ENVE SES 4.5 wheels review

Amazing all-around carbon wheelset with eye watering price

Wheels
ENVE SES 4.5 Review

Variances in depth and width between the front and rear wheel are designed to improve aero efficiency without compromising handling.

What is it

Billed as a do-it-all aerodynamic mid-depth carbon wheelset, the premium priced SES 4.5 is part of the Smart ENVE System wheel line. Like all the wheels in this group, ENVE worked extensively with highly-regarded aerodynamicist Simon Smart, who founded the Drag2Zero wind tunnel and was formerly an engineer with Red Bull Racing’s Formula 1 team.

The 4.5 designation (sort of) corresponds to rim depth. The wheelset actually measures 48mm deep up front and 56mm in the rear. Rim width is also variable, with the front rim at 27mm external/18.5mm internal, and the rear slightly narrower at 25.5mm/17mm. The general idea behind these variances is that a shallower more bulbous front rim improves handling, while the deeper and skinnier rear enhances aero efficiency.

ENVE SES 4.5 Review

The SES 4.5 was wheel of choice for this huge climbing day at the first annual Mavic Haute Route Rockies. The day’s route included the tortuous grind over Independence Pass pictured here.

The textured braking surface has a filed look, which aims to improves stopping power in wet and dry conditions. It’s similar to Zipp’s Showstopper brake track, which also has an irregular surface.

Spoke count of the ENVE SES 4.5s is 24 rear, 20 front, spoke nipples are internal, and hubs on our test set are the exquisite made-in-USA Chris King R45s. Recommended tire width is 23mm-25mm, and these wheels are not tubeless compatible. Our test wheelset weighed a reasonably light 1570 grams (700g front/870g rear). Price is an eye watering $3200, though there are lower priced options available if you skip the Chris King hubs.

Pros
  • Everyday use capability
  • Stable in crosswinds
  • Discernable aero gains
  • Immediate hub engagement
  • Solid braking performance
  • Plenty stiff during out-of-saddle efforts
  • Low weight
  • Look great
  • Sound of Chris King hubs
  • Price includes valve extenders and brake pads
  • Wheels come with 5-year warranty
  • Aspirational brand identity
  • Have remained true
Cons
  • Very expensive
  • Internal nipples complicate maintenance
  • Not pure climbing wheel
  • Not tubeless compatible
  • Some braking noise in dry
  • Accelerated brake pad wear
  • Finicky brake pad set-up
ENVE SES 4.5 Review

Total wheelset weight for this build is 1570 grams (700g front/870g rear).

RoadBikeReview’s Take

With a wallet busting price tag of $3200, you have a right to expect perfection from ENVE’s top-of-the-food-chain SES 4.5 mid-depth carbon wheelset with Chris King hubs. And while these beautiful road hoops didn’t earn a perfect score, they came pretty damn close.

Instead of excelling at just one aspect, the SES 4.5s perform at a high level across the range of rides, be it climbing, sprinting, or driving hard on the flats. At 1570 grams, they’re light and quick enough when the road tilts upwards. They’re also plenty stiff during full gas out-of-saddle efforts. But the true performance gains come on the flats where they deliver discernable aerodynamic advantage, yet don’t get sketchy when the wind picks up.

ENVE SES 4.5 Review

The R45 rear hub combines Chris King’s RingDrive system with 45 teeth for lower drag and near instant engagement with a lightweight hub body.

During our extended test period, we road these wheels in all manner of conditions, and were most impressed by how well they handled heavy crosswinds. Yes you feel some subtle pushing from time to time, but it’s far less than other wheels in this depth range, meaning more confidence and stability. It’s that stability that allows you to push further and faster, whether you’re chasing down a breakaway, attacking your riding pals, or gunning for a new Strava PR.

Our test wheels came equipped with Chris King’s truly sublime R45 hubs, which spin smooth, engage with snappy precision, and make a musical buzzing sound that just makes you feel good on your bike. Of course they also push this wheelset’s price tag deep into the stratosphere. But you already knew that.

ENVE SES 4.5 Review

The textured brake track delivered consistently powerful braking performance in the dry. We did not do any wet weather testing.

These wheels also deliver a comfortable ride thanks in part to 18.5mm front/17mm rear internal rim widths, which allow your tires to plump out just enough to provide some extra cushion on rough surfaces. We spent time on a variety of rubber during this test and had the best luck with a set of 26mm Specialized Turbo Cotton, which delivered superb grip, fast rolling, and a smooth ride feel.

ENVE SES 4.5 Review

Internal nipples help lower weight and increase stiffness, but make the wheels harder to work on.

Aside from the hard to work on internal nipple construction, our only real issue was with braking performance — or braking noise to be more precise. Slowing down was never an issue thanks to textured brake track surface and ENVE-specific brake pads. But during harder braking efforts, say the approach to a tight switchback on a steep mountain road, the wheels would occasionally emit a high pitched shrill. The undesirably cacophony had no effect on our ability to slow down, but it was a little annoying. We were able to lessen the noise some by towing in the brake pads slightly, but it never completely went away.

But this was just a small nuisance relative to all the good these wheels brought to the riding experience. Yes, this is a luxury item that few (if any) cyclist really needs. But since when do need and want go hand in hand.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 4.5 stars
Price: $3200 as tested (starts at $2700)
More Info: www.enve.com

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)
About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.


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