Not Really A ReView: ENVE SES 3.4 Wheelset
It was said by someone in the posts following Gianni’s excellent review of his tubeless system that an honest, long term analysis by a ‘real’ rider was most welcome. Well, you’re not going to get that here. You will get honesty, for sure, but ‘long term’ doesn’t come into the equation when a week is the amount of time spent ‘testing’ a product. Especially when that week sees more time spent working a real job (one where I have to be in a certain place at a certain time) than I’ve spent in the last two years. But I can give you some impressions on a few good rides on the sweet carbon goodness that is the Enve SES 3.4 clincher wheelset.
There has certainly been a lot of buzz about for the Enve hoops for a while now, and recently they gained a foothold here in NZ with distribution by Wide Open up in Rotorua. Owner Matt ‘DogBoy’ Whitaker has been a friend for a few years now, and I’ve been on at him to get me a ride on some of the wheels since he took on the brand. He also added friend of The V Kris ‘Grom’ Withington to his team, fresh back from Europe after his stint as mechanic for the Garmin pro road squad. Not a bad guy to have on your staff. So we finally co-ordinated our emails enough for me to get a loan of some wheels last week.
Without getting too technical, let’s look at the numbers; the 3.4 designation means the front rim is 35mm deep and the rear is 45mm. SES means Smart Enve System. ‘Smart’ refers to Simon Smart, who is working with Enve and using his Formula 1 background to help develop the manufacturing of the rims. While we can marvel at all the intricacies of carbon layups and aerodynamics etc, and that can be cool, all I had to go on was how they rode. So that’s what I’ll tell you about.
The rims came laced up to Chris King R45 hubs, 20/24 spokes F/R. Kris had mounted some Conti GP4000S 25mm clinchers to them (he even taped around the valve stem where it exited the valve hole; that’s pro right there). I’ve never had much luck with Conti tyres over the years, and while some of my colleagues swear by them, I was still leery but ready to be proven wrong. I mounted my cassette, aired up the tyres and rolled out of the workshop for a quick spin. It was night, I’d had a beer and I was in jeans, so a roll up the ramp and twice around the carpark was all I had time for. By the time I rolled back into the workshop, the front tyre had punctured. And I hadn’t even left the building! Just bad luck, surely? I patched the tube and vowed to give them another last chance.
The first real ride was in windy conditions (not that unusual in Wellington) so the first thing I noticed was a bit more side deflection from the cross gusts when compared to my box section Ambrosios. The next thing I noticed was the venerable Chris King bzzzzz from the freehub. I’m used to some noise from my Chorus hub but the Kings have a distinctive tone and pattern; whereas the Campa has a uniform zzzzzzzzzzz sound, the King had more of a pulsing zzzz zzzz zzzz to their schtick. I got used to it pretty quickly though. The hubs spin really smoothly and with little resistance, as noted by my mate Kah when he said I was ‘rolling away from him’ through town before we had even started pedaling in seriousness.
The bigger 25mm rubber gave a pretty cushy ride over the shitty road surfaces, and I felt like I was riding on air somewhat. Maybe this was due also to the carbon rims; probably. When we arrived at the bottom of the first real climb of the day, I wasn’t expecting any miracles as a couple of weeks off the bike and some fit guys should’ve put me in my place. I sat on second wheel and expected to be swallowed up sooner rather than later. No-one attacked, I sat and spun, and got to the top with what seemed like little effort. Was it the wheels? Possibly. Maybe their light weight aided getting my lazy ass up the hill with a minimum of grunting. Maybe.
Down the other side and speed was easily held without much pedalling, and I seemed to be on the brakes trying to avoid running into the wheel in front of me. Was it the smooth-rolling hubs? The aero rims? Had to be. I wasn’t doing much. We turned off for the steady gain in elevation before the road turned steeper. Conversation came easily as we turned the cranks and approached the climb. I made sure I wasn’t over-stressing my unfit legs and lungs. I looked around and there were only three of us there. Could it have been I was climbing better than I believed because of the stiffness of the wheels due to their moulding process? Well, it wasn’t anything I was doing, surely (I wasn’t doing any more than Surviving on V, after all). Kris explains this process better than I ever could: “The spoke holes are part of the moulding process, whereby the rim comes out of the mould with the spoke holes already in the rim allowing uninteruupted carbon fibres around the spoke holes, which means no additional alloy or brass inserts. This process then in turn means where the spoke enters the rim is very strong, allowing the builder to build the wheel with very high spoke tension which then means a stronger, stiffer and more responsive wheel.” Yep, that was probably it.
The bottom line is, these wheels are pretty sweet. They feel stiff and light, they roll and roll, they look the business and they cost a lot. Do I need them? Shit no, but I don’t need 11 speeds or fancy shoes either, as one of my savvy friends pointed out. I felt like I could climb better with them, they felt solid when cornering hard, they accelerated snappily, braked well and they elicited a lot of comments. Placebo effect? Doubtful. But I must admit I didn’t want to send them back. Matt, Kris, when your demo days are over and they are ‘used’, I’ll be happy to give them a good home…
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*Kris can build your wheels in-house with the King hubs in any colour and they come with a 5 year warranty and crash replacement. Thanks to Wide Open for an impending credit card blow-out.