What do you get when you combine the aerodynamic know-how of Simon Smart, the carbon fiber smarts of ENVE, and the envious ride quality of ceramic bearings and tubular wheels? ENVE's SES 3.4 Carbon Tubular Road Wheelset with ENVE Ceramic Hubs. The only significant part of these wheels that isn't carbon are the DT Swiss star ratchet freehub internals, the industrially smooth ceramic bearings, and the spokes. The rim, hub shell, and hub flanges are all stiff, unidirectional carbon, making it one of the lightest, stiffest wheels available in this depth range. Tubular wheels take the edge off of all that stiffness, though, ensuring the kind of supple road feel that keeps you in touch with the road without feeling like you're scooting along in direct contact with it. The only update that ENVE makes to the wheelset between model years is the addition of the newly improved Gen 2 brake track, so the SES 3.4 now stops almost as well as it goes.
We've been able to spend enough time with the original SES 3.4 to state definitively that the SES wheel design successfully improves the quality of our rides. With the introduction of the all-new Gen 2 brake track, that quality extends to include the ride's end, too. The brake track's molded-in patterning combines with newly minted caliper pads for a claimed 30% increase in stopping power that manifests in both wet and dry conditions. If the wheelset-as-sandwich metaphor were extended to include the brake track, we'd call it the condiments, because any sandwich is only as good as its sauce.
With the exception of the brake track changes, the SES 3.4 returns with all the same aerodynamic black magic that has inspired so much starting line envy in competitors the world over. The SES 3.4's rims aren't subjected to static, arbitrary widths and shapes. Instead, the engineers let each wheel's depth requirements dictate the ideal dimensions in order to reduce lateral forces and increase aerodynamic benefits across a wide range of yaw angles. The 3.4's design also accounts for the different behaviors of front and rear wheels. The front wheel is 35mm deep and 26mm wide, while the rear wheel is deeper and skinnier at 45mm deep and 24mm wide. This decreases drag with a focus on increased stability up front while taking advantage of the fact that the aft position has less of an effect on steering stability to focus on aerodynamic gains in the rear.
The result is that the 3.4 handles crosswinds and gusts with the confident stability of a wheelset with half its depth by building up a side-force equal to the changing angle of the wind. While this sounds like so much marketing palaver, it's verified by the Stability Index test results. ENVE borrows this testing protocol from the Formula One industry, and it remains the only cycling manufacturer with the confidence to measure its wheels by such a demanding metric. To rate a wheelset on this index, the front wheel is subjected to quick changes in wind resistance at set yaw angles, and the steering torque of user-correction is then measured. This means you won't be thrown across the road when a sharp turn radically changes your orientation to the wind, and you'll also enjoy more stability in gusty conditions, eliminating unfortunate surprises while cruising in the bunch.
Of course, we also recognize that aerodynamics are absolutely meaningless if a wheelset crumbles at the first sign of less-than-optimal road conditions, so we expected ENVE's obsessive engineering to carry over into the wheels' materials and lay-up. We weren't disappointed. For both the rim and the scalloped carbon hub flanges, ENVE routes the carbon around each spoke hole in a 100% intact design, which adds strength, boosts rigidity, and allows for less material and a lower weight. The use of removable bladders also keeps weight down compared to other wheels, so the SES series boasts the highest claimed strength-to-weight ratio on the market.