THE BEST CARBON DISC WHEELSET

If you own a road disc bike, you may be looking for that one all-around, carbon disc wheelset that performs well across a wide range of terrain. It’s a fair bit of work to sort through all the ones out there now because, along with the rapid growth of road disc bikes, there’s been a quick evolution of carbon wheels for these bikes that do it all and do it all really well.

The latest carbon disc wheelset generation is really the first group developed uniquely for road disc bikes and independent of design or manufacturing considerations that go into their often similarly named rim brake siblings.  They are faster, more comfortable and more versatile on a wider range of terrain than either the rim or disc brake wheels that came before them, many of the latter which are still being sold.

In this post updated with models introduced during 2018, I’ll take you through the rapid evolution of the road disc wheelset, tell you how I rate each of the latest generations of all-around carbon ones against the criteria that really matter, and recommend the Best Performer wheelset.

Related: Looking for an alloy road disc wheelset? Click The Best Road Disc Wheelset Upgrades

Related: Not sure what kind of wheels to get? Click Road Bike Wheels – How To Choose The Best For You

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CARBON DISC WHEELSETS

Click on any red statement below to go directly to that part of the post

Third generation carbon disc wheelsets now outperform rim brake ones

A handful of performance criteria matter most when choosing between different wheelsets

You have a half dozen good options to choose from including a Best Performer

Compare wheelset performance, prices, and specs for the wheelsets I reviewed in this chart

Why I may not have included wheelsets you’ve heard about

 

CARBON DISC WHEELSET DEVELOPMENTS

I wrote about the developments across all road disc wheelset categories (upgrade, carbon all-around, aero, and climbing) in a review of the best upgrade wheels for road disc bikes. Those developments include:

  • the pace of sales of road disc bikes
  • the underperformance of the “stock wheels” that come with those bikes,
  • the compatibility if not standards for disc brake wheelset hubs, axles, and hub-rotor interfaces
  • the near ubiquity of tubeless ready or tubeless optimized road disc wheelsets

You can read more about those developments here.

In addition to those, there are a number of developments specific to the all-around, carbon bike wheels for road disc bikes that I’ve summarized in this table below and discussed below it.

Carbon Disc Wheelset Evolution 2014-2018

Carbon Disc Wheelset Generations

The most notable takeaway for me after assembling this chart is how quickly things have changed and how much the latest generation of all-around wheels for road disc bikes are different than those for rim brake bikes.

These changes have made the all-around, carbon disc wheelset faster, more comfortable, more durable, and more versatile than all-around, rim brake wheels without any effect on stiffness, acceleration or handling.

Remember when better braking was all that most people fixed on when talking about the benefits of going to road disc bikes?  Well, the ability to get all the benefits I just summarized is a whole lot more than better braking, which was enough of a reason for many people to go with a road disc bike in the first place.

Let me go through some of these benefits a bit more.

FasterWider rims mean you can run 25C tires to gain more comfort without incurring additional drag. Most of the Gen 3 road disc rims were designed using 25C tires and produce vertical tire sidewalls that are narrower than the external rim width.

Putting 25C tires on many Gen 2 wheels will increase drag as the tire sidewalls will be more rounded and measure wider than the rim where the two meet. This creates a turbulent airflow from tire to rim and rim to tire. When the flow is less interrupted or laminar, it moves from one surface to the other more smoothly and creates less drag and more “lift” when you are riding at or above speeds of 18-20mph or 29-32kph.

Wider tires also will give you marginally lower rolling resistance when inflated to the same pressure as a narrower tire.  Without the need for the rim to include a brake track, road disc rim profiles are also being designed with less limitation and more attention to crosswind management and reducing losses at the tire-rim intersection, both of which improve aero performance.

More Comfortable – Tubeless allows you to run your wider tires at lower pressures without pinch flat concerns. Lower pressures make for a more comfortable ride. You certainly can run wider tubeless tires on all-around rim brake wheels but many of those wheels are still 17mm wide internally and several aren’t tubeless ready.

More Durable – The best carbon rim brake wheels are using resins with high melting points to make it much harder for riders to warp them when they drag the brakes. The trade-off is that these resins can make the wheels a bit brittle.  While I can’t quantify the difference, dedicated disc brake wheels use lower melting temperature resins that are less brittle.

More Versatile – Because these all-around, carbon disc wheels are wide, tubeless friendly, and more durable, you can comfortably ride them at lower pressure to enjoy dirt, fire roads and the like or use them for cyclocross. Doing so can save you having to buy another set of wheels for those kinds of surfaces.

A few words about tubeless tires. You’ll notice that tubeless tires are mentioned quite often in my description of developments and the benefits they bring.

Those of you who have read my posts carefully over the years (thanks Mom!), may know that I haven’t recommended road cycling enthusiasts use tubeless tires in the past. They have historically been a hassle to mount and can leave you with a difficult and messy repair job if your puncture is so nasty that the sealant doesn’t close it and you need to install a tube during a ride. Further, tubeless tire rolling resistance and prices have also historically been higher than going with a traditional tube and tire clincher on your wheels.

Well, tubeless tires and tubeless rims have come a long way and I’ve changed my views about them. Yeah, this is next-gen Steve reporting to my fellow roadies now.

Removable valve cores, easier to mount rims, and a whole lot more experience with tubeless tires while testing all these road disc wheelsets has made installing them easier and cleaner, and mellowed me somewhat to the minimally more added work they bring over standard clincher tires.

Lower prices, lower rolling resistance (equivalent or better than the to the best tubed tires), the ability to run lower pressures, more comfort, and having every puncture seal so far has made me look past many of my previous objections.

While tubeless still requires a learning curve, I can now say the benefits they bring with the right rims can outweigh the diminishing disadvantages and make it well worth getting up that curve if you want those benefits. My review of tubeless tires lays all of this out in more detail and gives you my recommendations of the best ones.

WHAT MATTERS MOST

For each In The Know Cycling review, I evaluate category-specific criteria in four groups – performance, design, quality, and cost.  The criteria that matter most in those groups for the best all-around wheels for road disc bikes are as follows:

Performance:  Versatility, aerodynamics, crosswind management, stiffness, acceleration, comfort, and handling.

Design:  Wheel weight and material, rim depth, rim inner and outer widths, rim profile, hub and spoke design or selection, and wheel finish.

Quality: Durability, warranties and service/support.

Cost:  Purchase price, cost of ownership and replacement cost.

I detail what I mean by these criteria for rim brake all-arounds here.

Most of those are common with the ones I used for carbon disc brake all-arounds with a few exceptions and changes in emphasis that I’ll point out below.

While all these criteria are important, some are more or less important depending on what kind of riding you do and what kind of bike you have.

Since the latest all-around carbon disc wheelsets are deeper than earlier ones (some closer to 50mm versus most Gen 2 being 35-40mm), I’ve added crosswind performance as a criterion for this review.

And since these wheels are ideal for both a wide range of paved road terrain and for mixed or unpaved surfaces and for cyclocross racing, versatility is even more important when evaluating all-around carbon disc wheelsets than all-around rim brake ones.

Other criteria, like stiffness, are equally important whether you are talking rim or disc brake wheels or all-around, climbing or aero wheels regardless of your braking method.

Braking performance isn’t part of the disc brake wheelset evaluation since most hub and spoke systems on disc brake wheels effectively transfer the braking responsibility to the rotors and calipers.

Design specs like weight and rim width are worth noting but may or may not deliver the intended performance those specs are often associated with.  A wheelset’s actual acceleration, stiffness, and comfort on the road, for example, are far more important than the design specifications that we often get so hung up (and sold) on and that we too easily equate to those performance attributes.

Considering the range of options the road cycling enthusiast has to choose from in all-around wheels for road disc bikes, I’m recommending a Best Performer but not a Best Value wheelset at this time.

I pick the Best Performer using the performance criteria mentioned above independent of cost. My Best Value wheelset pick considers both performance and cost criteria. There are several, relatively or brand new third-generation wheelsets I am currently evaluating, one of which may be a better Best Value choice than the second generation wheelsets now available at low prices.

Quality is either a go or no go in my recommendations. I won’t recommend anything that doesn’t have an acceptable level of quality according to my criteria. I’m also not going to recommend something that has superior quality but under-performs or has higher costs. When two wheelsets perform more or less the same, I do consider quality and cost criteria in recommending one as a Best Performer.

With all of that noted, here are my evaluations of the best all-around carbon disc wheelsets for road cycling enthusiasts.

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REVIEWS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

BEST PERFORMER

ENVE SES 4.5 AR DISC – PERFORMANCE AND VERSATILITY THAT’S HARD TO BEAT

If versatility is one of the key measures of an all-around wheelset, ENVE’s SES 4.5 AR Disc is the most versatile of any road disc or rim brake wheelset.

It does more things better than any of the other wheels I’ve reviewed.  At a market price starting at US$2900, £3100, €3500, it also costs more than others.

ENVE Carbon Disc WheelsetThis sets-up the ever-present question we roadies face – is it worth paying more to get the best performing gear for the kind of riding I do?

That’s for each of us to decide individually.  If you are a full-on road cycling enthusiast who likes to come out and play aggressively and comfortably on rough roads or in the dirt, sand or grass of cyclocross races and go really fast and smoothly on good roads in individual and group rides or races, the ENVE 4.5 AR is the place where your money will have the biggest payoff.

You probably already know that at 25.0mm measured, the 4.5AR carbon disc wheelset has a far greater internal width (by 4-6mm) than the 19C (19mm) and 21C (21mm) of others in this category and at 50.2mm front, 55.2mm rear per my measurements, are as deep or deeper.

It can run most 28C tires save for the Schwalbe Pro One Tubeless and Continental Grand Prix 4000S II which run wide without negatively affecting the aero performance.

The 4.5AR’s performance does bear witness to those design factoids. It feels as fast or faster on flat, rolling and descending terrain, as comfortable on the good roads, more comfortable on rough roads and unpaved paths, and handles better than any other carbon bike wheels, disc or rim, I’ve ever evaluated.

I’ll just let that last statement sit there and breathe for a minute.

It accelerates, climbs, and deflects crosswinds on par with all but the best wheels in those categories that I’ve reviewed here. With the more than capable DT240 hubs, the 4.5 AR weighs remarkably little (1518 grams measured) given its size, no more than all but a couple other wheels in this review of largely Gen 3 all-around wheels. You can also get it the with Industry Nine Torch or Chris King R45 hubs if you prefer the freewheel sound of either of those.

Yeah, their width makes them stand out against other bikes when you are riding in a bunch or stopping for a break. And you only should plan to ride them tubeless, which takes a bit more effort to initially set up, if you want to get all the benefits of these wheels. You’ll also want to check the clearance on your frame if you’ve got an older road disc bike.

But, if you want great performance from one wheelset that you otherwise might need to have two different ones for the range of riding do, the 4.5 AR stands alone and probably is a more price competitive option vs. the cost of buying two wheelsets.

You can go to Competitive Cyclist and these search results at Know’s Shop to see where you can buy the ENVE SES 4.5 AR at the best prices from stores I recommend because they have the best prices, customer satisfaction records, and selection on enthusiast-level cycling gear and kit.


 


BONTRAGER AEOLUS XXX 4 TLR DISC – CORVETTE MEMORIES

Bontrager uses the same rim, hub internals, and spokes on its Aeolus XXX 4 disc and rim brake bikes. I would expect their road performance to be very similar. This is my review of their rim brake model.

There’s something about my long-ago memories of driving a Chevrolet Corvette and my recent experience riding the Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 wheels that connects.

No, it isn’t the phallic imagery of a Corvette and the XXX label of the latest Aeolus, though perhaps you could make that connection. (Sorry that I just did.)

Rather, it’s the rush of rolling at speed they both provide. While a lot of cars and wheels roll fast, it’s what happens in the moment of speed that makes life behind the wheel and in the saddle exciting.

Hitting a turn at speed carries more unknows than rolling straight. The Corvette’s wide wheelbase, wide tires, and low chassis provided me the handling performance to confidently hit every turn faster than I’d ever done before.

Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4Similarly, the Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 mounted with 25C tubeless tires stick it in the corners. Fellow tester Nate enthused they always seemed so much more planted and stable than any other carbon clincher wheelset he’d experienced, especially in turns with bumpy pavement.

I measured the internal rim width between the bead hooks at 21.1 mm on these and other Bontrager Aeolus XXX series wheels. That makes them the widest rim brake carbon bike wheels we’ve tested, notably wider than most which run 19 mm or 17 mm these days.

Their 27.5 mm external rim width across the brake tracks is as wide as others like the Enve, Zipp, and Easton in this category but this, along with the mounted and inflated tire width contributes more to aerodynamic performance.  Internal width has a greater influence on the superior handling and ample comfort of these wheels.

Many road disc wheelsets have been at 21 mm internal for a couple years now and I can confirm riding them is a similar speed-liberating handling experience. The better support a wider rim provides to the sidewalls of the same 25C tire makes a real difference. It’s nice to see Bontrager bringing this to the rim brake world.

Moose took these wheels for a ride down the 8-mile, 8% average grade asphalt road at Whiteface Mountain, home of the Lake Placid Winter Olympics. Hitting speeds of 50 mph, he reported that the crosswinds made the riding the XXX 4s “a little sketchy” but not enough to back off his exhilarating speed.

I don’t know if that’s Moose’s daredevil approach to going downhill on bikes (and skis) that he prefers but I do know he arrived safely at the bottom and was so excited after the ride he sent me a half dozen texts about his descent (and climb).

While neither of us could find strong crosswinds, Nate and my experience in moderate ones on these wheels were fine. They did acknowledge the breeze but it didn’t affect our steering or cause us to do anything unnatural.

Unfortunately, you sometimes need to slow down. Fortunately, all three of us were impressed with the braking power and modulation of these wheels on dry roads; they are among the best here.

On wet roads, however, they are no better than earlier generation carbon clincher rim brakes. Like the Vette, leave these Bontragers in the garage when it’s wet outside.

The XXX 4s are “stiff enough” to climb and sprint but they are more in the middle of this all-around carbon clincher pack compared to others on this criterion. They are considerably heavier than the 1400 grams claimed on the Bontrager XXX 4 Aeolus TLR Clincher web page – 1556 grams on my scale. I include the pre-installed rim strips. Bontrager doesn’t. Measured the same way, these XXX 4s are 50-100 grams heavier than most in this rim brake carbon road bike wheels category.

All of this adds up to average, more dampened acceleration than a lively, springier reaction when you want to accelerate. Their DT Swiss star ratchet hub internals provides quick engagement (and quiet freewheeling) but doesn’t improve the acceleration enough to make a difference.

If you’ve got the watts in your legs, you can probably get these wheels up to speed much in the way a Corvette corals hundreds of horses under its hood to get you from 0 to 60 mph faster than most.

It’s what the Corvette and Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 do at speed, more than how fast they get you there, that separates them from the competition.

You can order these wheels by clicking through on this link to Trekbikes.com.

 


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DT SWISS ERC 1100 DICUT 47 – PREDICTABLY GOOD PERFORMANCE 

Even though they sell a ton of wheelsets under their own brand name and as stock wheels for leading bike makers including Giant and Specialized, DT Swiss has never been known for the performance of their more expensive wheelsets.  Hubs and spokes? Yes. But, high-end wheels? No.

DT Swiss seem to have always been behind the curve with rim shapes, widths, carbon and whatever else goes into making rims that combine with their ubiquitous hubs and spokes to make top performing wheelsets. They seemed to lack a design point-of-view about how to make great rims that, right or wrong, is clear and consistent at companies making high-performance wheels.

DT Swiss Carbon Disc WheelsetPerhaps realizing this deficiency, DT Swiss has gotten aero design and testing help for the ERC 1100 DICUT 47 and other new DT Swiss products from the wheelset design company SwissSide. The latter is a relatively new company led by race car designers that sell mid-depth and full-depth aero wheels targeted to triathletes and time trialists. As for DT Swiss, their new line of endurance wheels are only made for road disc bikes. Very Gen 3!

Has this collaboration brought the ERC 1100 to the performance level of the best all-around wheelsets? Not in my evaluation, but they seem to be getting closer.

Overall, I’d say the ERC 1100 is predictable. That word can have both positive and negative connotations of course, but it best sums up for me what I find in this wheelset.

It is certainly fast and stiff, as you would expect from a wheelset this depth. Anecdotally, and I say that since construction on the In The Know Cycling wind tunnel is not scheduled to start until 2038, I’d put the ERC 1100s in the range of the faster wheels of this group on the flats and hills. Tour magazine put their aero performance only behind the ENVE SES 4.5 AR amongst the wheelsets we both evaluated.

Though their weight measures middle of the pack and they certainly can climb, they wouldn’t be my first choice for a long ride with a lot of hills and steeper climbs. They just don’t go uphill as well as other all-around wheels I’ve reviewed in this post.

The ERC 1100’s ride is firm, even at the 70 psi pressures that I ride tubeless wheels. Firm is not harsh and it’s not cushy. You’ll get the kind of response from the road you would expect based on what you see in front of you. You won’t get jarred nor will you float above it.

If you want to go off-road and not get tired out riding on dirt or mixed surfaces, I’d suggest dropping the pressure on these wheels another 10 or 20psi from the level you normally ride.

Wind conditions are manageable with the ERC 1100. When the winds come, you can comfortably steer through them.  You certainly won’t get blown over nor can you plan on the wheels totally taking care of the crosswinds for you.

Finally, handling is confident, precise and … predictable.  So are the hubs, which use the very solid DT240 internals I’ve come to know and very much enjoy. They are used on many top performing wheelsets.

Predictable for me means you are going to get what you expect and not be let down. Applied to the ERC 1100, it means you aren’t going to get any special thrill or surprise, good or bad, from these wheelsets. They are solid performers that do what you expect. Very Swiss.

Perhaps it is surprisingly good to get a predictably good top end wheelset from a company that has, for me, turned out only average wheelsets in the past. I’ll take it.

Despite an MSRP/RRP that is as high-end as the carbon disc wheelset they aspire to be, you can find the ERC 1100 DICUT 47 at a far more competitive market price closer to USD$1850, £1650, €1900 at by clicking through to recommended stores eBayBike24, Starbike.

ENVE SES 3.4 DISC – AN ALL-AROUND CARBON DISC WHEELSET THAT DOUBLES AS A CLIMBER

If you want a top performing Gen 3 all-around carbon disc wheelset that climbs extremely well, the ENVE 3.4 Disc is the one you want.

ENVE claims the 38mm deep front rim weighs 390 grams and the 42mm rear one just 10 grams heavier. I measured the complete wheelset with DT240 hubs at 1410 grams with tape. These kinds of weights for carbon rims and road disc wheelsets scream climber.  Yet, their rim widths (measured approximately 21mm wide internally and 28mm wide externally, a little more for the U-shaped front and less for the V-shaped rear) and depth (38mm front, 42mm rear) put them just over the line as all-around wheels.

ENVE SES 3.4 Carbon Disc WheelsetSpecialized’s Roval wheelset division makes the CLX 32 Disc which runs 6-10mm shallower than this ENVE 3.4 and claims to be about 60 grams lighter with the same rim widths and tubeless ready platform. The Roval CLX 50 Disc (also reviewed later in this post) is 8-12mm deeper than the ENVE 3.4 and measures 1450 grams, roughly halfway between the weight of the ENVE 3.4 and 4.5 AR Disc wheelsets.

Bontrager’s Aeolus XXX 2 is 28mm deep and claims to weight 1380 grams. To make it tubeless, you need to add their rim strips which weigh about 65 grams a piece.

The German wheelmaker Tune sells the 41mm deep Airways Disc wheelset that is slightly narrower (19mm x 26mm) and lighter still (1342g measured).  While tubeless, Tour Magazine gave it one of its worst impact resistance ratings. The wheelset currently comes only a with a hub that connects to 6-bolt rotors and uses quick releases.

There are only two other road disc wheels in this 1400g weight range that could pass as both all-arounds and climbers. Both the AX Lightness Ultra Disc 45C (1404g measured) and Knight 35 Clincher Disc (1460g measured and 445g claimed rim weight) seem to be of an earlier vintage – 16.5 and 17mm wide internally respectively and neither is tubeless ready.

All this talk of specs is probably a bit unnerving for all but us tech nerds and doesn’t determine performance or my recommendations. It is just one of my considerations in choosing which wheelsets to buy or demo, evaluate and write up, etc. But as you can hopefully see, they each seem to be lacking in one or more dimensions when compared to the ENVE SES 3.4 baseline. I chose not to review any of these other wheels except the Roval CLX 50 Disc.

I plan to do a dedicated climbing road disc wheelset review when there are more models from other companies. For the time being, the ENVE 3.4 Disc, HED Vanquish 4, and Roval CLX50 currently look to have the combination of light weight, stiffness, aero performance, handling, and comfort with wide, tubeless optimized rims that best suit the kind of all-around, varying road quality surface you are likely to encounter as a versatile, road disc bike cycling enthusiast that goes climbing.  (Phew, that was a long sentence!)

As all-around/climbers go, I found the ENVE 3.4 Disc wheels to be excellent performers. While only 100 grams lighter than the ENVE 4.5 AR Disc, all of it is in the rims and made climbing notably easier when I rode them back to back.

The 3.4s seemed almost immune to crosswinds and they accelerated with the best of the other wheels I’ve reviewed here. They handled confidently making high speed turns. This combined with their no-worries attitude around crosswinds made me very calm going fast downhill.

They are also stiff and comfortable, though on par with most of the other wheels in this review for those criteria. If I was doing a lot of dirt and gravel riding, I would probably go with the ENVE SES 4.5 AR Disc for the similar volume of air at a lower tire pressure the 4.5’s wider rims allow.

Using the same hubs and trying to keep in the same riding position, I don’t find the 3.4 hold their speed as well as the similarly profiled 4.5 AR rims. That’s to be expected due to the depth difference and isn’t an issue in group riding. If you are racing or doing long pulls, you might want to go deeper so you don’t need to work as hard.

The one disappointment with these wheels was strictly cosmetic. I noted some white markings along the spoke edge of both rims that seemed to get worse over time. The carbon in the rim’s side walls and spoke beds appeared well laminated and structurally sound.

As these were wheels I bought rather than demoed, I tried to look at this with a “glass half-full” attitude.

How?  I used this situation to see how ENVE’s customer service would deal with my inquiry as just another paying road cycling enthusiast rather than trying to impress the marketing or PR folks with my reviewer status for some kind of special treatment.

An ENVE “consumer experience” agent got back to me the morning after I submitted my comments along with a couple of photos I attached on their web product support form. He explained that what I was seeing was powdered curing agent that normally dissolves into the resin but had pooled up in the molding process on my rims. The agent said this happens to various degrees in all their wheels as they don’t use paint, filler or cosmetic weave layers but their tests showed no affects on performance. I can’t confirm that independently but I didn’t notice any performance changes as the markings grew more evident.

After responding that I didn’t much care for the look of these markings and would like another set, the agent pulled my product registration information and sent me a shipping label. While he said the markings on my wheels were particularly obvious and expected the replacement set wouldn’t exhibit them, he couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t but would again replace them if the situation re-occurred.

I was fully satisfied with the service response. While I would have preferred there were no markings in the first place or that they replace them overnight, I think this was about as good as it gets if you ever have a problem.

If you see the value in this combination of all-around and climbing performance together with good customer service and are willing to pay the added price, you can pick up these wheels at recommended stores Competitive Cyclist, JensonUSA, Merlin or directly from ENVE by clicking through this link to ENVE.com.

HED VANQUISH 4 – STIFF, VERSATILE YET NEEDING A BIT MORE CARE 

It would be an understatement to say HED Cycling took a while to offer an all-carbon clincher wheelset. One of the first to sell wheels using toroid shaped, deep section rims to gain aero advantage over 10 years ago, the company had only used their patented design for tubular or carbon-alloy wheelsets.

That has now changed with the introduction of the disc brake only HED Vanquish carbon clincher wheelsets. By not making these in a rim brake version, HED effectively avoided the engineering challenges other carbon wheelset makers went through to prevent overheating, delamination or blowouts from the heat created by rim braking.

My fellow tester Miles, a successful P/1/2 racer who wins a lot, and I, a B-group rider who watches a lot of races on TV, evaluated the HED Vanquish 4, the 40mm deep all-around and shallowest of the new line which also includes 60 and 80mm deep models

HED Vanquish 4 Disc Wheelset RearThere’s a lot to like about the Vanquish 4. This is a highly competitive road disc wheelset for the company’s first all-carbon clincher offering.

At the same time, there are a few things still lacking and that might not appeal to the less competitive, less handy rider that makes me think HED would have benefitted from making and getting carbon clincher experience a bit sooner.

Above all, the Vanquish 4 is a supremely stiff wheelset. This provides a big advantage when initiating or responding to acceleration on the flats, charging uphill, and sprinting out of corners.

Miles felt a ton of confidence going hard into corners and the post-corner sprint stiffness was inspiring. In a full-out straightaway sprint, he found nothing lost in his forward progress toward the line.

The Vanquish 4 are relatively light wheels too. The pair we tested weighed 1466 grams without tape or valve stems, about 50 grams less than what HED claims and 55 grams more than the ENVE SES 3.4 the lightest and another one of the stiff wheelsets in this category.

While you probably want rims deeper than these 40.3mm ones for maximum aero performance or a flat criterium, a race whose last kilometer has a 3-6% kicker into the finish would be ideal for these HEDs.

If like me, you aren’t a racer, all that good stiffness and handling and climbing are still the things you want and that I enjoyed in this wheelset. And if you branch out to do some mixed surface, gravel or cyclocross riding, the Vanquish 4 offers a lot of versatility as you can run 25C, 28C or wider tires with good sidewall support on these rims which measure 21.3mm internal width.

For best aero performance, you’ll want to run 25C tires. HED’s aero tests with the benchmark Conti GP4K SII shows the 25C perform better than the 28C version of the same model tire. My measurements show the Conti GP5K TL measures 27.0mm at 80psi or a millimeter narrower than the actual 28.0mm external rim width at the tire/rim intersection and 29.0mm max. My benchmark 25C Zipp Tangente Speed Road Tubeless (RT25) comes in at 26.0mm at 80psi and the 28C at 29.0mm at 70psi.

Crosswinds within reason didn’t bother these HEDs even though they have more of a V-shaped spoke-side rim profile than most of the U-shaped ones of current carbon hoops.

Miles and I had a slightly different impression of the Vanquish 4’s comfort. At 60-65psi with 25C tires, I found them to be in the middle of the range of the all-around carbon road disc wheels I’ve tested for this review. They didn’t seem a whole lot more comfortable at 50psi using 28C tires either. I found others including the ENVE 4.5 AR and Zipp 303 NSW and Firecrest more comfortable

Ever the hardman, Miles found them very comfortable at 70-75psi over rougher roads even though we weigh much the same.

We did agree that the hubs rolled smoothly and the freehub audibly lets you know when it is coasting. It’s not anywhere near as loud as a Chris King, i9 or even Mavic hub. While I prefer a quieter DT240 or silent Zipp Cognition hub, I didn’t mind the HED freewheel sonic signature, a slightly higher pitched, higher quality sound.

Miles dug it.

Perhaps we’ve become spoiled with so many hubs not giving you pre-load adjustment options like these HED hubs do. The rear axle loosened and tripped up Miles when he swapped cassettes requiring readjustment to get it back into his frame. I had a similar issue with somehow changing the front preload and needing to readjust to get the rotor and caliper realigned. We’re both amateur wrenches and can deal with these things. I’m not sure this wouldn’t frustrate most enthusiasts who may be a little less experienced dealing with these kinds of things.

We also agreed that the wheels’ tubeless setup wasn’t great. While both of us have a lot of experience with tubeless tires and rims, our experience with the Vanquish 4 suggests HED is behind the tubeless wheelset leaders.

First, HED doesn’t provide tubeless valves with these wheels. While that’s not unheard of, it is unusual these days and seems like a mistake considering you want to make things easy for your customers, especially considering all the variables in setting up tubeless wheels.

Second, for the wheels we tested, HED sent a rubberized sleeve or grommet that you put the valve into and then need to put in the rim’s valve hole. There’s very little tolerance for getting that sleeve in if you don’t cut out all the tape surrounding the valve hole.

If you wrap your rims twice with tape as I do, there’s no chance of getting it in unless you have a very sharp, small knife and remove all the tape covering the hole after the first pass and then again after the second. Using a valve I had that already had a wide rubber bottom, I didn’t see the value of the grommet, couldn’t get it in deep enough for the tire bead to easily clear, and put them aside.

Why the need for the grommet? Well as Miles and I learned, without it the valve will come through the rim bed if or, in our cases when, the tire pressure exceeds about 80psi for any length of time. It happened to Miles when he had his bike on the top of the car in sunlight. My bike was inside the car on a hot day when the valve came through.

I went back, retaped with more attention to clearing the hole and getting the grommet in place. With that done, no problemo. Further, HED says they’ve changed the layup so that the grommet is not needed and no longer shipped with new Vanquish wheels.

The tubeless tires we used required a compressor for the tire beads to lockout in the rim bead hooks. We also needed to put sealant in the tires for them to hold air for any length of time. For 28C tires, the one-shot canister Joe Blow type pump didn’t offer sustained enough pressure to lock out the beads.

Noting that Miles and I each had difficulty (and made a bit of a mess) trying 3 different tires, I’m led to believe that an easier mating bead hook would improve the tubeless setup experience. Or, you could turn this over to your local wrench to take care of it.

With the tubeless set up out of the way, the Vanquish 4’s performance will hopefully put it out of your mind. And, at its market price of USD$2080, this HED wheelset is less expensive than most of the wheels in its category. It’s available mostly at HED dealers but also online using this link to Competitive Cyclist, one of my top-ranked stores where you can get another 10% one-time discount exclusively as an In The Know Cycling reader. Enter the code ITKCC19 at checkout.

REYNOLDS AERO 46 DB – FAST, STIFF WHEELS BEST FOR ROAD RACERS WHO WANT TO BE HEARD

If you are afraid of heights, people tell you “don’t look down”.

If being on trend is important to you, I’ll give you the same advice when it comes to the Reynolds Aero 46 DB carbon disc wheelset.

However, if road speed unperturbed by crosswinds is more important, just look forward, pedal and smile.

Reynolds has stuck with a classic, V-nose design for the spoke edge of these wheels and added a somewhat toroid shaped rim profile heading to the other edge where the rim meets the tire for the 46, 65 and 80mm deep disc and rim brake wheels in its Aero line. This, when it seems like the world of carbon bike wheels have gone to blunt nose, U-shaped rim profiles.

For me, Reynolds’ design definitely works to produce and maintain my speed. While I did find myself looking down riding these wheels, it was to see my speed and power output rather than the rim profile. With the Aero 46 DB it felt like I was riding faster than normal in the same power ranges I normally ride.

My experience is, of course, anecdotal rather than scientific. Interestingly, I came across the wind tunnel chart below of tests done by DT Swiss.  It compares the aero drag of their ERC 1100 Dicut DB wheels, designed by the Formula One aero engineers of SwissSide they regularly tout, against Reynolds Aero 46 (blue line) and Zipp 303 Firecrest (grey line) wheelsets.

About 80% of our road riding is done when the wind is coming from a 0 to 10-degree angle (or “yaw”) and 50% is done between 0 and 5 degrees based on field testing done by Flo Cycling.Aero Drag chart comparing different carbon disc wheelsets

Unfortunately, DT Swiss didn’t specify whether the Reynolds or Zipp wheels are rim or disc brake or current or older models. It is kind of important as Reynolds only makes the Aero 46 in a disc brake version now and the current Aero 46 DB (introduced in 2017, the same year as the ERC 1100 Dicut DB wheels) are wider and likely more aero than the 2016 Aero 46 DB and rim brake versions.

Same goes for the Zipp 303 Firecrest whose DB and rim brake wheel profiles are quite different and have each gone through serious redesigns in the last couple of years.

Based on when the DT Swiss wheels were being designed and wind tunnel tested, my guess is that they are benchmarking the ERC 1100 against older models of the Reynolds and Firecrest rim brake wheels.

Regardless, it’s interesting to see the Reynolds Aero 46 held up as a benchmark in the same way the Firecrest has for years (but no longer should be as the NSW has surpassed it).

The second aero consideration is how well a deeper wheel does in managing side or crosswinds. Much of the reason for the move to the blunt nose design was to… uh… blunt those crosswinds and keep riders from having to steer against the wind and constantly modify their line or get blown off the road.

Reynolds Aero 46 DB carbon disc wheelset

The Aero 46 DB next to Zipp’s 303 NSW disc brake wheel

Well, that design clearly works. Wheels like the blunt nose Zipp NSWs in road disc and rim brake versions at various depths are better than the old Firecrest used to be. (The new Firecrest rim brake wheels have first gen NSW rims which are excellent in crosswinds; the Firecrest disc brake wheels have more traditional Firecrest rim shape which is not great in crosswinds.)

But, my experience with the Aero 46 DB found them as good in crosswinds as the NSW despite a very different design. I rode 100 miles and 10,000 feet on the Reynolds wheelset in the Vermont mountains on a horrible rainy day with swirling winds coming at me from seemingly every direction and often when I was crawling up steep passes or “gaps” as they call them up there. Weighing a mere 150lbs/68kg, I notice crosswinds as much as anyone.

My mind and body were truly miserable in the rain and wind of this ride but the Aero 46 DB wheels were totally unphased by either.

That reminded me of what I often remind you: focus on performance rather than the specs or design hype (though Reynolds does hype their rim profile as crosswind beaters).

On to other performance considerations…

The stiffness and rolling smoothness of this wheelset are good though not without a few characteristics I don’t care for.

Both in and out of the saddle I find these Reynolds wheels plenty stiff. After many rides, the wheels remain true and I’ve found the spokes are all still tensioned. But when I crank out big watts (for me) going up steep hills, I occasionally hear the spokes ping.

I’ve flexed the spokes by hand and heard the pings but can’t tell whether they are coming from the ends of these straight-pull spokes in the flanges or rims, from rubbing against each other in the cross pattern, or from rubbing against the inside edge of the rim where the spoke passes through to reach the internal nipples. My guess is that it is the latter.

Whatever it is, it is a little disconcerting to hear these pings when you are cranking it out going uphill even though, as mentioned, the wheels ride stiff and have remained true.

They also ride very smoothly on the Torch hub internals supplied by Industry Nine. That said, much like the Chris King hubs, the i9s make a distinctive, loud freehub noise. Zing zing zing zing.

While I know it is popular with some, I personally don’t care for freehub zinging. You attract attention coasting down a road and you can annoy or even anger someone pulling their legs off in front of you to hear you freewheeling behind them. Sometimes it’s an invitation to pull enough to drop you and your coasting, wheel-sucking noise.

While my personal bias against occasional spoke and freehub noise doesn’t affect these otherwise stiff and smooth rolling wheels, I found the compliance or comfort of the 46 Aero DB to be their weak link.

I ran this road disc wheelset tubeless with both 25C and 28C Zipp Tangente Speed RT and Schwalbe Pro One tires on it to try to find the best combination of comfort, speed, and handling. No matter, I couldn’t get beyond average compliance with any of these.

As the chart above and others like it show, wider tires increase aero drag. On the flip side, wider tires reduce rolling resistance, can improve handling, and allow you to ride at lower pressures to improve comfort.

So there are tradeoffs and you have to consider and tire choice decisions based on what you prioritize among those trade-offs.

For example, when you start riding at aero speeds (18-20 mph/29-32kph and up), the reduction in aero drag of a narrower tire far outweighs the increase in rolling resistance. Don’t ride that fast and care about comfort more than anything? Put on wider tires because your rolling resistance will be lower, comfort will be greater and you won’t be going fast enough to affect your aero performance.

Assuming, though, that you are looking to ride at aero speeds on these aptly named Reynolds Aero 46 DB wheelset (and the other wheelsets in this carbon disc wheelset category), know that only 25C tubeless tires measure narrower than the 28.2mm wide rims at the “brake track” and have a 28.6mm max width. The Zipp Tangente Speed tires measure 25.8 mm wide and Schwalbe Pro One measures 27.5 mm, both at 80 psi, the max pressure you’d want to run tubeless tires on 19C rims even if you weigh 200lbs/80kg. 28C tires measure wider than the outside width of the rims.

I didn’t measure them with tubed clincher tires. From my experience with other 19C rims, the benchmark 25C Continental Grand Prix 4000S II at 100psi measures very similarly to the Schwalbe Pro One at 80psi. Both measure wider than other popular tubeless and tubed clinchers.

With the 25C Zipp Tangente Speed road tubeless inflated to 65 psi where I run my tubeless tires, the Aero 46 DB weren’t comfortable. Tolerable, yes. Comfortable no. If I were racing, I’d go with these tires both for their width on these wheels but also because they handle beautifully and have other performance attributes that caused me to pick them as the best in my review of tubeless tires.

If I weren’t racing but looking to do fast group rides and get better comfort along with speed, I’d go with the 25C Schwalbe Pro One. The compliance is OK with those tires, on par with many, and the handling no worse. I wouldn’t, however, recommend you do “gravel” or dirt road riding with these wheels unless you went to a 28C tire.

You can pick up these wheels online by clicking on these links to Competitive CyclistMerlin.

ROVAL CLX 50 – ANOTHER GOOD CARBON DISC WHEELSET OPTION THOUGH AT A HIGHER PRICE THAN MOST 

Roval uses the same rim, hub internals, and spokes on its CLX 50 disc and rim brake bikes. This is my review of their disc brake model.

The Roval CLX 50 is one of those all-around road disc wheels that makes me smile.  Not because it does anything notably better than other carbon disc wheelsets I’ve reviewed in this post, except perhaps accelerate, but because it does so many things well just like other wheelsets in this post.

I couldn’t have written that paragraph above a year ago.  Not just about Roval but about a good sized, competitive collection of carbon all-around road disc brake wheelsets we enthusiasts now have to choose from.  Like the Roval CLX 50 Disc, there just weren’t that many all-around wheelsets that really did road disc bikes justice a short while ago.

Now there are.  And that makes me smile.

Roval CL 50 Carbon Disc WheelsetInterestingly, the Roval CLX 50 rim and disc brake wheels share the same profile – width, depth, shape, tubeless ready, rim bed, etc.  Sure, the two wheels have different spoke counts and hubs but even the hubs have the same DT Swiss 240 internals.

While many of the first two generations of road disc wheels were optimized for rim brakes and tweaked for discs, this one appears to suit both formats well, if not necessarily optimized for either.  It may straddle the Gen 2/3 characteristics I laid out earlier, but these compete on performance (and specs) with the latest Gen 3 all-around wheels.

Yes, these road disc wheels are heavier than their rim brake brothers, but the CLX 50 disc brake wheelset, at a measured weight of 1457 grams, is one of four wheelsets in this review coming in at under 1500 grams.  So, it’s not sacrificing anything by being a rim twin with its rim brake brother.

[By the way, the 1415 gram claimed weight is probably without rim tape.  I and several others that have reviewed this wheelset and actually weighed it all come in somewhere between 1440 and 1460 grams, likely due to whether we ran the tape around once or twice.]

The Roval CLX 50 has a modern aerodynamic profile and maintains your momentum well.  It’s what you should expect from 50mm deep wheels that will set you back US$2400, £1870, €2200 as these will. Not all wheels deliver speed even at that price that but these clearly do.

They remain stable and easily handle in the crosswinds. These will tell you they are feeling the wind but they won’t jerk around on you. A light steady touch on the tiller will keep them on course.

They also accelerate and climb better than most.  While the weight difference between the CLX 50 and ENVE 3.4 is a minimal 50 or so grams, I felt a little more comfortable on the ENVEs on a blustery day of climbing and descending. But, the Roval isn’t far behind.

Perhaps it’s because the ENVEs are 10mm shallower that they handle the crosswinds so amazingly well. On the flip side, the Rovals are faster on the flats if you are riding at speeds where aero really matters – >20mph or 32kph.

The CLX 50 is stiff but not overly so. Likewise, they are compliant and handle well, on par with many of the wheelsets in this review.

Run them tubeless and lower your pressure if you want maximum comfort. Toss the plastic spoke hole plugs they come with and run rim tape if you want minimum hassle installing tubeless tires. The tires can get hung up on the plugs and make installing and removing them a whole lot more work than anyone should have to do to enjoy cycling.

You can buy the CLX 50 wheels online at Cyclestore, Roval’s online store, and at Specialized bike shop dealers.

ZIPP 303 FIRECREST CARBON CLINCHER TUBELESS DISC-BRAKE – ZIPP GETS ROAD DISC WHEELS RIGHT

Every Zipp Firecrest wheelset comes with an image built up over a decade. I associate the words innovative, fast, expensive, and status with the Zipp brand. And I’ve always thought of Firecrest as the aero standard that is also comfortable and brakes well but is flexier and heavier than other all-around wheels. One other connection I make – Zipp always seems to be updating the hubs they put on Firecrest wheels, perhaps to try to rid themselves of whatever quality demons possessed earlier models.

Road disc, wide and tubeless, however, were never words I’ve associated with Zipp and Firecrest.

Zipp 303 Firecrest Carbon Disc WheelsetYes, Zipp has made disc brake Firecrests for years but earlier models were essentially the same as rim brake Firecrests just with a few more spokes and a way to bolt on the rotors. Their rims were wide externally but never wide enough internally to go with a 25C tire if you still wanted their best aero performance. And tubeless? Nah.

So, when Zipp introduced the 303 Firecrest Carbon Clincher Tubeless Disc-brake wheelset (yes, that’s its full name) that also had a 21mm internal width, I was curious to see if this was still a Firecrest or it was just using the name.

This tubeless disc brake Firecrest is still fast and comfortable, among the best in both categories from my anecdotal experience and as measured on machines by the independent Tour magazine.  Only the ENVE 4.5 AR performed better along these two dimensions amongst the road disc wheels they tested.

I rode the 303 Firecrest with 25C Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tires at 70psi which measures a few tenths narrower than the outside rim width where the air will come off one to meet the other.

Zipp has also introduced tubeless tires which, while I hadn’t caught up with a pair when I reviewed these wheels, I have since and they are a far better fit than the Schwalbe. (You can see my tubeless tire review here.)

True to my Zipp 303 Firecrest and 303 NSW rim brake wheelset experiences, the 303 Firecrest disc brake wheels aren’t the stiffest or flexiest in this category. As a light rider, this isn’t a huge issue for me.  If you are a heavy rider you might want a stiffer wheelset.

Despite the average stiffness and being one of the heavier wheelsets (1632g measured) among those reviewed here, I found they accelerate well. Perhaps it’s the hubs which I found to roll comfortably and easily with only a little ratcheting sound coming from the rear.

Note that the hubs only come with 6-Bolt fittings for your rotors. I have 140mm rotors in both 6-Bolt and CenterLock that work fine with my Shimano disc calipers, though I prefer the later and most new carbon disc wheelsets are coming with CenterLock as the default and, in most cases, the only option.

While not as versatile as the ENVE 4.5 AR for off-road riding or as suitable for climbing as the ENVE 3.4, this tubeless disc brake Zipp 303 Firecrest is still one of the better all-arounders and costs about 20% less than those two.

So yes, it’s a Firecrest. You can find them in stock at the best prices from stores I recommend based on their customer satisfaction ranking by clicking these links to Competitive Cyclist, AmazonWiggle.

ZIPP 303 NSW CARBON DISC WHEELSET – A COMFORTABLE, CONFIDENT THRILL RIDE

While you can’t ascribe human emotions to inanimate objects like bike wheels, I can tell you how I feel riding them. When it comes to riding the Zipp 303 NSW carbon disc wheelset, I get a comfortable, confident thrill I don’t often experience from the performance of other wheels.

You wouldn’t think feelings like comfort and thrilling happen at the same time or that you can be confident in pushing yourself to the limits where thrills are usually found. Yet for me, someone admittedly filled with my own contradictions, I experience comfort, confidence, and thrills at the same time from the performance of this versatile carbon disc wheelset from Zipp.

Let me explain.

As to comfort, these 303 NSW carbon disc hoops combine smooth and quiet rolling with great compliance. The rear hub freewheels without even a whisper. The wheels absorb rough roads, cracks and even shallow holes with hardly a notice.

Part of that comfort probably comes from being optimized for tubeless tires. More than tubeless ready or having tubeless as part of a crazy long name – Zipp 303 NSW Carbon Clincher Tubeless Disc Brake – the rim bed has shallow, narrow channels near the outsides of the rim beds to better secure the tire beads under the rim hooks when running tubeless tires at lower pressures.

Zipp 303 NSW Carbon Disc WheelsetI set these wheels up with 25C tubed clincher tires and 25C and 28C tubeless from multiple brands. Tubed tires like the 25C Continental Grand Prix 4000S II were a bear to get off. I wouldn’t want to have a flat on the road with tubed tires on these rims unless I was riding with Scott, whose hands are the size of a bear’s.

The tubeless Schwalbe Pro One and Zipp Tangente Speed tires were easy to install and remove. If ever I needed to put a tube inside them due to a sidewall cut too big to close with sealant, it’d be an easy job.

Zipp claims these wheels test fastest in the wind tunnel with a 28mm tire. I found, however, that Zipp’s 28C Tangente Speed Road Tubeless tire, a model whose 28C and 25C sizes typically set up narrower than Schwalbe Pro One, Mavic Yksion Pro UST and other tubeless tires I recently reviewed, measured 1 mm wider than the roughly 29 mm wide rim.

Zipp’s rim shapes have obviously changed as they’ve moved to the newer and wider NSW wheels. Their tech support representatives tell me the 95% tire to rim with rule Zipp established a decade ago and other brands have followed no longer applies to the NSW rim shapes. They didn’t tell me what their new rule is though, perhaps wanting to keep that secret sauce secret. Most other leading aero wheel designers still go by the tire-narrower-than-rim-width principle and have publicly shared the aero data to confirm it.

While riding these wheels with 28C tubeless tires is supremely comfortable, I found the 25C Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tire that measures essentially the same width as the 303 NSW rim and the 25C Tangente Road Tubeless tire that measures about 2mm narrower both provide great comfort in combination with these compliant wheels.

While I spent most of my time on the roads, a couple of outings one of my fellow In The Know Cycling testers took with this 303 NSW road disc wheelset on combined paved and dirt roads showed their versatility to be better than most.

Wide rims and wide tires usually lead to good handling. The handling on these wheels was better than good. It took me to the extremes of confidence in cornering and made me darn near fearless. I never doubted them in tight turns and I pushed them as hard as I can. That was a thrill right there.

Responsive? Yes. Acceleration? Beam me up Scotty. Aero? Held my speed well. Crosswinds? Bring ’em on. Not a bother.

For me and my mere 150lb/68kg body weight, they were plenty stiff and climbed well. Moose, my 200 lb chubby riding buddy also found them stiff enough for him on climbs and sprints, or at least when he tries to close gaps I leave for him. Not the stiffest but on par with many. See the chart above for comparison.

They also handle beautifully going fast downhill with never a worry about speed, cornering, wind or road surface.

Beyond how this Zipp 303 NSW disc brake wheelset performed against all of these criteria, and they did as well or better than most other all-around carbon disc or rim brake wheels I’ve spent time with, I just found these a joy to ride and really looked forward to it. That was a thrill in itself.

Of course, being Zipps top-of-the-line carbon disc wheelset model, it’s not a cheap thrill. But if you are up for all that I experienced, you can get these wheels by clicking through to Competitive Cyclist for US/CA residents and Tredz, Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles for those living in the UK/EU.

WHY I MAY NOT HAVE INCLUDED WHEELSETS YOU’VE HEARD ABOUT

Carbon disc wheelsets are a relatively new, fast growing and fast-changing category of cycling gear. The generation chart displayed near the top of this review shows how much has changed in the last few years.

You’ve got eight of the latest, best, all-around depth, carbon disc wheelsets to consider in this 2018 category update. There are another eight Gen 3 wheelsets which I considered for this review, two or three of which I hope to add to the post as soon as I receive them and we can test them out. Several others are sold in low volumes or supported only within a limited geographic region or both.

Because In The Know Cycling is fortunate enough to have readers around the world (thank you!), I don’t typically review gear that isn’t sold and doesn’t have a robust service network in at least a couple of the major geographic regions. It just isn’t worth the time of the majority of readers looking to buy a wheelset to read about some that are sold in limited quantities with a distribution and service network that can’t support them where they live.

I looked at another two dozen or so all around depth, carbon disc wheelsets that I didn’t review for my first review of this category in the fall of 2017. Most of those were Gen 2 wheelsets and there were more advanced Gen 3 options then and certainly more out there today that I have now reviewed.

I wouldn’t recommend any of the Gen 2 wheelsets today if you are looking for the best performing wheelsets in this category. The Gen 3s are noticeably better and I think worth paying more for. I do expect to see some widely sold and supported value priced Gen 3 models coming out over the next year and I will review and add them to this post.

There are a growing number of deeper, mid-depth aero (60mm and up) carbon disc wheelsets and a smaller number of shallow, climbing carbon disc models that have come to the market in the last 18 months or so. I hope to review those categories of wheels in 2019.

* * * * *

Thank you for reading.  Please let me know what you think of anything I’ve written or ask any questions you might have in the comment section below.

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125 comments

  • Hi,
    I’ve had ENVE 3.4 rim brake on my Pinarello Dogma for 5 years, and I love them. I ride in mostly rolling terrain and on paved roads. I do occasional climbs of 3+ miles. I’m about to buy a Trek Madone disc that comes with Bontrager wheels and unsure if I should forego the xxx4 and get the Madone with the Gen3 ENVE 3.4. I like the idea of about 100g weight savings of the xxx4. Either way I use clincher. They seem so similar I’m torn on which I should get. Any thoughts on the head to head comparison of these two?
    Thank you

    • Richard, I personally prefer the SES 3.4 for climbing but I found the Aeolus XXX 4 to be a bit faster on the flats. Hard to go wrong with either of them. If the Madone comes with the Aeolus XXX 4 and unless your dealer is particularly generous, I’d think you’d save a bundle with those over the ENVE. That would make the decision easy. Steve

  • Hello,
    Any thoughts on the Industry Nine i9.45 wheels? How do they compare to Enve SES 4.5 AR? Thank you.
    Jonathan

    • Jonathan, Haven’t tested them so hard to know. I’ll see if I can get a hold of a set for evaluation this spring. Thanks, Steve

      • Steve,
        Thank you for the reply. Would you consider the Industry Nine i9 wheels Gen 2 or 3? Also, what is the pressure limit on the Enve SES 4.5 AR when mounted with 28mm tires?
        Jonathan

  • Hi Steve,

    I am in the market of buying new Wheelset for new Sworks Tarmac SL6 Disc

    Currently considering either Zipp 303 NSW Disc or Enve 3.4 Disc.

    I am 173cm 77kg guy, with FTP around 250watt.
    My ride typically a mixture of flat and long climb, ie 30-40km flat followed with 10-20km of climb with average grade of 6-8% with some part above 15%.

    I am currently using Zipp 202 Firecrest rim brake on my old bike.

    I am looking for an all rounder wheelset that has a good climbing performance as my old 202, however with some aero benefit for the flat.

    Which wheel would you recommend?

    Thank you,
    Oned

  • Have you ridden Lightweight wheels. If so, how does something like the Lightweight Meilenstein compare with the wheels you have reviewed above, specifically the Enve SES 3.4?

    • bdb, One of my club friends who is a sprinter is on a set of Meilenstein road disc wheels and I asked him to test out the Zipp 303NSW disc wheelset for comparison. He much preferred his Mielensteins for their stiffness, handling, responsiveness, etc. With the relative price difference, I’d hope the Meilensteins would be better. The 3.4 is a stiffer wheelset than the 303 but as to the difference vis a vis the Meilensteins, I can’t say.

      Enve just announced a new 3.4 AR and I’ll get a chance to ride them later this spring. I’ll ask my friend to give them a go. Steve

  • I note that Enve just released a new SES 3.4 AR version (25mm internal, “hookless” dedicated tubeless like the 4.5 AR).

    I’m assuming that this wheel will find its way into your “Best Carbon Disc Wheelset” article. It would be very helpful to differentiate how a rider would decide between this new wheel, and the existing 3.4 clincher… that is also able to run tubeless. Particularly someone like me, a recreational 99% road rider that has yet to venture into the Tubeless Arena and is trying to choose which wheelset to make a $2k+ investment in…wanting it to be reasonably “futureproof”.

    Thanks. Keep up the good work

    • Dave, I’ll get a chance to ride them later this spring and post here. But based on what you write about your road and tire preference, the 3.4 (not the 3.4 AR) would be the better choice. The AR is tubeless only and designed for people who want the wider tire to allow lower pressures for road and gravel riding. Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    I have read all the recommendations you wrote, still trying to decide between a Zipp 303 NSW and the Enve 3.4 rim.

    I am a climber, some say Zipp 303 others Enve. What your take on it?

  • Hi, I was wondering whether you will be getting a set of the new Enve SES 3.4 AR wheels in for review? I am in the market for a new set of wheels and am interested to see an in depth review and also how they compare to the 4.5 AR wheels.

    Thanks for a great and informative read.

  • Hi Steve, Any sense on how the Enve SES 5.6 stacks up to the 4.5 AR? I’m a triathlete but also do road racing in the hilly Western Pennsylvania region. Would the 5.6 gain enough aero advantage over the AR to warrant their purchase?

    • Corky, Not sure all the details of your situation but between those two, I’d pick the 5.6 db over the 4.5 AR db for tri and road racing for sure. The 5.6 is a road wheel whereas the 4.5 is a road and dirt/gravel wheel. They weigh essentially the same and of course, the 5.6 is a bit deeper. I rode the 5.6 rim brake wheelset last fall, liked it very much, and my review of it will come out next Monday. Steve

      • No reply needed unless I’ve got this wrong but saying the 4.5 is best wheel you ever tested but then saying you’d recommend the 5.6 is really saying something! Looking forward to your review tomorrow!
        Happy Easter! Cork

  • Hi Steve,
    Great article and thank you for publishing.
    I am looking to start racing crits and thus looking for a deeper section db wheelset and read this with interest. I currently using the giant SLR0 30mm carbon climbing wheel and to be brutally honest….I love them! Not a sexy brand by standards but really good wheels (they have dt 240 internals). How do rate the deeper versions of these wheels, namely the 42mm and 65mm ?? Any thoughts on these wheels….or should I be looking elsewhere? I can get a set of Enve 3.4 for half price but not sure which way to go.
    thanks again

    • Glenn, one of the new riders on my gear testing team has the 42mm/64mm front/rear wheel combination on his Propel and he wins CAT2 races with them. That said, he’s now evaluating one of the better wheelsets in this review and two new sets we’ll be adding after finishing reviews and he’s remarked how much stiffer and better handling they are. And then there is the aero bike wheels review I just posted that has 55-65mm deep wheelset reviews for racing crits, etc. So yeah, you can do better. The ENVE SES 3.4 are a great set of wheels but shallow for road racing and crits. Steve

    • I replaced my Giant SLR1 30mm disc wheelset with the DT Swiss ERC1100 wheelset. They are definitely stiffer but not unpleasantly so. They’re predictable,dependable, a bit faster and, surprisingly for me at least, faster into the wind and in crosswinds than the Giants – does that make sense? Oh, they also roll very nicely indeed.

  • Hi Steve, appreciate all the thoughtful work you do here–I’m a frequent flyer on your site. Was about to pull the trigger on a pair of Hunt’s Carbon Aero Disk 50/50 or 40/50 for ~$1100USD on their site. Seems like the buzz on these is you get 9/10 the performance of wheels costing 2X!
    Great warranty, price, wide, gen 3 tubeless optimized. Any reason you’ve yet to review the brand’s offerings or any thoughts on the brand and the two offerings I describe above? Is the 40/50 going to make a bid difference vs. the 50/50 in performance, e.g acceleration or 20mph wattage? I’m 6ft 2 and 190lbs and haven’t met a cross wind that ruined my day on my giant slr 1 42s on my 2016 my Giant Defy Advanced Pro, but I do get pushed around a little bit. I ride the occasional fondo, but am mostly a solo enthusiast who climbs a fair bit.

    Thanks!

    • Gabe, A few things about this. I’ve generally been disinterested in the pre-order and open mold model that Hunt and others follow. Second, many who follow this source and sell model are big on selling and promotion but have limited critical (ie. independent and thorough) reviews behind them. As to Hunt specifically, I’ve heard the buzz too but not seen any critical reviews so I set about to do one. It took me about 6 months to get answers from the Hunt folks about their wheelsets – who designs, who makes, how widely distributed, supported, etc. The answers came with a lot of spin but that’s the world a lot of wheelmakers live in.

      Since Hunt isn’t the only company using a similar model or selling wheels with other models in the $1000-$1500 range, I set out to do a review of The Best Wheelset for the Money in two parts. Maybe you saw the first part of that post a couple months ago. About 20 companies including Hunt are selling wheels in this price point following one of four strategies. Did a lot a lot a lot of research last fall and winter to sort it all out.

      Have been testing wheels from companies in each of these categories and will publish the first performance reviews next week.

      Back to Hunt. Pre-ordered their wheels in March. Shipped in mid-May. Poorly packaged/shipped and arrived with an axle end sticking out of the box. On its way back. No replacement until June as, of course, everything is pre-ordered and they don’t have any extra to replace the wheelset I paid for until the next shipment comes through.

      So not getting off on a good foot with Hunt, to say the least. If they can sucessfully ship me a wheelset in June, hope to review it by end of summer. Steve

  • Hi Steve, love your site and unbiased reviews.
    I am looking to upgrade my stock wheels to either the Enve 3.4 disc or Enve 4.5 AR disc. My riding profile would point to the 3.4’s, as I enjoy doing rides with extended climbs of 4-5 miles or longer, often with 10+% sections. However, I know I would also enjoy the extra aero benefits of the 4.5 AR when I’m on flatter terrain.

    In your review you state that climbing is noticeably easier with the 3.4 compared to the 4.5. In your other post on “How to ride faster”, you state that 300g savings on your wheelset corresponds to about 2 seconds time savings per mile on 8% grade. Assuming 100g difference between the 3.4 and 4.5, does it mean I would only save less than 1 second per mile on a climb with the 3.4? Doesn’t seem like much and leaves me wondering which wheelset to pick!

    Thanks!

    • Kyle, thanks for your feedback on the site and your good question. Yes, the 3.4 is best for climbing and for people who want those time savings mile after mile when going up. 1-2 seconds/mile doesn’t seem like a lot unless you are one of those competitive riders to whom it is a lot. If you are riding in the Rockies or Alps or wherever you have 5-10 mile stretches of serious alpine climbing, that’s when you lose contact with other riders, all else (e.g. fitness, pow/wght, motivation) being equal. You can also expend less energy/power with a better climbing wheelset if you are power limited (e.g. can’t keep up FTP level efforts climbing for 5-10 miles at a time).

      Same goes for riding the flats. You’ll get an advantage with the 4.5 either going faster or expending less energy/power for a given speed. If you solo train a lot or do any time trial events, this can be especially helpul. If you group ride, you’ll get more speed/save more energy from drafting than by having deeper wheels. The 4.5 AR is unique in that you pay a relatively little weight penalty for a relative bigger aero advantage and it’s wide enough to do some gravel/dirt riding with. On the flip side, the 3.4 is a deeper climbing wheelset than most so gives you more aero benefit than others of a similar weight. And while I haven’t ridden it yet, the new 3.4 AR gives you that off-road option at the climbing weight

      You gotta decide what’s more important to you or which you can live with slightly less of. You know your riding profile and goals better than anyone so are in the best position to decide. When you do, be sure to check out my Know’s Shop to compare prices and order the wheelset you want. While ENVE wheels usually sell close to list price, there are often more hub options and deals through the online stores I recommend than you’ll get from your LBS. Cheers, Steve

      • Thank you Steve for the advice. I ended up ordering the 4.5 AR’s with DT Swiss 240s hubs, and they are scheduled to arrive this week.
        I was able to get a really nice deal through one of your recommended online stores so that helped seal my decision.

  • Juston Smithers

    Steve, this review is absolutely fantastic and very helpful. Thanks so much for creating this site. I stumbled across it in my search for some info on the latest generation in carbon fiber wheels.

    I’m about to upgrade my road bike to a newer generation Roubaix so that I can get disc brakes, a 12 speed drive train, and room for wider tires. I’ve been riding a 2014 S-Works Roubaix with Zipp 303 Firecrest wheels (clincher, rim brakes) for the last 5 years, and I absolutely love the Zipps. In my view, they Excel at everything. Climbing, braking, cross wind. They are shockingly stable in cross wind. Zipp talks about this in one of their technical videos, where they show through CFD modeling that a cross wind actually puts a net force on on the wheels that’s behind the hub; that results in a stabilizing effect.

    Anyway, I digress. The stock S-Works Roubaix that I’m contemplating comes with a set of Roval CLX 32 disc wheels. The last time I evaluated Roval carbon wheels in 2014, I wasn’t impressed. But times have changed. In your review of the CLX 50, and it seems like you like them overall but you don’t LOVE them.

    In contract, you seem to have a pretty glowing review of the 303 NSW disc. I’m mainly a climber; I spend most of my time in the hills around my area, but I do value aero performance. Do you feel that the Zipp 303 NSW outperforms the CLX 32 disc?

  • Hi Steve,

    Great articles, thanks very much. Think ~£2k is my budget so the Enves and the Zipp NSW look to be out unfortunately. I’m interested that it’s the ERC 1100 DICUT 47 you have listed here. Do you know how the ARC 1100 DICUT 48 (disc verion) compares? In particular comfort? It’s for an Orbea Orca Aero frame 47 and I’m ~50kg. Haven’t yet decided on 25 or 28mm tyres. Also, looks like you rate the Firecrests better than these?

    • Paul, Not sure what your goals or riding profile is but the ARC is a narrower aero wheelset. If you are out for comfort and thinking about putting 28C or even 25C on the ARC wheels, you are defeating the aero improvement goals of those wheels. And yes, the Zipp Firecrest is more comfortable than the ERC. STeve

      • Thanks Steve – so, for max aero benefit, is the ARC best matched with 23 mm tyres? That would be too narrow for what I want I think.

        • I should add – my priority isn’t speed – my weightings are probably 1/3 comfort, 1/3 aero, 1/3 climbing if that makes sense… But I don’t want to do as you say – defeat aero benefit by picking a bad rim/tyre combo; or defeat comfort by going for too narrow tyres or uncomfortable wheels. It’s a shame about the weight on the Firecrest.

        • Just read your best wider road bike tire and wheel sizes article from 2016 – an eye-opener… Very much appreciate your summaries “A 25C tire on 19C or wider wheel” and “A 23C tire on a 19C or narrower wheel”. Think the former might be for me, but perhaps I should also think again before discounting 23C tire.

          • Paul, To take this a layer deeper, check out the Topic of the Week discussion on tire widths in this issue of Know’s Notes. It show’s that one brand’s 23C or 25C tire measures quite different than another’s. Steve

  • Steve, I just bought the Reynolds 41 DB wheelset. The internal diameter is 21mm. Outside measures 30mm. Can I ride with 25c Conti GP4000S tires or do I need 28mm tires. Thanks, Harry

    • Harry, Depends what matters most to you. For comfort, I’d go with a 28C but I’d also go with the GP 5000 TL tubeless so you can lower the pressure without the worry of a pinch flat. If you are going for aero performance and you ride north of 20mph, I’d go with the 25C. It will likely measure up a couple mm narrower than the rim. If you want some of both, go with a 28C tubeless from Zipp, Mavic or Hutchinson that measures a mm or two narrower than those from Conti or Schwalbe. Check out my reviews of tire widths and tubeless tires for more. Steve

      Help keep reviews and comments free of ads and bias by buying your gear through links on the site and at Know’s Shop. Thanks

  • Steve,
    Have you tested the i9.35/i9.45 combo offering by Industry Nine yet? Saw your reply last March that you might, so just wondering. Curious to see how the stack up against disc versions of Enve ses 3.4 and Zipp nsw 303. The advertised weight is only 1435g and they come with a lifetime warranty, so seems like they may be worth considering. Thanks

    • Andrew, We are currently testing the i9.45 set front and back. I’ve not had a chance to ride them yet but our newest tester Miles, a regular Cat 2 winner and P/1/2 competitor is having a go at them first. I did weigh them at 1533g (706F/827R) before I passed them to Miles. More on these late July/early August timeframe. Steve

      • Thanks. I saw the heavier weight for full i9.45 too, which made me consider the i9.35/i9.45 combo to drop the 100g or so off the front wheel without sacrificing aero too much. I know Enve changed its 3.4 stagger from 35/45 to 38/42, so it makes me wonder if they know something I9 does not.

        • Andrew, Using a shallower front wheel is usually more about minimizing crosswind effect than reducing weight. ENVE’s front wheel in both the first and second generation 3.4 has a totally different rim shape than the rear for this reason. You may also want to take a look at the section in my review of climbing wheels here about what matters most in choosing between them. Steve

          Help me keep reviews and comments free of ads and bias by buying your gear through links on the site and at Know’s Shop. Thanks

          • Steve, I know I left a brief comment on another string regarding my wheel choice, but I thought I would do a more complete one here because it more directly relates to the subject matter of this string.

            I chose the Enve 3.4 SES Disc. Weighed in at 1413g for the set, without tape or stems, which is slightly less than advertised. I set them up tubeless with the Vittoria Corsa Speed 25c. Never run the V’s, but that is what was available. Have six rides on the wheels now and they are just about perfect. I was looking for as much aero as I could find without diminishing my climbing efficiency since I was coming from low profile carbons.

            Climbed Alba Road in the Santa Cruz area recently; which is about as stiff a test for a 3.5 mile climb as we have out here, and the wheels were great. (3.5 miles, 10% average, max 22%, gain 2,000+feet). When I had the energy I could make the wheels jump without feeling held back by any weight the 38/42 profile added. On the flats and the descents the aero was definitely a noticable benefit.

            A couple notes. The rear wheel started creaking like crazy on my second ride. Sounded like the carbon was coming apart en masse. Drove me nuts. Really thought I had a defect. Did a little research. Put one very small drop of 3-in-1 oil at each intersection(cross) of the rear spokes. Left it on for maybe 5 seconds, wiped it off, and no more creaks.

            Tubeless. Been running tubeless road for about five years now, and would never go back. Always ran Schwalbe Ones, then the Pro Ones when they came out. Two flats in five years. By that I mean two times I had to stop and stuff a tube in. I am sure the sealant did its job on many other occassions and “fixed” the flat before I noticed. Anyway, a little concerned about the Vittorias since they are lightweight racers. About my fourth ride, zipping along at 24mph or so, and suddenly I hear hissing and feel the blast of the warm orange Stan’s sealant on my lower leg. Never had that happen before. Huge gash; figured a tube was in my future. I pull over quickly, rotate the obvious puncture spot down to the bottom of wheel so all of the sealant will be over hole—- and five minutes later I am on my way. The sealant did its job. I just pumped it up with my little mini-pump and kept riding. I have done nothing to the tire since and it is holding air just fine. I feel better about my V’s.

            Finally, I have the Enve alloy hubs and love the very low key buzz they make when free wheeling. I hate loud hubs and these are about as quiet as you will find. Thanks again to Steve for all his help with product reviews and insights.

  • Hey Steve — I’ve been following your post for years and most of my equipment is off links from your page and recommendations from your research and testing. I’m extremely happy with all my results, so thanks! I currently ride Enve AR 4.5 disc wheels with Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tires, which were recommended to me by a tech at Enve. I’ve had them on for over a year and thousands of miles with no issues. I’ve noticed, however, that my 28s are slightly wider than the 4.5 wheels, which means a loss of aerodynamics, right? What tubeless tires have you found are best to take advantage of the aerodynamics of the 4.5s?

    • Kevin, Glad to hear the site and my recommendations are helping you make good choices. Appreciate you supporting the site with purchases through the stores I recommend, some of which provide commissions that help cover the gear and site costs and keep the recommendations and comments uninfluenced.

      Regarding the Pro One and 4.5AR. I measured the 28C Pro Ones at 32.8mm @100psi on the 4.5 front wheel and still 32.5mm at a more normal 70psi. That’s wider than the 31.2 front external width and 30.4 rear width I measured for the AR rims. At the time ENVE developed the wheels, the Pro Ones were the best (only?) well distributed 28C tubeless choice. And the AR is designed for off road as well as on where aero is less important. So that’s the tire they tested with the AR and continue to recommend.

      At the time I owned and tested those wheels, I also tried the Maxxis Padrone TR and they measured 30.2mm @70psi. Their rolling resistance is behind similar tires and they were an absolute bear to get on the rims.

      You don’t want to use the new Conti 5000 TL as they do not recommend for wheels with hookless beads like the AR. The Vittoria Corsa 2.0 TLR is another option that I believe ENVE is recommending. The Corsa 2.0 in the open clincher version isn’t anything special in rolling resistance (unlike the Corsa Speed 2.0 TLR which is top of the charts but is a thinner race tire) and the 1.0 and other 2.0 versions of the tire I’ve seen data on also appears to measure wide on other rims like the Schwalbe. So it may have the same aero profile as the Pro One and no different or worse rolling resistance.

      I’ve had good luck with the Zipp Tangente Speed RT TLR tires and use them as my benchmark tire. While I’ve not had it on the AR or any other hookless rim, it does measure about 2mm narrower than the Pro One on 19C and 21C rims. You can see my comparisons here.

      ENVE’s not likely to recommend the Zipp tire for obvious reasons. It’s made by Hutchinson who also makes Mavic Yksion Pro UST tires under contract and their own branded Fusion 5 11Storm. All three of those measure far narrower than the Pro One. You can read about all them and get links to the stores I recommend that have them at the best prices in my review of The Best Tubeless Tires. Cheers, Steve

      • Steve — thanks again for your insight and perspective. I’ll definitely try on a pair of Tangentes. Thanks!

  • Kevin,
    For me, the Zipp Tangente Speed RT28 tires measure approximately 31.5mm when mounted on my 4.5 AR’s at 60psi riding pressure.

  • Thanks. I’m going to give these a spin.

  • Steve,
    Would be great to get your perspective on the Enve 3.4 vs 4.5AR in terms of the one you would go for if you ride on asphalt all the time, your rides tend to be rolling with one or two 0.5-1 mile climb (about 5-7% grade) in 30 miles ride and averaging around 18-19 mph. I keep going back and forth between the two and not sure if I will notice the difference on climbing or the flat enough between the two to tip my decision one way or the other! Always value you opinion.
    Thanks.

    • Ahmed, The % of time you spend rolling vs climbing and the speed you ride would definitely suggest that you go for the deeper wheelset. You’ll notice the difference on the flatter/rolling sections and the won’t notice the small amount of added weight going up 5-7% grades for short sections. Steve

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