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You should take this review with a grain of salt — after all, I only did one ride on Enve’s new SES 3.4 AR Disc wheels.
However, starting in Marin and riding all the way to Carmel, California for the Sea Otter Classic, I ticked off the longest ride of my life at 143 miles and change. Sure it was only one ride, but I got to know these new carbon wheels very well over the course of those eight hours.
The carbon wheel market is crowded with many good options at increasingly lower prices. Enve’s latest American-made offering looks to be one of the best options available for all-around riding on modern, versatile road bikes.
Even in the two years since I last rode to Sea Otter (from San Franciso in 2017, so slightly shorter), our bikes have evolved in noticeable ways. Disc bikes are ubiquitous on high-end bikes. Brands are encouraged to offer more tire clearance. Tubeless tires are common. Only years ago, a 26mm tire was wide, and now 30mm is the norm. So, Enve has developed this latest SES 3.4 AR wheelset to accommodate the changing tides.
The most obvious difference is the wide hookless beads. At 25mm internal width, these carbon rims are wide enough to pass as mountain bike wheels in years past. This gives the wider tires a wider base — think of it more like a bundt cake cross-section, rather than an ice-cream cone.
With more space between the beads, the tires felt more supportive and supple at lower pressures. On this trek south to the land made famous by John Steinbeck, we encountered a variety of road conditions. As I rolled through the choppy city streets of San Francisco or Santa Cruz, the compliance of a tire at about 60-70psi was greatly appreciated. Plus, it didn’t come at the expense of a squirmy tire feel on fast descents, like that into Pescadero. (Make sure to try the artichoke bread!)
To maximize the potential of lower tire pressures, these wheels are also tubeless-ready to address any concerns about pinch flats. We didn’t find any gravel or dirt on our ride, but it would have been no trouble to take an off-pavement detour.
As well as the tire’s tangible performance, the redesigned wheels perform much better from an aerodynamics standpoint, according to Enve’s testing. This SES 3.4 AR wheelset is designed to be most efficient with tires ranging from 28-32mm in width. While the ice-cream cone shape of a fat tire on a narrow rim can result in wind eddies where rubber meets carbon, this rim has a smoother transition for better aerodynamics.
In keeping with the rest of Enve’s SES family of wheels, the 3.4 AR has a shallower front rim to address crosswind concerns. The front is 39mm deep and the rear is 43mm deep.
Naturally, there are myriad engineering details that go into a wheel’s performance in crosswinds. While I don’t have the appropriate technical knowledge and fluid dynamics training to pull apart the “why,” I can confirm the “what:” Enve’s SES 3.4 AR wheels are extremely well-behaved in gusty crosswinds, which we faced plenty of in this long ride along the California coast.
The base model SES 3.4 AR is available with Enve’s own disc hubs, which have Perfect Preload bearings and the Instant Drive 360 engagement mechanism developed by Mavic. That wheelset is priced at $2,550. A build option with Chris King hubs is also available.
Overall, Enve’s latest iteration of the all-around wheel is a nice complement to the modern road bikes that are drawing less inspiration from WorldTour pro racing than they used to. It doesn’t tear up the playbook with a disruptive design or techonology, but it keeps pushing the segment of road riding in a progressive direction that’s more comfortable, more versatile, and more fun to ride.
If you’d like a little taste of what this ride to Sea Otter was like, here’s a video Enve produced from the day:
Editor’s note: Enve provided travel and lodging for this event.