The Bontrager SE4 Team Issue 2.6 is an aggressive tire with plenty of volume. Our testers felt it was best suited for duties on the rear wheel given its faster rolling and scaled back attitude compared to its sibling, the SE5. Still, this tire offers a generous amount of traction, solid cornering abilities, and plenty of braking bite. In addition, the measured 1043-gram weight is quite reasonable for an aggressive 2.6-inch tire. There is a whole lot to like with the SE4 and it is a great option for a whole lot of trail riders. There are, however, two main downsides with this piece of rubber. First, it can't quite match the burliness of some of the casings delivered by other manufacturers. Second, it is among the most expensive options in our review class.
Bontrager SE4 Team Issue 2.6 Review
Cons: Vague cornering abilities, casing feels a little weak, kinda expensive
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The SE4 is a sensible rear tire. It blends a lot of attractive qualities and performs quite well on the trail. It has neither had any fatal flaws nor category-defining characteristics. Cornering abilities are solid, braking, and pedaling traction were excellent, and its rolling resistance is acceptable for a burly 2.6-inch tire. Given its above average, but not outstanding, scores in each metric, the SE4 runs the risk of getting lost in the middle of the pack. This would be a mistake as this is a quality tire that makes loads of sense for a lot of riders.
Cornering abilities were stellar with the SE4. Cornering abilities are a little more important for the front wheel, where it has a predictable drifty feel. Our testers spent the majority of their time testing the SE4 as a rear tire to take advantage of its relatively fast-rolling speed and pedaling traction. As a rear tire, it does well in the vast majority of conditions and even reacts well under braking loads while turning.
The SE4 has a noticeably rounder profile compared to the more aggressive SE5. This is another reason we preferred this as a rear tire, though it certainly works fine as a front tire as well for less aggressive riders. The shoulder blocks alternate in shape with a mostly square block with a horizontal sipe in it, followed by more of a diamond-shaped lug with a sipe in half of the block. These shapes alternate. Each knob is placed in line with one another, and they are not staggered. Again, given the rounded shape of the tire, the shoulder knobs feel very much off the side of the tire.
On the trail, the SE4 enjoys a smooth transition from the rolling knobs onto the shoulder. Unlike the SE5, there is no dead space when you lean the tire over. The edge feel is a little vague, and this tire doesn't communicate to you when you are about to push it too hard. A tire with a more squared-off shoulder makes it easier to tell when you are about to lean it over too far.
The SE4 reacts well to braking loads through corners. Some super fast-rolling rear tires with less aggressive knobs will wash out easily when braking. The SE4 holds its own and doesn't break away too easily unless you want it to.
The SE4 is a meaty tire with lots of air volume. Our 2.6-inch tire measured 2.51-inches on our 30mm rims, and this wide footprint goes a long way in delivering excellent traction. It allows users to run a lower air pressure, as little as 22-ish PSI, without worrying about rim damage. This really allows the tire to conform to the trail, though it is important not to go too low with the air pressure. That said, it has a slightly thinner feeling casing that could potentially be pulled off a rim if pressures get too low, and you shred too hard.
The SE4 offers excellent pedaling traction. The tread pattern works beautifully in conjunction with a wide footprint to deliver a superb grip. Loose, dry, or damp, this tire offers stellar climbing bite.
The tread pattern features considerably smaller blocks than the SE5. The rolling tread is an alternating pattern with groups of two square-ish blocks followed by groups of three squares. The tread features a decent amount of siping that allows each knob to conform to the trail as it flexes. The tread blocks are mostly squared off with minor amounts of ramping. The squared-off design allows the tread blocks to really bite into the soil. Also, the tread is fairly spread out to allow the lugs to engage the ground more effectively compared to tightly compacted patterns.
When scooting uphill, there is plenty of bite. Seated climbing traction is perfect. Many tires run into problems when things get steep, and the rider is out of the saddle. The SE4 offers excellent traction on steep pitches. Whether it is loose, sandy, or damp, this tire bites quite well. Riders need to pay some attention to weight distribution, but this tire is much more user-friendly on steep sections compared to other tires.
When out of the saddle putting the power down, you can really feel the grip. Again, the width of this tire only helps. Running a lower air pressure helps the tire conform to the trail surface, and the extra width provides more surface area. It is a win-win.
When it is time to slam on the brakes, this tire works well. The same aspects of the tread pattern that delivers exceptional climbing bite also help provide excellent braking traction.
When motoring down the trail, the mostly square profile of the tread blocks grabs the trail surface effectively. Also, the generous amounts of siping add to the impressive braking bite. As the braking forces are applied to the tire, the lug flexes at the sipe allowing the tread blocks to maximize the bite onto the trail surface. The width of this tire helps provide a huge contact patch. The extra rubber provides more braking surface and enhances the bite.
We rode this tire in a wide range of conditions, from dry and dusty to wet. Braking traction was impressive in all conditions. Riders who find themselves in muddy situations frequently should look elsewhere, but most riders will be impressed in most conditions.
The SE4 offers decent rolling resistance. We wouldn't call this a super fast-rolling tire, but it rolled reasonably fast, given the 2.6-inch width. The lack of ramping in the center tread feel like they are slightly disturbing the momentum of the tire. Also, the sizable knobs are spread out quite far. Dedicated fast-rolling tires tend to have smaller blocks that are more compact to provide less resistance. The SE4 has none of these design features.
To be sure, this isn't some super-slow rolling tire. Our 2.6-inch tire weighed 1043-grams, which is quite light for such a big tire. This slightly lower weight helps reduce rolling resistance compared to some of the heavier options.
Throughout testing, we observed no serious signs of wear to our test tire. We ran this tire on the rear wheel primarily, and it does show normal signs of deterioration on the braking surface of the tread. The shoulder knobs are still in excellent shape. We believe that the rounder profile of the tire puts less stress on the shoulder lugs compared to a square profile with taller side knobs.
The casing of this tire doesn't feel quite as robust or burly as some of the beefier tires we've tested. Taht said, we did not damage the sidewalls or puncture them in any way. We expect this tire to have an average to above-average lifespan.
The SE4 installed fairly easily onto our test rims. We used two different wheelsets during testing. We were able to get this tire partially seated with one blast from our ToPeak Joe Blow Booster pump. The bead was definitely a little stubborn and required quite a bit of supplemental pumping before fully seating. It took about 50-psi before the tire was fully installed.
The SE4 is at the more expensive end of the mountain bike tire price spectrum. In fact, this tire is one of the most expensive in our test. We do feel this is a quality tire, and the on-trail performance was impressive. We think this tire is a decent value for the right buyer. If you are not so sure the SE4 is the tire for you, we recommend looking elsewhere as this tire might be an expensive gamble.
The Bontrager SE4 Team Issue 2.6 is a meaty tire that delivers boatloads of traction. We preferred it as a rear tire, though its a good option for either end of the bike. The width of this tire allows users to run a slightly lower tire pressure and enjoy enhanced traction and some added damping. Pedal traction and braking traction stood out as particularly impressive metrics while cornering ability was a bit more average. This tire is a killer option for the trail rider who frequents sandy and loose trails absent of too much chunky rock.
The SE4 is available in the 27.5-inch and 29-inch (tested) wheel sizes. 26-inch fans are out of luck.
In the 27.5-inch wheel size, it is available in 2.6 and 2.8-inch widths.
In the 29-inch wheel size, it is available in 2.4, 2.6 (tested), or 3.0-inch width.
The tire is only available in one casing with the Core Strength protection.
— Pat Donahue