Easton EC90 Aero55 Disc wheelset review: Flying under the radar

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Easton’s 55mm-deep Fantom aero rim design was pretty progressive when it debuted in 2014, what with its ultra-wide and blunt-nosed profile as well as an unusually (for the time) 19mm internal rim width and tubeless compatibility on clincher versions. That Fantom shape is still used by Easton today, and when combined with the company’s latest Vault Disc hubset — not to mention a (relatively) competitive price — the new EC90 Aero55 Disc comes across as a solid option for road and ‘cross riders looking for a versatile, everyday aero wheelset.


I’ve been thinking a lot about what my next car will be (stay with me here, please). I want a five-door hatchback with a manual transmission, enough power to be entertaining but not get me in too much trouble, a lively suspension, and enough interior space to hold a typical Costco run for my small family of three. Bonus points for an interior free of unnecessary gadgetry (fewer touchscreens, more knobs please) and a decent reliability record, because while I enjoy tinkering on stuff, I have neither the time nor the patience these days to deal with that sort of thing.

Lots of cars on the market today satisfy some number of those requirements to varying degrees, but if I’m looking for something that more carefully balances all of them, I keep landing on the Volkswagen GTI: fun to drive, an available manual transmission, a practical interior, very good power, a fair price. It might look like a pedestrian box, but that’s not something that matters a ton to me from the driver’s seat.

So what does this have to do with aero road wheels?

Easton’s latest EC90 Aero55 Disc road wheels use a proven rim shape and solid-looking, disc-specific hubs.

There are a litany of capable aero road wheels available these days, all with different balances of attributes like aerodynamic performance, price, weight, reliability, build quality, and so on. We’re truly spoilt for choice, and especially at the upper end of the pricing scale, it’s more a matter of figuring out which qualities are most important to you than which one is “best”, especially given that “best” has become an increasingly difficult title to assign.

One company often overlooked in this category is Easton. The brand is no stranger to wheels since buying the know-how of Velomax back in the early 2000s, nor is the California outfit at all unfamiliar with carbon fiber. But it wasn’t until Easton introduced its Fantom rim profile in 2014 that people really started to pay attention.

The wide and blunt-nosed shape is commonplace these days, mostly because it’s seemingly what most companies have found to work well. The external spoke nipples make for easy truing if and when needed.

Easton focused on all-around aero performance when it introduced its 55mm-deep Fantom rim shape in 2013. The company touted a so-called Wind Averaged Drag test protocol to refine the profile until it produced what Easton felt were the best overall drag numbers in conditions that the majority of riders were most likely to see on a day-to-day basis. The result is a notably broad cross-section that measures 28mm (external width) at the bead hooks, and an even more generous 30mm further down on the rim.

Combined with the blunt nose, the claim was that the Aero55 design could provide aerodynamic benefits in a wider range of wind directions and speeds, while also being more manageable in terms of handling than you’d expect from something this deep.

More recently introduced is the new EC90 Aero55 Disc wheelset, which pairs a tubeless-compatible clincher version of the Fantom rim with the company’s new Vault disc hubs. Easton touts these as “everyday” aero road wheels, suitable for both regular training and races.

The EC90 Aero55 Disc wheels aren’t super light on the scale, but most of that extra weight relative to the rim-brake version is situated at the hub, where it’s less noticeable.

Actual weight for my test set is a respectable 1,587g (723g front; 864g rear), including factory-installed tubeless rim tape, aluminum tubeless valve stems, a Shimano/SRAM driver body, and 12mm thru-axle front and rear end caps. Claimed weight is 1,545g, although, in typical industry practice, that figure likely doesn’t account for the tubeless bits.

Retail price is US$2,050 / £2,900 / €2,950 — not exactly cheap by any means, but comparatively reasonable for something like this from a mainstream company (Australian pricing is TBC). To put buyers’ minds at ease, Easton also includes a two-year, no-questions-asked guarantee, which, at least in theory, should cover everything from stuffing the wheel into a curb during a botched criterium corner to accidentally backing over them with the family car.

Riding and wrenching the EC90 Aero55 Disc

Without precise wind tunnel data to parse the increasingly minute differences between modern aero road wheels these days, subjective on-road tests certainly don’t mean as much as they once did. And indeed, I found Easton’s new EC90 Aero55 Disc to feel just as I expected, and similar to my prior experiences with Fantom rims.

They’re notably efficient at higher speeds, and much more manageable in strong crosswinds than the rim depth might otherwise suggest. Granted, they don’t seem quite as stable in swirling conditions as slightly newer shapes I’ve ridden recently, such as Enve’s SES 4.5 AR Disc or the Princeton CarbonWorks Wake 6560, but Fantom is definitely aging gracefully nevertheless.

Branding is appreciably subdued and stealthy.

The static weight won’t blow anyone’s minds, but the excellent aerodynamic efficiency and relatively low rotational inertia also keep the EC90 Aero55 from feeling bogged down on steep uphill pitches. Dedicated climbing wheels these are not, but as a do-everything set of road wheels for a rider who can only afford one pair, they get the job done with little fuss.

One of the things I remember about previous rim-brake versions of Fantom-equipped Easton wheels I’ve ridden in the past is their outstanding lateral rigidity; in fast and tight corners on high-quality tarmac, they could be pushed really hard without either wheel feeling like there was any sideways give at all.

The tubeless rim profile made for easy tire installation and removal, as well as easy initial inflation with a standard floor pump. Tubeless tires aren’t required, of course, but it’s nice that Easton pre-installs tubeless-compatible rim tape at the factory, plus the requisite valve stems are included as well.

Squeezing a disc rotor obviously requires that the spoke flanges be situated closer to together, though, and the front wheel on this EC90 Aero55 Disc set didn’t inspire quite as much confidence when I had things really leaned over. Then again, this is something inherent to all road disc wheels, not just from Easton, so it’s not an entirely fair criticism to level only here.

But that said, while the disc format also introduces some left-to-right spoke tension imbalance up front, it helps alleviate it out back, so pick your poison.

Build quality on the wheels in general is very good, regardless, and this is one area in which Easton has long enjoyed a strong reputation. Both wheels came out of the box fantastically round and true with impressively even spoke tensions per side. A few weeks of on-road and off-road testing never prompted any telltale popping or pinging from the spokes that often accompanies a wheel that hasn’t been properly de-stressed at the factory — always a good sign.

The Vault rear hub sports a gigantic cone-shaped aluminum body that was presumably chosen to aid in power transfer (not that it can really be felt from the saddle). It looks quite neat, though.

If anything does go haywire, rear assured you won’t have to go hunting for straight-pull bladed spokes that might not be easy to source locally. Easton includes five spares with each set, and to further allay any worries, the spoke nipples are externally located so any minor tweaks that might be necessary take but a moment to do, with no tire removal necessary.

Hubs, on the other hand, haven’t exactly been Easton’s strong suit in the past. In fact, the R4 and R4SL road hubs ended up being pretty downright awful in terms of long-term durability — especially when it came to weatherproofing — and the M1 disc-compatible hubs the company first rolled out on its mountain wheels weren’t much better. All of them also suffered from sensitivity to bearing preload, which was far too easy to get wrong with the adjustable system Easton had in place back then.

The freehub mechanism uses a conventional ratchet ring and sprung pawls, but in an inverted arrangement with the steel ratchet ring incorporated into the aluminum freehub body, and the three double-tooth pawls anchored inside the driveside spoke flange.

That reputation started to turn around with the Echo hubs Easton debuted along with the Fantom rim design. The ultra-wide bearing spacing generated less off-axis loading on the bearing cartridges, there was clever angular contact bearing architecture in the harder-working rear hub to eliminate preload issues, and improved sealing all around helped immensely with longevity. The Vaults on this latest EC90 Aero55 Disc variant unfortunately use a more conventional layout with four radial cartridge bearings, but they still seem similarly promising.

The cartridge bearings are reassuringly big — especially up front — there are contact-type supplemental seals under each axle end cap, and the contact seal guarding the freehub internals is particularly snug-fitting. The 60-tooth ratchet ring yields a relatively speedy six-degree engagement speed, too, and each of the three steel pawls has two teeth that engage simultaneously to help spread out the load. Even the resultant sound is perfectly reasonable: definitely not silent, but not overly buzzy, either.

Bladed straight-pull spokes aren’t always the easiest to find if you need a replacement – especially in specific lengths – but Easton includes five spares with each wheelset. And on the upside, the straight-pull format and spoke flange design wouldn’t even require you to remove the cassette to install a new spoke, either.

Of course, a few weeks of riding in mostly dry conditions is hardly a worthy gauge of hub durability, but I did spray relatively high-pressure water directly at the hubs several times during my test period, and I never found any water inside. Nevertheless, I’d still recommend a liberal helping of a good waterproof grease underneath each axle end cap, just in case.

In the event anything does get in there, it’s laughably easy to perform basic maintenance. All of the end caps can be removed without tools, and the freehub body can be removed without tools as well.

The front Vault hub uses a more conventional-looking cylindrical shape. End caps can be swapped for different dropout formats, and while the rotor interface is exclusively offered in Center Lock, adapters can be used to accommodate six-bolt discs.

Tubeless setup was a cinch, too. I tested these wheels with 25mm Continental GP5000 TL, 32mm Bontrager R3 TLR, and 28mm Schwalbe One tubeless clinchers, and in each case, I could install the tires without levers and seat everything dry with a standard low-volume, high-pressure floor pump — just as it should be.

A solid choice for the cerebral buyer

Ok, back to my car analogy.

Truth be told, the VW GTI likely doesn’t come across as the most emotionally stirring choice to more casual drivers. Other options may offer more visceral performance, a more comprehensive package of cutting-edge technology, a more curvaceous aesthetic, or a brand name with more cachet. But it still ticks an awful lot of boxes for drivers more concerned with function than flash, and despite the boxy profile, the GTI is the box that just makes the most sense for a lot of people.

Ditto for these EC90 Aero55 Disc wheels.

Some buyers may not see Easton as having the same lustworthiness of something like Enve or Zipp, and although the EC90 Aero55 Discs are competitively priced, they’re still not a super high-value brand like Boyd or Hunt.

Nevertheless, the Fantom rim design is ageing very well and still offers outstanding aero performance, the Vault hubs promise good durability, the wheels are respectably light and easy to service, and it’s all backed by a major player in the segment. Conspicuously absent are any questionable gimmicks or over-the-top marketing claims — all function, little flash, just like that humble GTI.

When all of that is taken into account, you could obviously still go with something else, but suddenly the reasons to do so aren’t quite as compelling.

www.eastoncycling.com

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