SMART ENVE 3.4 Tubular Review

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Enve have done away with their traditional aerodynamic rim profile for a new design that reduces aerodynamic drag with gresater stability in the wind. Buyers also have a choice of hubs, allowing them to tailor this new wheelset according to their needs and tastes, but this is far from a budget wheelset.

Enve recently redesigned their aerodynamic rims with the help of Simon Smart, a noted aerodynamics expert, to create the Smart Enve System (SES). Those familiar with Enve rims will spot the differences immediately; Smart did away with the sharp V profile of the old rims and replaced it with a deep U. Two models were developed, the 3.4 and the 6.7, corresponding to mid- and high-profile rims, respectively. At the same time, specific rim shapes were designed for the front and the rear wheels; for the 3.4 wheelset, the result is a front rim that is 35mm tall and 26mm wide, while the rear is 45mm tall and 24mm wide. The final profile of each rim was further refined by testing the performance of the wheels (pdf) when fitted to a bike rather than in isolation.

Enve wanted to improve more than just the aerodynamics of their rims while Simon Smart was in the wind tunnel working on the new wheels. The new SES rim design offers better handling in crosswinds; rather than aiming to minimise deflection, Smart altered the airflow over the rims so it is more consistent and predictable regardless of the conditions. As a result, Enve claims SES rims are less prone to “dangerous overcorrections” than other designs.

Enve’s SES wheelsets eschew a proprietary spoke and hub design in favour of off-the-shelf hubs and standard j-bend spokes for the final product. Factory-built tubular or clincher wheelsets are available with one of three hubsets–DT 240s, DT 180 carbon ceramic, or Chris King R45–laced with DT Aerolite bladed spokes and Pillar internal nipples. Buyers hoping for something more exotic can build their own wheels since 3.4 and 6.7 rimsets (tubular or clincher) are available separately however there is only one option for the number of holes in each rim: 20 front, 24 rear.

Before the Ride

The Enve SES 3.4 tubular wheelset on review here is the “base model” with DT 240s hubs. These hubs have been around for a long time, their design essentially unchanged however they are robust, spin really well, and are proven performers. The front and rear hubs are easy to strip down and service because no tools are required; the end caps and freehub body simply pull out from the hub like plugs. The double-ratchet freehub mechanism is very easy to service since there are no tiny springs or pawls to keep track of; instead, there are just two large springs and a couple of thick serrated disks to clean up and lube. If there are any shortcomings to this hub, it is only aesthetic. Some buyers may not like the lack of colour and elegant lines, both of which are easily addressed by ordering a set of SES wheels with Chris King hubs instead.

The presentation of the SES wheelset is dark and stealthy, or dull and mundane, depending on your taste. Where once the deep V profile made Enve rims look sleek, the new profile is bold and robust, almost the antithesis of what one would regard as aerodynamic. The SES rims are finished in unidirectional carbon that provides a smooth matt black finish. Glossy black logos add a bit of contrast for the eye, but otherwise, there is little to interrupt the clean lines of the rim. The internal nipples add to this effect, however they make truing the wheels a hassle, especially tubulars.

I recently built a set of wheels with Enve 1.45 rims and they were a joy to work with. Speaking with other wheel builders confirmed my impressions: Enve rims make for a great wheel build. I won’t go into a lot of detail here–it will probably bore the readership–but it’s very easy to build a set of wheels that will maintain even spoke tension and only rarely come out of true with normal use when the rims are almost perfectly round and true. Such precision reveals volumes on the quality of the craftmanship; add to that Enve’s dedication to molded spokes holes (rather than drilling them) and you have a couple of intangibles that you won’t necessarily appreciate while rolling down the road but they are worth paying for.

A specialised socket tool is required to true the wheels due to the use of internal nipples.

Which leads us to the most pressing point, what’s it all worth? Australian buyers can expect to pay $3499 for the tubular wheelset while a set of clinchers have a recommended retail of $3599. Opting for Chris King R45 hubs will add an extra $300 ($3799 tubular; $3899 clincher), DT 180 carbon ceramic hubs $600 ($4049 tubular, $4149 clincher), while the rimset can be had for $2349 (tubular) or $2449 (clincher). You can peruse all the relevant weights on the Enve website where you’ll find the SES 3.4 tubular wheelset with 240 hubs should weigh 1258g and the clinchers 1426g.

The wheelset reviewed here was supplied with Enve skewers, a couple of valve stem extensions (that will work with stems that have a removable core), and two pairs of Enve brake pads, which the company insists are the only pads that can be used with the rims (failure to comply will void the warranty on the rims). The rims are protected from manufacturing faults for 5 years and original owners can take advantage of a lifetime crash replacement policy (rims damaged by a crash can be replaced at 50% of the recommended retail price provided the wheels are registered with Enve).

After the Ride

These wheels roll very nicely and once they get going, are reluctant to slow down. It’s always tough to tell for sure, but if these wheels offer an advantage then I suspect it is in the realm of “marginal gains”, large enough so as to be difficult to dismiss, but not so large as to overhaul a rider’s ability.

Out of the saddle, the wheels felt stiff and efficient whether I was climbing and sprinting, though larger, more powerful riders may find the wheels a little wanting in this department. On the flip side of the stiffness coin, these wheels were comfortable on all terrain. In fact, these wheels were truly versatile; they performed well in all aspects of my riding without excelling at any. Enve encourages riders to use their wheels every day, and with wheels as versatile as the SES 3.4 wheelset, I’d be happy to honour this request.

What about their behaviour in crosswinds? It was pretty good, maybe even impressive, depending on your expectations. Simon Smart hasn’t managed to make the 35/45mm rims behave like a low profile rim in the wind (if such a thing is even possible), however when a gust of wind catches the front wheel, the sensation is more like a gentle nudge rather than a violent shove. I never suffered the same uncertainty on these wheels as I have with other wheels; indeed, as I spent more time on these wheels, I became less aware of the wind. If you’re hoping for a set of wheels that will never be bothered by the wind, then stick to low profile rims, otherwise you can expect predictable handling that will occasionally be undermined by crosswinds.

There is a growing trend for carbon rim manufacturers to develop, and insist upon the use of, proprietary brake pad compounds. Carbon rims are notorious for overheating during heavy braking, so proprietary formulas are used to reduce the heat generated during use. In this instance, the Enve pads worked well with the SES 3.4 wheelset and the performance approached that of good set of pads on an alloy rim. However, it is worth noting that Enve brake pads are not widely available so it will probably be difficult to replace them at short notice.

I didn’t have any trouble with the SES 3.4 wheels coming out of true over the course of a few weeks of riding, and while I can’t report on their performance long term, I don’t expect they will require much attention in this department. Similarly, the hubs were trouble-free and rolled as well as I have come to expect for DT. All told, the quality of the SES 3.4 wheelset was very high and it suffered none of the problems that can ruin the running-in period for a new set of wheels.

Final comments

I really like that these wheels use off-the-shelf hubs and standard j-bend spokes; better still, I like that the factory-built wheels can be had with different hubs, so while some options like DT 180 carbon ceramic hubs are an extravagance, I see extra value in these options. Yes, a buyer still needs over $3K to get on a set of these wheels, but I’ve no quarrel with the price of admission, especially when the package can be tailored to suit the needs and tastes of the buyer. Add to this a rim profile that is a truly versatile performer and available as a tubular or clincher, and the decision to buy becomes a simple matter of affordability and desire.

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