What’s it like to finally experience a ride on your dream set of ENVE wheels? In this series, we give a rider the chance to try out their pick of our line, in their own bike and on their preferred terrain. Then, the moment they unclip, we shove a voice recorder under their nose and get their instant, unfiltered, and unedited reaction.
Ben Skinner, from Melksham in the UK, is our tester this month. As well as being Mark Cavendish’s doppelganger, he’s an accomplished racer with some blistering time trial PBs.
“For years I have focused almost all of my cycling on time trial racing. This year I fancied a change, so I’ll race a few TTs but focus on enjoying cycling again. Recently I spent a week riding in Devon where my own carbon wheels were a real handful in the wind, and the wet braking was terrible!
“In an ideal world I’d have a set of climbing wheels and an all-out aero set, but the budget won’t stretch to that so I’m thinking the 3.4 might do everything well.”
The SES 3.4s sit snug in Ben’s Felt F3 – wheels were much narrower when this frame was made – but they’re spot on once we fit the thinner pads. The wheels are set up tubeless with 25mm Schwalbe Pro Ones at 90psi front, 95 rear. You could drop these pressures by 10psi for even greater comfort (depending on weight), but Ben’s preference is for speed.
Ben’s first ride is late on a Monday evening, a snatched opportunity to ride the wheels in strong winds and really explore their stability. For the clearest comparison, Ben went out on his own 46mm wheels first, then back out over the same roads on the 3.4s, this time with us in pursuit to document the experience.
The chosen route is deliberately exposed and perpendicular to the wind, squaring up to it, daring it to do its worst. We’re on broad arterial roads, with fast moving traffic and nothing to keep the nefarious gusts from slamming into us. What’s more, Ben is storming along, sprinting out of roundabouts and topping 30mph on sections of false-flat descent.
Here is his reaction, word-for-word, when we stopped:
“The most obvious thing is that they are definitely more stable when you get a gust of wind. I can tell that just in one bit of road. Also, considering that the pads are set up pretty close, I thought that I’d get some brake rub, but I didn’t feel any. I usually don’t run my brakes very close because I hate the rims touching the pads, but these rims didn’t move anywhere.”
“I was a bit skeptical about whether or not I’d be able to tell the difference, but I genuinely can tell that they do feel better. I’m very impressed. The braking feels like an aluminum rim. I’m interested to try it in the wet. I’m looking forward to doing some more miles on them.”
We left the wheels with Ben for the next 10 days to ride some more, including on his commute. It might sound mundane, but the daily grind is a highly underrated testing ground – where better to feel the difference than on the roads you ride most often? What’s more, Ben’s long, 20-mile ride to work has a bit of everything, including some really poor surfaces. At the weekend, he headed out to his favorite, rolling training roads in the Wiltshire countryside.v
Here’s what he told us when we finally pried the 3.4s out of his hands:
“The first surprise was a marked improvement in my willingness to get out of bed at 6am and begin my commute! My route includes some typical UK broken tarmac, and I noticed a lot less buzz reach my hands. Being able to run a 25c tire knowing it doesn’t compromise aero is a bonus, and there’s a good blend of speed and comfort. Climbing felt positive, with no wasted effort, like the wheels wanted to go, and at no point did I hear the pads hit the rims, even on big out-of-the-saddle efforts.
“The stability continued to impress every ride, but the highlight for me was the braking. Compared to my own carbon clinchers, it’s a night and day difference. They even out-perform my aluminum wheels, for smooth progression as well as sheer power. The wet braking is impressive, too. It still feels ‘wet’, but it’s really predictable and vastly superior to what I’m used to.
“I did around 300 miles on the 3.4s in total, with a wide mix of roads, and they do everything very well. If I could afford them right now, yes, I’d probably buy a set. I love these wheels!”