Triathletes like deep wheels. Generally, the deeper the better. We, as a rule, lust after disc rears and the deepest front we can hope to control in a crosswind. But what if there was another way. What if, just maybe, there’s something to all those road cyclists who run 40 and 50mm deep wheelsets, valuing response and weight over outright drag reduction? ENVE had just the wheelset for us to explore that with: the SES 4.5.
Let’s be fair, if only for just a moment. Any wheelset by ENVE Composites are bound to be objects of beauty, and the 4.5s are well up to the task. The carbon is mated beautifully; the join lines are visible but blended glass-smooth for a very bespoke feel to the whole affair. The skewers come in a special box just for them, which is then itself in a small zippered bag along with the brake pads. ENVE makes high-end products, no doubt, but their presentation is on par with the luxury car brands in terms of making your purchase feel special, too.
The 4.5s themselves are 48 and 56mm deep, respectively, and tip the scales at a relatively modest 1526g with DT 240 hubs and a Shimano 11-sp. freehub, all laced up in a 20/24 pattern – about 60-70g heavier than a set of 3.4s at more than 10mm deeper fairing for each wheel. The brake track is not precisely textured, but it isn’t smooth to the touch either; let’s call them “lightly textured.” Even the skewers were some of the most gorgeous we’ve seen to come with a set of wheels in a very long time—lightened where possible, and crafted from properly knurled titanium and aluminum. What’s more is that ENVE claims that there is 30% better heat resistance during heavy braking than their previous wheelsets, making the braking performance as good as it looks, too.
Enough about the event that is just examining a set of ENVE wheels, what are they like to ride? That, as it turns out, is a somewhat more difficult question to answer. For the fellow window-shoppers among our readers, you will undoubtedly already be aware that ENVE gives you a choice of which hubs get laced into their wheels when you order. Combine that with a positive rainbow of stickers, and you end up with a wheelset that truly is “yours.” Our review set came with the DT240 hubs, and they roll well with a relatively quiet freehub engagement.
With that in mind, riding the 4.5s feels a lot like the 50mm rim depth category you know and love. The relatively light hoops will spin up with alacrity and respond to changes in effort nearly instantaneously. The comparatively shallow rims don’t get pushed around like a deep set do, which is a great thing for those lighter riders or those who simply don’t want to fight their bike on a windy course. That controllability is enhanced by the fact that the wheelset is staggered in depth, with the rear 8mm deeper than the front, so that there is a mild corrective action in a true crosswind when gusts do move the front end around a bit.
Where the ENVE SES 4.5 diverges is in the sense that you’re riding a deeper wheelset than just 50mm. If you had asked us to ride them blindfolded, we’d have sworn we were riding a pair of 60mm deep wheels just by how fast they feel. ENVE has always punched above their weight in terms of drag, and the 4.5 is no exception, here. If you don’t believe us, just take a look at ENVE’s own data on the matter, as well as their whitepaper, found here. What they’re claiming is the same conclusion we came to, as well; if you’re looking for a wheel that’s not just fast on the flats, but would serve you well on the more rolling courses, or even the true climbs you see in the more northerly bike legs, the 4.5 fits the bill incredibly well.
Speaking of the bill, as tested, the SES 4.5 will set you back $2,900 when equipped with the DT240 hubs. To put into comparison, that’s $700 less than a set of 404 Firestrikes, all while being about 100g more than the 4.5s – that’s quite the price tag for the heavier wheelset. The ENVEs are also some of the best all-rounders we’ve ridden; they’re light, stable, and plenty fast when you ask them to be. If we had to own just one wheelset for the rest of our life, we’d have to think long and hard about another set that fit our needs quite as nicely as the 4.5s do. Oh, and they’re made in the USA – game, set, match. Next time, though, we think we might get them in AeroGeeks colors.