November 16, 2013
”Cheap, light and strong: pick two.” – Keith Bontrager.
Getting to test rarefied kit like this is one of the best bits of my job. In these cases, I also feel the pressure to make sure that I have a decent push at it because there’s a lot of hard-earned money at stake. And, so, just like you expect Clarkson to give that Ferrari some stick (because if you bought one yourself, you probably wouldn’t dare), I’ve been braking hard and late, picking my trademark terrible lines through rocks and running far too little pressure in the name of product testing.
After standing back and admiring the rims, I set about fitting them and trying to get out of my depth. First I installed the black, ENVE tubeless rim tape and set about running them tubeless with mixed success. The front went up first go, with a little frantic pumping. The rear was a different matter and after three different tyres and an evening of track-pumping, I threw a tube in it and promptly forgot about it. Maybe I’ll have another go one day, but at least it gave me a chance to try them both tubed and tubeless in the name of pseudo-science.
These are the XC rims, with a narrowish 18mm inner profile, which means that a bigger tyre, over 2in or so gets more of a rounded profile but, with a weight of a mere 1,450g a pair, I was happy to make that sacrifice. For heavier/radder riders, the AM rims are the same price and offer a 24mm inner width and a still impressive 1,600g all-in weight. ENVE’s clever bit is that the spoke holes are moulded in, rather than being drilled into a finished rim, cutting through the carbon layup. With ENVE’s method, the material around the hole is still as strong as the rest of the rim, allowing a higher-tension build.
These wheels have been on my main bike since the spring and have been everywhere from the top of Welsh mountains to hot laps of Lee Quarry at the local Brownbacks race series. In that time, I’ve never run more than 25psi, even with tubes and haven’t had a single puncture. I’ve bounced off rocks and done my best to misbehave with these. At all times, the ride has been great; taut without any harshness (albeit on a cushioning suspension bike) and very easy to forget that you’re riding on racing wheels ‘made out of cloth and glue’ as esteemed bicycle journalist Paul Smith puts it… The wheels are still running true and solid and the high tension build helps keep them that way – having seen one of these rims take 800lbs of pull at a single spoke hole before the spoke (not the rim) broke, I’ve no doubt that it can probably take whatever your wheelbuilder can dish out in the name of a tight wheel.
You might baulk at the price, although ironically, ENVE is proud it can make these rims in the USA for ‘only’ this much, but that bit is always going to be up to you and your wallet.
Overall: It’s hard to justify carbon anything if you can’t afford it, but for arguably your bike’s most important upgrade, these are light and strong in the ultimate expression of Keith’s Law*. They’re race wheels you can run year-round on your trail bike.
*”Cheap, light and strong: pick two.” – Keith Bontrager.