Gravel products now fall into two categories: existing pieces that have been rebranded to catch the trend, and gear built from the ground up for the purpose. ENVE's new G23 is a bona fide gravel wheel, built for comfort and speed over the long haul. I took the new hoops for a 13-hour spin at the Dirty Kanza 200.
ENVE G23 highlights
- Made for 35-45mm tubeless gravel tires
- 330g rim with 23mm internal width
- 31.mm external width, 25mm depth
- 1,310g as tested with Chris King R45 CL hubs
- Claimed improvements to resisting pinch flats and impacts thanks to widen rim edges
- Hookless bead
- $2,800 as tested (UK and AU pricing not available)
Racing the ENVE G23 at the Dirty Kanza 200
I've been spending way too much time on my bike recently. In the lead-up to the 206mi Kanza party, I was training on a variety of test bikes and wheels, often on dirt and gravel. I've used the ENVE 4.5 AR quite a bit, and spent three long gravel days in Arizona on the rebranded M525 G. (ENVE's new cross-country wheel is the M525; slap a 'G' on there and you have a pretty good gravel wheel, albeit a stiff one with a 25mm internal width.) I have recently ridden Bontrager alloy and carbon wheels, plus sampled Mavic, Zipp and Shimano quite a bit on gravel. A week ahead of the Dirty Kanza, ENVE shipped me a set of the G23s.
So what makes a gravel wheel a gravel wheel? How is it different than a road disc wheel or a cross-country wheel? ENVE's answer to that hits a few points: an internal rim width (23mm) halfway between road and mountain, and thus designed for gravel tires in the 35-45mm range, not 25mm road tires or 2in mountain rubber. And while strong and light like all ENVE wheels, the G23s were built to be vertically soft.
As with the M525, the G23 uses what ENVE calls a wide hookless bead. While the rim is wide internally, what ENVE is referring to is the thickness of the carbon rim at the outermost edge; the idea is that a broader surface disperses pressure more than a skinny edge and can thus reduce the chance of pinch flats. ENVE's Jake Pantone said no one at the company has yet pinch flatted on the wheels over months of testing.
In my three days of testing the M525 G wheels with 40mm Maxxis Ramblers along with a few journalist and PR friends, we experience nary a flat. Sure, a lot of that is dumb luck, but I ran pressure in the low 30 psi range (I'm 185lb / 84kg) and bottomed out on rocks like it was my job numerous times, making horrible sounds... but never flatting.
At Kanza, I ran 38mm Schwalbe G Ones and flatted about 20 miles in on something good and sharp. Not a pinch flat, but a tear big enough to require a GU-wrapper boot. At the point, the race was still together and all but the front three or four riders were riding blind, following wheels. After spending an eternity changing the flat (my fault - the tires are easy enough to pull off the wheels), I spent the rest of the day alone or in small groups, and as such had a better line of sight, which always helps flat reduction.
So how do the wheels feel? Pretty great, really; we're talking a $2,800 pair of ENVEs here, people. They better feel good! The G23s are tangibly softer than the M525s, even with tires at higher pressure. And yet there is no wishy washiness in steering or when accelerating out of the saddle.
The deep center channel makes getting tubeless tires on and off fairly easy.
As with other ENVE sets, the nipples are internal, which can cause consternation among mechanics. In my experience, I had never had to true a set of ENVEs, despite being a heavy dude who often makes horrible line choices through rocky patches. But... what if you broke a spoke and had to true a wheel out on the gravel road? Taking a tire off to get at the nipples is not ideal in the home workshop, nevermind in the middle of nowhere. I suppose you could argue that addressing a hub failure mid-race wouldn't be great, either — but that, similarly, is highly unlikely.
One impressive thing is ENVE's five-year crash warranty: If dumb luck or dumb judgment strikes, ENVE will send you a new wheel, for free. That is remarkable, and reassuring for such an expensive investment. ENVE honors things like driving your bike on the roof rack into the garage, in addition to actual ride and race mishaps.
Preliminary verdict: They do the trick
The ENVE G23 wheels are light, seemingly durable and seemingly ideal for long days of riding and racing gravel. Built specifically for 35-45mm gravel tubeless tires with comforting flex engineered into the system, the G23s leave little to be desired short of a more attainable price and perhaps external nipples. While many companies' warranty policies mean a slight discount on buying a replacement, ENVE's five-year warranty replaces damaged product, for free. This is huge.
Stan's just announced a 300g carbon gravel rim, undercutting the G23 330g rim. I'd bet that ENVE would argue that theirs is stronger. For context, a Zipp NSW 202 (32mm depth) carbon clincher rim is 418g.
In terms of feel and performance, after spending a long day on the G23s in Kansas, I can't say I would change a thing.