Bontrager SE4 XR4 Team Issue Tires AndrewM
REVIEW

Bontrager XR4 and SE4 Team Issue Tires

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date May 10, 2018

Bontrager '4-Series' Tires

The XR4 and SE4 Team Issue tires from Bontrager are so similar that I generally refer to them as the Bontrager '4-Series' tires. There is so much interchangeability between them that Trek specs both versions on their Remedy line of bikes.

The SE4 model brings more support and durability to the equation at an average weight penalty of about 10% over the same sized XR4. It trades the XR4's subtle 120tpi single-ply casing for Bontrager's Core-Strength reinforcement in the sidewall and casing. 

One model for weight conscious rider looking for good rolling and good grip. One model for heavier rider concerned with support at lower pressures, tire durability, rim protection, and flats.

Bontrager SE4 XR4 Team Issue Tires AndrewM

2018 Trek Remedy 9.8: 2.4" SE4 Front & Rear Tires

Bontrager SE4 XR4 Team Issue Tires AndrewM

Waltworks Custom SS: 29x3" SE4 Front / 29x2.4" & 29x2.6" XR4 Rear Tires

Bontrager SE4 XR4 Team Issue Tires AndrewM

Marin Rift Zone: 29x3" SE4 & 29x2.6" XR4 Front / 29x2.4" & 29x2.6" XR4 Rear Tires

My favorite feature of the 4-Series tires is Trek's move to stop making crappy OE rubber. From Trek's Fuel EX 7 (2500 USD) on up the tire-spec is a set of dual compound (61/50) Bontrager Team Issue tires. As a heavier rider, I have to run more air pressure in an XR4 than the same size SE4 but aside from air pressure traction is identical between the two versions of this animal. 

Throttling my single speed up the hill out of the saddle, while re-eating my breakfast, that 10% weight drop to ride a 2.4" XR4 seems like a win. Descending the same bikes, a 2.6" SE4 provides more rim protection, braking traction, and on my hardtail an additional comfort factor. A 2.4" SE4 and 2.6" XR4 weigh about the same. Decisions, decisions. 

I will say that anyone riding the BCBR this year and antagonizing over finding tires that roll fast enough for all day pedaling, are sticky enough if the rain comes, and provide good braking in loose conditions would do well to check out the 2.4" XR model. At 55 USD the price to performance ratio is even great. 

The Plus Size Exception

I have one strong exception to the interchangeability of the SE4 and XR4. I've ridden enough thin sidewall Plus tires to say definitively that best practice is to skip the more papery versions from any brand.

A 29 x 3" tire is never going to be light enough for competitive XC-Racing or durable enough for competitive Enduro racing, at least without weighing 1500 grams. That's not the point of Plus. 

Bontrager SE4 XR4 Team Issue Tires AndrewM

Acceptable tire clearance for the 3" SE4 in the Suntour Durolux 29" fork. Up to 170mm of travel with a 3" tire for anyone looking to build a big-&-fat 29'er. 

I'm having a lot of fun riding the Plus sized SE4, and I prefer it in all situations over the 29 x 3" DHF 3c I was running previously. I enjoy it on the front of my full suspension bike and love it on the front of my single speed. Whether braking on greasy roots in the winter months or getting an extra margin of error on trails I'm unfamiliar with I'm a fan of Plus up front since companies released big rubber with proper sidewall support. 

I can recommend the XR4 and SE4 for different riders and applications with the exception of Plus. I haven't ridden the Plus sized XR4 and can't imagine an application where the SE4 isn't a better option. 

In The Rear

Running the Bontrager 4-Series tires out back is a no-brainer in my books. They bring an excellent balance of traction in loose terrain, relatively fast rolling, and good-enough grip in greasy winter Shore conditions. I slipped a tire occasionally on a primeval root or green rock but that's to be expected. 

Short of a winter running a Max Grip DHR2, which rolls slower and wears much faster, the 4-Series is my most pleasant rear tire experience for local riding in the Winter. The 2.4" is a faster rolling option but, through the winter, both on my hardtail and full suspension bike I prefer the extra traction that the 2.6" tire delivers. In dry-and-loose conditions I find both tires bite equally and on my dual suspension, I give the edge to the 2.4" for faster rolling but still prefer the extra comfort delivered by the less-than-Plus rubber on my hardtail. 

Bontrager SE4 XR4 Team Issue Tires AndrewM

A tasty cocktail of excellent climbing traction, good braking traction, and decently fast rolling. In a 2.6" wide 29'er tire. 

My all-time favorite rear tire is the 2.6" version of Specialized's Slaughter Grid. The combination of semi-slick rolling with DH side knobs is pure shenanigans. The 2.6" model isn't a whole heck of a lot wider than the 2.3" but it is a much taller tire.

Other than on the road I prefer the 2.6" version of the 4-Series. They bring more compliance, traction, and rim protection at a minor penalty to rolling resistance and a 160-gram weight penalty over the 2.4". It's not nothing, hence recommending the 2.4" for the BCBR, but for technical trail riding it's worth the weight in my book. Especially on a hardtail. 

The reason I bring up the Slaughter is the 4-Series in the same size rolls almost as quickly with an improvement in climbing and braking traction. The Slaughter kicks its ass as soon as I'm looking for cornering traction and side knob support.

It's a toss-up between the two as a summer tire, with the SE4 winning for the winter months, but if Bontrager made an SE4 with the massive side knobs of a 2.6" Slaughter, or better yet the accordion style knobs of the e13 LG1r.

Up Front

If Trek made the SE5 in a 29 x 3" size I'd run that. I'd actually be very tempted to try it in a 29 x 2.6" if such an animal existed. 

I don't think it's a stretch to say the Bontrager SE4 is the best 29 x 3" tire on the market. Bold praise I know, but it's also the only size of the 4-Series which I love as a front tire. It corners aggressively except in greasy mud,* it has massive bite in steep loose descents, and it's supple on wet rocks and roots in the winter. The flip side is that the only other application where I like the 4-Series as a front tire is the 2.4" XR4 as a lightweight trail tire. 

*flotation is not my friend in greasy mud

Bontrager SE4 XR4 Team Issue Tires AndrewM

Ample tire clearance for the 3" SE4 in the Manitou Mattoc Pro 29+ fork. 

In the non-3" options there are tires at a similar weight that bite better in corners and bring better braking to the table. These tires, like the DHR2, most certainly roll more slowly but speaking strictly of front tires I find that makes a small difference for trail riding compared to having a faster-rolling tire out back.

I can see running an Ikon out back with an XR4 up front for true-XC riding but for Shore-XC I prefer meaner rubber up front with a bit more obvious transition from the center knobs to the side knobs and more bite and support from the side knobs once I'm over-coming my trust issues and trying to get them to hook up. 

That said, riding the 2.4" SE4 tires on the 27" Remedy there were only rare situations where I felt the front tire was holding me back so I feel as all-purpose rubber the 4-Series is a win with a caveat that local conditions may call for a more aggressive front tire or faster rolling semi-slick rear tire. 

All-Purpose Rubber

I've been recommending the 4-Series tires regularly as an excellent rear option for most riders and as an ideal front tire for many applications. In addition to the performance, prices are very competitive against comparable rubber. The highlight tires are the 2.4" XR4 at 55 USD, the 2.6" SE4 at 85 USD, and the 2.9" SE4 at 105 USD. I'll also give a shout out to the 2.6" XR4 at 65 USD. I'm really impressed with the durability and performance for the weight. I heartily recommend them for lighter riders and if buying for myself my preference for the SE4 comes down to my desire for more support for my 185lbs of dad-bod.  

Bontrager SE4 XR4 Team Issue Tires AndrewM

The 29 x 3" SE4 is the best aggressive 29+ tire I've tried. The 29 x 2.6" is an excellent option for a rear tire. 

For most riders the Bontrager 4-Series provide great options for rubber at very good values. Bontrager could improve sales by offering the SE5 in the same range of sizes for a more aggressive front match up with the SE4 out back for those rides that can't handle a lack of tire symmetry. But then I think for most locales the 4-Series would be all the front tire needed. 

Either way, as a great all-around mountain bike tire it's easy to recommend the 4-Series tires as rear tires for pretty much everybody and as front tires in a lot of situations - especially 29+.

Prices range by size and model. There's more information about the XR4 here and the SE4 here

Comments

JBV
0
James Vasilyev  - May 10, 2018, 8:25 a.m.

great detailed write up for the tire sniffers. the LBS has the SE4 2.6 in stock and it sure is a wide and thick casing. this confirms that it's going on the rear of my new wheel build with XM521 rims. unsure about the front yet but more than likely ol' faithful DHF 2.6.

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - May 10, 2018, 8:43 a.m.

Thanks!

I’ve also run the 2.6” out back with a new e13 up front.

The LG1r/TRSr is slightly smaller (2.4”) both visibly and in measurement but the big accordion sideknobs dig in hard and corner really in conjunction with the rounder profile of the SE4.

Pretty hard to argue with DHF or DHR2 up front (whichever camp you’re in). 

I’d also check out the Specialized Butcher in a 2.6. The price to performance ratio is great. A lot of folks comment they look small (same as Slaughter 2.6”) static, but they are quite tall so once sagged I think they have a nice shape on a 30-35mm ID rim.

Reply

JBV
0
James Vasilyev  - May 10, 2018, 12:53 p.m.

good thing someone out there is doing the beta testing of a bunch of unconventional tires and combos!

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tashi
0
tashi  - May 10, 2018, 1:10 p.m.

Thanks for the excellent article, my LBS just dropped Specialized for Trek and the website sure doesn't have this type of insight.

Are 29x2.6" Slaughters a thing?  I can't see one on Specialized.com but I sure want one to go with the 2.6" Butcher I just installed on the front of my bike.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 tashi
Andrew Major  - May 10, 2018, 3:48 p.m.

Thanks!

I haven’t put my hands on it yet but my LBS has a 29x2.6 Slaughter on order for me - so in theory it exists!

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martin
0
Martin  - May 18, 2018, 7:55 a.m.

Thanks for the recommendations Andrew! The SE4 looks pretty close to what my ideal tire would look like. Maybe with TRS sideknobs. I prefer lined-up side knobs and not too wide of a channel, and those SE4s seem to be a good compromise.

I've mounted some E13 TRS+s and I find them quite square on 29mm ID rims. I've never used a squared-profile tire like that so I might need some time to get the right feel for them.

And since the Specialized tires are buy one get one until June 3rd, I ordered a pair of Butchers GRID 29x2.6s (the new Gription version) to try them. In store they had quite a nice shape but the compound seemed less sticky than the E13s. Probably faster rolling though.

How would you compare wet roots/rocks and off-camber traction on the TRS+ vs Butcher and SE4 tires ?

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AndrewMajor
+1 Martin
Andrew Major  - May 18, 2018, 9:16 p.m.

The nice thing about Gripton is it doesn't harden as much as many compounds in the cold. It's also 'stickier' on the trail then a squeeze test would suggest. 

I've ridden the 27x2.6" Slaughter and it's an awesome tire. 

SE4 is a more all around tire. It doesn't punish you on a long trail bike ride the way a TRS or Butcher can but it still offers really good climbing and braking traction. 

I really like the 2.6" Team Issue out back with a more square tire (big side lugs) up front. I have no qualms about mix-matching brands so LG1r / SE4 has been a common combo for me lately.

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martin
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Martin  - May 21, 2018, 11:38 a.m.

Awesome, I'll add the 2.6 SE4 to my to-try list!

Reply

shoreboy
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Shoreboy  - May 10, 2018, 9:32 a.m.

Im running SE4 2.4's Team Issue on the front and back of my just built RFX.  Only a couple of rides in, but no complaints so far and the price is definitely appealing on these. Was a Schwalbe MM front / NN rear on previous bikes until I decided to give these a go.

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ws
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ws  - May 10, 2018, 11:36 a.m.

Great article as always, Andrew.  I was with you on the "as a heavier rider..." part until the end where I discovered that a 185 pound dad-bod qualified as heavy.  Add a 100 pound hydration pack so that we can relate gravitationally and would your impressions still hold?

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - May 10, 2018, 1:20 p.m.

Thanks WS,

I was having this conversation with a friend of mine the other day regarding suspension forks. I’m currently testing Suntour’s latest damper in a Durolux 29’er and its an awesome package (at a good price). I lowered it to 140mm (then 130mm) for my bike but at the air pressure I’m running I compress the negative spring quite a bit and the fork is showing an extra 15mm of travel. 

Not a big deal at all, Suntour makes three rates of negative spring - another bonus for this fork - so with the heavier rate I’ll be golden.

But wait he says, does that mean at 240lbs he’d have a 180mm travel 140mm travel fork?!

We’re going to play with pressures when the new neg spring comes so I can address that in the review.

Back to tires, casings like the SE seem to work great for my heavier friends for trail riding - but I know a few guys who run real DH tires (DD Minion, SuperGrav Mary, LG1r would be examples) where I would ride an SE and where a light rider would run an XR so in that sense it’s hard to say.

Wish that was a more helpful answer!

Reply

ws
+1 Andrew Major
ws  - May 10, 2018, 3:10 p.m.

Thanks, Andrew.  It is a helpful answer and as helpful as one could possibly write given that it all ultimately comes down to individual variables such as where/how I ride, etc., as well as where I want to make trade offs, personal preferences, etc.  I appreciate you giving the level of detail to assist me in translating this as best I can into what may work for me.

Reply

JVP
+2 Andrew Major Agleck7
JVP  - May 10, 2018, 1:15 p.m.

I wonder how these compare to an aggressor as a rear tire for non-winter riding.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - May 10, 2018, 3:35 p.m.

Haven’t ridden the Aggressor enough to comment myself.

Reply

nouseforaname
+1 Andrew Major
Nouseforaname  - May 10, 2018, 2:38 p.m.

The SE4s came stock on my slash (29*2.3) and I hung onto the rear tire for a couple of rides (replaced the front for a Magic Mary right off the bat pretty much). I found it very drifty and not offering any significant hook up when cornering or pushing hard. Switched to a SE5 (my preferred of the Bonty offerings) and found a noticeable increase in grip under braking and cornering traction.

Thumbs down.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - May 10, 2018, 3:34 p.m.

Love the SE5 too.

I also didn’t get along with the previous gen of Bontrager tires - assume from your comment on sizing (29x2.3”) that you were on the previous version? Tweaked design and new rubber compound this year.

I certainly like the 29x2.6” best descending - bigger knobs. 

But, I found the 29x2.4” to be a great trail tire though not something I’d enter an Enduro race on so not the best choice for a Slash for sure.

Reply

kos
0
Kos  - May 11, 2018, 6:42 a.m.

Great review.  Love 'em!  My closet endurance race geek pulls back a bit from your choices:

Race-y Bike 2.4s:  XR4 front XR3 rear for riding, XR3 front XR2 rear for racing.

Trail Bike 2.4s: XR4 front SE3 rear for riding, and up to XR4 in 2.6 for trips to places like Moab.

I'm just a roundish tire profile guy.  Of course they have a bit less ultimate grip than some of the edgier tires out there, but oh baby, the communication at the limit can't be beat.

Reply

hmai18
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Hung Mai  - Aug. 3, 2018, 1:44 p.m.

Informative review for local conditions. 

You mentioned favouring the SE over the XR for Plus applications. Do you find this still holds true for lighter riders? I'm 140lb with full riding gear on riding a 27+ hardtail here on the Shore and Squamish mostly.

I'm currently running DHF Maxx Terra/Rekon DC in 2.8 and wondering whether it's worth experimenting with something else.

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AndrewMajor
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Andrew Major  - Aug. 3, 2018, 4:51 p.m.

Thanks!

For Plus tires I can’t think of an application where I wouldn’t take the (slight) weight hit to go with the more supportive sidewall (we aren’t talking about DH tires here). 

For example, I’m riding a 2.6” SE2 on the back of my single speed right now and I’m blown away by how much better it is then the Chupacabra (XR2). 

I haven’t been 140lbs for a couple decades but I’d still surmise it’s worth the extra support and durability  to go SE in most situations - especially if the terrain’s technical - and drop the pressure a bit to keep things supple.

Epic miles on smooth single track on a single speed trying to go with max-speed gearing maybe then you go XR but as soon as you start compensating for tire performance by running more pressure I’d ditch the Plus rubber and run 29x2.3 XC rubber with reinforced sidewalls (like Racing Ralph Snake Skin) and dump a bunch of weight and the basketball effect.

Hope that helps!

Reply

nate77
0
nate77  - Sept. 5, 2018, 12:36 p.m.

Andrew- Have you tried the SE5 29x2.6 to see how it compares to the SE4 29x2.6?

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - Sept. 5, 2018, 3:54 p.m.

Hi Nate,

I have 2.6” SE5 tires mounted up but not enough time on them.

The rubber is the same and performance is similar in current conditions other than the much more obvious transition from the centre to the side knobs on the SE5 which is much appreciated pushing into a loose sport surface up front.

The SE4 doesn’t have as obvious a transition but I like how it grips at any angle when leaned over which is an issue with some Plus and +/- tires. For example I like the DHF up to the 2.5” size but would way rather have an SE4 once I get to 3” rubber.

My guess is, just talking about the 2.6” tires, I will be happiest running the SE5 up front and the SE4 our back on my duallie. I will mix things around and I’m totally open to another conclusion.

I will also try the SE5 on both a 30mm and 40mm ID rim (30mm is recommended).

Thanks for reading!

Reply

nate77
0
nate77  - Sept. 6, 2018, 10:29 a.m.

Cool, all sounds good.  I was going to ask about the rim widths you were trying too. 

As I'd be looking at using them on an 36mm internal width rim.

Reply

Tjaardbreeuwer
0
Tjaard Breeuwer  - Sept. 19, 2018, 1:05 p.m.

I was just trying to think of a tire for the rear of my full suspension bike (29x2.6 max) for the fall riding season in Wisconsin. A lot of their terrain is like a flatter version of your North Shore. Wet roots and slick, smooth rocks everywhere, and unlike in your coniferous forests, there will be a thick layer of dead leaves on the trails.

I have ridden the 27.5 x 2.6 SE4 in the rear in bikeparks, but need the 29er for pedaling trails. This summer was bone dry, so no idea yet how it would do in the wet, but your recommendation for winter should be enough!

Reply

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