Bontrager SE5 Team Issue 2.6 Review
Cons: Casing feels a touch weaker than other aggressive tires, skiddish transition from center knobs to shoulder knobs, expensive-ish
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The SE5 does a whole lot of things well. This is an excellent option for trail riders who want a meaty tire with plenty of traction. This tire could easily be run on the front or the rear wheel. When things get sandy or dusty, the SE5 really shines thanks to its huge contact patch. Also, it adds a nice element of damping. On the trail, pedaling traction and braking traction were particularly impressive metrics. Cornering abilities were excellent, but not the best we've tested.
The SE5 Team Issue is well above average through the corners. It really stands out in sandy and dusty situations where the sheer size and meaty tread of this tire help make sense of things. It also works surprisingly well in damp, slippery, corners. All of this said, it still comes up a little short compared to the most aggressive options in our review. It's not terribly far off. We would be comfortable running this tire front and rear for an aggressive trail riding setup.
Examining the tread pattern, the shoulder knobs are larger than average and are set a little bit off of the side of the tire. This isn't a particularly squared-off tire, the profile looks and feels slightly more rounded. The tread blocks on the shoulder alternate between a square and square-ish Tetris-like shape. The square blocks have a horizontal sipe in them while the other knobs have what resembles an L-shaped sipe in them. All of the knobs are placed in the same spot, and they are not staggered.
The somewhat large space between the center, rolling tread, and the shoulder knobs create somewhat of a dead space. When leaning into a turn, there is a bit of a skittish, jumpy feel as you transition from the center tread to the shoulder knobs. As long as you don't panic, you'll find your way onto the shoulder tread safely. Once on the edge, there is a sufficient amount of bite into most trail surfaces. The tread blocks aren't super tall and lack the bite of some other options, but they aren't far off. Given the slightly rounder profile of the cornering blocks, the edge feels slightly more vague compared to the most aggressive tires. It can be challenging to know when you are pushing it too hard and are risking a washout.
The elephant in the room is the 2.6-inch width. These tires, which actually measured 2.58 -inches on our 30mm test rim, are among the widest we have tested. This means there is plenty of rubber contacting the ground through the corner. This is beneficial when it is loose, dusty, or a little wet. Larger contact patch=more traction. The girth and air volume of this tire allows users to run a slightly lower air pressure. It is important not to go too low as the slightly thinner casing is a candidate to roll off the rim if underinflated and pushed too hard into a corner.
Pedaling traction was very impressive with the SE5. Once again, the huge contact patch, slightly lower air pressure, and aggressive tread pattern are to thank.
The center rolling/pedaling tread leans heavily towards the aggressive side of the spectrum without approaching full-on bruiser territory. The center blocks have an alternating pattern with some knobs ramped heavily for rolling speed and others with a more square profile. The knobs have generous spacing between them. This wider spacing allows each knob to engage the soil more effectively.
Under seated pedaling loads, this tire performed as expected. You can motor up mellow climbs enjoying a cushioned and smooth ride. This tire really stood out when it was time to stand up and hammer up a steep pitch. We ran about 23 PSI in the rear tire, and you could really feel the huge footprint working to your advantage. The tire conformed to the trail and offered excellent hold on steep, loose pitches. Where other tires tend to want to spin out, the SE5 had a superior hold. We found ourselves climbing some damp, rooty climbs with this tire, and thanks to the large contact patch, it really impressed us. This is definitely not a mud tire, but it holds its own in wet conditions.
Braking traction was rock-solid. The SE5 has enough braking bite to shut down the most obscene of speeds.
The tread pattern is pretty simple, with an alternating pattern of lugs that are placed in pairs. One set is heavily ramped, and the following pair is mostly squared off. This squared-off edge helps dig into the soil as the rider applies the brakes. The tread pattern is pretty spaced out, which also assists in braking bite as the more space between the knobs allows each set of knobs to achieve more bite. Also, the massive patch of rubber contacting the trail only helps to provide more braking surface.
On the trail, this tire brakes well in almost any application. Dry, dusty, wet, or loam, this thing shuts down speed effectively.
The SE5 isn't an especially fast-rolling tire. Riders who are searching for a specifically fast-rolling tire should look elsewhere. That said, the SE5 does roll well for such a meaty and aggressive tire.
Looking at the tread pattern, the spaced-out knobs create more drag compared to more compact designs. Even though every other set of center knobs is ramped to try and maximize rolling speed, that clearly wasn't a priority in the design process. When compared with some of the most aggressive tires in our review, it does deliver above-average rolling speed. It isn't going to feel especially draggy when motoring down a trail, but there are better options for rolling speed. This starts to pay dividends throughout a multiple hour ride.
Throughout our testing process, we observed little wear on our test tire. We rode our tire in both the front and the rear and can only spot minor deterioration. Deterioration may be a little strong of a word, but it is easy to see the wear starting to develop on the inside of the shoulder lugs from hard cornering. The casing of the SE5 is reasonably substantial, but this is no downhill casing, and we could see super aggressive riders possibly shredding sidewalls in sharp and super rocky terrain.
The SE5 snapped onto our test rim quite easily. We used a ToPeak Joe Blow Booster pump and about ⅔ of the bead seated in one charge. Add in about 15 seconds of supplementary pumping, and this tire was ready to rip. We feel the slightly thinner sidewall construction allows the bead to snap on easier than some of the ultra-thick tires.
When mounted on our 30mm test wheels, the 2.6-inch tire measured a monstrous 2.58-inches.
The SE5 Team Issue is one of the most expensive tires in the test. While this piece of rubber doesn't dominate in any one given metric, it delivers a well-rounded performance that a lot of trail riders will be happy with. This high-volume tire gets it done with loads of traction and allows the rider to run lower air pressure. The SE5 can be a good value for the right buyer.
Budget-conscious buyers can do better. This is particularly true if you are looking for a tire that handles specific conditions better. There are cheaper tires that perform better in super-loose gnar. There are also less expensive tires that perform better on flowy hardpack trails.
The Bontrager SE5 Team Issue is a killer all-around tire best suited for the mid-heavy duty trail rider who values traction. This isn't the most aggressive tire in our test, but it's not far off. It rolls surprisingly fast for a huge, meaty tire, and it delivers boatloads of traction that slays sandy and loose trails. This tire is a great option for the rider who wants a comfortable and versatile tire with a huge footprint. Sure, it's a little expensive, but it does its job quite well.
The Bontrager SE5 is available in the 29-inch or 27.5-inch wheel sizes only. This tire is not offered for 26-inch wheels.Both the 29-inch and the 27.5-inch options are available in two widths: 2.3-inches and 2.6-inches. There is only one casing available.
— Pat Donahue