Earlier this year, ENVE officially entered the rubber business. They joined the likes of Mavic, Zipp, CADEX, and other wheel manufacturers, who thought it wise to offer their own tires. Typically, such tires are said to be optimized for that brand’s own wheels (surprise!) – and even offer benefits when used on other brands of wheel (surprise!). And who wouldn’t want to sell tires? They’re a consumable that must be purchased again and again. I’m not being cynical here or calling out these brands. Rather, I’m painting a landscape of the situation – against which to evaluate how ENVE’s SES tires compare to their peers.
With ENVE specifically, the story gets quite a bit more interesting, too. You see, most tire introductions sound something like this: “We looked at what’s out in the market, and saw a gap. We wanted to produce a tire that properly balances the factors of weight, rolling resistance, puncture resistance, and aerodynamics. Our product outperforms the competition when considering ALL factors.” It’s similar to how they pitch wheels to the marketplace; ”our blend of performance characteristics is better than those chumps you’ve been buying from” (my words, not ENVE’s).
Like so many other brands, ENVE does claim to have a well-rounded balance sheet of performance. But – they did want to own (and dominate) two characteristics that we rarely talk about: Bead stiffness and diameter.
We got in to the topic of tire bead stiffness and diameter during our visit to the ENVE factory in 2019. In short, ENVE tests every tire they can get their hands on, and have found a wide range of tire bead stiffness and diameter. When using inner tubes and traditional hooked clincher rims (i.e. what most of us have used for decades), this variability in tire construction is largely a non-issue. If a tire is too large or stretchy, the bead hooks of the rim act as a failsafe to keep the tire on the rim.
However, many newer rims – including several from ENVE – use a hookless design. Our own Dan Empfield has been busy writing on this topic lately. We also reported on the update of ETRTO rim standards for 2020, which now officially includes road and gravel hookless specifications (and clarifies/unifies diameter standards between these and the preexisting mountain bike hookless standard). Hookless is here, and it’s on the rise with more brands.
Why hookless for road? We’ve already written at length about hookless rims, so I’ll only provide the Cliffs Notes here. From a performance standpoint, brands like ENVE claim slightly reduced rim weight and improved impact strength. But more importantly, they cite a combination of reduced manufacturing cost and the ability to produce a rim with better diameter control due to the type of mold used. According to ENVE, tighter rim diameter control improves the installation, fit, air retention, and overall experience of using tubeless tires, making it a win. However, the lack of bead hooks exposed a safety concern with using non-tubeless road tires (with their typically stretchier beads), or any tire that doesn’t fit within their acceptable window of bead diameter and stiffness.
Circling way back – and given all of the above – ENVE thought it wise to offer their own tires. There are other tires which meet their bead stiffness and diameter specs – but none that they felt also satisfied all of the other performance characteristics they wanted (i.e. their secret sauce of aero, weight, puncture resistance, and so on).
We’ve had ENVE’s tires in our hands for several months now, and sought to find out – are they good? Are they necessary? And of course – how do they fare with the day-to-day concerns of installation ease and air retention?
ENVE sent sample tires to us in 25mm and 29mm sizes (they also make 27mm and 31mm). I received the 25mm samples first, and installed them to a set of ENVE Foundation wheels.
Above: Note that the larger tire sizes appear to have a slightly deeper tread.
The installation went as I’ve come to expect from ENVE. Their rims have a deep center channel, making tire bead installation easier than most wheel brands (because the rim diameter is quite small in that center channel). The tradeoff is that I typically cannot perform the initial inflation of any tubeless tire with a floor pump – because the tire fit is loose in the channel. As an apartment dweller, I don’t have an air compressor, and use CO2 cartridges to blast the tire beads in to place. I do this operation without any sealant installed, because the cold CO2 can cause liquid sealant to solidify. So – I blast those beads into place, deflate the tire, inject liquid sealant, and then reinflate with a floor pump.
Post-installation, one of my ENVE tires had trouble holding air overnight. After much troubleshooting and many layers of new rim tape, it was determined that I had an issue with a preproduction tire (I sent it back to ENVE for analysis). A 25mm Schwalbe Pro One (2019 model) successfully held air on the same wheel; a tire that’s on ENVE’s approved list. I have had no problems with air retention on any of my new production-quality ENVE tires.
I attempted to install the 29mm set of tires onto a pair of 2019 DT Swiss ARC 1100 DICUT 62 wheels, which currently reside on my road bike. I’ve ridden these wheels tubeless with the same pair of 25mm Pro Ones as mentioned above, which had a tight, but not impossible fit (and note that I was able to inflate those tires with a floor pump). I’ve also ridden them with inner tubes and Donnelly Strada LGG clincher tires, which slipped on very easily.
Try as I might, I was not able to install the ENVE tires to these rims. I could not install either the first or second tire bead. My experience and intuition said that this was due to the depth of the dropped center channel of the rim being shallower on the DT product.
ENVE’s Jake Pantone provided the following response:
“ETRTO specification have changed a bit with the 2020 standard as it relates to tubeless rim geometry, and specifically, the drop center. [We] haven’t measured any of the latest DT rims, but some we measured from a few years back look to have had a drop center depth dimension of 2.8mm roughly. The 2020 ETRTO standard calls for a range between 2.6 – 3.4mm for hooked rim and 2.9 – 3.5mm for hookless.
So, ENVE tends to be on the deeper end of the standard to provide a little more depth for ease of installation. Specifically, the Foundation 45 or 65 are 3.3mm deep. Our tire sits right in the middle of the bead seat diameter standard. Therefore, depending on the rim, an SES tire will be easier or harder to install depending on the rim’s drop center channel depth.”
I’ll also venture a guess that the Schwalbe Pro Ones have beads that are either less stiff, or larger diameter than the ENVE tires. The Schwalbe tires worked on both sets of wheels (DT and ENVE), whereas the ENVE tire only fit on to the ENVE wheel.
Now, I don’t have every brand and model of wheel, nor the time to test ENVE’s tire on all of them. They might work just fine on your wheels. As mentioned, the key driver of the installation ease (or lack thereof) is the center channel depth. Deeper means easier initial installation, but more difficult inflation (i.e. you’ll need compressed air). If you’re riding ENVE wheels and want to ride ENVE tires – you’re good to go.
Don’t forget that rim width influences the allowable tire size for a given wheel. If a rim is too wide, it cannot safely retain a tire that’s too narrow. Above, you’ll note that the packaging for the 25mm tire says that it cannot be used on ENVE AR rims, which have a 25mm internal rim width.
The ENVE website reinforces this, showing a maximum internal rim width of 21mm for the 25mm tire size. All other tire sizes from ENVE (27mm, 29mm, 31mm) are approved for use on the wide AR rims.
So – how do the tires actually ride and feel? I must say – I was pleasantly surprised with the speed, comfort, and overall feel of the SES tires. Especially when paired with their Foundation wheels, I was cutting minutes off of my ride times, compared to some of the previous wheels and tires I was using (but to be fair, some of these were clearly not performance-oriented products). I’ll go as far as saying that in a blind test, none of you could tell the difference between ENVE’s tires and any of the common competitors, such as the Schwalbe Pro One or Conti GP5000 TL.
I don’t have the resources to verify or deny ENVE’s aerodynamic and rolling resistance claims, but my seat-of-the-pants impression after having ridden hundreds of different wheels and tires is that ENVE’s tires are legit from a performance standpoint. As a bonus, I didn’t experience any flat tires, and had about as much fun as you can riding a road bike on a mix of roads and multi-use paths.
At the end of the day, ENVE has produced a tire that’s on-par performance-wise with the key competitors that you know and love, from brands like Continental, Michelin, Schwalbe, and more. Of course, you’ll have to decide which performance characteristics are most important to you – puncture resistance, rolling resistance, aerodynamics, and so on. ENVE erred the way I prefer, which is to forego the absolute fastest rolling properties in favor of more realistic durability (I can already hear the rolling resistance geeks scoff and groan). You pick your poison, I’ll pick mine. Personally, I’ve had more success installing the Schwalbe Pro Ones on more wheel brands and models, but the ENVE tire did install without trouble to their own wheels. If I had to guess, most buyers of these tires plan to install them to ENVE hookless wheels, making this largely a non-issue.