“There is something really, really appealing about the instant speed you have on offer from a lighter tyre…”

If there is ever one change I make to my bike, to make it go faster, it’s always my tyres. Whatever discipline you are trying to excel at, tyres are a critical part of making that possible. Tyres are also the one area where you can gain or lose weight dramatically, and the increased impact this has, via the inertia factor, means that if you haven’t thought about changing your tyres to better suit your riding style – you should! Fortunately, they are one of the easiest things to change, which makes experimenting a breeze.

A lot of today’s trail bikes come with pretty chunky tyres, which look great – and give great confidence rolling down the hill – but if you haven’t at least tried a set of lightweight XC tires, you might just not be aware of how much rubbery lard you are dragging around with you. If you predominantly keep the wheels on the ground, and tend to ride in drier conditions, you might be able to try a lighter tyre.

Bontrager’s XR1 are their new, lightest of the light, fastest of the fast race tyres. I’ve been riding the 2.2 TLR (tubeless-ready). The XR1’s weigh in at just 630g, which guarantees speed off the line. The tread is extremely low profile across, with slightly raised outer knobs. It also features the Bontrager ‘TM-Speed’ compound that rolls faster, making it the go-to race tyre for Trek Factory racers. Under the skin, the XR1’s feature a 120tpi construction giving them a nice supple feel and ‘Inner Strength Casing’ which is made of a lightweight nylon insert that provides strong, supple sidewall protection for added tire durability, with minimal weight penalty.

Setting them up on the bike was a breeze. They mounted straight up with minimal fuss and were seated easily with my Blackburn Chamber Tubeless floor pump. Out on the trails, I was again reminded that everything is a trade-off and, as much as I do like riding with larger tyres generally, there is something really, really appealing about the instant speed you have on offer from a lighter tyre – they transform your bike into feeling quite different. The XR1’s really motor along, and the combination of low rolling resistance and low weight means you just seem to be able to ascend in one or two higher gears than you usually would.

The XR1’s are naturally most at home in dry conditions – did I mention those centre knobs are small? They are probably only 2mm tall but, in the dry, they are still surprisingly effective at generating traction. Heavy braking, however, needs to be executed with awareness as it’s not hard to move from slowing down to front wheel drifting – brake on the straight before it’s too late! The TM Speed compound was also impressively grippy over tree roots. In the wet, they have their limitations, and if I knew I was racing in the wet I’d opt for something like the XC2 or XC3. The close knobs don’t shed mud as easily as some others – but, on the plus side, the low knobs don’t hold as much mud either. The side knobs provide surprisingly effective cornering support considering the overall size of their bite. In the dry, I found myself impressed with just how far I could push them. The Inner Strength Casing, so far, has kept the puncture tally at zero – which is great.

Experimenting on tyres isn’t something most of us can afford to do too often but, at an RRP of just $79, the XR1’s fall a decent amount under the cost of some other name brand tyres. So, if you’re looking for a lighter tyre for some summer racing, bikepacking, or even just to make it easier to keep up with your fitter friends, the XR1’s are definitely worth a look.

Review: Lance Pilbrow
Distributor: Trek NZ
RRP: $79