THE BEST CARBON DISC WHEELSET

Summary: A carbon disc wheelset that’s fast, stiff, comfortable, and handles well on a range of road and the occasional off-road terrain gives you all you need most any day you ride. Because it performs better on more measures and is more versatile than any other carbon disc wheelset we tested, I recommend the ENVE SES 4.5 AR Disc available here, here, and here, links to stores I rate highly for their prices, customer satisfaction and support. 


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 of those 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 starting in 2018, I’ll take you through the rapid evolution of road disc wheelsets, 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 2014-2019

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 “sticks” to the combined tire-rim airfoil, moving 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 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, class 1 or 2 gravel and the like or use them for cyclocross. Doing so can save you having to buy another set of wheels for those 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 lower than 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, 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$2550, £2700, €3000 depending on the hub choice, 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, gravel, dirt or grass in addition to going 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.

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 and relatively quiet ENVE alloy hubset, the 4.5 AR weighs remarkably little – 1569 grams – given its size. You can also get it at a higher price with Chris King R45 hubs if you prefer its freewheeling sound and faster engagement.

Yeah, the 4.5 AR’s 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 chainstay and fork width 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 (or slightly taller than the 3.4 AR) and probably is a more price-competitive option vs. the cost of buying two wheelsets.

Note that the ENVE 4.5 AR and 3.4 AR are both “hookless” meaning their wheels don’t have hooks on the inside of the rims to mate with the beads from your tubeless tires. When you run tires at lower pressures, as you should with these rims, it’s debatable whether you need hooks to keep road tires in place. As some tubeless tires don’t work well with these hookless rims, ENVE published a list of tires they have approved and recommend and a few you shouldn’t (including the Continental GP 5000 TL).

To see the full list, click this link, scroll down just below the wheelset photo and click “Tire Compatibility”. From the same link, you can also scroll all the way to the bottom to see recommended tire pressures given your weight and tire size.

You can get the ENVE SES 4.5 AR Disc at my top-ranked stores Competitive Cyclist and Merlin and others at Know’s Shop that I recommend because they have the best prices, customer satisfaction records, and selection on enthusiast-level cycling gear. You can also get it directly using this link to ENVE.


Carbon Disc Wheelset Options


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 of 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 own branded models of 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 brand wheel 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 often find the ERC 1100 DICUT 47 at a far more competitive market price by clicking through to recommended stores eBay, Know’s Shop, Bike24, 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 weigh 1380 grams. To make it tubeless, you need to add their rim strips which weigh about 65 grams apiece.

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 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 (also reviewed below), 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 (see review above) or 3.4 AR (see review here) for the similar volume of air at a lower tire pressure the AR’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 sidewalls 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 effects 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 replaced 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 CyclistMerlin or directly from ENVE by clicking through this link to ENVE.com.

USA residents can get a $600 credit for trading in non-ENVE carbon wheels and a $900 credit for trading in ENVE carbon wheels when you order by January 3. Go to this link at ENVE for full details.

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. That made them 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 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 think this would 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 the 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. It’s available at HED dealers and online using this link to Competitive Cyclist, one of my top-ranked stores.

INDUSTRY NINE i9.45 – A DISTINCTIVE WHEELSET WITH RACE-LEVEL PERFORMANCE

I’ve always thought about Industry Nine as a hub company with its high POE (points of engagement) and brightly colored hubs garnering all the attention.

Turns out, “i9” also sells all-around, aero, and climbing carbon road disc wheels amongst a broader wheelset line.

The i9.45 road disc wheelset reviewed here is a collaboration between i9 and the rim and wheelset maker Reynolds. After evaluating them, it’s clear these 45mm deep all-around wheels stand out in a number of important ways and has me now thinking about Industry Nine as both a hub and wheelset provider.

When I took them out of the box, I didn’t quite know what to think. The hubs and spoke nipples on my test set are purple, one of 9 distinct colors you can order them in addition to black and silver. The labels are rim-depth, stick-on ones with i9’s large, hub-inspired logos attached.

The rims themselves look like they are 2nd generation, converted rim-brake hoops with a hybrid-toroid profile whose curvature abruptly stopped in time for an unfinished brake track. Yet they are 3rd generation width (21mm internal, 28mm external) and tubeless-ready.

i9.45 carbon disc wheelsetI wondered if I was about to test a wheelset designed by committee, the kind that melds the voices of past successes, exciting new ideas, and compromises needed to meet management’s cost and schedule targets.

It’s a good thing we don’t bias our reviews on initial impressions or how a product looks. Every cycling enthusiast has their own perception of what looks good to them.

On the road, the i9.45s are full-throttle, road race wheels. They are stiff, snappy, and responsive, great on a rolling course and one with a lot of climbing.

While the POE isn’t something most enthusiasts will notice or should care about, the Torch’s 60 POE (or 3 degrees between engagement points) is 2x or more than most hubs, something you do notice if you are doing any kind of competitive riding. Fellow In The Know Cycling tester and USAC Nationals Masters racer Miles felt near-instant engagement when sprinting out of corners or off lead-out wheels when he competed on the i9.45s.

A distinctive sound comes from that hub, louder than most but similar in volume to Chris King and new Mavic hubs. Here are videos comparing the Chris King and i9 Torch and another comparing the Mavic 360 and DT Swiss. These hubs or their internals are used in many of the best road disc wheels.

The Torch hubs ride buttery smooth both in the front and rear. They make the wheels roll about as well as any Miles and I have ever ridden on the road.

Smooth-rolling doesn’t equate to ride comfort though. The later is a function of your tire width and pressure and the compliance available in the integration of the wheel’s rims, spokes, and hubs. While your tire choices can improve comfort, your wheels are usually what limits it.

While not uncomfortable and despite trying different tires at different widths and pressures, we didn’t find the i9.45 as comfortable as others in this all-around road disc wheelset category.

i9.45 carbon disc wheelset

If you are a racer or enjoy the competition of group rides, lateral stiffness matters more to you than compliance, aka vertical stiffness. And, the i9.45 has lateral stiffness in spades.

That stiffness along with the rear hub engagement make these wheels very responsive, fast to accelerate, and good on climbs. They also handle precisely and confidently, helping to keep you on your line going through a turn.

You can pick these wheels up, while supporting In The Know Cycling reviews, at top-ranked store Competitive Cyclist, one of my top-ranked stores.

REYNOLDS BLACKLABEL 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.

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.

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” that 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. You can read about other tire options in my review of tubeless tires.

You can pick up these wheels online direct from Reynolds.

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

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 couple of years 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 their actual weight 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 you around. 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.

Check out this link to Know’s Shop to see where you can buy the CLX 50 wheels online at stores I recommend because of their superior price, selection and customer satisfaction ratings.

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.

I 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 rule Zipp established a decade ago that they 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 where you get 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10, 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 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 at least of the latest, best, all-around depth, carbon disc wheelsets to consider in this category. There are another handful of Gen 3 wheelsets that I considered for this review, several 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 wouldn’t recommend any of the Gen 2 wheelsets today if you are looking for the best performing wheelsets in this category. I reviewed a bunch of them in 2017 and the Gen 3s are noticeably better and I think worth paying more for.

There are a growing number of deeper, mid-depth aero (60mm and up) carbon disc wheelsets that you can read about here. I hope to review the sub-40mm deep carbon disc wheelsets designed for climbing in a future post.

* * * * *

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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Thanks and enjoy your riding safely!

First published on September 23, 2018. Date of the most recent major update shown at the top of the post.

234 comments

  • Hey Steve…the new Roval Terra CLX look to be worth queuing up for test…sharing a lot of similarities to the Enve offerings (price, weight, dimensions, etc). At least on paper, it looks like close competition….

    (I know, I know….”so many wheelsets, so little time”)

  • Hi Steve,

    First off thanks for the amazing article and feedback. I’ve learned so much from your articles and comments.

    I’m a 6’2″ 190lb rider 7500 miles in on my Bianchi Infinito CV Disc (2018) and it’s time for new wheels. Manufacturer rec’s up to a 28mm tire (which I’m currently running – Conti Gators), but I’m having trouble navigating how that number relates to frame clearance in regards to my top 3 wheel choices from your review(s): Enve 4.5 AR Disc, Roval CLX 50 Disc, Zipp NSW 303.

    I measured the actual clearance on front/back to be 36/34mm respectively. My first choice would be the Enve’s for stiffness, but I’m afraid they might be too fat. Awaiting a response on this q presently from the company. Any advice on wheel fit?

    • Hey Chris, Glad to hear you are getting some benefit from the site. As I often do when hearing such nice feedback, I will take the opportunity to remind everyone that they can support the site and keep the reviews and comment responses coming by buying your gear through the links to stores that you see on the site. Thanks.

      As to your question, a few things to consider. First, you are doing the right thing by getting a width spec from Bianchi. Second, recognize that wheels will bend laterally as much as 4-5 mm in hard turning. So you want that much space between the rim or tire, whichever is wider and the stays. Typically the room between the chainstays is going to be your narrowest width. The forks should be wider. Third, to maximize aero performance, you want your rims to be around 105% the width of your installed and inflated tire. If the tires are wider than the rims, your aero performance and one of the key reasons you buy those nice wheels you mention is going to be greatly negated. Fourth, you are a relatively heavy rider so wheelset stiffness is going to be key. A stiffer wheel will bend less laterally, give you better power transfer, handling, acceleration, climbing, and reduce the bend between the stays.

      With all that in mind, look again at the wheel choices starting with stiffness. The Roval and Zipps, IMHO are just not going to be stiff enough for a guy like you. The ENVE certainly is, but my guess is that it’s going to be too wide for your Bianchi. I’d look at the ENVE 5.6 disc which I’ve reviewed here in the rim brake version that rode damn near like an all-around wheelset. Yes, it’s not as offroad worthy as the 4.5 AR but it’s as light and as good a performer as any wheelset me and my fellow testers have ridden. You also might consider the Bontrager XXX4 in this review.

      Finally, ditch the Conti Gators. That’s a high rolling resistance tire, good for winter/late fall/early spring and rough road riding but does nothing for your performance than further reduce flats. If you ride tubeless, you’ve already got flats under control. And finally, finally, don’t assume a 28C tire is the best choice and don’t back into a wheel or bike choice based on a tire recommendation. A 28C tire will measure wider than 28mm in 95% of the cases. On the 4.5 AR for example, the original popular Schwalbe Pro One tubeless that ENVE used in their testing measures 31-32mm wide once mounted and inflated on that rim. Most tires will measure 1-3 mm wider than the “C” designation and wreck your aero performance. I’d recommend no more than a 25C tire for all of these wheels other than the ENVE 4.5 AR. Cheers, Steve

  • Hi,

    what would be your choice between the Roval CLX 50 and the DT Swiss ERC 1100 no matter the price?

    Thanks

    • Nick, They are both average performers. I wouldn’t spend my money on either. Steve

    • Nick,
      I have no experience with the Rovals, but my road bike came with the ERC 1000 disc wheelset. Steve’s assessment and review are spot on! They are a nice wheel… functional and have held up well. I am unable to quantify the aero component.
      As compared to my previous set of rim brake 303’s, they just lack some of that “nimble/athletic/ spirited” feel I had enjoyed and become accustomed to.
      (hopefully this provides a small bit of help to you)

  • Hi, thanks for these excellent reviews. They’ve been very helpful as I decide what wheels to get for my next bike. I just wanted to point out that Enve has now classified the Mavic Yksion Pro UST 28 mm tire as NOT compatible with the 4.5 AR wheels. That differs from what you have noted in the review of those wheels.

  • Hi – I am having a new disc-brake bike built that will need to serve me both for (A) rolling around the largely flat countryside where I live in the UK (some smooth Tarmac but lots of gnarly road surfaces too) and (B) riding in several mountainous Haute Route events next year, so tons of climbing and descending. I am 80KG. I have narrowed it down in my mind to Zipp 303 NSWs (on which I can get a very good discount), ENVE SES 3.4 ARs or pushing the boat out and getting some Lightweight EVOs (Meilenstein or Wegweiser). My heart says the ENVEs (durable, light and stiff) whereas my head says the Zipps (durable, light enough, stiff enough and – due to the deal I can get – extremely good value) and that I should avoid the Lightweights (insane money, narrow internal widths seems against the trend and, in honesty, I would be a bit nervous about shoving the carbon spokes in a bikeboxAlan on multiple flights). I’ve read the reviews and have a lot of info to mull over. Any other thoughts you might have much appreciated!

    • Gaz, If you ride at aero speeds, Zipps better on the flats and ENVE better in the mountains. If your weight gets up much beyond 85kg or you have an FTP of 300W and you don’t ride at aero speeds (30kph+ average), stiffer ENVE would be better both on flats and in mountains. If you want the ENVE, make sure there’s 40mm or so of room in chainstays and front fork for the larger tires and some lateral deflection. And change your screen name to Full Gaz! Steve

      • Hahaha – am liking Full Gaz as my new online ID…. Thanks so much for the super-fast response! No plans to get any heavier – I’m stable at around 80KG. Away from the mountains, my average pace on a good summer rolling ride would be around 32kmph and my 20 min FTP is around 360w. Based on that, sounds like you’d lean towards the ENVEs?

        • Full Gaz! I like it. And yes, from what you added about your weight, speed, and FTP, I believe ENVE would suit you better. FYI, best price I’ve seen in UK is £2800 with the ENVE hub and you can support ITKC at no added cost to you if get it at my top-rated online store Merlin Cycles using this link. Enjoy, Full Steve!

  • Steve, Just wanted to say what an incredibly valuable / well written review/resource. Thanks very much. New to the site but will continue to use and hope to be able to support via the links/partner shops. I am looking at getting a pair of road wheels for my gravel/do everything titanium bike… I have a pair of DT Swiss 650b’s for full adventure/gravel riding, but still spend a lot of time on the roads (UK, Surrey, heading out of London). Hence want some proper do everything wheels that I can use on the road and potentially also for some light gravel/mixed surface. The wheels will also be used in future when I eventually replace my road bike, which again will be do everything – fast club rides, some Alps/climbing. For this reason I am leaning towards the Zipp 303 NSW’s.. for similar reasons to what ‘Full Gaz’ put above. ENVE’s 3.4 would be great but bit of a stretch in budget and I am not sure I can justify the extra £$£. Had also been considering the DT Swiss ERC 1100 but note your comments above to previous post.

    Any of your wisdom would be v much appreciated; FYI, I am 74kg’s with an FTP of around 300/330 (off season/summer!)

    • JWoods, Welcome and thanks for your feedback and willingness to support the site. My advice would be similar to what I suggest to Full Gaz though I might lean to the Zipp a bit more since you’ve already got a full-on set of gravel wheels. First-world problem! Steve

      • Thanks very much Steve. Much appreciated. Leaning towards the Zipps then, now to try and find them on a good deal. Cheers!

        • A quick search of stores my best online stores list shows prices on those are from Tweeks at £2,406, Tredz at £2,425 with the exclusive In The Know Cycling 10% off ITK10 discount code, CRC at £2,442.

  • Thanks Steve for your articles and long time reader here (first time posting). Building out a Tarmac Sl6 Disc. 320+ FTP, 80 kg but drops in summer months. I ride and race only on asphalt and can get a crazy deal on either 4.5 AR’s with CKs or Roval CLX 50’s. Roads can get rough at times and generally my weekly rides see about 3000ft of climbing per ride but usually through rolling hills or short choppy ascents. Having a rough time deciding as some of my races can also be north of 10k ft of climbing. Is the weight savings of the CLX better for my situation or will the 4.5s negate any benefits with what you mention above. Thanks again and happy to share more specifics if needed.

    • Brad, I recommend the 4.5 AR. Their stiffness and comfort benefits over the Roval CLX 50 are important for someone your weight and FTP and with your roads. Lose the weight on your body and/or what you carry on the bike. 100g of difference between the two wheelsets will not matter at all. Steve

  • Great artical Steve. Thanks for sharing your review honestly.

    I am 66kg with ftp around 220w and i mostly ride rolling terrain with occasionally go for hill climb. My av speed is 32kmh to 36kmh. I am looking for new disc brake wheelset for my bike, and currently own older enve 3.4 and 4.5 rim brake bike. I like enve very much.

    With this situation, do you recommend me Zipp 303 Nsw or other wheel? I am also considering Bora Wto 45 Disc, did you have chance to review this?

    • Siong Tan, As I wrote in the review above and show in the comparative chart, I rate the Zipp 3030 NSW disc performance high compared to others in this review and the ENVE 4.5 AR the highest. I’ve not reviewed the Bora WTO 45 disc. Steve

      • My BMC Slr01 disc does not have the clearance at seat stay for Enve 4.5 AR disc. My other option would be Enve 3.4 disc or Zipp 303 nsw did. So in this case, you recommend 303 nsw over Enve 3.4?

        • They are both great choices. Depends what you are looking for and how much you want to spend. The 3.4 is a better climber; the 303 NSW is faster on the flats and a bit more comfortable. You can’t go wrong with either. There are price differences depending on where you live and what hub you get on the 3.4.

          • Hey Steve, just curious on above scenario. Hypothetically, if Siong was 85kg/185lbs (instead of 66kg/ 145lbs) would your advice have differed.
            I guess what I’m asking is, at what rider weight would the (stiffer) Enves become the better option of the two?

          • DaveMac, It’s more power-dependent than weight-dependent but assuming power aligns somewhat with weight, depending on your watts/kg, that 85kg is about where I think you’d begin to notice the stiffness difference depending on what your w/kg is. Put another way, I think it’s likely in the 250-300 watt range. Whether you want a stiffer wheelset or not is another consideration.

            Here’s an example. Nate, who weighs about 72kg/160lbs and is very fast on the flats, a super climber, and whose FTP is likely somewhere near the top or above that range notices the difference right away and prefers the stiffer ENVE. Moose who is 90kg/200lb and doesn’t ride nearly as hard or climb as well as Nate and has an FTP somewhere near the bottom of that range prefers the comfort of the Zipp. I’m about 66kg/146lbs these days with an FTP below that range and notice the difference when I’m climbing a lot or accelerating hard to close a gap. I prefer the ENVE when I’m doing a 100 ft/mile climbing ride (5k feet in 50 miles) and the Zipp when I’m doing flatter, faster rides.

            So you really need to know your own rider profile (see this review) as well as the relative performance of different wheels (this review and others) to choose what’s best for you and why I can’t recommend what’s best for Siong or anyone without that deep knowledge of their profile. Steve

          • Hi Steve, my location selling both enve 3.4 disc with Chris king hub and 303 nsw disc about same price. That make me harder to choose from the two.

            I am slightly weak on climbing and seems 3.4 a better choice but of course also want to have faster wheels on flat that can hold the speed with less effort when above 38kmh. It would be great if Enve has 4.5 disc but non AR.

            Thanks

          • Siong, well if it helps and you want to support this site, use the links I’ve provided in each wheelset review to see if you can buy one at a better price than the other at a store I recommend and at a better price than what your local store offers you. You usually can. Steve

          • Hi Steve, finally I managed to find an used Enve 3.4 Disc with DTSwiss 240 hub locally. It really rolls pretty well but I just manage to ride it once for now. One question, the DTSwiss hub can upgrade to use 36T star rachet from 18T, may I know will 36T increase the drag and resistant? I understand that 36T mainly improve on quick er crank engagement but it really not important for road bike usage.

            The only reason I was thinking to change to 36T is mainly due to the free wheel sound of DTSwiss 18T hub, it really bother me and sound like I am slowing down :). I previously own DTSwiss ERC1100 Dicut and the hub is 36T and the freewheel sound awesome. My question would be if change to 36T will it increase any drag and resistant and slow the wheel down?

          • It shouldn’t. But the fact that there is a bothering free-wheel sound with the 18T hub should concern you more. DT240 hubs are usually pleasantly quiet regardless of the number of teeth. Did you get the hubs checked out before you bought the wheels? They may be defective. You should always have an experienced mechanic check out a used wheelset before buying it.

  • Hi Steve,

    Thank you for posting such an in-depth analyses on these wheels. I am looking to upgrade the stock wheels on my Pinarello F10 disk and am considering either the 303nsw or the Enve 3.4 based on tire size limitations.

    I weigh 68kg and don’t know my FTP but would not describe myself as a strong rider especially on climbs. I ride on mostly mixed roads but am looking to improve my distances (>40 mi) and my climbing. The F10 disk is a very stiff bike so I’m looking for wheels that are comfortable but can climb.

    In your review of the wheels above, the Enve 3.4 were great climbers but comfort was casually mentioned. The 303nsw seemed to be reverse — comfortable but casually mentioned as decent climbers. I was wondering if you could clarify how the 303nsw and the Enve 3.4 would compare to each other in terms of climbing and comfort. I’m currently angling towards the 303nsw based on your review and the recommendations of my LBS. Thank you in advance for your help.

    • Peter, You boiled it down pretty well. Not sure what more I can add about the wheels. I don’t know how relatively stiff the F10 disk is (I found the F10 rim to be flexy in the rear triangle) but if stiffness matters you will notice the difference putting a flexy wheel on a stiff frame and vice versa. (See my response to DaveMac above). If comfort is key, the ENVE’s are not uncomfortable; the Zipps are just more comfortable. See the comparison chart. Also, I’d put the right width tires on so you don’t affect your aero performance and drop the pressure to make it more comfortable rather than put on a 28c tire on either and ruin the aero performance. I ride at about your weight and am very comfortable tubeless at 60-70 psi with good handling. Both of those wheelsets are most aero with 25c tires.

      I will say that, even at 68kg, if you’ve got 1-2 kg you can shed from your midsection or what you carry on your bike and can work hill repeats into your training, it will make a bigger difference than your wheelset choice. “Climbing” wheels matter when you are doing long (at least a couple KMs) and steep (>7% grade) and not shorter, less steep rolling hills. You didn’t say anything about speed but if that’s important, the Zipps will be a bit faster for the same power output when you’re in the wind.

      Finally, if your LBS doesn’t sell both wheelsets, I would discount their advice. No matter how much you like and trust them or how loyal you have been to them over the years, it’s hard for any LBS to recommend something that may cause them to lose a big sale. Steve

      • Thanks for responding Steve. My LBS does sell both wheels but the sales associate I know races and is sponsored by SRAM/Zipp. He did say both are great wheels but he has the most experience with the Zipp 303nsw and loves them. He’s about my height. We’re both short but obviously weigh many kilos less than me.

        I definitely could stand to lose at least 5kgs and have begun integrating hill repeats in my training (per the recommendation from the same sales associate). I did notice an improvement but not sure how to extend that in to sustained climbing performance.

        As for flex, I’m sure the 303nsw or the Enve 3.4 will be stiffer than the stock Fulcrum Racing 4s. Also I can not install tires wider than 25cm on the F10. I guess it is just an older design and not made to handle wider tires. Most of my riding is solo or with a small group. So in order of importance, I’m interested in long term comfort, cross wind stability, climbing and speed. I reviewed your chart and it looks like the 303nsw might be a better fit. My only concern is how well they climb compared to the Enve 3.4.

  • Hi Steve – This is my first resource when considering new wheels because I bought 303 NSW’s based on your review and absolutely love them. Road cycling is hard and these wheels bring some pleasure to balance that out.
    It’s N+1 time and I’m shopping for new wheels. This will be a Ti frame (probably Reilly 325), used daily and for travel and I don’t want maintenance issues. I live in Austria which affects brand availability, support and cost – some of which you noted and therefore the DT Swiss line must be considered. How/why did you choose ERC over ARC or PRC? Do you expect your ride impressions to be the same for the ARC and PRC?
    Thank you.

    • Hi Martin, Thanks for your kind feedback. Glad you enjoy the 303 NSW’s. If you live in Europe (or most anywhere), you can usually get a wider choice and a better price buying wheels online. You can keep support this site and help us crank out more reviews when you do so as well.

      I don’t spend a lot of time with DT Swiss wheels. There’s nothing terribly distinctive about them. The ARC are designed by Swiss Hadron and while competitive in aero performance, they tend to be less comfortable and don’t do well in the crosswinds. The PRCs are typically a performance level down from the ERC. So, no, I don’t expect them to ride the same. Steve

  • Thanks Steve. I will bring it for mechanic to service and reapply the greece. It is not as loud as Chris King hub, seems to be slightly louder than dt swiss erc 1100 dicut. The lower pitch tone is brother me due to 18T, 36T pitch would be higher and sound faster.

    BTW, may I know which 25c tubeless tyre you would recommend for best rolling and less rolling resistant? I am currently on schwalbe pro one tubeless.

  • In selecting the (wider) wheels/tires options, how much lateral flex should one consider (assuming rider w/ 240w FTP)? My chainstays have 38mm clearance.

    On the ERC1100s that my bike came with, 700×28 Conti GP4000s inflate to 31.7mm width. The same tire in 700×25 inflate to 27mm wide.

    Thanks, in advance. I think you have answered this before, but I can’t find it.

    • DaveMac, you want 4-5mm for lateral deflection either side. The 28C GP4000 would be tight (38mm-32mm=6mm total = 3mm either side) and also would be poor from an aero standpoint (tires wider than rims). 25C GP4000 would be much better for both deflection clearance and aerodynamics. Steve

  • Hi Steve, many thanks for the in depth articles. Last year I unfortunately had my beloved bike of 20years stolen with some beautiful ENVE 45s with DT swiss 240s and cx ray spokes. Also not insured :-(. The wheels despite being the old pointy rim shape where beautiful to ride in all respects, hopefully you have tried them in the past?.
    I am buying a new bike on a much reduced budget but don’t want to be disappointed by the ride compared to what I had. I have bought a Cube Litening C62 ultra Di2 and disc 2019 as it was on a very good deal and reasonable weight compared to other disc bikes, and I liked the look of it!. The wheels though are Evolution SL R.25 28″ Alloy with a very low weight of 1430g and retail now off the shelf for about £550. I was intending to sell them on as I cannot believe they will be anywhere near as good as the Enve’s I had and was looking at something better. I ride only road and currently about 200-300miles a week. I weigh 68kgs and fast club rider (used to race in my better years). We are looking to get a camper and ride a lot of the uk and as much of europe alls/pyranees/dolomites as we can get to. So that all being said I was looking up to £1500 but nothing is jumping out. My friend has just bought the same bike and he got some Mavic Ksyrium pro carbons which look good and have a similar weight (I notice you haven’t reviewed any Mavic wheels which is a surprise given I thought they were one of the big wheel manufacturers ?). I was undecided wether to go for the same or go nuts, completely blow the budget and get a set of the Roval CLX 50’s (just would have to buy them without the missus realising!?). Given everything, do you think coming from the Enve 45’s Id be OK with the Mavics (if you have any knowledge of them) or the Rovals ? I am presuming either should be a massive improvement over the stock wheels ? Thanks for any advice you can give.

    • Russell, Sorry to hear your bike was stolen. I never rode the ENVE 45s so don’t have a point of comparison. A lot has changed since then so I’d expect all in this review would be improvements that you’d notice depending on what’s important to you, e.g. speed, stiffness, comfort, acceleration, etc. I have reviewed rim brake Mavic wheels but they don’t compare very well. My review and recommendation on the Roval and other options in this price range are included in this post. I’ve reviewed other carbon and alloy upgrade road disc wheelset options that you can find in the Disc Brake Wheelset section on the home page. If you want help figuring out what category of wheels to get, there’s this review. Steve

      • You might like to update the review Steve as apparently the CLX50’s are no longer available anywhere. My LBS contacted specialized and despite the wheels selling out like hot cakes they have stopped production and are working on its replacement. They refused to comment on why they stopped selling them. Go figure?

        • Russell, looks like you may be getting some incorrect information. If you search for the wheels in my Know’s Shop or just click this link to take you there, you’ll find many stores including those in the US and UK that have them in stock. Steve

        • They’re being replaced this model year, delayed due to current global circumstances, my LBS tells me.

          Cheers

  • hi steve, thanks very much. I think I am going to go for the CLX50’s. Based on yours and other reviews & given they are on the same hubs with ceramic bearings I can only believe they will be the same or better than my Enves and hence a joy to get on and ride. Plus baring accidents being disc they should see me out. super site.

  • Hi Steve,

    excellent review, thanx.
    I’m ordering a new Parlee RZ7. Will ride it mainly (75%) in windy flatland (the Netherlands) but also regularly in the Ardennes and planning a mountaineous Gran Fondo in France.
    My weight is 70kg and FTP 310 W (4.5 W/kg)
    Would you prefer the Enve 3.4 Disc (better climber, less suspicious to gusty winds) or the 4.5 AR Disc (better in the flat but wider and heavier in the mountains)?

    • Pieter, Ah yes, picking a wheel for the flats or the climbs is always tough. It’s really a question of which terrain you want to perform best on. If you value riding the flats at high speed more than you do going fast up alpine climbs, go with the deeper wheelset. For example, if you are into fast group rides or road races in the Netherlands and vacation or go ride less competitively in the mountains, go with the deeper wheelset. If the reverse, go with the lighter one.

      I will add a couple of things. You can do well with either wheelset in both situations. You’ll do marginally better with one than the other. Secondly, crosswinds are not an issue for the deeper ENVE wheels.

      Another wheelset to consider would be the ENVE 5.6 disc. I reviewed the 5.6 rim brake wheelset here and will ride the 5.6 disc this spring. It weighs the same as the 4.5 AR, trades off some of the width and off-road versatility of the 4.5 AR for a deeper/more aero solution. I also found it very snappy, climbed very well, no issues in the crosswinds. Steve

  • Steve-

    I thought I saw at one point you were testing the ENVE 3.4 AR. Has that review completed / published? Am looking at this Wheelset and was curious about your thoughts as it compares to 4.5 AR and 3.4 disc that you’ve tested previously. I’m intrigued by the versatility aspect and think it is about as wide as I can go in road bike frame (interested especially in mounted tire widths). At any rate if you are planning to publish soon I can wait – just wanted to let you know that post would be eagerly awaited.

    • Frank, yes, we are testing it now. Will have a review up this month. Appreciate your patience. Steve

      • Do you still anticipate posting the 3.4 AR review? I am wanting to read your thoughts before I pull the trigger on a set with either DT240 or Chris King hubs. I am curious to hear your thoughts. I would also be curious to hear your thoughts on hubs.

        • Dustin, Thanks for keeping me honest. I’m about a week or two out from posting it. Did all my riding on both road and gravel surfaces. Passed it on for Nate to check out and give me his report before I post. BTW, there may still be some around in store inventory but ENVE hasn’t made the 3.4 AR with DT240 hubs for about a year. I’ve ridden ENVE wheels with the DT240, their ENVE alloy hub made with the DT240-like Mavic Instant Drive 360 internals that replaced it on their lowest price hub option, and with the CK45 hubs. They’re all good and it comes down to your preference rather than significant performance differences. The CK’s are sweet rolling, sounding and require you to keep up a periodic maintenance regimen but the ENVE alloy are solid, far quieter than the CKs, a lot less expensive, and need service by exception. Steve

  • Hi Steve, I have to say you’ve given us a super review for anyone wanting a good set of disc wheels. I’ve taken great interest since I’m about to order a wheelset upgrade for my new Trek Emonda SLR 8 disc. I’m loving the Emonda especially in the hills but I’m finding the front end a bit harsh on poor UK roads that I ride even with 28mm tyres so comfort with a new wheelset is a big priority for me. I don’t race and my FTP is a good bit lower than some others quoted above but I do ride 200-300km per week with mix of rolling hills and flats often on poor tarmac roads where club group rides average 32-35km. Some club members also go to the Alps for a week every year so training in Spring and Summer are spent in the hills around the UK. I can get a very good discount on a set of Zipp 303 NSW wheels which are down to the same price as Bontrager Aeolus XXX and Roval CLX 50 but the Zipps look like a much better choice than these other two wheelsets after reading your review. I also found a good deal on a set of Enve 4.5 AR disc wheels with Dt Swiss 240 hubs but even at a discount, they are £300 more expensive than the Zipps. I also think these would just about fit my Emonda with 28mm tyres but I was wondering if you think they would suit me any better than the Zipps especially since I don’t ride gravel or have a big need for deeper section wheels. If I was getting a set of 3.5 or 3.5 AR wheels at this discount, it might be more tempting. Any advice appreciated.

    • Kieran, If you prioritize comfort, go with the Zipp 303 NSW. And, look at the sales on Zipp wheels in the Deals and Discounts box on the home page to see how they compare with the one you are tracking. Steve

      • Thanks for the advice on the 303 NSW Steve, your home page was the first place I looked and it’s from one of those that I found the discounted Zipps.

  • Thanks for your dedication Steve. We ALL appreciate your expertise

    I am building an Allez Sprint Disc Brake and cannot decide which Aero wheels to buy. I will be riding mostly fast group rides in the flats. I weight around 95kg. I am looking at CLX 50’s or 64’s, Zipp NSW 404, Reynolds 58/62 or ENVE SES 5.6.

    Looking for comfort and good performance in crosswinds. Allez Sprint is very stiff. I appreciate and thank you for your input!

    • George, Thanks for your vote of confidence. I hope you’ll also find a way to support the site so I can keep it going strong and sharing what I learn with everyone. As to your wheels, take a look at my review of aero wheels herehttps://intheknowcycling.com/aero-bike-wheels/. It’s a mix of rim and disc brake reviews but some have the same profile for crosswind considerations and other similar components (e.g. hubs, spokes, rim carbon layups). We’re testing some additional wheels now including the CLX 64 and Reynolds Aero 65 DB and hope to be testing others later this spring. At your weight and likely power, I’d put a priority on stiffness. Steve

  • I’m setting up a new Trek Madone SLR disc and I’m torn between the ENVE 4.5 AR and the ENVE 5.6. The AR was originally my choice because my understanding is it’s optimized for larger tires and ideally takes a 28mm; the current research says larger tires are actually faster than slimmer tires and I also like the idea of increased comfort and traction that comes with the larger tire. But you make a really strong case for the new 5.6 even though my understanding is it can’t handle a 28mm and is definitely optimized for slimmer tires. I’m a 19-24mph rider and put in 125k feet of climbing last year. Probably my biggest weakness as a rider is I’m a coward when cornering (which makes me think going with bigger tires on the 4.5 might be better…). Thoughts, advice, or perspective?

    • Justin, The Madone is a screaming fast bike and should get a wheelset to go with it. I love the 4.5 AR but there’s no reason to get it if you aren’t going offroad at least a little bit. You wouldn’t/shouldn’t with that bike and unless you have a gravel bike to put the 4.5 AR on from time to time, I’d go with the 5.6. The AR is optimized for 28s but it’s one of the few in ENVE’s or anyone else’s line that is. A 25C tire on the 5.6 is plenty comfortable if you set it up right (e.g. at the right pressure and tubeless) and the improved speed of a wider tire is only when you run it a the same pressure (which you wouldn’t because you get it wider so you can lower the pressure) and were talking about a watt or two at most. Likewise, handling is also fine with a 25C tire at the right pressure. One downside of the 4.5 AR is that its hookless design means you can’t use the best every day, lowest rolling resistance tubeless tire with it (the Conti Grand Prix 5000 TL) and you can’t run it with tubed tires (although you can put a tube inside a tubeless tire if you prefer).

      Don’t get me wrong, I love the 4.5 AR for all the reasons I recommend it. But if you are going the speed route with a Madone, the 4.5 AR can work but I would go with the 5.6 instead. On the other hand, if you value comfort and climbing you may want to revisit your frame choice. My fellow tester Nate rode and reviewed the Madone last year as part of our test of the AXS groupset (https://intheknowcycling.com/sram-etap-axs-groupset/). He loved the bike for its speed but it’s not the most comfortable or stiffest frame around. A Domane or another all-around road race bike might be a better choice, in which case I’d green light either the 4.5 AR (or 3.4 AR that I’m testing now) or the 5.6 which you could also use as an all-around wheelset (it’s that responsive) but it’s not as versatile as the 4.5 AR as it wouldn’t be as capable on dirt or gravel.

      Hope I haven’t spun your head around too much with this answer but I think it’s important to consider the tire, wheelset, bike and your priorities in concert. Steve

      • Absolutely appreciate the fast answer and your thoughts! You’re absolutely right, it does seem odd to consider the AR wheels when I basically am not an all-road rider. I nearly fall over if I even look at gravel or rough terrain. I am coming from a 2013 Cervelo S5 which I use as an “all around” frame, including the climbing. At least so far, the folks who I’ve talked to have said that the Madone should be more comfortable and race/climb at least as well if not better. The Cervelo was purchased on clearance and was a major upgrade from the Kona Major Jake I had been using as my all-around bike before that. I manage up to a century on the S5, so my hope would be that the Madone would at least be as comfortable…maybe? As soon as I send this post I’m going to click through to your partner’s post and read it (ok, after I take the kid for a neighborhood walk…)

        I did eye the Domane but keep talking myself out of it because I really, really, love my Cervelo and that makes me think if I’m going to have just one frame (which is my lot in life), that I should stick with the aero world. Think I’m off base?

        • Justin, tough to not compare favorably with a 2013 bike no matter how good it was. So much development since then. And part of that development has been to make aero bikes more comfortable and all-around bikes more aero. So yeah, nothing at all wrong with having that one frame be a 2020 “aero” bike. Indeed, after months of research and analysis of the trade-offs, Nate just pulled the trigger on a Venge. He’s still planning to use his Tarmac, which is a similar vintage as your S5, for climbing events. Steve

          • Steve, if I end up running a set of 5.6, any thoughts from you on running a 25mm tire in front and a 28mm in the back?

          • Justin, That’s fine. Most of the aero benefit comes from the front wheel/tire combo. A wider tire in the back won’t affect aero much but will provide greater comfort. Just remember to set the pressure lower in the back than in the front. I’ve found ENVE’s pressure chart to be a good guide. https://www.enve.com/en/tirepressure/
            Steve

  • Hi Steve, thanks for taking your time an effort to test each wheelset and providing such an in-depth review on each of them. The information you provided answered most of the questions I have in mind, however there is still one dilemma that is puzzling me among all the options above: weight. Does a few 100 grams affects the overall performance of a high-end wheelset in general, especially during climbing?

    From your table I’ve realised that both Zipp’s Firecrest and NSW have a higher total weight than most of the wheelsets you have covered, and you have rated them fairly good. On the contrary, the much lighter Roval CLX 50 had an average rating, but could the average performance be justified by the lightness of the wheelset? If weight does play a role in the performance then I might even consider CLX32 which runs even lighter at 1300+ grams.

    Just some background information of myself, I’m 165cm and ~60kg, so stiffness is not an issue, but crosswinds are. Currently own a Specialized Roubaix Comp 2020 and do a mix of small climbs, flats and the occasional big climb. Hope to hear from you soon!

    • Jin, It’s unlikely you’ll be able to tell the difference of less than 150g in wheel weight all else being. Above that amount I can usually tell that one wheelset is heavier than another when I’m accelerating or climbing, all else being equal. But of course, all else isn’t equal. Where’s the weight difference: rim, hubs, spokes? Bike weight and body weight are far more important than wheelset weight. And what about the stuff you carry on your bike? One or two water bottles? What site water bottles? How heavy is your saddle bag? All of these things can and usually do matter more than wheelset weight and wheelset weight only matters more than aero performance when you are doing long, steep climbs.

      Wheelset performance is my focus not specs like weight or other design considerations. So many things can contribute to performance that I can’t draw a direct line from specs or design attributes like weight to acceleration or rim depth to crosswind management. Weight may look good in marketing but may or may not make a wheelset less aero, less stiff, less responsive, etc. Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    As a lightweight (<50kg), low power, low speed rider, who rides for pleasure and favours hilly terrain (a regular big climb being 2km 6%), would I be right to look more to lower profile rims than the ones featured here? Eg 28mm to 32mm? Being lightweight, I am concerned about crosswinds. (I will be on a new 48 to 50cm frame with 700c wheels, coming from a 1989 bike with 18mm rim depth wheels). I value quality (longevity), comfort, stability, a quite freehub(!) and then obviously lightweight. Stiffness, aero or handling not likely to be an issue for me. Will be on tarmac (of various quality), not off-road, on 25C, possibly 28C tyres. So, would I be better thinking along the lines of Firecrest 202 rather than 303; or Aeolus 2 rather than 4. I don't think my budget will stretch to the Enves or Zipp NSWs which you seem to rate best for crosswind here. Any thoughts appreciated. Thanks, Paul.

    • Paul, Of course, it depends on whether winds are an issue where you ride. The wheels you listed aren’t affected much if crosswinds stay below 10 mph. Crosswinds are just one consideration in wheelset choice and usually not a key one unless you ride where they are ever-present and strong. From your initial description of “low power, low speed rider who riders for pleasure”, you might be completely satisfied with a good alloy upgrade wheelset like those in this review https://intheknowcycling.com/road-disc-wheelset/ that will save you some serious money, give you all the performance you need, and also be low profile. Steve

  • Miguel Sanchez-Rubio

    Hi Steve
    I just bought a pinarello F12 disk and it comes with firecrest 303, at present time zipp releases the new entry line 302s and claim a 10 watt reduction at 40kmph so i’m concerned to have bought a very expensive bike that comes with “old version wheels ” since i guess zipp is gonna update the top level wheels with the new tech, so the question is if sounds logical to make a change on the wheels for a pair of enve ARC 3.4 wheels or simply the gain is not that critical over the old specs firecrests. The bike is still at the store and i can make custom changes on it.

    Thanks on advance for your help

    • Miguel, A fair question but I don’t think you should be overly concerned. Here’s why. The new 303S is a replacement for the 302 which was the old 2016 303 Firecrest without the dimples. That rim profile hadn’t been changed since the 303 Firecrest was first introduced early in the decade. Disc hubs were added to the same rim for the original 303 Firecrest disc model but that was about it. It was a great wheelset for its aero performance in its day but was on the heavy side, narrow internally (17C), used tubed clinchers only and was less comfortable compared to wider, tubeless models available today.

      The 303S is tubeless (only), lighter and wider internally (primarily because the bead hooks were removed) but no wider than the 302 externally. So it should be more comfortable but will likely be less aero because any 28C tire and most 25C tires that you mount to it will likely be wider than the 27mm external rim width and deflect the wind away from the rim rather than have it continue along the rim wall and give you some added lift. The claimed 10-watt reduction is a reduction over the 2016 model 303 Fircrest / 302 rim and uses a different measurement protocol that takes into account the impedance losses from a more inflated, narrower tire. So I don’t think you are comparing apples and apples.

      Further, the 303S is really intended for road and trail/dirt/gravel riding whereas I’d expect (hope!) you’ll be keeping your F12 only on the road. The ENVE 3.4 AR wheels are also intended for road and trail use rather than optimized for aero road speed. We’re testing that wheelset now and finding it to be the case. If you planned to use the 303 Firecrests from your F12 on your gravel bike then you might save some money with the 303S or 3.4AR rather than buying wheels for each bike but your F12 performance would suffer (less aero).

      The current 303 Firecest disc is two generations newer than the 2016 303 Firecrest/302. It uses the rim of the first generation 303 NSW which was a very fast, comfortable wheelset. I haven’t ridden the 303S yet but my expectation is that the 303 Firecrest disc will be more aero as its rim will be wider than the width of the 25C tire you should mount on it and has better hubs. You’ve got my take of the current 303 Firecrest disc wheelset in the review above.

      All of that said, wheelset companies introduce new wheels all the time and, while I don’t have any inside knowledge, Zipp may introduce more new wheelsets this year. So you are likely to have “old version” wheels at some point, whether it be this year or at some point in the future. If they are a Zipp dealer, they should know what is coming this year and when. Whether a newer Zipp wheelset will be so much better that it will affect the performance you are looking to get from your bike and you should therefore wait or not is hard to know. Steve

      • Steve, continued and helpful reviews and comments as always!
        Whilst we would all like to get a set of ENVE AR’s or Zipp NSW’s cost does come in to it especially in today’s climate.
        Equally I’ve heard it stated in a number of places about ‘dimensioning returns’ as price goes up, so therefore would be interested in reading a full review on the new entry model ENVE 45 Foundation and Zipp 303s to understand just what the difference in performance is to a top end spec wheelset?….suspect it’s not double or treble performance, but price certainly is!
        Any plans on such a review in near future?

        • Hi Al, I’m trying to get a hold of both wheelsets now. Will post a photo on my FB, Twitter and IG accounts when they come in. Thanks for asking, Steve

          • Grt, look forward to it.
            Wasn’t aware you had a Facebook & IG page…..can you share details as would like to follow?

          • Click on the social media icons at the top of any page

  • Steve, I’m hopeful when the reviews of the Enve 3.4 AR is added, you will touch upon the safety aspect of the hookless rims- which have now shown up on the new Zipp 303 S. Just curious if concerns over “blow offs” are warranted.
    An unrelated question, are there any notable worries over running two different width tires? I’m awaiting delivery of 303 NSWs, and considering Conti 5K TL 25c for the front (to maximize aero advantage), and go with 28c in back (exchanging some aero in a less critical area for added comfort for my beaten bones).

    • Dave, No concern about running tires on hookless rims as long as you keep under the max pressure recommendation. And sure, you can run wider on the less aero back wheel, as long as you have room for it between your chainstays. Allow for an extra 3-4mm on either side of the tire to allow for deflection. So probably about 36-38mm with that NSW-28C combo. Steve

      • Thanks for reminding me of the clearance issue. I’m measuring right at 37mm between the chainstays. Guess I will play it safe, and go with the 25’s.

  • Hi Steve, I’m the same weight as you 66kg, and ride at around 18mph average, with 100ft of climbing every mile.

    I have had Mavic Carbon Cosmic SL rim wheels for the last few years, and I have no comparison to make, but they have been bulletproof, stayed true, no spoke breaks, no bearing maintenance, and have done approx 15,000 miles.

    I’m moving to disc, and I am considering the newer UST Mavic Pro carbon SL, (Although with Mavic in recievership i’m not sure) or the new Enve Foundation 45’s. Perhaps you haven’t tried the 45’s but Maybe from your experience and the spec you could share your thoughts. The 45’s are a lot cheaper than the SES 3.4’s, but the rims are deeper, and made in the same factory to the same spec. I don’t know about the hubs, but like the Mavic they seem to use the DT Swiss type internals.

    • Nick, Congrats on moving to road disc bike and wheels. Big step that I think you and others will benefit from in a lot of ways (e.g. braking, comfort, speed, versatility). Appreciate your interest in this wheelset category. I’m not a fan of Mavic carbon wheels as you can see in other reviews around the site. They were late to the carbon game and have never caught up. Their financial woes, not just of late, but of the last several years have limited their investment and innovation. I agree with you on their durability but they aren’t alone in that regard and, unfortunately durability or quality can only maintain performance rather than produce it.

      I’ve not tested the ENVE Foundation 45 or 65 yet and I don’t judge wheels on specs or marketing claims. I hope review them sometime this summer.

      As to the hubs, ENVE’s hubs use Mavic Instant Drive 360 internals which are knock-offs of the DT Swiss 240 ratchet design. I’ve ridden both ENVE’s and Mavic’s hubs and they perform well and on par with the DT Swiss ones.

      Meanwhile, there are a lot of good carbon all-around road disc wheelsets to consider (above) and I’m reviewing more this spring and summer including some I’d consider more oriented to climbing than all-around. So look around and check back. Steve

      • Thank you for the quick reply. I need to buy in the next week, so may have to “take a punt”, I did worry that mavic may not be around in a few years anyway, and enve has lifetime warranty. One thing I did notice over about 3 years use on the mavics was rusting spokes. They are just steel, which whilst stronger than stainless obviously rusts, no issues with this, just a little unsightly.

        Enve use Sapim CX Sprint stainless with brass nipples, easy to get if need be, and wont rust or corrode. The enve also have 24 spokes up front as opposed to 20 on the mavic. The enve are a tad heavier, but I think its worth it for the extra spokes and brass nipples. Moulded spoke holes on Enve, drilled on Mavic.

        One difference I’m not sure on is Enve are set up with hookless rims 28 external 21 internal, Mavic have hooks 28 external 19 internal. Is One better than other? Is one easier to mount tyres?

        Any thoughts much appreciated, but I’m leaning towards Enve, even though they cost around £300 more.

        • Enve over Mavic every day of the week.

          • Morning Steve,

            Do you ride tubeless, or tubes? Enve only recommend TL tyres, which are around 100g heavier per rim at the lightest inc sealant, over the lightest tubed tyres inc tube. Sorry if this is the wrong place to post it and you have an article somewhere on this topic with the pro’s & cons.

            Regards
            Nick

          • Nick, actually tubeless tires + valve + sealant and tubed tires + tubes weigh about the same 300 grams per wheel. I detail this here. I ride both, prefer tubeless over tubed tires, and recognize many are still prefer tubed ones. Weight isn’t a reason to pick one over the other. There are more important reasons.

            Finally, if you prefer using tubes, you can put them in tubeless tires instead of sealant for wheels like the ENVE AR and Foundation series that only take tubeless tires because of their hookless rims. (Other ENVE road wheels can use tubeless or tubed tires.) I think this takes away from the puncture resilience benefit of tubeless (the ability to seal most punctures) and does add weight (butyl tubes weigh about 75g whereas you put 30g of sealant in each tire) but I get that many people are uncomfortable going tubeless. Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    Regarding weight, I meant the lightest of each system, so a Pirelli TT with a Tubolito S, is 165g+22g, the lightest TL tyre is around 245g, plus valve 5g, plus sealant 30g. Thats 187g vs 285g, for both 25mm tyres.

    I have now read your long article on tyres (very interesting), as well as some others.

    The website rolling resistance, https://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/specials/schwalbe-one-tubeless-clincher tested the different tubes and tubeless, and found that at all pressures a lightweight, latex or tubolite s, rolled better than tubeless, just!

    I think, that tubeless setup may give you a slightly better aero performance if you average around 20mph, and avoids pinch flats. I have had 1 pinch flat in about 30,000 miles caused by a pothole in a shallow puddle, and rarely get punctures. So whilst everything is saying go tubeless, I can only see that its messy if you do get a failure, and weighs at least 200g more than the lightest tubed setup.

    I have asked Enve why their SES 3.4, have hooked rims but their foundation don’t. Their AR don’t but I can see why as you would want to run them a low pressures off road, and avoid pinch flats.

    Such an interesting topic.

    Many Thanks

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