Basics: Lots of research and tech behind a relatively budget pair of disc-only carbon hoops
Pros: Huge price break for a high-end brand, handmade in the U.S.
Cons: Tough call on how much better these are than other similarly priced wheels
Ever since it was founded back in 2007, Enve has been the pinnacle of aerodynamics and technology in wheels. Alongside their direct competitors like Zipp, Enve has been triathletes’ go to brand when it was time to make a big aero upgrade and money was no object. Their obsessive attention to detail—particularly when it came to hub design as well as aerodynamics—meant that if you had a pair of Enves, you could expect an unparallelled ride and aero optimization. Not only that, but much like Zipp, Enve’s wheels are still made in the USA—not something that every brand can claim. Also like Zipp, triathletes could expect to fork over well above $2,000 if they wanted a pair of Enve’s wheels on their bikes. As of this month, that’s no longer the case.
Enve Foundation 65: The Basics
Without getting too into the weeds on the Foundation 65s, this wheelset uses a similar aero shape as Enve’s SES 5.6 Disc to help achieve its speed goals—with a few changes we’ll talk about below. This means you’ll get some great aero savings at a pretty familiar range of yaw ratios for a 65mm wheelset. Available only as a disc brake option (more on that later, too), this wheelset is optimized for tubeless tires—very specific tubeless tires—by using a wide hookless bead. Boasting a massive 28mm outer rim width (21mm internal), Enve says this is a wheelset made for use with 25c tires; just be sure your frame/fork can accommodate something this beefy. For comparison, Zipp 808s are 26.4mm wide and HED’s comparable Jets are 25mm wide (while HED’s monstrous, but slightly more expensive, Vanquishes RC’s are 30mm wide). The Foundation 65s weigh in at a claimed 1,641—pretty much on par for this depth/price class—but only around 108g heavier than Enve’s $2,500 SES 5.6 Disc (remembering that the 5.6 has 54mm front and 63mm rear rim depths).
Enve Foundation 65: How Is This Price Possible?
No, the answer isn’t Asia (for once). First off, Enve says they’ve been working on their manufacturing methods to help cut down the price, but more tangibly, they’ve also cut a few corners to lop off over $1,000. While the internal mechanism in the rear hub is the same as Enve’s higher-end wheels, the hub shell is notably different than the unique aluminum hubs that come on Enve’s SES line. The bearings in the Foundations are also steel—as opposed to stainless steel—which could be an issue for durability later down the road. Otherwise, there’s not a lot that’s different between the two wheelsets, except that Enve claims a wattage savings with the SES line, particularly at higher yaw angles. Most likely this is due to the 5.6s using a different rim shape in the front and in the rear.
The bigger price savings are harder to see: First, Enve has already said that by making the 65s (and the 45s) share one rim for both front and rear, they save some cash. Rather than manufacturing one rim depth for an SES front, then another for a SES rear, Enve can just make a ton of 65mm rims and a ton of 45mm rims, stick different spokes and hubs on them for front and rear, and call it a day. That’s some savings there. The other big thing is that by offering this wheelset only in a disc brake setup, Enve doesn’t have to spend a dime on R&D for rim brakes. This is a huge savings for manufacturers because braking on a carbon surface (with clinchers, that is) is a very tough problem, engineering-wise, due to the heat that a carbon braking surface can create. No more braking surface at all? Well, then braking isn’t even Enve’s problem any more: with no room for catastrophic failure on the wheel, any (very unlikely) failures would have come from the disc system.
Enve Foundation 65: How Do They Ride?
Long story short: Great for triathletes. In a head-to-head test, I put this wheelset up against Enve’s SES 5.4s on a very “sturdy” Cervélo P5. While of course the SES 5.4 is a different rim depth, the differences between the two wheelsets were actually unexpected. Of course the 5.4s handled better in crosswinds and wound up faster than the 65s when coming out of the saddle, but the handling took only a few minutes to get used to and was actually far better than most 60mm+ wheels I’ve ridden. The biggest differences between the two was a surprisingly better high-frequency dampening (read: road chatter) on the 65s, though low frequency was better on the 5.4s (read, bigger bumps). The 5.4s also handled notably better when it came to predictability on hard, fast corners, but this definitely spoke to Enve’s excellent high-end hubs more than anything else. The 5.4s also had way better braking (no they were exactly the same…just wanted to make sure you were paying attention!). As I said above, the 5.4s had the edge in responsiveness overall—definitely in cornering and a bit on attacks.
Enve Foundation 65: What Does This Mean For Triathletes?
A lot. Since triathletes probably worry a lot less about big watt attacks, tracking downhills perfectly, and coming out of tight turns with lots of bodies all around them, the slight downsides in the 65s aren’t really enough to make most people pay the extra $1k for a pair of SES wheels. If you are a super lightweight rider who feels very uncomfortable in crosswinds, the 65mm rim depth might not be the right choice for you anyway, but that has nothing to do with this specific wheelset Yes, the 5.4s do have superior aerodynamics—according to Enve—but in terms of on-road ride feel and practical performance, the cornering and acceleration stuff is much more important for roadies.
Enve Foundation 65: A Couple Of Other Things
Out on the road, these were great wheels. In the shop, that was another thing. Likely because of the hookless design that Enve says is safer and more predictable for seating a tubeless tire, these things were MONSTERS to mount clincher tires and tubes into. Tubeless wasn’t too bad—just be sure you pay close attention to the little “channel” in the middle of the rim that’ll help guide the tire in and be sure to hook the tire to the rim sidewall before blasting in air (no compressor? Ain’t gonna happen). With a clincher setup, this was an extremely tight fit—like made-a-former-bike-mechanic-almost-lose-his-mind tight. (There might have been some levers thrown in anger.) So yes, when Enve recommends using a tubeless setup, there’s probably more than one reason—be ready for either tubeless tires or for a little frustration otherwise. Also, a minor note that the Foundation series doesn’t come with all of the fancy Enve packaging and little goodies that you’d come to expect, but that should be no surprise.
Enve Foundation 65: Conclusions, I’ve Got Some
Once these wheels were (finally) set up, they performed super well, especially when considering that they’re $1,000 less than Enve’s next-cheapest offering. That said, they rode almost exactly like a $1,600 wheelset should. While they did handle better than I’d expect at this depth in crosswinds, there wasn’t much else that made them stand out from a similarly priced wheelset. I do love that Enve’s wheels continue to be handmade and assembled in the U.S.—HED also does the same thing in this price range, though their $1,500 Jet RC Plus Disc Series wheels are a bit heavier. It is exciting that triathletes can get a pair of Enve wheels on their bikes (also look for them as OEM on tri brands in the future) without having to sell a kidney, but I’d love to see some aero numbers with this wheelset against other wheels in the $1,500-2,000 range to make sure it’s worth it altogether. All in all, the Foundation 65s are a great wheelset at a decent price, compared to other brands. Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming showdown where we’ll pair the Foundation 65s against a big mid-budget category killer to see who can take the crown.