Enve, maker of some of the most advanced and desirable carbon fibre wheels money can buy, has launched a new SES 3.4 carbon fibre clincher wheelset with a new moulded brake track, tubeless compatibility and increased rim width designed to work best with a 25mm tyre.
Introducing the new SES 3.4
The SES 3.4 is Enve’s top-selling wheel but as the sport and industry have advanced, Enve felt the time was right to update the wheelset to take into account the evolving trends, particularly a growing preference for wider tyres and tubeless technology. The new wheels are available in tubeless and tubular rim brake versions and tubeless for disc brakes. Regular clincher tyres can still be used on the tubeless rims.
The new wheelset fits into the US company’s large range as a lightweight climbing wheel for the mountains while still offering an aerodynamic advantage. A “climbing wheel with an aero advantage,” describes Enve. SES, in case you’re wondering, stands for Smart Enve Systems, named after the company's collaboration with highly renowned aerodynamic expert Simon Smart.
The new rims laced to Enve's own carbon fibre hubs weigh a claimed 1,331g.
25 is the new 23
Enve’s previous SES 3.4 rim was optimised around a 23mm tyre but the new model increases the width of the rim - it's now 21mm internally - to better accommodate the growing prevalence of 25mm tyres in the professional and amateur ranks.
It’s interesting to see how some technologies (disc brakes) face a lot of resistance but wider tyres is a change that has been rapidly embraced. That's largely down to the fact there’s plenty of sound research showing that wider tyres offer improved rolling resistance over narrower tyres, as well as increased comfort.
Just have a read of the feature below to learn more about the benefits of wide tyres.
As well as increased tyre width, there’s also a growing interest in ditching the inner tube and going tubeless. Maybe not in the pro ranks yet, but at least with regular cyclists who want to eliminate the risk of puncturing. I'm a big fan of tubeless. The new 3.4 is now tubeless-ready and you get all the kit, including valves with the wheels you need to go tubeless.
As well as the advantages of almost completely eliminated flats, some studies have shown tubeless tyres to offer lower rolling resistance than clincher tyres. The ability to run lower tyre pressures also boosts traction and comfort, a bonus on rough roads.
Moulded brake track
Enve has incorporated its moulded brake track into the SES 3.4 wheelset. The textured surface offers a claimed 30% improvement in braking performance, with wet weather braking said to be equal to dry weather braking.
Because the brake track is produced during the same construction process of the rim, it’s said to be highly durable and won’t rub off or wear out. Enve has also employed a new laminate in the carbon construction that is more resistant to high temperatures than its previous rim which helps during sustained braking.
“That means a novice cyclist could drag their brakes down the Stelvio and they will not melt this rim. It will not delaminate, it will not deform,” explains Enve’s Ken Bloomer during a presentation of the new wheel. “We’ve had zero rim failures with this new laminate.”
New rim profile
A unique feature of Enve wheel design has been different profiles, both width and depth, on the front and rear wheels. Enve doesn’t believe front and rear rims should be identical because the wind flow and aerodynamic requirements are different at the front to the back. Enve has designed the shape and curve of the rim to work best with a wider tyre to improve the aerodynamic and rolling resistance performance.
For this reason, the curvature profile that Enve uses on the front and rear rims isn't the same. This is because they do different jobs, as Enve’s Ken Bloomer explains. “On a bike, you need stability at the front because the front wheel steers while the rear wheel is fixed, plus you have different wind angles at the front to the back,” he says. “At the front, you want stability, at the back pure aero performance. We’re talking minimal gains here, a couple of watts, but if you can give someone 2-3 watts, they’ll take it.”
The changes include the front rim being wider and deeper than the rear. The front rim is 38mm x 27.5mm and the rear is 42mm x 27.5mm, compared to the previous dimensions of 35mm x 26.5mm and 45mm x 24mm respectively. Both share the same 21mm internal width.
The obvious issue with increasing rim width is the increased frontal surface area, and Enve admits it has sacrificed pure aerodynamic performance by widening the front rim. But what it has lost in aero performance it has gained back with the superior rolling resistance of a wider tyre, so things effectively equal out compared to the previous version SES 3.4 wheelset.
To put the new wheels through their paces, Enve flew a small group of cycling journalists out to Girona in Spain, a hub for international professional cyclists and surrounded by a mixture of flat and hilly roads and all sorts of road surfaces, from silky smoothness to potholed nastiness, to put the new wheels to test.
We rolled out from The Service Course, a new bike shop run by recently retired professional cyclist Christian Meyer (formerly of Orica-Greenedge) and navigated the narrow streets of the small town and rode out into the countryside to put the wheels through their paces.
The first thing that is immediately obvious about the wheels is just how direct and responsive they feel. They are sensitive to every input and this you notice when weaving through the busy streets but also once out onto the undulating roads.
Onto the climbs and the low weight is an obvious advantage, and out of the saddle, climbing reveals a very sprightly manner. There's no delay or lag, no hesitancy at all. On the flat roads, with some blustery wind, the wheels remained stable with no hint of wayward movement.
Are they fast? They certainly feel fast. Even though Enve admits they’re not as aero as its deeper section models, they don’t appear to be giving away too much in the speed department, even during a stint of motor pacing chasing a van on the run back into town after getting a flat tyre.
One benefit of the new wheels is a tubeless compatible rim design. We tested the wheels with Vittoria’s latest Corsa tyres, an impressive tyre in its own right with a very supple feel over the varied quality road surfaces, and plenty of grip.
I did experience a front wheel flat on the first day ride in the rain, but the generous coating of grit and small stones over the front tyre suggested something sharp must have penetrated the carcass. A few strokes of the pump and the tyre was good to ride and kept pressure for the remainder of the ride and into the following day.
Unfortunately, it’s not always sunny in Spain, and the first day saw us riding in some horrendous torrential rain. While unpleasant to ride in, it did provide the perfect scenario to test the big Achilles heel of carbon rims: wet weather braking performance. Turns out braking in the wet is not only possible but highly impressive with the new SES 3.4s.
I'm not a huge fan of carbon for wet weather riding because the braking performance is often lacking, but the SES 3.4s delivered reassuringly consistent and reliable retardation even when the rain was bouncing off the road and riding through massive puddles deep enough to almost engulf the rims.
With carbon rim brakes there's usually a delay after pulling the brake lever before anything happens. Not so with the 3.4s. There's no delay from pulling the brake lever to the brake blocks applying pressure on the moulded brake track. It’s very reassuring. We climbed and descended some really good fun roads and I was able to approach the corners with a confidence I rarely experience with carbon clincher rims.
Granted there’s some decline in braking performance compared to dry weather braking, but it isn’t anywhere near as bad as most other carbon rims I've yet tried. I found them a revelation.
Better braking in the dry
The following day dawned dry and bright and we headed up into the hills once again, on an enjoyable road that dipped and rose through the woods, with sweeping bends and tight hairpins to test the wheels.
In the dry, the braking performance is nothing short of marvellous. There’s a good range of modulation with plenty of feel at the brake lever, making it easy to check your speed through a fast bend or throw out the anchor on a tighter-than-anticipated corner. One noticeable improvement brought by the new brake track is the reduced effort required at the brake lever.
One thing worth adding is that the braking is accompanied by an audible hissing sound, some way short of an annoying screech or howl. It’s something you quickly get used to and while not ideal, is clearly a side-effect of the moulded brake track. If that’s the small compromise for improved braking performance, I’m happy to take it.
First ride summary
Carbon fibre wheels often look the part and offer good aero performance but can be heavy or seriously deficient in the braking department. The Enve SES 3.4s offer storming performance with benchmark-setting braking, but the price is steep. I'll hold back my full assessment of the new wheels until I've got a pair to test on my own roads and rack up some miles, two rides really are no sufficient, but first impressions are good.
If you just want a good general purpose all-round wheel, that leans favourably to climbing, the SES 3.4 is a good choice. They strike a really nice balance between aerodynamics and weight and offer good versatility for hilly races or non-racing cyclists that want a wheel that is going to excel in as wide a range of scenarios as possible.
More time on familiar roads are going to be needed to form a full and final assessment on the new Enve SES 3.4 wheels, but I’ve come away impressed. I’m not the biggest fan of carbon fibre wheels but these have really changed my opinion, especially when it comes to wet weather braking.
The performance and price put the Enve SES 3.4 wheels squarely in the sights of other high-end carbon wheels, with the recently reviewed Zipp 202 NSW as a prime rival. The Zipp wheels are lighter a 1,375g but the rim width is narrower, just 16.25mm internally, and the braking performance in the wet of the Zipps, even with the new grooved brake track, simply isn’t in the same league as the Enve SES 3.4s.
We'll have a full review of the new SES 3.4 wheels soon once we've tested them on our own roads.
SES 3.4 Clincher – Chris King Hubs: £3300
SES 3.4 Tubular – Chris King Hubs: £3100
The wheels are backed up with a 5 year warranty and lifetime crash replacement.
Photos © Augustus Farmer
David worked on the road.cc tech team from 2012-2020. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds, and you can now find him over on his own YouTube channel David Arthur - Just Ride Bikes.