Lighten Up - ENVE Wheels
article & images by Nick Salazar
Feb 16, 2011
A good set of wheels is at the heart of any bicycle build. After all, the word bicycle literally means "two wheels." For the Lighten Up series, we wanted to build a set of wheels that was aero, but saved significant weight over the standard set of aero offerings you usually see. Finding that balance between weight and aerodynamics isn't an easy thing to do, and some readers will probably disagree with our choices here. But suffice it to say, we're satisfied. These wheels rock.
Our starting point was the venerable rims from ENVE Composites (pronounced "envy", formerly Edge Composites). Their claim to fame is an advanced manufacturing process that produces rims that aren't just lighter than the competition, they're also supposedly stronger on account of the fact that the spoke holes are molded right into the rim, rather than drilled out later. The spoke holes are also very narrow, because the nipples are internal. That is potentially advantageous from an aerodynamic perspective, since the bulky spoke nipples are hidden from the wind. But it also makes truing the wheel a little harder, because it must be done with the tires off.
We went for the 45mm 1.45 tubular front rim, and the 65mm 1.65 tubular rear rim. Having a deeper rear wheel than front improves handling on account of the so-called sail effect, and making the front shallower allowed us to save some weight. Our rims are 290g and 350g, respectively, which is amazing considering their depth.
Hub duties went to an OEM set which we bought unbranded, but which comes stocked on some wheelsets you may have seen around. They're light, proven, and were quite easy to build up. At 277g for the set, they beat out a lot of so-called lightweight hubs, and didn't break the bank. Lacing everything up with Sapim CX-Rays was a no-brainer, as it's the de-facto standard in aero wheels.
The End Result
So what'd we end up with in the end? A pretty sweet set of hoops. At just 1140g, they are scarcely heavier than a set of Zipp 202's ... but they're quite a bit deeper, and much stiffer. They may not feature the superlative aerodynamics of some sets like the Zipp Firecrest wheels, but they definitely don't tip the scales quite as much.
The final result is a wheelset that will work in just about any racing scenario from a hill climb, to a flat course, and will handle well even in harsh crosswinds. And with a non-disc rear, this wheelset is legal everywhere, including Kona. The wheels are easy to service, since they use a standard hub and spokes. Lighter wheelsets like Madfibers use integrated spokes that cannot be replaced in the event of a break, and can never be trued. We opted to take the 60g weight penalty over the Madfiber wheels to have a set like this, which seems more usable for the long haul. These are born to race, but might as well be everyday trainers, as durable as they are.
If you want wheels that are light, aero, and durable, look no further than ENVE.