Easton EC90 SLX Clincher Wheelset Pro Review - By Twain Mein
- Sapim double butted and stainless steel spokes, 18 front radial, 24 rear radial/2-cross on drive side
- 20mm deep front, 24mm deep rear
- Weight: Front: 600 grams, Rear: 820 grams, total 1420 with rim strips. Estimated 1390 actual versus claimed weight of 1398 grams.
- Ceramic bearings with tool-less bearing preload adjustment
- Included quick releases skewers, 121 grams
- No rider weight limit
- $1000 msrp for the pair
A few years back, Easton bought a wheelmaker, Velomax. Velomax made some fantastic wheels, including what became the 2006 Easton Ascent II. They were highly regarded as being a great value in a superlight wheelset (1430 grams w/o rimstrips). Some folks complained that they were a bit flexy; I own a pair and they have been plenty stiff for me and the only issue I had was the need to replace the rear wheel bearings last year. Easton customer service was excellent and installation was a breeze.
But Easton is not content to leave good alone. They have continued to refine this wheelset creating a true flagship and taking off 40 grams in the process. Compare the two hubs; the newer model (R4SL vs R3) on the right has a thinner, slightly taller flange that is also wider. The axle is also larger in diameter, going from 10mm to 12mm. These improvements increase lateral stiffness without adding any weight or harshness to the ride. And these rims have no rider weight limit
The machining work on the new rims is impressive. Notice the joint on the old model on the left; you can see a visible seam. With the new model, you simply can not see the seam. The only giveaway is some extra material on the inside. Amazing.
Easton left no stone unturned. Where else could they shave weight and further optimize? They turned to the cassette body. Notice the photo; what's missing? Check out how the splines are different widths and lengths. They actually manufacture different cassette bodies that are specifically optimized for Campy, SRAM Red, Shimano 7900 (pictured here), and Shimano Ultegra & 7800. (Note: the 9/10 speed hub works with Shimano 7800 and Sram Red.)
The SLX now features ceramic bearings for a further reduction in rolling resistance. I confess that I don't know enough about ceramic bearings and, if, in fact, they provide a measurable improvement. There are some pretty heady claims out there on the Internet--that ceramic bearings will last 15 years, five times longer than steel. And that they reduce rolling resistance substantially. I don't know how much of this is true, but the wheels seem to spin with very little friction.
Easton tops it off with highly touted Sapim stainless steel double-butted spokes and cool red anodized nipples.
What about the looks? These wheels look fantastic. The black, white, red and grey scream performance. They also match my Cervelo R3 perfectly. The stickers appear to be vinyl and were flawlessly applied with no bubbles or noticeable edges. And the hubs have a very organic shape that is minimalist but not stark. Very cool. The only ding on the design is the quick release levers. While they have great clamping power and the levers feel comfortable, they are a bit heavy and mundane looking.
So with all of these improvements, how would the wheels handle out on the road? In a word, AWESOME. Because of the lightweight and, I presume, stiffness, of the wheels, they accelerate instantly. The most impressive wheels I've ever ridden were the $3000 Ritchey Superlogic Carbon-Boron 46 Tubulars. The Eastons weren't quite as magical, but definitely the second fastest accelerating wheel I've ever ridden. They have that subtle quality that makes climbing feel effortless; it encourages out of the saddle sprints. In fact, using these wheels helped me shave nearly 15 seconds off my PR for climbing our local Old La Honda, taking the time from 19:42 to 19:30. And that PR has stood for 4 years! Braking was also excellent; I've been testing a lot of wheels lately, including those with carbon braking surfaces. Carbon can be a bit finicky -- but the traditional aluminum braking surface of these wheels inspires confidence. As a bonus, mounting tires was a cinch as well.
Weight and Value
Can $1,000 be considered a bargain? In the rarified world of weight weenie-ness and bike parts, yes. These wheels weighed 1,420 grams complete with the installed rim strips. Rimstrips weigh 15 grams each, so I'm putting the "naked" weight at a feathery 1390 grams. There aren't that many clincher wheels in that weight range out there. And certainly, very few in this price range. I have the amazingly light American Classics Sprint 350's; mine weigh an astounding 1362 grams. But they are flexy and tires don't seat well under pressure over 110 pounds. The Mavic R-Sys is very light but the spokes aren't very aero and they've been plagued with a recall and a highly publicized failure. The real competition seems to be the Dura-Ace WH-7850, Campy Shamal, and Hed Ardennes. All but the Hed are considerably more expensive and the Hed's super wide (23mm) width may pose fit problems with some brakes.
In sum, the Easton SLX's represent extremely low weight at a relatively low price point.
Easton's R&D department has been very busy with this latest wheelset. They should be proud of the host of incremental improvements that have truly yielded a world-class wheelset with all of the bells and whistles. These are fairly priced, versatile wheels that offer incredible performance.