Not everyone knows it, but Bontrager is one of the most technically competent wheel manufacturers around. As a matter of fact, they’ve been doing it since 1980. The company is owned by Trek Bicycles, and their carbon wheels are handmade in the USA on custom-built machinery.
The Aeolus 3 is a product of this expertise. It’s intended to be a little bit aero, competently stiff and a great choice for a one-ring-to-rule-them-all workhorse wheelset. At 35 mm deep it’s the shallowest offering Bontrager makes, but a bit wider than vogue with a 19.5 mm inner width, comparable to a cross country mountain bike wheel from only a few years ago (most road wheels are around 16 mm internal). Throw in a tubeless profile to boot and you can shed the inner tubes, gaining some sweet puncture resistance and extra grip for your trouble.
Not the type to cut anybody out of the chance to own a set, Bontrager offers the Aeolus 3 in both disc and rim brake options. I had the rim brake model on test, with a claimed weight of 1,506 grams in the nude. The rims are connected to Bontrager’s own branded hubs via DT Aerolite spokes, and in my case came with a set of 26c width R3 tubeless tyres, which I mounted up on the tubeless ready rims.
Wheels are arguably one of the most effective upgrades you can make to improve a bike’s performance. Choosing the right wheel is important, and for gusty, hilly Auckland conditions the Aeolus 3 is a good pick. When I replaced a set of stock alloy DT Swiss clinchers, the new bike parts brought an “insta-diet” whose effects were immediately noticeable rolling out the door.
These wheels are certainly stiff, and the lighter weight was welcome when heading for the hills. I’m not an especially heavy rider so it would be interesting to see how they perform under someone with a bit more bulk, though I’ve yet to see evidence that they would display anything less than stellar performance. Bontrager reckons that with their wider profile and substantial impact testing, these rims are good for some light gravel work as well.
The stable ride is most noticeable in the corners, where the wheels feel planted at speed. Part of this can be attributed to the R3 tyres, which, despite their completely slick profile, are made of a supple 120 tpi rubber that sticks to the tarmac like glue. With a 26c width, they’re incredibly comfortable on my local chip seal roads, and the tubeless set-up allows lower pressures to be used without fear of punctures. They work well with the Aeolus 3, even having a bead shaped to fill much of the gap between the rim and the tyre for aero gains.
The wheels’ shallower profile is appreciated here in Auckland, where gusty days along the exposed north-western cycleway are all too common. Thankfully, I can report that buffeting was not an issue during my test time trials along the more exposed sections, allowing me to focus on my self-induced pavement punishment rather than on keeping the bike in a straight line. This had been a problem in the past with deeper wheels; it’s all about choosing the right gear for the conditions.
Having spent a lot of time on discs recently, I wasn’t sure how I’d find moving back to rim brakes for this test, let alone the dreaded carbon rim brakes, but I was pleasantly surprised to find oodles of stopping power when combined with a set of SwissStop pads. Thanks to all the sun during the test period I didn’t get a chance to run them through the wringer in the wet, but overall, I’ve been impressed.
Given how good the rims are and Bontrager’s attention to detail, I do feel the hubs could have been a bit more inspiring. Sure, they’re a 3-pawl design with proven reliability, but I’d like to see something that engages a little faster. The top tier D3 TLR edition of the Aeolus 3 gets this upgrade (perhaps to help differentiate it from the Pro tested here) and it does make a difference in how the wheels feel on the bike. While the Pros are excellent value for a carbon wheel, this is one area where Bontrager appears to have trimmed back to keep the cost down.
The Aeolus 3 Pro, while not “cheap,” provides good value for a carbon wheelset from a top-performing brand. It’s less expensive than equivalent options from other major brands, and is also covered by Trek’s “Carbon Care” programme, which offers large discounts for replacing product damaged in a way not covered by warranty( such as when roof racks meet garage ceilings). I’m confident the Aeolus 3 would serve well as an all-conditions racing workhorse, and for Auckland, they’re an ideal pick. I enjoyed riding these wheels, and I know many other riders will too.
RRP: $2599 (Wheels), $125 (Tyres)
Images by Cameron Mackenzie
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