without.
How did the wheel extras (eg skewers and rim tape) perform?
Liked the Bontrager skewers and the tubeless kit is a nice touch.
Tell us how the wheel performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Provide good all-round performance whether racing or training or just riding.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the wheel
Ride great and look great.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the wheel
Nothing to dislike really.
Did you enjoy using the wheel? Yes
Would you consider buying the wheel? Yes
Would you recommend the wheel to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
A solid and impressive set of performance carbon fibre wheels at a competitive price, the Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3 TLRs don't appear to give away all that much in performance compared to wheels that cost a lot more money, and you're getting the peace of mind in buying from a large and reputable company.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.