Everyone makes a fast wheel but features like 25mm internal width and an edge that won’t cut your tyre show Enve thinking beyond race day. These are the fast wheels designed for the riding you actually do.
Hookless bead anti-flat technology
25mm internal width
Deep rim channel makes tyre installation easy
Aero testing at 20mph instead of 30mph
Specifically designed for rough roads
Handbuilt in the US
Stickers are less premium than printed graphics
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Enve as a brand has long had a solid reputation for making wheels that compete with the best available, but road bike wheels are high technology and as such, things move fast, so they've started to be in need of a rework. Cue the unveiling of an update to the entire SES lineup including the AR models that covered riding past the end of the pavement.
Instead of a multitude of options, there now stands a cohesive vision. There are no more tubular options and everything is disc brake only. For the climbers, the SES 2.3 offers an incredible lightweight choice. For those who previously might have chosen something from the AR lineup the SES 3.4 and SES 4.5 now pick up features from those wheels and offer a one-wheel choice for whatever your road might look like. Then, finally, for those who are looking for the pinnacle of aerodynamic performance, the SES 6.7 is there to offer it.
Out of those options, we've spent time with a few of the wheels but it's the 4.5 that's been with us the longest. If you are looking for go-fast-everyday wheels, keep reading to see details and our thoughts and how these compare to the best road bike wheels around.
Design and aesthetics
The Enve SES 4.5 is the wheel that the brand positions as the most versatile wheel in the lineup. Given that the overarching ethos for the entire SES lineup is that of everyday-fast, that means an all-around wheel within an all-around lineup. All-around doesn't mean jack of all trades though. Instead, Enve worked to define the bell curve that makes up modern cycling.
To that end, Enve broke out three pillars of today's road riding: Fast, fun, and versatile. From there it developed a line of wheels around meeting those needs. That doesn't mean there's one wheel for every rider though, instead, Enve positions the 4.5 as the goldilocks wheel. It only gives up a little speed to aerodynamics and it's only a little heavier than its siblings on either side.
To that end, the design of the SES 4.5 makes them some of the most versatile wheels on the market. Primarily that's because of the design integration that comes over from the AR lineup that the 4.5 subsumed. While some of the most forward-thinking modern road wheels currently on the market tend to sit around 22mm internal, the SES 4.5 comes to market at 25mm. When paired with the Enve SES 27mm tyres you can expect a profile of just under 29mm. There's even enough support to feel stable with something you'd normally see on a dedicated gravel bike.
Then on the aerodynamic front, Enve tests at a much more realistic 20mph/32kph that continues to emphasise a fast and fun, but real-world design. The front wheel depth is 51mm while the rear is 59mm with the external width for both remaining the same at 32mm. This staggered wheel depth is a strategy that's becoming much more common in the industry with the intent of balancing weight vs stability vs aerodynamic efficiency. The shallower front wheel helps crosswind stability while the deeper rear makes for a faster wheelset and the weight remains competitive at 1497 grams for the set.
One unique detail of the Enve SES 4.5 is the "Wide Hookless Bead anti pinch flat technology." The hookless part of this is not unique. Enve has gone all in on hookless and part of that has to do with manufacturing. According to the brand, "hookless rim design allows for machined metal tooling to establish a precise and consistent bead seat diameter that meets the defined requirement by ETRTO." Every rim is handmade in Ogden, Utah and by automating this step, Enve is able to ensure better consistency.
There's another part of that statement though, "anti-pinch flat technology." What that means is that the edge of the wheel, which actually covers the bead of the tyre when it's mounted, is wider and slightly rounded. In the event that the tyre gets pinched between the edge of the wheel and the ground, this little detail helps keep the wheel from slicing through the sidewall. It's a small, but thoughtful, design detail that also has the advantage of adding strength to the edge of the wheel in the spot where it's most vulnerable.
Keep scanning the spec sheet and one detail that may catch the eye of long-time Enve fans is the move to a proprietary hub only. While in the past there were options for a variety of hubs depending on preference. That's all gone and the new SES 4.5, as well as the rest of the lineup, offers only the Enve alloy hub. The hub isn't new. It's been around for a while and continues to offer the same 40-tooth ratchet system. Front and rear weight also stays the same at 126/252g and there are options for Shimano, SRAM XDR, or Campagnolo N3W freehubs.
Diving a little deeper, the Enve alloy hubs, as with the rest of the SES wheels, focus more on the everyday. The design isn’t completely different from competing ratchet systems such as those from DT Swiss and Cadex and actually comes from Mavic and their ID360 hub system. According to the brands that utilise them, the advantage of a ratchet system is fewer moving parts and less flex. Another advantage is that you can swap freehubs without tools. What Enve does differently is introducing the Perfect Preload system. The system simply uses a “tuned wave washer compressed between a snap ring installed on the hub’s axle and the bearing itself. This design means that the bearing is optimally loaded and you’ll never need to bust out the tools to eliminate annoying bearing play or achieve greater rolling efficiency.” The system, along with the choice of bearing material and the choice of 7075 aluminium for the freehub, are all designed around low maintenance and high real-world speed.
In terms of pure aesthetics, Enve mostly keeps what has become its iconic look. The raw carbon is on full display, including the mould marks in the rim bed. At three locations on each side of the wheels, there's a gloss black sticker that carries a white outline of the SES logo in the centre. Move over just a bit and there's a bit of text that's so small it's tough to read even in person. The three lines proudly state "Made in the USA" as well as the rim depth and the max pressure of 80 psi. Next to that, there's a gold "4.5" that provides the only pop of colour.
Opening the box of a new set of Enve SES 4.5 wheels feels like a special moment. Enve includes a nice bag with the manuals, tubeless tape, alcohol wipes and valve stems. There's also a tag with the name of the person who built the wheel. Thanks, Carson.
The valve stems don't have replaceable rubber bases but they also don't have any restriction at the rubber base like some valves do. There's also a black retainer nut, without space for an o-ring, used to secure the valve stems to the wheel. The rims aren't taped but as mentioned, rim tape is there for your use.
This might seem like somewhat of an oversight to include the tape and valves but not have them installed. The percentage of times I've had to retape brand new rim is high though. I prefer that the supplies are there for my own use and I found that it feels quite special the way everything is presented. There are also directions not to use different rim tape. I promptly ignored this for the second wheel as I wanted to test a new rim tape as well as the Enve option. I ended up retaping the wheel twice before switching to the Enve tape. I expect you'd be fine using other tape but you'll want to make sure you get tape that's wide enough. The 25mm internal width doesn't count the deep channel in the centre of the wheel so it takes a wide rim tape.
Retaping the wheels also meant mounting tyres over and over and at this point, I'm happy to share that the deep centre channel makes mounting tyres probably the easiest of any wheel I currently have available. There's plenty of slack with the Enve SES 27mm tyres and mounting is easy as is initial inflation. If you decide to use different tyres, Enve has an extensive list of compatible options available on the Enve website.
With everything ready to go I went for the first ride and the overwhelming experience was that of a very deep wheel. I ride Cadex 65 wheels more than any others and the Enve SES 4.5 wheels feel very much on par in the way that they hold speed. The Enve wheels are also one of the loudest wheels I can remember riding. Not because of the hubs, which aren't all that loud, but because of the noise they make as you put power through them. The distinctive woosh, woosh, that a full disc rear gives is a big part of the SES 4.5 experience. It's a lot of fun and friends will hear you coming.
What's different about the Enve wheels, as opposed to the deeper Cadex wheel, is that the SES 4.5 is an exceptionally stable descender. Wider wheels tend to make for better stability with a straighter sidewall shape and a wider contact patch. That's exactly how the Enve wheels feel; stable and sure-footed even descending over broken pavement. If you have to make mid-corner line adjustments to dodge potholes the stability is there at your back again.
That feeling of stability is something that carries through not only as descending prowess but also as the character of the wheels. When I think about what exemplifies the absolute best use of the Enve SES 4.5 it's hard to pick something better than a recent group lunch ride. It's a group of fast riders and we started out by heading through downtown. There are potholes and broken pavement so you've got to pay attention. It's exactly the kind of place where letting your guard down could lead to a sliced sidewall and a pinch flat with a wheel that hasn't considered that issue.
As our group got to the edge of downtown we started to climb. It's a hard push, but the 4.5 is a capable partner. Climbing out of the saddle, there’s no noticeable flex but the wheels never feel overly stiff either.
At the top of the climbing, there's a loop that swings around the peak of the hill. There's no traffic to speak of, but it's littered with potholes and broken pavement, as well as a combination of climbing and descending all through tight corners. More than any other part of the ride, this is where the Enve concept of "real-world fast" feels most relevant. This isn't a race, but I want to be at the pointy end of the group made up of exceptional riders. Part of that means feeling stable and confident enough to pedal through corners then put down the power and sprint for the inevitable stop sign.
Every wheel company releases a new wheelset and touts that it's the fastest on the market. Enve isn't immune to that and it's in the marketing materials for the Enve SES 4.5. It has numbers that show just how fast the SES 4.5 wheelset is but it's more impressive in this situation. Instead of testing for WorldTour professionals, Enve built its wheelsystem around the needs of the rest of us.
The details of when the SES 4.5 is the fastest match the riding more of us do. The tested tyre is a 27mm tyre that Enve expects to inflate to 29mm. There are numbers showing aero data at a real-world achievable 20mph/32kph and those numbers come from tests with a fully assembled bike. Even beyond the actual numbers, the promise is a stable, comfortable, ride and those are features that contribute far more to performance than aerodynamics in a vacuum.
The Enve SES 4.5 also has the versatility to head off-road when that's where the route takes you. The carbon layup differs from the Enve G series offerings so if off-road is where you spend most of your time, there is a better choice. On the other hand, a route that's mostly road but spends a bit of time on a gravel road doesn't need anything more than these. In fact, if you are looking for race wins, Alexey Vermeulen just won the 2022 Belgian Waffle Ride on the slightly shallower SES 3.4 version of these wheels.
|Ride Quality||Excellent at holding speed, stable and confidence inspiring||10/10|
|Stiffness||You'll never hear a brake rub because of flex, but they aren't in any way harsh||10/10|
|Aesthetics||Gorgeous wheels but stickers aren't as nice as printed graphics||9/10|
|Tubeless Compatibility||Mounting was easy and Enve has a compatibility list with options from every major manufacturer||10/10|
|Hubs||Perfect Preload system and long lasting bearings||10/10|
|Value for money||Expensive, but a better product than similarly priced competitors||10/10|
|Overall rating||Row 6 - Cell 1||98%|
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
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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: Cannondale Topstone Lefty, Cannondale CAAD9, Enve Melee, Look 795 Blade RS, Priority Continuum Onyx
By Will Jones