£2500 Road Bike Wheels - Worth It?

Enve Rear
I won't attempt to explain the weird science surrounding the weight of road cycling wheels.  This is a comparison between two sets of carbon wheels I am lucky enough to own.

Nor will I genuinely attempt to answer the "is it worth it" question because that's so subjective. Particularly in a time of austerity when spending that amount of money on wheels will seem, to some people, obscene.

Yet there is a genuine difference between riding two different carbon wheel sets and that's what I'll try to explain.

I confess at the outset I did not pay full price for either. One of the perks of being a journalist is we build connections with lots of people and companies.

In other words, we can blag swag.

By a startling, circuitous route I happen to own an astonishingly lovely set of second-hand but barely ridden Enve wheels. They are the SES 3.4 clincher 45mm wheels with Chris King hubs. Having checked online, it seems that full retail price on this pair is a staggering £2500.

Sit down. Breath. That's right. Two and a half thousand pounds for a pair of wheels. 

Fitted with a top of the line SRAM Red XG 1090 cassette (RRP £240) 11-32T 10-speed, Schwalbe One tyres and lightweight inner tubes they ought to delight the weight weenies, and when I put the rear wheel on the scales, it did. 1259g.

Even though you could find them cheaper online these are, by any standards, very expensive wheels.  So rather than knock seven shades of sh*t out of them  on training rides around home, I decided to keep them for 'best'. I want to use the Enve for events, for special rides and for overseas holidays.  For everyday use, I switched to a different set of carbon wheels.

Hope Carbon 30
Long before the Enve wheels came my way I bought the best carbon wheels I could afford. Advised by my excellent local bike shop Nevis Cycles I chose a set of Hope Carbon 30 Road Wheels (British built for British roads) and paid a more sensible, but still expensive, £800.  

Fitted with a slightly heavier but much cheaper SRAM PG 1070 cassette (£67) and normal Specialized Roubaix tyres, these must surely carry a huge weight penalty on the Enve wheels?  

Well, the Hope set are heavier by 288g on the rear wheel and 183g on the front wheel.

At this point some of you will be open mouthed at the amount of money some cyclists spend on kit because people really do buy this stuff at full price. 

Others will be amazed that £1,800 buys you just 471g of weight saving, that's only the weight of a small water bottle. Yes I know rolling mass counts for more that static weight, but hey, £1,800 buys you a whole frickin bike. A damn good bike.

So to the big question, are they worth it?

Obviously I can't answer this for you because it depends on the depth of your wallet and/or the discount deal you can do - buy online and the difference drops to nearer £1000.

After reading stuff like this forum thread from the US I wondered whether I would feel any difference between the two wheelsets.

My answer is an emphatic yes.  Forgive me if I go all Clarksonesque for a moment.

Let's imagine bike wheels are coffee.  The off-the-peg set which came with my Roubaix are the instant variety - close to the real thing... but not quite.  My Mavic Open Pro aluminium wheels would be a nice cup of good filter Arabica, possibly cafetiere.

They care comfortable, secure, guided me through my Raid Pyrenean and La Marmotte Sportive last year.  You couldn't call them "exciting", but you don't want that from these wheels.  If I do ride LeJog when my leg improves, it'll be on these wheels.

Carbon wheels may look similar but the flavour is entirely different category, like coffee made under pressure in a good espresso machine.

So the Hope hoops are an Americano made the way I like it, with the hot water and hot milk on the side.  It's still called coffee but tastes totally different to what's gone before.

And the Enve wheels?  You know exactly where I'm going with this. They are Doppio.  Doppio with the finest crema.

OK - that was all deliberately overwrought, I know.  Here's a more practical simile.

Regular aluminium wheels feel like regular production cars and the more you pay, the better they go. The stiffer carbon wheels feel like sports cars.  The Hope wheels are like comfortable roadsters, while the Enve wheels feel like a track car - a stripped out, feel-every-bump, fast as hell Lotus.

I'm not convinced the Enve wheels are much faster for riders like me, but boy do they feel fast.  They urge you on, insist you push harder on the pedals. Yes, they are hideously expensive. But they're gloriously wonderful.

Please don't rant about the amount of money people choose to spend on their hobby - I'll just delete the comment.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about your injuries. Still a very interesting post. Being a cyclist and paddler like you I value your blog. In the real Scottish world/roads how do you find the Hope wheels? I see weight wise they are very similar to a planet X carbon, which come in around £500, did you consider these? I am not sure I would consider a planet X frame, but maybe the wheels which will ware out eventually.

I remember reading about your original bike fit, who has re-fitted you and why? It is soley because of the injury?

Thanks again.


PS Please keep up the blog.

Simon said...

Hi Matt

Thanks for your comments and I'm glad you enjoy the blog.

Let me explain what's happened in the last year and that will hopefully answer your questions.

After doing the Raid and Marmotte last year, I wanted a new, lighter, whizzy bike. I demoed a few and decided the Parlee Z5 was for me. Unfortunately, it was out of my price range!

I decided instead to buy some new carbon wheels to upgrade my Roubaix. My local bike shop is a Hope dealer, so it was pretty inevitable that I would come out with a pair of Hope. I didn't genuinely consider other options because I wanted to give the business to Nevis Cycles - I feel they look after me well and would know which wheels stand up to the roads around here.

Subsequently, the option to buy a second-hand Parlee Z5 came my way - at a bargain price, considering it was fitted with SRAM red and those Enve wheels.

It's a joy to ride, as I've written, but I felt the rough roads around Ardnamurchan might damage the expensive wheels. Last August, while doing the rides with the team from Cyclist Magazine, I met a rider on the Bealach na Ba who had cracked a brand new carbon wheel, so it does happen

While the Hope's are less lively, they have more spokes and feel tougher. 'British wheels for British roads' is one of their advertising lines. I am confident they'll handle the worst the roads here will throw at them.

Of course I am no expert.

I've recently been filming a long Audax around Scotland and at least one rider had a Planet X bike - presumably with Planet X wheels.

As to the bike fit - the Roubaix fit was done in 2011 at Dales in Glasgow and I was delighted with it. However, things change over the years; my body, riding style and inevitably, the set-up when the bike is taken apart to travel. I'm pretty sure it strayed from the original measurements. I had a set-up sheet so I could have got the tape measure and spanners out but…

I wanted a full fit done on the Parlee because it's such a special bike. Having made that decision, it wasn't much more expensive to add a second bike fitting session and have the Roubaix done as well.

This time I went to Velocity44 in Stirling who use the Retul bike fit system, which is utterly amazing. Using motion capture sensors it works out the precise angle your joints and levers (arms, legs knees, elbows etc) are working. The fitter then adjusts the bike to get those angles into the correct range of motion. Weirdly, the Roubaix saddle and to come down while the Parlee had to go up!

I have written an article about that bike fit which I hope will appear in the November issue of Scottish Cycling magazine, so I can't pre-empt it here.

I hope that answers all of the questions, and I'm genuinely pleased you like the blog.

Orkney walking tomorrow…

All the best

Ora Grant said...

I can imagine Jeremy Clarkson enthusiastically saying "Yes" on your post! I say that if it's possible, try it out first before commiting to it. If you see a noticeable improvement in performance, then it's a good idea to consider an upgrade. Comparing, just like what you did here, should be a major part in the decision, as written reviews could only go so far. Every ride is different, so the more tests that you do, the easier it is you can arrive at your decision. Thanks for sharing!

Ora Grant @ 2Quik Carbon Technology

Simon said...

Hi Ora

I completely agree - and frankly I wouldn't have even considered the Enve wheels had they not fallen into my lap.

What suits one person won't suit everyone.