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ENVE SES 3.4 AR Disc Wheelset

Tested in Girona

Choosing the right wheel is difficult. It’s not so much the choice that’s the problem, but rather what is it about your cycling style that you want to improve? Climb, hold speed on the flat, tackle cobbles, or even gravel. You can’t have it all. Or can you? Enter the new ENVE SES 3.4 AR Disc Wheelset. Instead of chasing your tail, think about you, your bike and your wheels as a system and choose a wheel that sits perfectly on the line-of-best-fit for all the desirable key attributes of your riding needs. Boldly claiming to be possibly the most versatile wheelset ever, I travelled to Girona to test it.

There’s a charm about Girona that makes it instantly alluring. Whilst the Catalan city has a rich and intriguing fabric of architecture, historical treasures, chic coffee houses and gelato outlets, all melding together to create a laidback easy-going personality, it’s the quick access to many kilometres of quiet and testing Spanish roads and gravel tracks that have made it such a mecca for cyclists in recent years.

It’s early April, and whilst many professional cyclists have been training here for some time already (Richie Porte was having coffee in town the day I arrived), for the amateur cycle tourists the season is only just getting started. So Girona feels quiet, sleepy almost as if emerging from hibernation. I can see my breath in the early morning air as we roll from The Service Course, over the Riu Onyar, through the cool shadows and the echoey cobbled labyrinth of Girona old town to grab breakfast at La Fabrica. In the cool morning air, I gave a self-high-five for choosing the long sleeves of my 7mesh Callaghan jersey.

Our route for day one would be a fair mix of smooth Spanish roads and well-groomed dry gravel, interspersed with sections of deep ruts, sand, off-camber descents with sharp stones and washed-out channels. Textbook “all-road”. Potholes lurked for the unaware, tree roots for the unsuspecting and, for good measure, the occasional feral dog, just to keep our senses on edge.

Together we rode out of Girona, navigating the well-used cycle lanes and traffic that is clearly well-versed in how to drive near cyclists, and soon transitioned to our first gravel secteur, a trail that would lead all the way to the coast if so desired. Instinctively the pace quickened, everyone being keen to test the capabilities of the wheelset and I began to get a feel for the comfort and handling. Although mostly flat with fine, albeit loose gravel, we frequently encountered channels of deeper sand, of the type that is inclined to lead your front wheel astray. Thanks to the lightweight carbon construction, as soon as you feel the sand start to snatch the front wheel from underneath you, so it is just as easy to correct - I never felt like I was fighting for control, merely guiding. Almost floating.

Before long we were well clear of the city, with the hazy outline of the Pyrenees in front and a lush patchwork of farmland on all sides. And then we encountered some more aggressive gravel features. Riding in a tight group made it difficult to spot obstacles, especially on the descents, and in spite of everyone’s best efforts to forewarn and frequent emergency bunny-hopping it was inevitable that we would all hit the occasional pothole or deep rut. The SES 3.4 Disc AR is optimised to run a 28-32mm tyre width and I was set up with the impressively light, yet hardy, 28mm Schwalbe Pro Ones. Still, jarring against the sharp edge of a washed-out hole, the main concern when riding a bigger volume tyre is a pinch-puncture.

ENVE has an answer to this, thanks to the patent-pending “Wide Hookless Bead Anti-Pinch-Flat Technology”, which seems like a mouthful but is, in fact, a delightfully simple concept that greatly influences reliability over rough terrain. By widening the hookless bead from a 2.5mm traditional construction to 3.5mm it creates a larger surface area for dissipating the energy of striking a hard edge. In short, the rim is less sharp, so should you impact a pothole, there is less chance of the tyre pinching between the rim and the ground. The upshot of this is that the rim is only compatible with a tubeless-ready tyre of 28mm or higher, which is a double-win because, in the absence of a tube (although you can run one in an emergency), there’s the added advantage of reduced rolling resistance.

ENVE SES 3.4 AR Disc wheelset review article gravel climb

After a coffee stop at the picturesque Lago de Banyoles we ventured into the significantly lumpier second half of the ride and were soon tackling a 2km gravel climb. At just 1,436 grams with Chris King R45 Ceramic hubs this wheelset is light by any standards, and combined with the stiffness of the 3T Exploro Team Force Carbon bike I was riding, the elevation gain felt comfortable. At times, when the gravel was chunkier, I would have preferred a 32mm tyre just to give a bit more confidence and control in the off-road descents and traction on the climbs.

ENVE SES 3.4 AR Disc wheelset review 3T Exploro on the road
Cruising freshly laid tarmac back down into Girona gave another opportunity to feel how the wheel responded on road. As someone who is guilty of over-inflating tyres, I instantly felt the plushness and absence of road-buzz. There was no harshness to the ride. I’ve grown used to “feeling the road” and when you live on Dartmoor, where surfaces are inconsistent at best, that feedback becomes normal, so this was something of a revelation. For a rider of my size (86kgs) ENVE recommends inflating a 28mm tyre to 58psi (and not to exceed 80psi) when using the SES 3.4AR. The enhanced comfort reduces the muscle fatigue brought on by your body having to act like a shock-absorber to vibrations and bumps from the road. Instead, the wheels and bike soak up these imperfections, smoothing out the surface, so that you maintain power and energy further into a ride.

That evening we gorged on a feast prepared by Velochef, Henrik Orre, eating far more than was justified for the effort. Or perhaps the wheels had left me feeling fresher than usual. Anyhow, the next morning I would have the chance to burn it off on another loop, focussing just on road. The SES 3.4 AR is aero-optimised for real-world speeds and wind angles on the road, not just for the pro-peloton, at the maximum tyre volume for the needs of modern cycling. The 28mm tyre I was riding had a perfectly seamless transition from the tyre to the rim, creating clean airflow and minimising disruption, so you score the advantage of a wheel that is robust and reliable on gravel but which also holds speed when you hit the road.

Girona was the perfect proving ground for a wheel that boasts do-it-all capability, but there’s more at play here than bravado and marketing spin. With a background in two distinct disciplines - road and XC riding on a hardtail 29er, with the two rarely fused - I arrived sceptical of what I’d read. But not once did I feel like I’d rather be on my hardtail when things got rough, nor did it feel like I was haemorrhaging speed on the road. There are a lot of boxes getting ticked here - reliability, aerodynamic efficiency, lightweight and stability. Think about your own real world, one that’s likely frequented by potholed lanes, punchy climbs, new surfaces, old loose surfaces and tired roads, and this could be the versatile wheel option that meets your ride needs. I travelled to Girona to experience this holy grail for myself and take my word for it, for this was no holiday romance, the ENVE SES 3.4 AR Disc wheel is the real deal.

In Detail

The internal rim of 25mm (external 32mm) is significantly wider than the 21mm (27.5mm external) of the ENVE SES 3.4 Disc Wheelset (considered more a climber’s wheel) and yet thanks to innovative technology and carbon layup there is no compromise on weight.

With more bikes now able to take a wider tyre (up to 32mm) it has facilitated the need for a lighter wheel that climbs like the best but still maintains all-road versatility. The wide hookless bead delivers protection and durability and the tubeless-only design has a lower rolling resistance.

Aero-optimised for 28-32mm tyres, rather than a 25mm tyre like the SES 3.4 Disc.

The wheelset is built with Sapim CX Ray Spokes (24 front / 24 rear) and uses either Chris King R45 (ceramic and non-ceramic) hubs or ENVE alloy.

For the best performance, ENVE recommend using the following tyres:

Schwalbe Pro Ones, Panaracer GravelKing, Maxxis Padrone 28mm, Mavic Yksion Elite All Road 30mm and Hutchinson Sector

Shop the ENVE SES 3.4 AR Disc Wheelset

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About the Author

  • About Ross: Bikepacking journeys, Ironman, solo 24-hour mountain bike events, epic stage races, Everesting or long days with plenty of Alpine cols; if it involves adventures on two wheels then Ross will have a go. He can usually be found riding remote lanes on Dartmoor, whatever the weather.
  • Article Published On: 12 April 2019

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