ENVE SES 3.4 clincher wheelset

ENVE SES 3.4 clincher wheelset


ENVE SES 3.4 clincher wheelset


By Adrian Rollins


Review of the Smart ENVE System 3.4 clincher wheelset


What represents good value is a very tricky concept to pin down. I’ve taken to knocking a zero or so off the price tag of my bikes when my non-cycling friends ask how much they cost. For them, a bike is something you take out of the shed twice a year to go on a trundle with the kids, and on the occasion when I have revealed how much I really spend, they inevitably say something like, “But you can buy a car for less than that!”

Well, yes you can, but that is not the point. For those of us who ride most days and take our cycling seriously, the value equation is much different. For the price of a cheap new car you can get a bike that many pros would be happy to throw their leg over.
Similarly, it would be a shame if people considering the ENVE SES (Smart ENVE System) 3.4 carbon clincher wheelset were unable to look beyond the price tag. Yes, $A3,400 (£2,500/US$2,900) is a lot for a set of wheels. But, you get a lot of wheel in return for your money.
These are seriously good wheels: light, fast and robust. Those seeking pure aerodynamic performance will probably go for deeper rims. But if you are after an all-rounder wheelset that rolls well on the flat, responds sharply on climbs, holds true on descents and doesn’t wobble under power loads, these are definitely worth serious consideration.

ENVE Smart 3.4 clincher wheelset
ENVE Smart 3.4 clincher wheelset


On-bike design

Enve say they have engineered the wheels according to on-bike performance. Up front, where stability is more of an issue (think of blustery crosswinds, the nemesis of many deep dish rims) the wheel is wider and shallower (26mm wide and 35mm deep) than at the rear (24mm and 45 mm), where stability is less of a concern and the rim can be made deeper to reduce drag.
The result, they claim, is a set of wheels that produce drag numbers similar to those of 50 to 60mm rims produced by other companies, and outperform most as the angle of wind increases.

On the road performance

I haven’t got access to a wind tunnel to accurately test this claim, but in rides over several weeks through a variety of terrain and wind conditions I can attest that they seem to handle crosswinds much better than other aero wheels I have used (most recently, Bontrager Aeolus 3s, which themselves are much better behaved in fluky conditions than many others I have tried).
What I really notice about these wheels is their responsiveness. Put some effort into the pedal stroke and it is translated pretty instantaneously onto the road. Whenever you trade up to lighter wheels, you quickly realise how sluggish your old set were.
Going from a perfectly respectable set of Ultegra RS81 training wheels to the Enve’s transforms the way the bike – any bike – performs. Of course, I can’t attack on climbs anything like il purito, but these wheels respond so sharply that I can deceive myself – even if only briefly – that I might have missed my calling as a hill climber (before, that is, gravity and exploding lungs quickly conspire to end the illusion).
As to their robustness, I’ve covered more than a 1000 km on them so far, mostly over rough country roads, without a problem. Much of the credit for their light weight and durability must go to how the spokes are mounted. The spoke holes are moulded into the rims, a process that has allowed them to limit the number of spokes (20 up front, 24 down back) without compromising stiffness.
Enve claims these wheels have the highest strength-to-weight ratio on the market. The fact that they come with a two-year warranty provides another level of confidence.

ENVE Smart 3.4 clincher wheelset
ENVE Smart 3.4 clincher wheelset


When it comes to slowing down…

Speaking of which, I have never really been satisfied with the braking performance of carbon rims, but it seems that manufacturers have really got to grips with this issue in recent times. The Bontrager Aeolus 3s I tested recently brake almost as well as alloy-rim wheels, and so do the Enve’s.

Enve recommend using their branded grey brake pads, which seem to perform just fine and are cheaper than Swiss Stop’s Yellow King Brake Pads for carbon rims. One caveat – I haven’t ridden these in the rain, so can’t attest to their braking performance in the wet.
The wheels are offered with three hub types: DT240s, DT180s and Chris King R45. The ones I use have the DT240s which, while not the lightest option, carry only a 47 gram weight penalty on that lightest option, the DT180.
The DT180s are an expensive upgrade to ceramic bearings which might be seen as overkill. And while many salivate over Chris King hubs, the practicality of the matter is that if anything significant goes wrong, they would most likely have to be shipped to the US-manufacturer for service – an important consideration for offshore buyers.
Reliable and robust DT240s seem like a sensible match for the rims, which are complemented by Sapim CX Ray spokes.

The wrap

If you can look past the price tag, the Enve SES 3.4 wheels are the sort of upgrade that will genuinely deliver you a lift in speed and performance. Put these wheels on, and you rapidly begin to run out of excuses for not going faster.
Is it worth it? Only you can judge.
[rps-include blog= post=29481]
ENVE Australia
ENVE UK (Saddleback Ltd)

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