Quick, name a wheel company who doesn’t claim that their aero wheels are the fastest, stiffest, lightest or strongest. This would clearly be a tall order, as just about every aero wheel that rolls along is purportedly the best wheel since the invention of the circular wheel. While some companies offer lots of data to back it up, others may have data on testing, but don’t really make it available.
However, with their new wheel design, ENVE is not only bringing data to back up their wheels, but also brings the genius of one of the top aerodynamicists to the table in the form of Simon Smart. After 10 years of experience in Formula 1 aerodynamics, Smart became one of the top go-to aerodynamics consultants who is largely responsible for redesigning both Scott and Giant’s newest tri bikes, and also had a large influence on Scott’s new FO1L. It was during the wind tunnel testing of these bikes, that Smart started to develop his own ideas as to what would really make the fastest wheel after changing out multiple wheels during testing. Smart had the ideas, he just needed a company to build them.
What makes the Smart ENVE System different? Read on to find out…
Obviously, anyone who claims they make fast wheels will do extensive wind tunnel testing, but for Smart, simply putting a wheel in the tunnel or even on just one bike wasn’t good enough. ENVE and Smart’s goal was to create a wheel system that was faster on a wide range of bikes, not just one specific bike, but rather a wheel that customers could purchase and know that regardless of their personal bike set up, it will be better. To accomplish this, Smart focused his testing on four different bikes, a Cannondale SuperSix, Specialized Tarmac, Trek Speed Concept 9.8, and a Cervelo P3. All of the wheels were tested on each bike with a rider, so that the aerodynamics could be tuned to improve each bike across the board. Smart claims that while everyone tests for weight, stiffness, and drag, his goal was to take it a step further and test for stability in the wind tunnel. To do this, first a new testing standard had to be created, and a sort of rapid prototyping system was created which ENVE is very secretive about, though they state it allows the bike in the jig to remain unchanged while prototype wheels are rapidly changed in and out ensuring exact, repeatable testing. Expect more data to appear as the wheels are actually released, but for now, data hungry cyclists can check out the much more in depth article from ProCycling.
About that stability thing, Smart wanted to produce a wheel that was predictable to ride even with a deep section wheel on a windy day. Specifically, he was looking for a more linear response to changes in crosswinds. Many current wheels require an increase in steering effort when they encounter a certain crosswind, yet as the wind changes can require more or less steering input to keep it straight. Smart wanted to create a wheel that had a very linear response from varying crosswinds to allow the rider to make very small corrections effectively allowing deeper wheels to be run in more conditions. In order to test this in a wind tunnel, a rig had to be created that tested steering torque when the wheel was subjected to various crosswinds, and by incorporating this facet into the testing of the wheels from the beginning, the ENVE Smart System claims to be one of the most stable designs in gusty conditions ever made.
When it comes to the wheels themselves, you will notice that the wheels will be sold in pairs, and each has a designation of 3.4, 6.7, or 8.9. This is due to the obvious reason that air is directed differently over the front and rear wheel due to the rider and the bike, so a different rim shape is necessary to create the optimal design. So, clearly, that means ENVE will be manufacturing front and rear specific rims, not just one rim at various depths.The 3.4 is a 35/45mm deep 1,250g pair for climbing and every day riding, the 6.7 which is the first wheelset to actually be announced, and is a 60/70mm deep 1,415g wheelset which claims to be the fastest mid-depth wheelset available stable enough for experienced riders in all conditions and novice riders on calmer days, and finally the 8.9 which hasn’t been released, but promises to be the outright fastest wheel in a TT/Tri bike. Weights for all wheels are based on a 20/24 hole wheel built to a DT Swiss 240s hub with Sapim CX-Ray spokes.
Enve is beginning sales of the ENVE Smart System with the 6.7 which will be available in June, with the other sets soon following. So will the ENVE Smart System be the Zipp/Hed killer that Enve hopes it will be? Only time will tell, but ENVE feels that considering over 1,000 individual tests, and hours upon hours in the Mercedes wind tunnel, that will be a safe bet.