ENVE SES 5.6 – A SNAPPY WHEELSET THAT EXCELS
ENVE introduced the SES 5.6 in 2018 as the successor to the SES 4.5. When I last reviewed this category of aero bike wheels, I picked the 4.5 as the best performer. After comparing many of the best aero wheelsets available, the ENVE SES 5.6 is the one I’d pick to ride every day.
No, I don’t have an ENVE tattoo anywhere on my body. And sadly, I returned this wheelset just like every other that is sent to us to demo for reviews.
In fact, among all the wheelsets I rode this past season, I enjoyed riding the ENVE SES 5.6 more than any other one. While my riding profile would normally suit a shallower wheelset, I’d happily ride this one most any day of the week.
The SES 5.6 is more responsive than any other wheelset I’ve ridden including shallower and lighter ones. It jumped forward when I wanted to move out or ramp up my speed while underway. When I cranked up the watts going up rollers, up steeper hills or working to close a gap, it was stiff. And it handled precisely and confidently going fast downhill and into corners
This ENVE wheelset seemed to take less effort to go fast and held my speed incredibly well. I didn’t measure watts vs. mph but it sure felt like I was putting out less of the former and getting more of the later than any other wheelset I can remember. You know when you feel like you are going fast but not working that hard? You look down at your speed and say to yourself… whoa, I’m going fast. It felt like that a lot on these wheels.
The Chris King hubs on the SES 5.6 rolled very smoothly. They were comfortable on tubeless rims with their 20mm inner width. I also felt confident braking on the textured rim brake tracks that emitted a slightly higher frequency and lower volume than the Zipp’s textured brake track.
On a fall day full of crosswind, the ENVE SES 5.6 compared favorably against the Bontrager XXX 6 and Zipp 404 NSW that I rode back to back to back. And the Bonty and Zipp were amongst the best I’ve ridden in crosswinds in this racing bike wheels category.
So that’s my take. For context, I’m a B-group, 18-20mph enthusiast on an endurance frame. I don’t race or time trial but I do try to ride fast.
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Nate is my evil twin tester. While we weigh practically the same (150-155lbs – that’s the twin part), he’s an A-group ride leader, does road races, hill climb events, and even the occasional TT. He wins some of them in a pretty tough age group. And he has a stiff S-Works Tarmac racing frame.
He’s also a very, very nice guy but truly evil if you try to outdo him on the road.
Nate and I reached similar conclusions about the SES 5.6 on some criteria and different ones on others. He really liked how they performed at high speed and how well they maintained their momentum once there. “Wheeeee!!!” was the technical term he used to sum up his aero evaluation.
He also liked how they accelerated from a stop or when he wanted to make a big power burst while already at speed. They were noticeably tougher to climb with than the 40mm-50mm carbon wheels he normally rides, but he found this to be true of many of the wheels in this racing bike wheels category. That was my experience too.
For the record, the wheelset we rode had Chris King R45 hubs and came in at 1559 grams on my scale, the same as what ENVE claims for them. The front wheel was 5g lighter and the back 5g heavier than what ENVE claimed but obviously, well within the margin of error and manufacturing tolerance.
If you think riding a 1481 gram wheelset will help you climb better, you can save those 78 grams (and get a quieter freehub too) by going with the ENVE carbon shell hub on these wheels for the same $3000 price as the one we rode with the King. Alternatively, if you prefer spending $2550 for the wheelset, you can spec it with the ENVE alloy shell hub at 1593 grams.
Nate didn’t love the SES 5.6’s ride and handling. At least, he didn’t love it compared to the equally stiff Bontrager Aeolus XXX 6 or the more forgiving Zipp 404 NSW.
Using the Goldilocks testing method on all three wheelsets, he found ENVE wheelset rode too hard at 80 psi, was less accurate at 65 psi, but at 72 psi offered the best combination of comfort and handling. (FYI, I rode it at 60 psi, closer to where ENVE suggests riders that weigh what Nate and I should).
While Nate found the ENVE and Bonty equally responsive at 72 psi, to him the ENVE seemed to exaggerate the roughness of the road at that pressure while the Bontrager and Zipp wheels dampened it.
In the crosswinds, Nate felt ENVE and Bonty were better than the Zipp.
Nate summarized his evaluation of the SES 5.6 using the practical framework of ride time and road terrain.
“Over shorter rides (<3 hours) without too much elevation or on smoother roads, I’d take them in a heartbeat…there are some KOMs I’ve been needing to claim back and these might just be the right tool :-). However for longer rides and certainly on my stiffer bike frame, I think I’d rather have the smoother Zipp/Bonti ride, even if sacrificing some of ENVE’s responsive snap.”
So bro, I guess we come out at much the same place?
I would summarize it this way: The ENVE will make an already comfortable endurance bike ride stiffer and more responsive while the Bontrager will make a stiff bike ride more comfortably.
ENVE also makes a road disc brake version of the SES 5.6 that use rims claimed to be 85g lighter than the rim brake model. Overall they are claimed to be about 50g lighter than the rim brake model for the $2550 version with the ENVE alloy hubs.
You can click on these links to top-ranked stores Competitive Cyclist and Merlin Cycles or this link to Know’s Shop to find and order the ENVE SES 5.6 rim and disc brake wheelsets at the best prices from the best stores.
You can see this review and others in the same category in my post The Best Aero Bike Wheels