BONTRAGER AEOLUS RSL 37V – STRONG, PRECISE ALL-ROAD WHEELS
While not the first, the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V is one of the best wheelsets you can ride for both paved and unpaved or “all-road” cycling.
With the breakout growth of gravel cycling and the renewed interest in cyclocross riding brought on by some of road racing’s top names, having a top-performing wheelset that excels in both those disciplines and also serves as a paved road climbing wheelset is an attractive do-it-all option.
It’s also far less expensive to have one top-performing carbon wheelset with a quiver of 28mm, 33mm, and 40mm or wider tires than a quiver of wheelsets as well as tires for that range of riding.
While ENVE may have set the standard in the all-road wheelset category, many of the leading wheelset brands are now trying to raise it with their own 23-25mm internal width, 30-40mm deep, 1400 or so gram wheelsets.
What sets the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V wheelset apart from the rest in this field that we’ve tested? My fellow-tester Miles and I rode these wheels over three seasons (road, gravel, and cyclocross) and compared them to the ENVE 3.4 AR and more value-priced wheels to figure it out.
The differences are subtle but important, especially if you prefer the performance characteristics that the Aeolus RSL 37V successfully delivers.
As laterally stiff as any of the all-road or gravel wheelsets we’ve tested, the Aeolus RSL 37V’s stiffness feels more balanced than most. While it lacks the initial snap you get from the lay-up or bracing angles or whatever secret sauce is used in a wheelset like the ENVE 3.4 AR, these Bontragers provide the consistent strength we could always count no matter the surface.
The Aeolus RSL 37V’s stiffness gave us precise handling and go-for-it confidence riding switchbacks down an alpine road, railing a turn on gravel, or accelerating out of corners to overtake a fellow cross rider.
Even when Miles rode them in cyclocross races with 33mm tires inflated to 18 psi front and 20 psi rear, he was quick to point out the wheels never felt squirrely underfoot, always tracked extremely well, and yielded no give during crucial sprints.
Related: You can compare my review of the Bontrager RSL 37V with other all-road and gravel road disc wheelsets in this review of The Best Gravel Wheels
The Aeolus RSL 37V’s robust lateral stiffness is joined by better vertical compliance than most, a combination you don’t often find in a wheelset. Over the course of a 75-mile gravel ride or a day of climbing 10,000 feet in the mountains, both of which I did on these wheels, I was thanking them for helping to reduce the pain of those efforts.
The DT Swiss 240 EXP hubs used on these and other Bontrager, Roval, FFWD, and DT Swiss wheelsets have come in for criticism due to the noisier freewheeling than the previous model and cases of premature wear of the ratchet drive rings in the first runs of product that led to some hubs not engaging.
While DT appears to have rectified the wear and engagement problem – we didn’t experience it on this or any wheelset using the EXP hubs we’ve tested – the DT 240 EXP hubs are clearly louder than their whisper-quiet predecessors.
However, I don’t find them overly loud or annoying on the road in the way some freehubs on value-carbon wheelsets (including Bontrager’s own Pro 3V) can be or even as loud as those from the likes of Chris King or Industry Nine that riders prefer for their rich acoustics and pretty colors. To my ears, the low-frequency DT 240 EXP freehub noise gets washed out by the sound of small knob tires on dirt and gravel and doesn’t stand out against traffic noise on the road.
Sonic preferences aside, I find this hubset used in the Aeolus RSL 37V wheels to be a relative strength. They ride very smoothly and engage easily without the clunk I get when re-engaging some like the ID360 mechanism used in the ENVE 3.4 AR alloy hub. True, the points of engagement are similar and, at 10 degrees, more than I’d like to see on dedicated gravel or cyclocross wheelsets and more typical of a road wheelset. But I experienced an enhanced ride feel with the DT 240 EXP hubs on these wheels in comparison to those used on others in this category.
All of this makes the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V a rather refined wheelset that is strong, precise, comfortable, and smooth-rolling paved and unpaved roads.
On a paved road, I’d recommend no narrower than a 28mm tire a width. At my weight of roughly 150 lbs/68kg, I rode 28mm tubeless tires between 50 and 55psi and 38-40mm wide tubeless gravel tires at around 30psi. Unlike the ENVE and Zipp wheels, these Bontrager wheels are hooked so you can ride them with tubed clincher tires if you prefer.
The Aeolus RSL 37V wheels themselves weighed in at 1421 grams with rim tape and tubeless valves. The rims measured 25.2 mm inside width, 31.5mm outside width, and 37.1mm deep. In addition to the DT 240 EXP hubs, each wheel uses 24 DT Aerolite spokes bladed, straight-pull spokes.
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You can order them online for US$2700, £2100, €2500 from Bontrager.
Note, Bontrager also makes the Aeolus RSL 37 wheelset – no V after the 37 – which is a different wheelset and best for paved road climbing. I’ve reviewed it in this review of The Best Lightweight Wheels for Climbing.