Bontrager SE5 Review
Bontrager tyres have been around for a lot longer than most people have been riding bikes, so when Trek sent me some down to try, I was happy to see how they go on the trails.
At first glance, the tread is composed of tightly packed centre knobs with a shortish ramped profile ready to roll fast. The side knobs sit proudly on the edge of the tyre's carcass and provide a very round shape prepared to hook up in corners.
The 1026 gram weight puts the SE5 on the lighter side of the scale when it comes to enduro or gravity rubber. As I am known for destroying tyres, I was initially apprehensive about the integrity of these tyres and how long they would last; more about the side walls later.
Before I delve into the review, I will give you a bit of information about the test period and conditions. I wanted to provide these tyres with a baptism of fire and figured 3 days of shuttles at Fox Creek MTB Park would do the trick. The trails mainly consisted of fast hardpack dirt and had a smattering of loose shaley rock and loose-ish off-camber loam.
After one pedal stroke, I could already feel how fast the SE5 tyres are. There was very little rolling resistance; they just wanted to keep rolling as quickly as possible in a straight line. They also accelerate like a greyhound chasing a rabbit thanks to their lightweight.
The extra speed had me coming into corners hotter than ever, and it was time to deploy the anchors. It was at this moment I knew I was in trouble….. After skipping, skidding and dancing around, I finally washed off some speed. While the leading edges of the tyres are ramped for speed, there is a significant lack of braking edges on the centre knobs. This led to some sketchy moments before I understood my new braking points.
I have spent a lot of time on the Pirelli Scorpion S tyres and found them to be quite predictable while cornering or riding off-camber terrain, thanks to their more even spread of knobs. The SE5 are a lot like the trusted Minion DHF in the way they have what I like to call the "YOLO Gap".
The "YOLO Gap" refers to the bare, knobless channel that runs between the centre knobs and the side knobs. When cornering, I'd have to commit to the side knobs. Otherwise, my wheels would dance around as I sat in the gap. A similar feeling would occur when riding across an off-camber. You can feel the tyre drop when in the gap and catch on the side knobs.
While it might have been a slightly negative feeling at first, once I adjusted to the tyres and committed to the side knobs, the tyres began to shine. While the Pirellis would be my tyre of choice for any off-camber or when the terrain got shaley, the SE5 definitely have their place in the arsenal.
I really, really, really tried to kill these tyres over the last three days, but they still live. Even though they have a lightweight sidewall and overall feel, the SE5 is quite a tough tyre. The more compliant sidewall aided in dampening some of the high-frequency trail chatter and led to a smoother ride. However, even with 32 psi and a cush core in the rear, the tyres would still begin to squirm a bit in high-speed corners. You must remember I am quite a heavy rider, so you may not fully experience this when riding.
Alright, let's wrap this thing up. With over 3500m descended, a lot of braking and some high-speed testing, would I recommend these tyres? If you are riding a lot of hardpack or softish medium level loam, these tyres will shine. In places where you want to hit hyper-speed, or the dirt will do the gripping for you, the SE5's downfalls may be masked.
If you are riding more loose shale, need to rely on consistent braking or are after something to dig in when the rains hit, you might prefer the SE6 from Bontrager, Maxxis Assegai, or one of my favourites, the Pirrelli Scorpion S.
The SE5s will be staying in rotation for those high-speed flat out trails where I can commit to berms, want to scando everything and need to prioritise efficiency. They hold up remarkably well for a lightweight tyre, even with the thin sidewalls and less sticky rubber. Keen to keep running these for a bit longer and see if I can actually kill them. Stay Tuned.