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Do new technology and rim shapes make Enve the next big thing in aero wheels?
For more than a decade, Hed Cycling and Zipp dominated the aero wheel market with peerless aero technology. They shared a patent on the toroidal rim shape—wider at the middle than the top—so they monopolized the rim shape that allowed their wheels to outperform others in the wind tunnel. In anticipation of that patent’s 2009 expiration date, the two leaders in wheel development created a new generation of aero rim shape that is more advanced—faster, more absorbent and with better handling—than toroidal. These new shapes aren’t patented, however. As a result, a new generation of wheels and wheel companies has emerged that rival the two once untouchable brands.
Enve, a composites startup based in Utah, might be the brand most likely to join the upper tier. It has a new rim shape—very wide with a profile similar to Zipp’s—that launched in 2011 called the Smart Enve System. Designed by cycling and auto-racing aerodynamicist Simon Smart, the first wheel created with the SES rim shape was the 6.7 tubular. . The wheel is not only light and fast in a straight line (according to tunnel testing conducted by Enve and others), but it is superbly stable in crosswinds and through corners. At the time, two drawbacks limited Enve’s conquest of the aero wheel market: price and rim options. Originally, Enve only produced tubulars of that specific depth; now the company has expanded that rim shape to three depths and to clincher-style rims, although the price is still very high. The aero profile of the clincher wheels is identical to their tubular cousins.
The new wheels include a shallow-rim version with a 35mm front and 45mm rear in both clincher and tubular; a 60mm front and 70mm rear clincher pair to complement the original tubular set; and a pair 85mm deep in the front and 95mm in the rear that is only available as a tubular set. Enve hasn’t created a disc and has no plans to. “The new 8.9s outperform some disc wheels in terms of aerodynamics,” says Enve engineer Kevin Nelson. “But in terms of stability and weight there isn’t a disc wheel that comes close.” The clincher versions both start at $3,045 and the tubes at $2,835, depending on the hubs used to assemble the wheels. Enve doesn’t create its own. Instead, Enve uses very high-end components from dedicated hub makers. We haven’t yet gotten the new wheels on the road, but we have very high expectations for our upcoming test. If the new designs perform like the original, Enve is poised to take a serious run at the leaders in aero wheels.