Bontrager SE5 and SE6 Tire Combo Review

BONTRAGER SE5 and SE6 TIRE COMBO REVIEW

Review by Cole Gregg

It was not all that long ago that there were only a few “great” options for tires on both Downhill and Enduro bikes. As wheel sizes grew, eventually so did the options for aggressive tires, and now we’re almost spoiled with choices. Although they’ve had some solid offerings in the past, Bontrager tires have maybe been written off for riders who aren’t Trek owners. We think that’s a bit unfortunate as some of their newer tires have been quite impressive when it comes to traction and performance. Bontrager’s updated SE5 and all-new SE6 from hope to change even more people’s opinions as they seek to widen their offering for aggressive tires. Let’s see how they did.

THE LAB

If you’d like to get into a lot more detail on these tires, be sure to check our Dissected video and write up here.

The SE line is sort of like Bontrager’s enduro line, you could even say it’s like a super enduro category tire designed for aggressive riders in the 140-160ish-mm range. They’re stout and offer protection against impact without being overly stiff like their G series (Gravity) tires. Construction on both the SE5 and SE6 utilizes Bontrager’s Core Strength casing, which is made of lightweight nylon inserts for sidewall support and protection. There’s a reinforced chafer for added bead protection as well.

The updated Bontrager SE5 continues to use a “2-2” tread pattern layout but has been modified to reduce the “float zone” in the transition between side knobs and center tread. The goal of decreasing that float zone is to improve consistency and therefore confidence as the rider leans the bike over into corners. Bontrager also sought to reduce rolling resistance, increase grip and reduce flats. All big goals and things that are important to making a desirable tire.

Moving to the Bontrager SE6, this burly tire uses a “2-2-3″ layout giving you more contact points on the dirt resulting in overall better cornering traction and braking confidence. Yes, we all know what it looks like, and Bontrager isn’t shy about knowing what works and wanting to make their own version. Its taller knobs offer more penetration into looser soil to increase hookup and steer better. Inspiration taken from benchmarking during the SE6 development was intended to help create a new tire for a demographic that may have overlooked Bontrager tires in the past. and the decision to sit the tire in between the two when it comes to the “land/sea ratio” to find their ideal compromise of loose and hard condition performance. They excelled in some areas, and left a bit to be desired in others, but more on that below.

The SE5 (left) and SE6 (right) tires both run Bontrager’s Core Strength Casing on top of their 120TPI carcass. This has an added layer of cut and puncture resistant nylon for added sidewall protection and a tire bead chafer layer to further protect against abrasion and punctures. Bontrager’s proprietary TM-Grip rubber compound produces the grip – this new compound claims 11% lower rolling resistance and a 15% increase in puncture resistance without reducing the grip. We have a great article interviewing the guys from Bontrager behind the development of this tire if you want to learn more about the technicalities behind this new compound.

The SE5 is offered in both 27.5and 29” with a width of 2.5”, coming in at 960g and 1026g respectively. The SE6 is only offered in a 29×2.5” model and weighs in at 1045g. They’re both tubeless ready and retail for $79.99/£59.99 each.

The SE5 (top) and SE6 (bottom) tires both run Bontrager’s Core Strength Casing on top of their 120TPI carcass. This has an added layer of cut and puncture resistant nylon for added sidewall protection and a tire bead chafer layer to further protect against abrasion and punctures. Bontrager’s proprietary TM-Grip rubber compound produces the grip – this new compound claims 11% lower rolling resistance and a 15% increase in puncture resistance without reducing the grip. We have a great article interviewing the guys from Bontrager behind the development of this tire if you want to learn more about the technicalities behind this new compound.

The SE5 is offered in both 27.5and 29” with a width of 2.5”, coming in at 960g and 1026g respectively. The SE6 is only offered in a 29×2.5” model and weighs in at 1045g. They’re both tubeless ready and retail for $79.99/£59.99 each.

Bontrager SE5 and SE6 Tire Combo Review

THE DIRT
To really put the SE5/SE6 tire combo to the test I installed them on my 2022 Norco Range a few days before heading to Morzine, France for 2 weeks of non-stop bike park abuse. I was easily able to install these on my Stans Flow EX3’s with CushCores front and rear. Inflating them was a breeze with my basic floor pump, so good news for those who don’t have a compressor or HV pump, though the inserts do help a bit. I inflated them to 23psi front and 26psi rear for my 180lbs kitted weight and was stoked to get them on the dirt. To add more reference for our review, Drew ran a set on his new Trek Rail .

During my time in Morzine I rode 13 days in a variety of conditions ranging from dry and blown out to full on trail rivers. Over this period, I covered around 180k feet of descent on some serious terrain and am surprised to say that I did not have one puncture throughout testing. Two weeks of non-stop riding with no flats is a big deal to me, granted I had CushCores to help, but regardless this is an awesome result from these tires compared with 3 flats from various brand’s tires on a previous trip.

Drew traveled across the United States and rode everything from wet soil in Oregon, to SoCal sandstone and an abandoned rock mine in Missouri. With over 100 miles traveled on his eBike in a variety of conditions and only one flat in the rock mine, his experience is a bit different than mine.

When it came to getting the SE5/SE6 tires on the trail, I immediately had a sense of trust in the corners – the drop off point of traction was incredibly smooth, even more so than my all-time favorite Magic Mary. I was not worried at all about my front wheel pushing through corners or the back end stepping out unexpectedly. Throughout testing I only had one real “Oh Sh!t” moment with the front washing out, due to a poor line choice riding a blind trail. On the marked trails this was never an issue, and even that one moment was not that bad, just a quick dab was able to keep me up on two wheels.

While Drew’s experience wasn’t entirely different, he discovered what he felt is the Achilles heal of the SE6 tire, glancing or angled impacts on rocks, especially wet rocks. When dirt can be found, or while riding on top of Fall leaves, the SE6 is a great tire and rides predictably. The braking traction is impressive, the stiffness is tuned nicely and overall it’s a great tire. However, when it came time to navigate the Trek Rail down gullys, deep ruts where rocks interrupted the straight line or we were trying to brake on steep rock gardens, the front tire was often deflecting and squirted away from us. It is the only place we had issue with the SE6. We’re not sure if the compound is the culprit or if its the shoulder knobs reaction to these angled impacts, but they do not inspire confidence if you’re a rock hound. Luckily these types of trails are few and far between for us.

The rolling resistance was noticeably better than my go-to Magic Mary combo, with little to no less traction in normal conditions. I felt I had better braking performance in the really blown out areas of trail compared to the Magic Mary’s, where the SE5/SE6 combo hooked up that little better. Compared to a Maxxis Minion DHF/DHR combo, the smoother, more predictable traction drop off was quite noticeable and welcomed, letting me tickle the limits more and more. I just felt like I could push into corners faster and faster. I ended up riding the notorious World Cup style Pleney DH track 14 times one day to find out how hard I could push both the bike and the tires when knowing the best lines, and they did a stellar job.

Like Drew, I also found the compound to be a bit stiff when it came to very wet conditions, but I am not sure how much it affected my riding. They felt better on wet roots than the Magic Mary combo but fell off when the trails were essentially peanut butter. As a daily driver, I would much rather have an overall better feel and trust in a tire combo in “normal to wet” conditions rather than one that performs when weather is at its worst as I don’t ride in those conditions nearly as much. During the damp days there was little to no change in feel, and the tires remained stable as I aired down to help keep traction as high as possible, but like Drew, found the tires wanted to deflect or bounce away when hitting wet, angled rocks.

As you will see in the set of pictures above, I tracked the tire wear daily and was blown away at how well these held up given the amount of traction and confidence I had with them. Very impressed. You would likely have no problems having these on for an entire season filled with shuttles, bike parks and long days in the saddle. These will live on my bike most likely until the beginning of the year as there is still plenty of life left in them for my local riding zones.

I would really like to give the SE6 a go both on the front and back to see just how much grip the pairing can offer. The added purchase of the SE6 could make for a game changer in the softer winter conditions on loamy soil or sloppy mud. Of course, there would be a price to pay in the rolling resistance but having run dual Muddy Marys in the past, it likely wouldn’t be a deal breaker when the conditions call for it.

Despite the tires having one real weakness, there are a number of great things to rave about when it comes to Bontrager’s new SE5 and SE6 tires. If you’re someone who’s regularly bouncing through granite rock gardens in damp conditions, you may want to steer away from the SE6 as it seems the shoulder knobs don’t like that. For just about every other condition we encountered, which is a lot, these tires are impressive and will certainly be some we recommend to our friends, especially the updated SE5.

Bontrager SE5 and SE6 Tire Combo Review

The Wolf’s Last Word

Bontrager really killed it with this new design, both the SE5 and SE6 tread patterns have all the characteristics of being a tried-and-true classic combo for many years to come. If you are looking to add some confidence to your cornering without breaking the bank these should be high on your list.

Price: $79.99/£59.99
Website: Trekbikes.com

BUY NOW @ TREK BIKES

We Dig

Predictable transition zone
Durability
Cornering confidence
Massive braking traction
Value

We Don’t

SE6 on angled rock impacts
Lack of sizes

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