Download and rate the In The Know Cycling app for your Apple or Android phone or tablet.


What if you could ride one set of “all road” wheels that performed as well as the best road and gravel wheels?

Before I answer that question, let me put it into context.

Many roadies also ride gravel, cyclocross, or mountain bikes.

That’s nothing new though anecdotally, the number of us who’ve added gravel bikes to our collection seems to have grown over the last few years.

What is new, or at least newer, is that more brands are selling “all road” bikes designed to perform at the same high level on paved, dirt, and light gravel roads as those made only for paved or dirt and gravel surfaces.

These are not hybrid or Swiss Army knife-type bikes full of compromises. Instead, they share the geometries, tube shapes, and layup properties of road bikes, the clearance for wider tires found on gravel bikes, and the drivetrains and gear range found on either.

The definition of an all road bike varies from brand to brand and some market them more as gravel race bikes. But as you can see in the descriptions below, makers of the BMC Kaius, Cervello Aspero, Giant Revolt, Ridley Grifn, Specialized Crux, Trek Domane, and Wilier Rave each claim some all road status.

What about all road wheels?

The best-performing road wheels have historically been made in three categories – climbing wheels that are light, aero wheels that are deep, and mid-depth all-around wheels that perform well in a range of road riding situations and racing disciplines.

And the best gravel wheels have been another distinct category.

So those of us enthusiasts who ride road and gravel bikes will typically have at least 2 wheelsets – all-around road wheels and gravel wheels. If we live in a part of the world that’s very mountainous or mostly flat or travel to places to race or ride where that kind of terrain predominates, we might also have a climbing or aero wheelset.

Some of us trying to avoid the extra cost of buying a good gravel wheelset to replace the underwhelming one that usually comes on a new gravel bike might put wider, knobbier gravel tires on a good road wheelset.

And those of us who now have a gravel bike and want to avoid the cost of a new road bike may put road tires on our gravel bike wheels.

Each of these approaches certainly works but not if you want the best performance on each surface.

So let me come back to the question I posed at the beginning of this review:

What if you could ride one set of “all road” wheels that performed as well as the best road and gravel wheels?

ENVE introduced the SES 4.5 AR, the first, high-performance all road wheels in 2016. The SES 3.4 AR came a few years later. Others, notably Mavic have promoted some of their wheels as suitable for all road riding but their performance was not at the level of the best road or gravel wheels.

Today, there are a handful of true all road wheels, ones that perform as well or better as all-arounders, road climbers, and gravel wheels.

From riding a good number of them, I find the best are most suited to one of two types of surface and terrain combinations.

What I’ll call “Type I all road wheels” excel as road all-arounders and on fast dirt and light gravel surfaces. Their aero performance makes them noticeably faster than the second group or “Type II all road wheels” if you are riding at speeds above 20 mph/32 kph on both.

Type I all road wheels tend to be deeper and slightly heavier than Type IIs though the best certainly climb well, just not as well as the best Type II all road wheels.

Type II’s sweet spot is on mountain road climbs and the kind of gradients you’ll typically find on gravel rides that include a lot of rockier Class III and technical Class IV sections. They will also perform as a road all-arounder and on dirt and light gravel sections if you don’t ride at speeds where aero differences matter.

Type I All Road Wheels

Among the Type I all road wheels we’ve tested, there are two I’d recommend as the best performers.

Zipp 454 NSW

Zipp 454 NSW carbon road bike wheelsThe Zipp 454 NSW wheels excelled among our testers as all-arounders, climbers, and dirt and light gravel wheels. Second by perhaps a nose to only the very best wheels designed for a specific road or gravel discipline, you’d have to ride at an elite level to notice the difference.

At its price of US$4220/£3376/3798, it better be one of the best. While a robust wheelset that we raced and rode in challenging events, the price might make you a bit leery of taking it on rockier and more technical gravel terrain.

But if top performance in a single wheelset in nearly every situation and against nearly every criterion is important to you, it just may be worth it.

It’s a stiff, deep (54.5 to 58.5mm), and light (1378 grams) wheelset. Those three attributes along with the 454 NSW’s quick engaging rear hub make it so responsive that it redefines the term “snappy” and makes it an ideal breakaway partner from flats to all but the steepest of slopes.

Combine all of that with a very smooth rolling hubset, an almost silent and fast engaging freehub, and its varying depth rims, and you’ve got a unique riding and looking set of wheels.

You can buy the Zipp 454 NSW using these links to Competitive CyclistThe Pro’s Closet, Bike Tires Direct, Tredz (10% off with code ITKTDZ), and Sigma Sports, all stores I recommended and rate highly for their prices, customer satisfaction, and support. You can also find it and compare prices using this link to Know’s Shop which shows all the stores I recommend that carry this product.

See my full review and ratings of the Zipp 454 NSW.

In The Know Cycling is ad-free, subscription-free, and reader-supported. If you want to help keep it rolling without any added cost to you, buy your gear and kit after clicking the store links on the site. When you do, we may earn an affiliate commission that will help me cover the expenses to create and publish our independent, comprehensive and comparative reviews. Thank you, Steve. Learn more.

ENVE 4.5

The ENVE SES 4.5 shines on nearly as many performance criteria as the Zipp 454 NSW but at US$2850/£2850, costs a good deal less.

It’s also more aero than the 454 NSW if you’ll be doing, road, crit, or light dirt and gravel racing but doesn’t climb as well. It feels as fast or faster on flat, rolling, and descending terrain, as comfortable on good roads, and more comfortable on rough roads and unpaved paths as any road or gravel wheelset we’ve tested.

While ENVE dropped the AR name when it updated the wheelset in 2022, it’s still the original all road wheelset just a touch lighter (1518 grams measured) and wider (32mm external, 25mm internal) than its predecessor. Other brands have copied its different front and rear rim shapes and depth (52mm/57mm), but none have matched its combination of aero performance, stiffness, crosswind stability, and compliance that make it the standard for all road wheels.

You can order it using these links to recommended stores Competitive CyclistThe Pro’s Closet, Bike Tires Direct, MerlinSigma Sports, and directly from ENVE.

See my full review and ratings of the ENVE SES 4.5.

Type II All Road Wheels

Here are my Type II all road wheelset recommendations among those we’ve tested. As mentioned earlier, these are for riders who want an all road wheelset to serve as their primary climbing road wheels, fill our all-around needs if we don’t ride or race at aero speeds, and ride the full range of gravel surfaces.


Zipp 353 NSW carbon road bike wheelsDespite its 43mm to 46mm rim depth that might suggest it is an all-around wheelset, the Zipp 353 NSW doesn’t carry the momentum at aero speeds that the best all-around wheels do and climbs better than the best climbing wheels. It also performs well on everything from smooth paved roads to rough gravel ones.

As a B-group road rider (i.e. 18-20mph/30-32kph average speed on rolling terrain rides) and regular gravel rider on everything from well-maintained dirt to gnarly, rooty, rocky, technical Class IV sections, this is my go-to all road wheelset. While I’m always testing a range of road, gravel, and all road wheels, the 353 NSW is the one I’ll set up when the ride call includes some long, 7%+ road climbs or I’m going to a gravel event I’ve been targeting.

At measured weights of 1248 grams with an XDR hubset or 1268 grams with an HG one, the 353 NSW is almost freakishly light for a non-tubular wheelset. It’s 150 to 200 grams lighter than most of the current generation of tubeless disc carbon wheelsets and even 100 grams lighter than most climbing ones.

It’s stiff, handles extremely well, and is supremely comfortable.

The Zipp 353 NSW is also one of the most expensive wheelsets you can buy at US$4220/£3376/3798. So there’s that. If you’ve got the coin to join, you can order them at Competitive Cyclist, The Pro’s ClosetPerformance Bike, Bike Tires Direct, and Sigma Sports.


See my full review and ratings of the Zipp 353 NSW.



The ENVE SES 3.4 doesn’t fit neatly into a traditional wheelset category. Instead, it has defined the all road one.

While around 40mm deep (39.5mm front, 43.5mm rear with my calipers), it’s not as fast as the best all-around road disc wheels that are often 10mm deeper. And despite being quite light (1432 grams on my scale with ENVE alloy HG hubs), the 3.4 is also not a dedicated climbing wheelset.

Like gravel wheels, the 3.4 is wide – 25mm internal (25.0 measured) and 32mm external rim widths (actually 32.1mm front and 32.5mm rear).

Specs often create expectations of how a wheelset will perform. Actually riding it, as we’ve done extensively with the 3.4 has shown that its stiffness makes it feel very light going uphill and highly responsive to acceleration efforts on every surface. It’s also the most comfortable wheelset I’ve ever ridden regardless of the tires or surface I’m on.

The SES 3.4’s handling is also supreme – stiffness, responsiveness, and comfort undoubtedly contribute to that. Together, these performance attributes give you supreme confidence cornering at speed on unevenly paved roads and when changing lines with the right gravel tires mounted. Downhills on paved roads are a pure joyride.

On unshielded open roads and descending exposed alpine ones, even the 10-20mph crosswinds we experienced during some testing rides didn’t affect this wheelset one bit.

The SES 3.4, updated in 2022 only by dropping the AR suffix in its name and the sticker on its rims, will run you US$2850, £3100, €2850. You can order it through these links to recommended stores Competitive CyclistThe Pro’s Closet, Bike Tires Direct, MerlinSigma Sportsand directly from ENVE.

See my full review and ratings of the ENVE SES 3.4.


Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V wheelset

While not the first, the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V is one of the best wheelsets you can ride for both paved and unpaved or all road cycling.

The differences to the ENVE 3.4 are subtle but important, especially if you prefer the performance characteristics that the Aeolus RSL 37V successfully delivers.

As laterally stiff as any of the all road or gravel wheelsets we’ve tested, the Aeolus RSL 37V’s stiffness feels more balanced than most. While it lacks the initial snap you get from the lay-up or bracing angles or whatever secret sauce is used in a wheelset like the ENVE 3.4, these Bontragers provide consistent strength, precise handling, and go-for-it confidence riding switchbacks down an alpine road, railing a turn on gravel, or accelerating out of corners to overtake a fellow cross rider.

The Aeolus RSL 37V’s robust lateral stiffness is joined by better vertical compliance than most, a combination you don’t often find in a wheelset. Over the course of a 75-mile gravel ride or a day of climbing 10,000 feet in the mountains, both of which I did on these wheels, I thanked them for helping to reduce the pain of those efforts.

The Aeolus RSL 37V wheels weigh 1421 grams with rim tape and tubeless valves. The rims measured 25.2 mm inside width, 31.5mm outside width, and 37.1mm deep. In addition to smooth rolling DT 240 EXP hubs, each wheel uses 24 DT Aerolite spokes bladed, straight-pull spokes. Unlike the ENVE and Zipp wheels, these Bontrager wheels are hooked so you can ride them with tubed road clincher tires if you prefer.

Priced at US$2700, £2100, €2500, they are a tad less expensive than their ENVE competitors, especially outside the US. You can order them from Bontrager.

See my full review and ratings of the Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V.

Note: Bontrager also makes the Aeolus Pro 3V (click to see my review) a lower-priced, similarly dimensioned wheelset but with a lesser hub and carbon layup that weighs in near 1600 grams. While well suited for flatter dirt and gravel terrain, it’s quite average on paved roads. The Aeolus RSL 37 and Aeolus Pro 37 wheelsets – no V in the names are best for paved road climbing but not well suited for dirt or gravel riding.


ZIPP 303 FIRECREST DISC carbon road bike wheelsNearly equal to the performance of the climbing wheels from ENVE and Bontrager, the Zipp 303 Firecrest at US$2025/£1350/€1730 is a relative value for paved road climbing and gravel road riding.

Shallower (40mm), wider (25mm internal, 30mm external), and lighter (1383 grams) than the prior 303 Firecrest Disc model, it is more climbing oriented than any of the long line of all-around rim or disc brake Firecrests that Zipp built its brand around.

While also stiffer than earlier Firecrests, it’s not quite as responsive, comfortable, or fast as the other Type II all road alternatives either on climbs, paved flats, or gravel. But, this Zipp offers a price the others don’t come close to for the level of performance you get.

You can order it through these links to recommended stores Competitive CyclistThe Pro’s Closet, Planet Cyclery, and Bike Tires Direct in North America and at Bike-Components, Sigma Sports, and Tredz 10% off with code ITKTDZ10 in the UK and Europe.

See my full review the Zipp 303 Firecrest.

Others All Road I’d like to test

The Roval Terra CLX fits the Type II all road profile and is a much-praised wheelset, especially for road climbing and gravel riding. Roval updated its other CLX models in 2022 and seeing that it’s significantly discounted at the few stores that still have it in stock, (like Performance Bike), I’m anticipating we’ll see an updated Terra CLX II in 2023.

Another Type II all road candidate is the Cadex AR 35, introduced in 2022. Priced between the Zipp 353 NSW and ENVE SES 3.4, it’s on my wish list to review in 2023.

Reserve, the Santa Cruz Bicycles wheel brand, sells the 40|44 with specs similar to the ENVE SES 3.4 only slightly lighter and less expensive (Competitive Cyclist). Whether it comes close to it in performance is a question I’m looking to answer this year with a thorough review.

While I’ve tested many, many US$1,000 to $1500 value-carbon road and gravel wheelsets (click for reviews), I’ve not yet found a capable all road one in that price range.

Find what you're looking for at In The Know Cycling's Know's Shop

  • Compare prices on in-stock cycling gear at 15 of my top-ranked stores
  • Choose from over 75,000 bikes, wheels, components, clothing, electronics, and other kit
  • Save money and time while supporting the site when you buy at a store after clicking on a link


Are all road wheels for you?

Would you switch the tires on an all road wheelset depending on the surface you’ll be riding? Especially with the best road and gravel tires now being tubeless ones that you’d want to ride with sealant instead of a tube, at least on gravel?

Or do you prefer to own (and can afford) several wheelsets dedicated to paved and gravel road surfaces and terrains, already set up with tires that you don’t need to change?

That’s for you to decide. I know some aren’t comfortable setting up tubeless tires, don’t want the hassle even if you are, or can’t find the time in your busy week especially if you frequently switch between road and gravel riding.

But I’ve found from testing the wheels I reviewed above that the best all road wheels are some of the best performers for most road and gravel riding.

It comes down to trading off performance, expense, and time. Either you buy:

a) one set of the best-performing wheels and switch between road and gravel tires for the kind of surface you’re riding next – you get a combination of the best performance, least expense, and most time spent setting them up.

b) two sets of the same or slightly different best performers with a pair of road tires on one and gravel tires on the other – best performance, greatest expense, and least time spent.

c) one set of the best and another set that’s less than best and put a pair of road tires on one and gravel tires on the other – less than best performance, between least and most expense, and least time spent.

It only took me about a half dozen times to set up tubeless tires with sealant to get pretty good at it. Depending on the wheels and tires, I’ll spend no more than 5 minutes longer installing tubeless tires and sealant than a clincher tire with a tube. I recycle the sealant and use an inexpensive compressor to save money and time.

If I wasn’t testing road and gravel wheels and tires most of the time, I’d go with an all road wheelset for most of my road and gravel riding (option a), add a less expensive wheelset for whichever terrain I rode less (option c). I’d then switch to my better-performing all road wheelset with the right tires for my most important rides or events.

No doubt, it’s a personal choice driven by your own performance, expense, and time considerations.

But, for those of you moving to an all road bike or who want your next wheelset to be versatile enough to ride on either your road or gravel bike, you now have a lot of good options in a single, all road wheelset.

*      *      *      *      *

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.

You can use the popup form or the one at the bottom of the sidebar to get notified when new posts come out. To see what gear and kit we’re testing or have just reviewed, follow us by clicking on the links below or the icons at the top of the page to go to our Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and RSS pages.

Thanks and enjoy your rides on all surfaces and terrain safely! Cheers, Steve

Follow us on: Instagram | Twitter Post Facebook Know’s Club iOS app Android app Strava


  • I’ve had that same thought. I purchased the hunt aero limitless 42 gravel wheels for gravel (obviously) initially. However I put 30c tires on it and occasionally ride it on pavement. It works pretty well, kind of a jack of all trades. Given their aero claims, I’d recommend you add them to your test to see if it matches reality.

  • Thank you for your thorough investigation on the best all road wheels… Maybe next time try to consider affordable ones as well… Most of them cost more than my bike itself 🙁

    • Pascal, as I did mention in the review, none of the value carbon wheels we’ve tested are good as both road and gravel wheels. However, buying one of these all road wheels will cost you about the same as buying two value carbon wheels, one for each surface and the performance will be better on both. Steve

  • How is the tire width affecting the better aero for the Enve 4.5 vs. Zipp 454? Meaning is this due to the wider tires for gravel fitting better to the wider Enve rim … or do you also have the experience that with 25mm tires that the Enves are better aerodynamically? Thanks!

    • Martin, Not sure I understand your question. I wouldn’t put 25mm tires on the ENVE and would only ride 25mm tires on the Zipp if I were on a pristine paved surface. For a thorough discussion of the topic, read my review How Wide Wheels and Wide Tires Can Make You Faster. Steve

      • What tires where you using here? I guess I was assuming something like 32 – 35mm, considering the topic is Allroad (I have no idea as I either ride 25mm on my road bike or 2.4″ on my MTB). In that case, I can see how the Enve’s would match the tire width better and give better aero performance. Sorry, I forgot the Enve’s are not intended for 25mm. Per you tire article referenced – I think the Zipps are optimized for 25mm and OK for 28mm. Therefore my question … if you were using gravel tires, did that size simply match the design of the Enve’s better than the Zipps? Or were you running ~28mm and therefore the Enve’s are simply better aerodynamically?

        • For dirt and loose gravel, yes 32 to 35mm is all you need. But no, with tires at that width relative to the rim width, aero performance is more likely a function of the rim depth since the air will reattach on deeper wheels and might not or stay attached as long on shallower ones.

  • FINALLY …… an article that speaks directly to me by describing what was my dilemma on wheel sets. My stable has multiple XC MTB and a gravel bike that also serves as a road bike. XC and gravel bikes are the perfect pairing for me.

    I believe I have built the perfect ALLROAD wheelset that serves dual purpose for both road and gravel. I cannibalised Enve M50 rims from an older XC MTB and laced them with bladed spokes to DT Swiss 240 road hubs. Rim dimensions are 622x 21/27mm with 28mm depth. Tubeless setup.

    As a mountain biker focused on endurance marathon events, 50% of all my cycling is on XC MTB with the balance on either gravel or road. I switch out tires when dedicating between gravel or road cycling.

    With either 45mm gravel tires or 32mm road slicks their performance seems to be absolutely perfect on all surfaces.
    – On gravel I do not worry about rim strength and their XC compliance is noticeable.
    – On road the wheels are light and snappy and I do not lack any speed.

    Roadies on their aero super bikes with 45-60 section rims descend only marginally faster than I do on my gravel/road bike (with 32mm slicks). However, because I don’t have extensive experience of pure road riding I have no comparisons to offer as to whether my wheels are optimal or not. My point is that older narrow carbon MTB rims do work really well for fast ALLROAD purposes.

  • Are there any handling tradeoffs for road use when going from 21mm to 25mm interior width wheels? My Factor Ostro was spec’d with 21mm Black Inc wheels, but I chose the 303 Firecrests instead, which are 25mm. I got more comfort and better crosswind resistance with the Zipps, but I’m unsure if the wider wheels would corner or turn any differently.

    • Robert, In theory, a rim with a bigger inside width allows you to put on a wider tire which together should give you better handling as there is a wider tire surface or “contact patch” on the road. In practice, it depends on a lot of variables – relative wheel stiffness, tire pressure, and tire choice for sure. For example, if the wheel with the wider rim isn’t as stiff or the pressure is too high, or the tire isn’t as supple compared to the wheel with the narrower inside rim width, the wheel with the bigger inside rim width might not handle as well. But, if you’re comparing two wheelsets, one with a wider inside rim width than the other, both which have sufficiently stiff rims and using the same tire, say a 28mm wide one at the right pressure given the rim width and your weight, then the wheels with the wider rims should handle better than the narrower ones. Your ability to tell the difference would depend on your bike handling ability, cornering speeds, etc.

      The other benefit of a wheelset with a 23 or 25mm inside width is that you can run wider tires, e.g. 30 or 32mm ones to further improve your comfort especially on rougher roads or even wider 35mm+ gravel tires and get even better and certainly more noticeable comfort and handling differences over a wheelset with a 19mm or 21mm inside rim width. Steve

    • I don’t understand the inter-relation between bike geometry, tire size and shape and handling. But, I do have a small experience to share. On my original Canyon Endurace, I switched from the stock 25mm tires to 28mm – both Continental GP4000. I clearly noticed the change and did not like it … sold the 28’s after ~3-4 rides. The handling was slower at turn-in and tended to run wide. I did not foresee myself adapting. Plus the handling on the 25’s was probably the best on any road bike I’ve ever had. One additional note is that the traction with 28’s was less. What I experienced was that over small road cracks braking into downhill corners, the rear was prone to locking up. My theory is that the contact patch became shorter but wider and not able to bridge over cracks in the road as well.
      Further in the direction of speculation … I feel that I prefer rounded tire shape and increasing the rim width for the same tire size will just make the tire flatter. My feeling it that as the bike is leaned over, there would be a changing shape contacting the ground.
      Just my $0.02

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *