This summer has seen the release of three major wheel product categories from three world-class manufacturers: Cadex, Roval, and Enve all came to market with new wheel lineups offering a range of options. They are all brands we've covered extensively; the previous generation of Roval and Cadex wheels are currently in our best road bike wheels buyers guide and we've also had the chance to bring you full reviews covering this generation of the Enve SES 4.5 and Roval Rapide CLX II wheels. We will also be bringing you a full review of the latest Cadex 50 Ultra Disc Wheelsystem but it’s brand new, so for now you can find details in our news piece.
As we've spent time with the new products from these three companies, we've chosen to pit them head-to-head against each other. As technology currently stands, this is the best all-around depth. There are options to go deeper, or lighter, with other options from these brands but if you can only buy one set of wheels, most people will be best served with something around 50mm deep. It's all about the balance of weight vs aero performance and right now, 50mm is the sweet spot.
With each manufacturer telling you their wheels are the best, with numbers to back it up, how do you choose? The performance differences between similar high-end wheels are pretty small, as we found during our wind tunnel testing, so is there anything beyond specs to consider? Can a wheelset have a personality?
Roval Rapide CLX II - the pro tour race wheel
These were the first wheels to come to market this summer and they were hotly anticipated. The previous generation had gone through a very public 'are they or are they not tubeless compatible' discussion. Roval had suddenly changed directions and stated that its Rapide CLX, without tubeless technology, were the fastest they'd ever been. Adding to the confusion, the wheels sure looked like they were tubeless compatible and lots of people ran them that way without issues. With the release of the Roval Rapide CLX II, the brand wanted to tell a very clear story about what had happened.
Of course, we ran through all of this in our deep dive review but it's relevant here as well. The reason that the previous generation wasn't officially tubeless is that just before they went to market, they failed in testing. Peter Sagan jumped a curb, missed, and the failure wasn't deemed a safe failure mode. That generation was faster - even with inner tubes - than the wheels that came before and so the brand decided the best decision was to play it safe with its official stance but move forward. They look tubeless compatible because that was the plan all along.
With the release of the current generation, Roval went back to the drawing board. There was intensive testing and new designs to get to the point that the team was comfortable with the way that the wheels would fail. All wheels will fail at some point, the idea is to understand how it will happen and make sure it's predictable. Roval felt like it had achieved that goal and so the Roval Rapide CLX II is fully tubeless compatible.
Despite that change, the outward appearance of the two generations isn't all that different. They still carry a staggered 51mm front and a 60mm rear. Along with the depth, the external width holds the same 35mm front and 30.7mm rear as the previous generation. It's the internal width where the personality starts to show. Of the three wheels we are looking at, they carry the narrowest internal width at 21mm front and rear, optimised for a 26mm tyre.
Given the advantages of wider internal width and the trend in that direction, why has it remained relatively narrow? The answer was very clear: It's what WorldTour teams wanted. It's this piece that gives away the personality more than anything else. This is the old adage of race on Sunday and sell on Monday.
There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and in this market segment, there are a lot of consumers who love it. I'd describe it as a little bit conservative and there are other aspects of the wheels that follow along with that. The Roval wheels are also the only wheels here to use a hooked bead; it's a conservative feature at this point, but it's something some consumers still appreciate. The official line on hooked rims from the Big S is that it allows greater tyre compatibility, which is true for now but hookless compatible tyres are much more readily available than they used to be.
When riding the Roval Rapide II wheels, what jumps to the forefront is how smooth and quiet they are. Despite that narrower internal width, and the higher pressure it requires, these are incredibly smooth wheels. Smooth when rolling but at the same time, these are the wheels that love to jump with a bit of power. You can imagine that a smooth, quiet, wheel that jumps when the rider attacks is what you want when racing. These do happen to be the heaviest of the three wheelsets with a weight of 1520g.
Tech Specs: Roval Rapide CLX II
- Price: €2500 / $2800
- Rim Dimensions: 51mm deep/35mm Wide F: 60mm deep/30mm Wide R: 21mm Int F/R
- Weight: 1505g, 1520g w/ tape and valves
- Hubs: Aeroflange Hubs with DT Swiss EXP Internals and Sinc Ceramic Bearings
- Spokes: DT Swiss Aerolite Spokes 18F/24R
- Tubeless Ready
- 110PSI Max Tubeless with 26mm Tires
- Weight Limit: 275lb/125kg
Enve SES 4.5 - the modern road rider’s wheel
The Enve SES 4.5 is almost the polar opposite of the Roval Rapide II. While Roval is somewhat conservative and catering to a UCI WorldTour ride profile, Enve is perhaps more in tune with the riding that domestic consumers do. With its latest bike, the Melee, and with the revamped SES wheel lineup, Enve is stating a vision of how it sees road cycling changing.
The Enve SES 4.5 is just one wheel in a complete revamp of the SES lineup. What's interesting though is that the 3.4 and the 4.5 come from the previous AR wheel options. Those wheels are gone and in their place are the SES 3.4 and SES 4.5, without drastic changes from their predecessors.
The 4.5 has a 25mm internal width and can easily support what has become the standard 40mm tyres used on gravel bikes. There's also specific care taken with the leading edges of the wheel. They use a rounded profile, and are wider, so as to avoid slicing tyres should an impact occur. The layup is that of a road wheel and at 1452g for the wheelset, it's light. They aren't gravel wheels, but they aren't far off.
Given the wider internal width and design notes attuned to lower pressures, these are a set of wheels with half an eye on rougher tarmac, broken roads and probably forays onto gravel too.
They're also quite brash. The staggered 48mm front and 56mm rear paired with the 25mm internal width make them very stable, which in turn gives you a feeling of having a safety net when descending like a lunatic; you'll feel like Tom Pidcock dropping off the side of a mountain.
The brashness also comes from their volume. Every wheel rotation announces itself with a sound that makes you feel like they might be deeper than the specs say. They don't jump to accelerate quite as easily as the Rovals, but they hold speed better. If you find yourself behind someone, they will know you are there without the freehub needing to announce it.
Tech Specs: Enve SES 4.5
- Price: $2850
- Rim Dimensions: 49mm deep/23mm Wide F: 55mm deep/23mm Wide R: 25mm Int F/R
- Weight: 1452g wheelset weight (with XDR body)
- Hubs: Envy Alloy 40-tooth, centre lock disc only
- Spokes: Sapim CX Ray spokes
- Tubeless Ready
- 80PSI Max
- Handbuilt in Ogden Utah
Cadex 50 Ultra Disc Wheelsystem - the efficiency monster
Cadex is a company deeply involved in triathlon technology. It's not fair to call it a triathlon-specific company but in the way that Roval focuses on WorldTour road racing, and Enve on all-road racing, Cadex focuses on triathlon. Its only bike is a radical triathlon-specific frameset and one of the brand's biggest single-name sponsors is two-time world triathlon champion and Olympic gold medalist Kristian Blummenfelt, who also made history as the first to complete a full-distance triathlon in under seven hours. Everything Cadex does is about efficiency, no matter how radical the end result might be.
Some of the Cadex 50 Ultra Disc specs feel like they fall right in with the crowd. The internal width is 22.4mm which is wide by most standards, Roval included, but doesn't match the gravel friendly 25mm Enve width. The external width is 30mm which is less than the Enve 32mm and only matches the front Roval wheel. The bead is hookless but again, this isn't radical anymore.
Where things start to get a bit more radical is when you take a look at the spokes. Cadex has been using carbon spokes for a few generations now but this iteration is pretty out-there. There is a flattened profile that's wider than anything we've seen before and it's this one piece of the wheel that says everything about the personality of the wheels and the brand; being willing to reengineer the spokes to create what will be a marginal benefit speaks to the obsession with efficiency at the heart of the brand.
The carbon spokes don't only add to the aero credentials, but the weight too. The Cadex 50 Ultra Disc carries the lightweight banner with an official weight of 1,349 grams (1,316 grams measured for our example). That's incredible for a 50mm wheel and truly allows you to have your cake and eat it too. Lightness does come with a cost though, the Cadex wheelset is the most expensive in the bunch so that may factor into your calculations.
When it's time to actually ride the Cadex wheels there is another aspect though. They are flashy wheels. I've covered thousands of miles on the previous generation Cadex 65 wheels and there's nothing quite like a 65mm deep slab of carbon to catch an eye. The 50mm is a bit less deep but the finish used on the carbon just has a way of catching the eye more than the Enve or Roval.
The spokes don't hurt in that regard either but really, it's the hubs that go the extra distance. Cadex uses a ratchet-style hub and it's louder than anything else on the market, Chris King included.
Which wheels should you get?
In case it's not obvious, all three sets of wheels are very close in terms of performance and specs. It can be hard to tell the difference when you aren't riding them back-to-back. You could obsess over the smallest details, and we aim to help you do that with our reviews, but it's also worth considering the style and personality of the wheels. If you want a single set of wheels to occasionally take onto unpaved roads, then grab the Enve SES 4.5. They are also the most stable, a joy to listen to at speed, and will probably be the biggest flex at the cafe stop. If you prefer a wheelset with a hooked bead then that means the Roval Rapide CLX II. They are also the quietest of the three and they love to accelerate quickly. Choose the Cadex Ultra 50mm if your focus is on weight and stiffness.
Tech Specs: CADEX 50 Ultra Disc
- Price: £2649.98 / $3500
- Rim Dimensions: 50mm deep, 22.4mm internal width, 30mm external width
- Weight: 1316g wheelset weight (with XDR body) as measured
- Hubs: Cadex R3-C40 Aero Hub, centre lock disc only with ceramic bearings
- Spokes: Cadex Super Aero Carbon
- Tubeless Ready
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Josh hails from the Pacific Northwest of the United States but would prefer riding through the desert than the rain. He will happily talk for hours about the minutiae of cycling tech but also has an understanding that most people just want things to work. He is a road cyclist at heart and doesn't care much if those roads are paved, dirt, or digital. Although he rarely races, if you ask him to ride from sunrise to sunset the answer will be yes.
Weight: 140 lb.
Rides: Salsa Warbird, Cannondale CAAD9, Enve Melee, Look 795 Blade RS, Priority Continuum Onyx