ENVE SES 4.5 AR Disc Chris King wheelset review£2,900.00

A crazy expensive but truly blissful fat-tyre ride

BikeRadar score4/5

ENVE’s new super-fat rims cost more than some full carbon wheelsets with essentially similar stats, and they’re awkward to set up. However, if you’re patient enough to get them ready (or just pay someone else to do it) their super-wide, gliding ride really is something else.

Self-fitting (and then refitting) the supplied but split-prone rim tape was a disappointing start and I eventually used strips of Gorilla tape to seal the rims instead. ENVE assures us it has now switched to a different tape in response to the splitting issue mentioned.

Internal nipples also mean you need to remove the tape and reseal if you have to adjust spoke tension. The rim bed shape is also fussy about sealing with some types of valve, so I’d recommend designs with a conical rubber bung for the best results.

While the lack of lock rings for the Centerlock splines of the Chris King hubs shouldn’t be a problem (they’re normally supplied with Shimano rotors), having to remove and refit the bearing preload caps to get them on is a faff. 

Be careful not to disturb the set-up in the process too, because Chris King hubs use a DIY adjustable bearing arrangement that can come loose and damage the otherwise silky smooth, ultra-durable surfaces very easily. 

For the same reason, you need to be sure to check bearings for wobble or stiffness after every ride for the first few weeks, as they can settle in and loosen off slightly over the first few rides.

As grumpy as this made me, considering the ultra expensive price tag, it didn’t take many miles for me to forgive the ENVE's initially needy character. 

While the Chris King hubs are heavy (reflected in the relatively high overall weight), the rims themselves are light considering their massive breadth. Combined with the fast pick-up from the distinctive buzzing clutch-plate mechanism and a very firm drive character and immaculate tyre connection to the road, they surge forward superbly when you press the pedals.

It didn’t take many miles for me to forgive the ENVE's initially needy character

The super-wide 24.5mm internal AR wheels are specifically designed for tyres over 28mm (go for the standard SES if you’re running narrower tyres). An MTB-derived hookless sidewall stops the tyres being pinched inwards and potentially undermining cornering stability and ride smoothing deformation over rougher surfaces too. 

It also gives you more leeway in terms of minimum pressures and you can go right down into the teens for soft terrain cyclocross use. The resulting broad-based, tyre-fattening effect and hand-laid US carbon-rim build certainly gives an incredibly smooth ride. 

It’s not an identical pairing either with a more rounded 49mm-deep front rim matched to a more pointed 55mm rear — this keeps the handling friendly but obviously fast in terms of aerodynamics in a wide range of wind conditions. 

Add the glide effect of the liquid-smooth CK bearings and the SES ARs are pure leg-flattering, fatigue-reducing luxury on road or rocky forest track. 

As long as you follow the recommended TLC protocol to keep the hub bearings sweet, the hubs have a proper heirloom lifespan. If you have the money (and get someone else to set them up and fit them) they are the ultimate big tyre disc wheels.

ENVE SES 4.5 AR Disc Chris King wheelset specs

  • Weight: 730 + 870 = 1,600g
  • Width: 24.5/31mm
  • Engagement: 8 degrees

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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