ENVE SES 2.2 rims with textured brake surface and tubeless clinchers
For the past few years ENVE has been diligently expanding their line of carbon rims in both off-road and road/triathlon models. It’s possible that their mtb efforts have been more successful in relative terms, since ENVE has been a leader in that emerging demographic while the road/tri market was already crowded long before the company entered the fray. But the SES series of rims bring much to riders affiliated to the pavement party. Including the new 2.2 and 7.8 series this fall, ENVE covers the whole rim profile range from 25mm (f&r) height of the SES 2.2 to the seriously deep 85mm/95mm (f/r) of the SES8.9 rims, with all sizes in between. Throughout the range, SES rims incorporate subtle refinements and quality as opposed to flashy gimmicks, and the quality of their construction is considered tops in the game. And unlike their other major competitors, ENVE offers their carbon rims as either alone or built into a wheel with a selection of top name brand hubs from DT and Chris King (as well as their new in-house built carbon hubs). With the introduction of the SES 2.2 in particular, ENVE also adds tubeless-ready road rims to their repertoire.
The SES 2.2 stands out among all the other SES rims because the shape and height of the 2.2 puts weight reduction ahead of minimizing aerodynamic drag. As a devout believer in aero wheels, would I like these rims?
Bike Hugger had the opportunity to build and then test a set of the SES 2.2 carbon clincher rims. The rims are available in 20h and 24h options, as front and rear respectively. Unlike the other SES road rims, the 2.2 rim set uses the same shape and height for both front and rear positions, so one would assume that you could make a 24/24 spoke wheelset. Don’t expect to see other spoke count options; ENVE moulds rather than drills the spoke holes into the rims, unlike most of the industry. This means that the carbon laminate is unbroken at these high stress areas, consequently the rim can be made stronger and lighter. But they can’t just drill a blank rim differently to change the spoke count. The two sample clincher rims weighed 419 and 421gr (f/r). This is very close to the claimed 400-410gr claimed weight for the clincher but 50% more than the claimed weight of the tubular SES 2.2. This seems extreme, but actually throughout the SES product line, the clincher rims weigh around 110gr more per rim than their tubular counterparts, regardless of profile depth. It’s just that on the 2.2, a rim without much profile, that weight difference is proportionally much higher.
The SES 2.2 carbon clincher rim is 25mm in height and 27mm at maximum width. It is designed to work best with 25mm clincher tyres, as the road market is quietly but rapidly abandoning 23mm as the conventional size for performance road tyres. If the tyre width is progressive, then perhaps the textured brake track can be thought of as almost old-fashioned as the whole road market is poised to throw everything into disc brake designs. That may be so, but there are some riders (myself included) who decline to become early adopters, preferring instead for standards and designs to mature before they start updating an entire stable of rim-brake road bikes and wheelsets. The interior of the tyre wheel is sculpted to allow tubeless tyre beads to corral the air pressure and then pop the tyre into place. With such tubeless-ready rims, you generally need to use thin, plasticky rim tape like Stans. The airtight tubeless tape is not strictly needed if you’re not using tubeless tyres, but otherwise mounting or removing conventional clinchers on such rims with a woven rim strip in place is a ridiculous chore. ENVE included both types with the bare rims, but I didn’t even contemplate using the woven strip.
ENVE gave no specific recommendations on which hubs to use, though it would be ridiculous to use cheap hubs on rims of such quality. Nothing is worse than a good, strong wheel that becomes useless after the hub craps out. Good hubs rarely come cheap, but we’re not talking about bargain shopping today. I suspect that most ENVE rims end up getting built on DT hubs, but I think that a premium American-made hub would be more appropriate. I considered using White Industries T11 hubs, since I use those hubs on 70-90% of my custom wheelbuilds. White Industries hubs are light, come in a variety of colours and spoke counts, have a titanium cassette body that resists cogs digging in (DT hubs suffer badly from this), and have easily replaceable bearings. The bearing preload can be adjusted with just a 2mm Allen wrench, but so far in my experience the T11 have rarely required adjustment. But I just happened to have a Chris King R45 hubset with the necessary 20/24H drilling, sitting unused in my cache. Introduced a few years ago, the R45 hubs use a newer, lighter version of King’s unique “Ring Drive” freehub mechanism. It’s the Ring Drive that gives King hubs their characteristic (some say annoying) mechanical whine while coasting, though the R45 version is definitely quieter than the older version, still used on their mtb hubs. The newer Ring Drive is only available in aluminium, which means that the cogs’ splines can notch the the body more easily than the White Industries hubs, but the R45 hubset is also slightly lighter because of it. One annoying aspect of King hubs is that the bearings generally loosen up 1-3 times after you build the wheel. More on that later.
I could have ordered the same spec wheel assembled in-house from ENVE, but you see, my R45 hubs are turquoise and ENVE use black King hubs….and turquoise looks cooler. Obviously. And getting the pre-built wheels from ENVE wouldn’t give me anything to say about building the rims.
Carbon rims in the rain and muck? No problem
For spokes, Sapim CX-Ray was the natural choice. They’re quite light, and a bladed spoke is actually easier to build into a wheel. A thin spoke, whether it is bladed or round, tends to twist when you tension it, but you can easily see the twist if the spoke is bladed. There are convenient tools that allow you to grasp the spoke near the rim to prevent that wind-up, and those tools also grasp the flat sides of a bladed spoke more easily than a tiny round spoke like a cheese-cutter. On the wheels they build in-house, ENVE uses Sapim CX-Ray anf DT Swiss’ Aerolite, but I like that Sapim’s US distributor ProVelo allows shops to buy in whatever quantities desired.
CX-Rays are available in both silver and black, while Aerolites are also available in a white or red coating. But here’s a tip: bladed, painted spokes tend to creak where they cross one another. You can radial lace the front wheel (rim-brake), but rear wheels need to cross the spokes on at least one side. Keep it simple and don’t get painted spokes.
For the wheels I’m building, I chose radial front and two-cross rear (both sides). I used to do things like cross-two or cross-three on the driveside and radial on the non-drive, but nowadays on a conventional flange rear hub, I don’t see any point in building a rear wheel with different lace patterns on each side. For a moment I considered going two-cross on the front wheel because I like how that looks with more open gaps in the spokes, but in the end I just went with radial. I don’t consider either lace pattern to make much of a difference in terms of strength or aerodynamics in this particular instance.
By moulding in the rim’s spoke holes and keeping the hole diameter barely large enough for a 2.0mm spoke, ENVE can optimize the strength to weight balance of the rim’s spoke bed, but the small spoke holes necessitate the use of internal nipples. I usually don’t care for internal nipples, while I don’t think ENVE rims are going to make me love them, I understand the engineering issues well enough to accept their design choice. And at least ENVE didn’t seek to create a new proprietary nipple design. At this time ENVE uses a nipple made for them by Sapim of Belgium. It is a 2.0mm inverted nipple, which is means that it looks like a standard nipple but lacks the slot on the backside of the nipple flange. The inverted nipple threads on backwards so that the squared end points away from the hub and the (non-slotted) flange end points towards the hub to press against the inside wall of the rim. The dimensions of nipple’s wrench flats are the same as standard nipples, but because the inverted nipple is sunk into the rim’s interior, one must use a driver to access the inverted nipple from the tyre side of the rim rather than use a standard spoke wrench from the hub side. One advantage of this is that the nipple driver has four-sided contact with the nipple as opposed to three-sided contact like a regular spoke wrench (there are “4-sided” spoke wrenches available, but they’re really something like “3-and-a-half sided”). With positive contact like that, rounding out the nipple is unlikely.
The ENVE-spec nipple is based on Sapim’s Secure-Lock design, which it designed to prevent the nipple from rotating loose over time. It is similar to DT’s ProLock nipples, but instead of an adhesive threadlock, the Sapim design uses a slight crimp in the middle of the nipple as a mechanical thread lock. You can see a small indent point on one side of all Secure-Lock nipples. Not unique to ENVE’s nipples, Sapim offers the Secure-Lock feature in a number of different configurations. At this point I use Secure-Lock nipples exclusively on all my custom builds, either silver or black brass. Personally, I never use alloy nipples anymore; I have just seen too many alloy nipples seize, crumble, or fail later on in the life of a wheel. From a practical point of view, changing the nipple from brass to aluminium can only make a significant reduction in weight if the spoke count is relatively high, but why would you be trying to build a lightweight wheel with a high spoke count? And if I’m going to build a wheel with only 20 to 24 nipples holding it together, I’m not going to scrimp on strength. Earlier ENVE wheels may have used alloy nipples, but the current nipples are brass. With any carbon rim, the carbon fibre material itself can accelerate corrosion of alloy nipples. ENVE sends the exact number of nipples needed with each rim, no extras, but you can also buy replacement nipples from ENVE. From Sapim you can buy the exact same inverted Secure-Lock nipple in silver; ENVE’s brass nipples do not have the silver coating.
So one laces up an ENVE wheelset much as any other wheel, though I prefer to insert a spoke and then thread it on-at-a-time, rather than risking the threaded end of the spokes scratching the carbon rim. Sure it’s a little slower, but with rims of this value I can afford to take 4 minutes longer to build the wheels. If I were building so many $2000-3000 wheelsets that speed was an important factor, I’d build some special lacing jigs, which are more the realm of dedicated wheelbuilding operations. I build about five to seven $1100-1500 wheelsets per month, not really enough to justify jigs. But I do have good quality truing stands, wrenches, drivers, and a tension gauge. I recommend that last item when you build on ENVE rims. On standard rims you can somewhat infer the spoke tension by the nipple’s resistance to turning, but ENVE’s internal/inverted nipples actually rotate quite easily even at higher tensions. For old school mechanics who cut their teeth by building on low profile tubulars like Fiame Gold Label or Mavic GEL280, you sorta tensioned them up till the aluminium rim puckered slightly. That’s not how you build carbon rims. Another mechanic once told me that he went too far building an ENVE rim and cracked it at the spoke bed. That was years ago, long before the SES series, but that story stuck in my head. I follow ENVE’s spoke tension spec exactly, measured with the tension meter.
Once built up, the R45/SES2.2 wheelset was 1416gr as measured with Stans tape, but what’s a wheel without a tyre? These SES 2.2s are the the first ENVE road rims meant to accept tubeless tyres, so naturally that is what I would be using. I have been keen on trying Schwalbe’s newest road tyre, the tubeless-ready Pro One, but they weren’t yet available last month in a 25mm. The new Pro One is supposed to be much lighter than the older One, but I wasn’t really interested in waiting. I settled for the tubeless version of the older One model. The two-tyre sample averaged 377gr, which seems disgustingly heavy for a 700x25mm racing tyre until you realize that you’re not adding an inner tube. In comparison, a Michelin Pro4 Endurance in 700×25 and a butyl inner tube weigh 354gr together. If you account for sealant, the Schwalbe One tubeless weighs about 40gr more but is much more puncture resistant. It is reasonable to assume that the tubeless clincher has lower rolling resistance too, unless you replace the standard clincher’s butyl inner tube with a less practical and more expensive latex inner tube. If the newer Pro One tyres are as light as Schwalbe claims, I’ll have a hard time switching back to standard clinchers.
ENVE includes a pair of tubeless valves with the rims, but I think that they use the same item for their mtb rims, which are mostly a little deeper in profile. Consequently the valves are a skosh taller than necessary, and I would have used shorter valves if I had some conveniently on hand, if for no other reason than aesthetics. If I had chosen to use standard clincher tyres, I would have of course just omitted the tubeless valve. The Schwalbe One tubeless tyres mounted up with minimal fuss. I did need to use an air-compressor to get enough air flow to pop the tyre bead into place, but other than that it was a breeze. As with any “tubeless ready” tyre setup, you’re expected to use some sort of latex-based sealant. I prefer to use Orange Seal tyre sealant, partially because it works well and partially because it doesn’t smell like rotten food product as it ages in the tyre. I don’t know why, but some other tyre sealants seem to separate after a while into some oily liquid and something that reminds me of fermented soybeans. Anyways, the Schwalbe tyres mounted up easily, had no problems sealing immediately, and held air overnight. Some larger volume tyres, like those for mtb, have casings so porous that they need to “season” a while with sealant before they hold air pressure properly, but that generally isn’t the case with tyres that have a more robust sidewall, as most of the smaller, higher pressure tubeless tyres do.
The 18.5mm internal width of the SES 2.2 rims isn’t that wide, considering the external width. An alloy rim that wide on the outside would have a much wider internal dimension, which effectively gives more volume and width to the tyre. The 18.5mm inner width of the SES 2.2 is still distinctly more than old school rims like a Mavic Open Pro but just a whisper more than modern examples like the Velocity A23 and Hed Belgium (both 17.5mm). Schwalbe road tyres seem to measure as marked when mounted on 17.5-18.5mm inner width rims, but others (such as most Michelin tyres) will measure wider than nominal on the same. ENVE states that these rims were optimized to work with 25mm tyres, and the Schwalbe One tyres measure 25.5mm when mounted here.
Before you ride off on these SES 2.2 wheels, you’ll need to change out the brake pads on your bike. ENVE includes two full sets pads made of their newest brake compound, distinguishable by being black not grey like the previous ENVE pads. When you adjust the brakes, don’t be surprised to find that you have to totally reset your calipers due to the wide 27mm rim, a width rare for low profile rims but not uncommon among the newer generation of deep aero rims from ENVE as well as Hed, Zipp, etc. In fact, you may find that your brake calipers may not actually open wide enough at all. The newest flagship models from Campagnolo, Shimano, and SRAM will all work, but I have seen earlier generation SRAM and several exotic/boutique brakesets that could not. Going back to the ENVE brake compound, the new black version is meant just for the very newest SES 2.2 and 7.8 rims, which share the same moulded brake track texture. The brake track features fine, raised cross-hatched ridges for the pads to grip. The effect is rather surprising, especially in the rain. In those wet conditions, the pads bite onto the textured rims much quicker than with other carbon rims, better even than many a decent alloy rim/pad combination. I suspect this is because the rim texture interrupts the water film that brake pads usually need to scrub off first before they can actually grip the rim. That said, the follow-thru power after the initial bite is pretty good but not mind-blowing. It’s got some power and modulates well, but you’re not going to confuse it with disc brake performance. In the dry, you could perhaps forget that you’re not riding alloy rims…if it weren’t for the tea kettle whistle sound of the pads skimming the textured rim. The sound is distinct, but regardless the braking performance is very good. The one test I have yet to do is to drop the wheels, the bike, and me down a long downhill on a hot day to see how the rim and pads function at higher temperatures, but that will have to wait for the seasons to change.
The SES 2.2 wheels are light but not outstandingly so. Indeed, there are a couple lighter aluminium rims out there, but they don’t combine the wide profile, tubeless option, and the toughness of a carbon rim. Yes, you heard me correctly: good quality carbon rims are tougher than aluminium rims. I know that this might seem to fly in the face of common wisdom; everyone has heard of stories of carbon fibre bicycles failing or being ruined after a minor impact. But frames aren’t the same as rims, otherwise I suppose there would be people chanting “steel is real” when talking about rims. If you think about it, it shouldn’t be surprising. Whether it is aluminium or carbon clincher, you need a certain bulk of material because of the stress of holding a clincher tyre bead at beyond 100psi, as well as to withstand the load from the spokes. Metal being denser than carbon composite, the aluminium rim can either be heavier than carbon or the engineer chooses to whittle down the metal rim until it may dent or bend with relative ease. Carbon rims won’t ding or bend unless you full-on break them, which typically involves impacts that would more than destroy an alloy rim as well. The idea that carbon rims out-perform alloy rims of the same weight is even more true in the off-road realm, since the lower air pressures and lack of braking surfaces are less of a challenge to carbon engineers. Relieved of those requirements, ENVE’s new disc-only CX rim indeed weighs just 570gr per pair.
Remember that one time you dinged your rear rim on a pothole, now you are reminded whenever you apply the brakes, every revolution the ding catching on the pads? Well, carbon doesn’t do that. On the other hand if you do break a wheel, carbon rims such as ENVE do cost several times more than an alloy rim, though that doesn’t account for the labour cost of rebuilding the wheel, which should be the same for ENVE or an alloy rim. No wheel is indestructible, and if you are the type of rider that finds large scale havoc with frequency, the replacement cost of an ENVE rim is something to consider. The most comparable alloy rim that I have experience building would be the tubeless-ready Hed Belgium Plus. At 25mm external/23mm internal width, it typically weighs between 460-475gr (50-60gr more than the ENVE 2.2) and costs $150. Choosing a carbon rim is a decision the consumer will need to make based on his or her riding, but there’s no reason to believe that choosing the light weight and performance of an ENVE rim will sacrifice durability. And compared to carbon wheels marketed as “systems” with proprietary hubs and spokes, you’ll have the piece of mind knowing that you’ve chosen easily replaced spokes and reliable hubs.
Chris King Hubs
Which does bring me back to the hubs used in this instance. Chris King R45 hubsets are some of the most coveted items on the high-end market, but they do have an irritating trait of their bearings loosening once or several times during the initial break-in period. King hub axles feature the ability to adjust the preload of the cartridge bearings, but it is difficult to get adjustment tight enough before the hubs have worn in a little. Maybe once re-tightening is enough, maybe it takes three times. I think many riders don’t readily notice such things, but as a mechanic loose hub bearings are push-button to insanity for me. Eventually the King hubs hold their adjustment without any further attention, but anticipating that hassle was primary reason that I almost chose White Industries hubs at the beginning of the project. Over the first three weeks, the front hub loosened 4 times and the rear hub twice. They haven’t loosened since.
It’s been a long wind-up talking about building them, but what about riding the SES 2.2 wheels? Simply put, these SES 2.2 wheels are going to make any bike feel quicker and more precise. Because of their low weight, it’s to be expected that you will enjoy these wheels on a long climb, but they shine brightest on those uneven climbs where it’s difficult to find a steady rhythm. When you need to stand to lift up the pace, when you need claw out of a steep switchback, when the road leaps up right in your face, these wheels will let you fly. The rims’ lateral stiffness helps here too, way stiffer than anything else of the same weight/spoke count. Go ahead and sprint, these wheels are like a steam catapult off a dead start. Are they vertically compliant? That is harder to say, mainly because it was hard to tease out the effect of the Schwalbe One tubeless clinchers. What I can say is that the combination was very smooth and lively. What they don’t do is give you an aerodynamic speed advantage; the 25mm profile is just not deep enough. But if the rim shape doesn’t aid speed, it is well-formed to eliminate bad manners in crosswinds. This past month Seattle has had a few total crap days when the wind just ripped through town, littering the streets with debris and knocking out power. I’m not going to say that these wheels made riding in angry weather a pleasure, but they did make controlling the bike in fierce crosswinds much more manageable, even compared low, box-section rims.
By combining the low weight and smart handling of the ENVE wheels with their excellent braking performance, you get a superb item for all-around riding. Add in the tubeless option, and this could be best wheel you could buy…as long as you’re not looking for aerodynamic speed. I can say that as an incorrigibly huge fan of aero wheels, because otherwise there’s no fault to be found. For me, if I could only have one set of wheels I’d want something deeper, but the slightly older SES 4.5 design (which to me is a perfect height, 48mm front/56mm rear) lacks the textured brake track and tubeless features of the 2.2. That makes the hypothetical one-wheelset decision so much harder. Maybe if I exclusively rode on alpine roads, then I could put the aero fascination to rest. You could ride these SES 2.2 wheels every day and in every weather condition, and they’ll never show you a bad face. Most non-competitive riders can choose them and never find a day to regret it. But luckily I don’t live in a hypothetical, one-wheelset-only world. I can always swap out for deeper section wheels if the day requires it; I’ll keep riding the SES 2.2 until such a day arrives.