Review: Bontrager SE4 29 x 3.0 tires

I’ve been a fan of Bontrager’s Chupacabra tires since they first hit the market. For something so light and fast the Chupas manage to provide predictable traction in conditions that should stymie its pattern of small tread blocks. But that lightness comes at a price. I’ve punctured these tires a fair number of times in the last few years, and in high traction situations, the lightweight casing can get squirmy, even when supported by wide rims. I’m a fan of 29plus for exploratory rides, in the woods and in the city, and immediately swapped the stock Chupacabras on my Trek Stache for a set of Maxxis Minion 29×3.0 tires as soon as they hit the market. After a few months on the new 29plus SE4s, the Minions have found a serious competitor.

Based on the tread pattern that is stock on almost all Trek’s full suspension trail bike offerings, the SE4 in the 29×3.0 size is the most sturdy tire available for 29plus. The SE is the “enduro” designation for Bontrager’s tires. The SE tires all utilize a Core Strength casing, which utilizes nylon inserts in the sidewall and below the tread to increase puncture protection and provide more support under cornering loads. For reference, it feels slightly less robust than a Maxxis Double Down casing, but not by much.

The SE4 tread is aggressive but doesn’t require the aggressive riding style needed to get the most out of the Minions. The DHF/DHR have a wide channel between the center and cornering knobs, so cornering requires a committed lean. The SE4 has transition knobs and works with a wide range of turning styles. There is copious braking traction, and the dual compound 61a/50a rubber handles wet roots and rocks quite well.

The 60tpi casing provides excellent support for cornering and allowed me to drop a few pounds of pressure on each end without resulting in too much squirm or constant rim strikes in rough terrain. I am sure the Sun Duroc 50 rims I’ve been riding helped to keep the sidewalls supported as well.

All this rubber and strong casing aren’t light. The pair of prototype SE4s I’ve been riding are right around 1240 grams each. That is a little lighter than I expected but still heavier than the Minions by about 150 grams. On pavement, the SE4s make their weight and soft rubber known with a sluggish feel. That sluggishness goes away as soon as they hit the dirt and never feel slow except when trying to hustle in very tight and slow trails. Taking advantage of the traction, momentum and roll-over ability of these tires is key to keeping speeds high on the trail while conserving energy.

The SE4s fill a hole in the 29plus tire world. The strong casing should work well in areas prone to sidewall cuts and punctures, and the tread pattern will turn any 29plus bike into a force to be reckoned with in almost any terrain. For riders that need less beefiness, the same tread pattern can be had in the XR4 with a 120 tpi Inner Peace casing that is similar to the Maxxis EXO casing. Bontrager offers both SE and XR version of this tire in plenty of sizes including 2.4, 2.6 and 3.0 in 29 inch, and 2.4, 2.6 and 2.8 in 27.5 inch.

Riders looking for an aggressive all-around tread pattern, or the absolute strongest tire for bikepacking should be very happy with a set of SE4s.

Price: $105