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Few manufacturers live up to their names like ENVE, whose rims not only redefined race wheel aesthetics but inspire envious glances the world over. Last year, the brand turned that same lust-inducing engineering to the world of hubs, and the 2016 SES 3.4 Carbon Clincher Road Wheelset with ENVE Ceramic Hubs is the result. Carbon rims, carbon hubs, and ceramic bearings: that's a sandwich that'll turn heads on race day, and the fact that the hubs still feature DT Swiss' star ratchet internals means those heads may get whiplash trying to keep up. The only difference between the newest SES 3.4 and the old is that ENVE has seen fit to improve the brake track, bringing an unexpected boost to stopping in a wheelset that we associate primarily with going.
We've been able to spend enough time with the original SES 3.4 to state definitively that the SES wheel design successfully improves the quality of our rides. With the introduction of the all-new Gen 2 brake track, that quality extends to include the ride's end, too. The brake track's molded-in patterning combines with newly minted caliper pads for a claimed 30% increase in stopping power that manifests in both wet and dry conditions. If the wheelset-as-sandwich metaphor were extended to include the brake track, we'd call it the condiments, because any sandwich is only as good as its sauce.
With the exception of the brake track changes, the SES 3.4 returns with all the same aerodynamic black magic that has inspired so much starting line envy in competitors the world over. The SES 3.4's rims aren't subjected to static, arbitrary widths and shapes. Instead, the engineers let each wheel's depth requirements dictate the ideal dimensions in order to reduce lateral forces and increase aerodynamic benefits across a wide range of yaw angles. The 3.4's design also accounts for the different behaviors of front and rear wheels. The front wheel is 35mm deep and 26mm wide, while the rear wheel is deeper and skinnier at 45mm deep and 24mm wide. This decreases drag with a focus on increased stability up front while taking advantage of the fact that the aft position has less of an effect on steering stability to focus on aerodynamic gains in the rear.
The result is that the 3.4 handles crosswinds and gusts with the confident stability of a wheelset with half its depth by building up a side-force equal to the changing angle of the wind. While this sounds like so much marketing palaver, it's verified by the Stability Index test results. ENVE borrows this testing protocol from the Formula One industry, and it remains the only cycling manufacturer with the confidence to measure its wheels by such a demanding metric. To rate a wheelset on this index, the front wheel is subjected to quick changes in wind resistance at set yaw angles, and the steering torque of user-correction is then measured. This means you won't be thrown across the road when a sharp turn radically changes your orientation to the wind, and you'll also enjoy more stability in gusty conditions, eliminating unfortunate surprises while cruising in the bunch.
Of course, we also recognize that aerodynamics are absolutely meaningless if a wheelset crumbles at the first sign of less-than-optimal road conditions, so we expected ENVE's obsessive engineering to carry over into the wheels' materials and lay-up. We weren't disappointed. For both the rim and the scalloped carbon hub flanges, ENVE routes the carbon around each spoke hole in a 100% intact design, which adds strength, boosts rigidity, and allows for less material and a lower weight. The use of removable bladders also keeps weight down compared to other wheels, so the SES series boasts the highest claimed strength-to-weight ratio on the market.
- Item #ENV0037
- Q & A
- Familiarity: I've used it several times
A few months ago I've sold a 2014 pair of 3.4s and went to try out other options. With the enve hubs and the new brake track excellency became even better. Braking still falls behind good aluminium wheels such as Mavic R-SYS, but its a matter of adapting the use. I would not buy any other wheels for a light aero, climbing, descending are top priorities.