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


The second-generation ENVE SES 4.5, born the SES 4.5 AR, continues to stand above all other all-around wheels in the performance carbon disc wheelset price category (US$2000/£1600/€2000 to $3000/£2300/€3000).

In my on-the-road testing, I’ve found the SES 4.5 performs as well or better on the combination of factors I think matter most to your speed and enjoyment of road cycling wheels. It’s fast, stable, stiff, comfortable, responsive, and versatile. It’s got it all.

Related: Compare my review of the ENVE SES 4.5 with other all-around wheelsets in my review The Best All Around Carbon Disc Wheelset.

And, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun to ride. The ENVE SES 4.5 seems to glide along the road with no drama as you accelerate from a start, transition from flats to hills, and take corners at high speed. It’s unbothered by crosswinds and coasts with nary a sound from the freehub.

To be clear, the ENVE 4.5 is no recreational stroller. Rather, it’s seriously fast, deceptively so with its relatively modest looks and quiet demeanor.

I rode the new 4.5 for the first time on a recovery ride at the end of a week of training full of hard anaerobic and VO2 max intervals. “Let’s just ease into it,” I told myself, never wanting to judge a wheelset I’m testing for the first time on a hard day in the saddle.

Despite being physically and mentally tired, riding the ENVE SES 4.5 re-energized me. It responded quickly and easily to my efforts, flowed through corners, and smoothed hills and rough roads.

As I put it through harder efforts in the days that followed – VO2 intervals, 7% climbs, and on-my-limit group rides – the 4.5’s performance helped me be at my best, or at least better than on other days with other wheels rolling beneath me.

Regardless of the specs, which I’ll get to in a minute, the ENVE SES 4.5 feels light and lively and maintains my momentum in the 20mph/32mph to 25mph/40mph speed range incredibly well.


Stiff, efficient, comfortable, quiet, fast. Total confidence and total pleasure regardless of terrain, surface, effort, or speed.

It’s somewhat surprising that a second-generation wheelset, little changed from one introduced 6 years before could still be the Best Performer among its all-around carbon disc wheelset peers. While others have certainly improved on individual performance criteria I use in evaluating wheels, none have reached the same level as the ENVE 4.5 across all of them.

If performance balance is a measure of all-around wheels and great performance across all criteria is the mark of the best, then the ENVE 4.5 still stands atop the rest.

My spec-obsessed evil twin always wants to get in the way of my performance-focused good twin and influence you. Well, I’ll give him some space to speak up here.

For years one of the key differences between the original 4.5 AR and most other road wheelsets was its 25mm inside width. That continues with the new 4.5 (25.3mm per my measurement) and is why I can run my tire pressure low to get the comfort I enjoy even on rough paved and dirt road surfaces. Other wheelmakers, notably Zipp and Bontrager now make rims with 23mm inside widths for wheels of similar depth while most other brands still make road disc brake wheelsets with a 21mm inside width.

On the outside, the 4.5 rims have widened a couple of millimeters per my measurements from the 4.5 AR to 32.8mm for the front wheel and 32.4mm for the rear. The rims have also gotten about 1.5 mm deeper, now 51.8mm front and 56.5mm rear.

The wider, deeper rims, says ENVE, come from adding their anti-pinch-flat design to the 4.5, something the SES 3.4 AR (now the SES 3.4) has had since it was introduced. Whatever, I’ll take the added width and depth if it improves the performance.

It seems so. With the slightly wider rims, more models of 28mm labeled tires can be used on the 4.5 at lower pressures to give you optimal aero drag and rolling resistance performance along with better comfort across rough roads. I get into all the details of that in my tubeless tire review.

Note also that the front and rear wheels have different dimensions and also different shapes. The front wheel has a U-shaped profile designed to improve its stability in crosswinds while the rear is deeper and has a V-shaped one to improve its aero performance.

In the last couple of years, Roval, Hunt, and Parcours have introduced wheelsets with different front and rear dimensions and profiles, though none are as wide internally as the 4.5.


ENVE’s measurements show the average SES 4.5 weighs about 100 grams less overall than the 4.5 AR did and, more importantly, their deeper, wider rims weigh about 110 grams less than the first-generation ones.

My demo ENVE 4.5 wheelset came in at 1518 grams with the Shimano/SRAM 11-speed HG freehub (a SRAM XDR 12-speed one weighs about 20 less) and with the wheels taped but with no valve stems in place. That still puts it about 50 grams heavier than the actual weights of the narrower and shallower Bontrager RSL 51 and Campagnolo Bora Ultra 45 wheelsets and 140 grams more than the US$4200 Zipp 454 NSW. The difference accelerating from a dead stop is minimally better with the Bontrager and Campy, and more noticeably so with the Zipp.

While more and more rims come through pre-taped with valve stems in place these days, ENVE continues to send you tape and stems to install yourself. This video demonstrates how to install ENVE tape; ignore the part at the beginning about using clincher tires – it doesn’t apply to the current line of SES wheels.

ENVE justifies this DIY approach by wanting to give you or your retailer the option to adjust the internal nipples for spoke tension and wheel true before applying the tape that covers access to the nipples. Internal nipples reduce the drag of external ones by 0.75 watts per wheel in ENVE’s wind tunnel tests. Nothing to sneeze at for those who believe in marginal gains.

I don’t know about you, but even with all the wheels I test, I’ve never found the need to have a tension meter or trueing stand on my workbench. Hand and eye inspection can detect true outliers and even with them, I’m not wrench enough to start messing with my spoke nipples.

I expect that ENVE ships very few wheels that are out of tolerance. Heck, they were one of the first to offer 5-year parts and labor warranties on their wheels. So, they likely have a pretty good fix on the quality of their wheels, all of which are made in their United States factory. I would think most of us and our store mechanics would prefer ENVE tape their rims before shipping them to our doorsteps even though some of us have become pretty good at taping them ourselves over the years.

If a wheel were to come in with spoke tension or true that’s not up to spec, I believe their warranty should pay a trained mechanic to adjust the nipples and retape the rim.

Note also that the ENVE SES 4.5 (and all current ENVE SES and Foundation wheels) use hookless rims and require tubeless tires whether you use sealant or tubes inside. Fortunately, the list of compatible tires for that combination is growing longer and longer and includes the top-performing tires from most brands. You can see the list of compatible and incompatible tires per ENVE testing.

For those of you still resistant to hookless rims because you want to be able to inflate your tires as high as you like without the worry of them blowing off, please understand a few things about the SES 4.5 wheels.

First, with the 4.5’s 25mm inside width, you won’t want to inflate your tires past the maximum recommended pressure of 80psi even if you weigh the maximum recommended rider weight of 250lbs/113kg. They’ll be increasingly uncomfortable and slower above the recommended pressures shown in ENVE’s chart. As you can see there, it shows only 67 psi as the starting tire pressure recommended for the heaviest riders.

Second, ENVE has been making hookless rims and testing them with tubeless tires for years. For their 25mm inside width rims, they have established 80psi as the maximum recommended tire pressure and 90psi for their 21mm inside width hookless rims. Both of these pressure levels are higher than the ETRTO and ISO 5 bar, 72.5 psi standard for hookless rims of any width.

And, ENVE only lists tires as compatible if they stay on their rims in their tests through 150% of the maximum recommended pressure. So I think there’s plenty of performance and comfort motivation to keep your tires well below the max pressure and a pretty good safety zone if you revert to your 20-year younger self in the presence of a tire pump on an off day.

Unlike earlier incarnations of SES wheels where you could order Chris King, Industry Nine, DT Swiss, or ENVE’s own branded hub with carbon shells, there is only be one hubset available on the 4.5.

Fortunately, it’s the ENVE hub with alloy hub shells, a direct drive model they’ve been putting on most of their wheels for the last handful of years. These are the same ones I’ve used with no issues (and performed no maintenance on) with the ENVE SES 5.6 and 3.4 AR wheelsets I bought to benchmark other brands of wheels with performance goals similar to those.

You can order the 4.5 with either an HG, XDR, or N3W freehub body compatible with your Shimano/SRAM 11-speed, SRAM AXS 12-speed, or Campagnolo groupset.

Finally, some ENVE wheelsets I’ve tested in the past have come through with hair-thin, 2-3mm long white lines in the carbon accumulated at random places along the rim’s spoke edge. While hardly visible unless you go around looking for such things (I do), I and some readers found this rather annoying and even worrisome.

The issue turns out to be only a cosmetic one apparently caused by an oxidation side effect of the hardening agent used in the resin. While a sample size of one, the new SES 4.5 I tested had almost none of these white lines. ENVE is using a new resin in their new line of SES wheels that, in part, has enabled them to reduce the rim weight but also is supposed to address the oxidation issue that caused the white lines in the earlier resin.

We’ll keep an eye on this. Literally.

The ENVE SES 4.5 price has gone up US$300 to US$2850 and current exchange rates make it RRP £3300, €3800 though often sells for less in those currencies. It is available using these links to recommended stores Competitive Cyclist, The Pros Closet, Bike Tires Direct, Merlin, Sigma Sports, and directly from ENVE. It’s hard to justify – you’ll need to make peace with your own budget watchdogs – but it’s also hard to say no to a wheelset that still stands above its competition.

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

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


  • Thanks for another great review, Steve!

    Just wanted to echo your remakes on ENVE rim tape. I bought a pair of AR 4.5s based on your recommendation and have loved them – but the rim tape part of the experience has been a complete nightmare.

    Admittedly I’m rather inexperienced with tape installation. I’ve watched every one of their instruction videos and have (I thought) been meticulous in prepping the rims. And have now had a fair bit of practice applying it. But I’ve still had the sealant get through numerous times, causing multiple slow flats and bottom outs, and have found the tape will also often pull off when you de-mount a tire. Ended up having to re-apply rim tape 2-3 times this last year. Which is all the more such a bosh as ENVE won’t ship tape outside of the US and local dealers don’t seem to keep it in stock. Until recently ENVE would also only sell the tape as part of a tubeless kit (do they expect people enjoy collecting tubeless valves lol?). Ive had to pay exorbitant prices to get US shops to send it to Canada, when I’ve been in pinch. Been such an incredibly frustrating experience considering it’s a 2550 USD wheelset and all of ENVEs competitors do factory install. Given that ENVE says it will void the warranty (what they told me) if you don’t use their tape, they really need to figure out how to deliver a more reliable consumer experience. Sorry for the rant haha.

    To circle back though: phenomenal wheels and love your methodical approach to reviews. Chapeau!

  • Hey Steve, outwardly this seems like a minor update to the 4.5ar. From a pure performance perspective, do you think it’s worth upgrading?

    • Chris, Like everything else, it’s relative to the performance level you’re at and seeking. They are marginally lighter and wider and have improved puncture protection. For most current 4.5 AR owners, I wouldn’t think those improvements would be noticeable. Wouldn’t be for me.

      If you are racing, those differences might make a difference at key selection points in the race – a climb, a breakaway, a sprint, etc. I’d think there are other places you could spend your money to improve your performance either in training, gear, or kit that could make a bigger difference. Perhaps even another wheelset to complement the 4.5 AR specific to a climbing or gravel type event or regular vacationing you like to do. Steve

  • Hi Steve,

    This is great and worthy review. I’m also intertested in how you would think of comparison between Bontrager RSL 51 and ENVE 4.5 AR(Not new SES 4.5). In terms of performance, 4.5 AR still stands better than RSL 51?


    • Hi Steve,

      I inteded to ask about comparison bewteen Bontrager RSL 51 and ENVE SES 5.6(Hooked version).


    • Eric,
      I build up a Melee with a set of 4.5 AR with Enve 27mm tires and the ride was great. Then I switched the wheelset with Aeolus RSL 51 on the front and RSL 62 with same tires and here is my take.

      1) The tire width was about 1mm wider on Enve 4.5 AR wheel
      2) The Aeolus RSL 51/62 set up was about 45 grams lighter with Stans tubeless rim strip. If you use Bontrager plastic strips, it will add about 100 grams. It is a very reliable setup but I never had any issue with Stans tape, so decided to stick with Stans tape.
      3) I thought the Enve set up felt a lightly more stable but that could be the placebo effect. They both accelerated quickly and held the speed quite well.
      4) For rider who is not on board with tubeless, Bontrager wheel gives you the flexibility of using pretty much any tires since it’s hooked.

  • Hi – how do these compare to the Roval Rapide II? I feel like the Roval wheels are very similar, as well as being cheaper and having the insurance of a beaded rims. The only downside being a modest weight penalty. Any feedback would be great!

  • Peter, That’s a good question. Unfortunately, since I’ve not been able to find a set to review, I don’t have a performance comparison to share with you. There may be some similarities in the specs but specs don’t tell you about how wheels will perform on the road – how stiff and responsive they are, how well they hold their momentum at aero speeds, how stable they are in crosswinds, etc., etc. These and the other criteria we test for are what allow me to say how wheelset A is different from wheelset B and why one is better for riders based on their goals, riding profile, and budget. I will say that small differences in weight are indistinguishable on the road and beaded rims offer no “insurance” over hookless ones at the tire pressures we’ll ride on the tires and rims of these two wheelsets and most any modern carbon road wheelset these days. I’ve got the Rapid CLX II at the top of my wish list so hope to be better able to answer your question before long. Steve

  • Hi Steve! Great breakdown! I have narrowed down my wheel quest to the 4.5, 3.4, and newer Dura Ace C50, but it all seems to point towards the 4.5s. My question refers to crosswind tolerance. Here in the Midwest we have experienced a lot of 15-20mph crosswinds this year, to the point I am wondering whether buying the 3.4s will make more sense despite the roads here being predominantly flat and full of rolling hills, where the 4.5s (or c50) would feel at home. If the difference in crosswind tolerance is similar I’ll go with the 4.5s but I wonder if the 3.4 will be a lot better in that sense. Thank you!

    • Jordi, So both the 4.5 and 3.4 do well in the crosswinds relative to others we’ve tested of similar depth. (See I think there’s a bigger difference in their ability to hold momentum at speed than there is how much they are affected by crosswinds. I haven’t tested the DA C50 so can’t comment on them. Note also that wheels of the same depth can be affected very differently by sidewinds. (See and scroll down to the section 2) Sidewind Stability)

      That said, if you don’t ride much above 20 mph and it’s regularly blowing that hard, I’d go with an even shallower wheelset than any of these (or take up sailing). If it’s just an occasional or season thing (like it is for me in April and if I brave the cold winds of winter), and you regularly ride faster as I’d imagine you can on flat roads, I’d go with the 4.5. Steve

      • Jordi Sanchis Sanchez

        Thanks, Steve. Once upon a time a wiseman said: “ Buy the wheelset that has the best aero, sidewind, stiffness, compliance, and other performance characteristics you can find within your budget to go your fastest. Then pick the best tire for that wheelset.” Enve 4.5 and GP5000 S TR 28c it is. If 3.4 and 4.5 are similar in cross winds I’ll go for the most aero. I appreciate your lengthy and informative response.

  • Hi Steve, I was looking to buy an ENVE 4.5 after reading your review and subsequently their 2019 announcement of Lifetime Incident Protection while browsing the internet. That is a significant selling point if I were to pay many thousands of dollars for a wheelset.

    I was wondering if ENVE’s Lifetime Incident Protection that was announced in 2019, i.e.
    “ENVE Lifetime Incident Protection has been developed to remove all doubt that if you damage your product while riding, racing, or otherwise – ENVE has your back and the damaged rim, stem, seatpost, fork, handlebar or hub will be replaced at no charge. All ENVE customers past, present, and future who are the original owners of their products, are eligible for this program by simply registering their product.” is still valid in 2022?

    I can’t seem to find the details on their website.

    All I found was the details of “ENVE Incidental Damage Protection”, which reads like a lifetime support, but no longer free replacement after the 3rd year.

  • If I buy the new 4.5 SES and I totally want to customize it. Do you think the DT Swiss 180 would be compatible with it?

    Thanks Steve… Been a fan of your reviews since 2012

    • Kirk, Haha. That’s a new one in the camp of what I’ll call “unnecessary flattery in hopes of getting a better response” type of comments. Despite being a fan, I see you haven’t signed up to get notifications of new posts or to become a Know’s Club member. Oh, and I didn’t start the site until 2014. But I won’t hold any of that against you or give you any different answer (other than this long introduction other than to make the point that you don’t have to try to flatter me to get an answer) than if you indeed were a subscriber, member, or had been following the site since the beginning. As you’ll see if you follow the comments, I respond to any that have a good question like the one you asked or that isn’t looking for a personal recommendation (Become a Know’s Club Leader for that service).

      You can buy the SES 4.5 rims alone through most ENVE dealers or have a wheel builder that carries ENVE rims build a wheelset up with your with your preferred hubs and spokes. Whether you get any performance, maintenance, or durability advantage with a DT Swiss 180 over the ENVE hub that comes with these wheels is debatable. Cheers, Steve

      • But I do remember that back when I started cycling (and that was 2012), I read some of your about the ones that are not too expensive wheels but can give you a good performance.

        Maybe I made a mistake when it comes to the year but I am 100% positive that it was your review that made me buy the Reynolds Assault SLG. That was my first Carbon Wheels. Thanks to you! Not trying to flatter you Steve, just speaking that truth, haha, but if you have issues accepting compliments then it’s all good =) Still appreciate you and your thorough reviews.

        • Kirk, My apologies. I guess I get a bit cynical about some of the compliments. I appreciate your sincerity. Best, Steve

  • Hi,

    I own a Dogma F frameset and I would like to buy an ENVE 4.5 wheelset. My frameset has max. tire clearance 28mm. However, I am afraid that if due to the 25mm internal width of the rim, a 28mm tire will be measured around 30mm when mounted. Do you think my assumption is correct? Can you measure the actual width of a 28mm once mounted on the rim?
    I want to share a similar bad experience that I had. I used to have a dogma F10 frameset (25mm max tire clearance) and I bought a Zipp 404 Firecrest (23mm internal width) wheelset. I mounted a Swchalbe Pro One 25mm tire and after my first ride I realized that the tire of the rear wheel was rubbing onto the frame…

Leave a Reply

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