The case for shallow carbon (or, is there one?)

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My perusal of the morning's news and headlines took a turn for the perky when I noticed that VeloNews had reviewed the fairly new Enve SES 2.2 clinchers. Bearing in mind that I was still mulling over their knee-jerk "upgrading to a snappier set of Zipps or Enves would be our first move.." line from a recent review of the BH G7 Disc, I was curious to see where this one went. 

Of course, the background to this whole issue is the steady stream of emails that we get wondering whether we still do the Rail 34 (which we don't - original post about that here). As I said in yesterday's blog post, we want to make decisions with the best possible information that we can. In objective product decisions, that's pretty easy. Figuring out the subjectives of what people want is a little tougher. Subjectives count, we know this, so when they don't conflict with an overriding objective principle, we'll happily go with them (more on this shortly). The objectives were that Rail 34s, and the landscape of shallow carbons in general, are that they aren't generally lighter than aluminum alternatives, don't offer notable stiffness gains (especially the 2.2, according to Velonews), don't offer significant aerodynamic gains (and can in fact come with an aerodynamics penalty to aluminum alternatives), and do all of this with the significant extra expense and braking limitations of carbon. A lot of people love carbon for the sake of carbon, which is why shallow carbons do sell and will continue to do so. But though we do have soft spot for the Corima 32, we've stepped off of the shallow carbon train.

Back on track, as I said, the knee jerk editorial response to any "meh wheels on a new bike" situation seems to be "just throw some Zipps or Enves on and you're all good." No one ever got fired for buying from IBM, right? And maybe you should be budgeting somewhere between $2400 and $3500 for wheels to replace the ones that came on your $4800 bike, but that thinking leaves us ice cold like a corpse. Like a corpse. There are a lot of options out there, from us and others. So I was curious in extremis to see what they had to say upon deeper inspection of these new-ish wheels from one of their go-to recommendations. 

They didn't like them. 

They headline the review with “Exceptionally light climbing wheels ideal for the weight weenie.” Let's take a look at it. The 2.2s weigh 1350 grams. That's light, but an $840 20/24 set of Pacenti SL23s with Tune hubs is about 25g less. So lower than "exceptionally light" weight, at 25% of the price. Yes, 25% of the cost. We usually recommend a 20/28 build with this set, which puts them at weight equal to the Enves. You can et within 100 grams of the weight of the 2.2s in a $645 set of Nimbus Ti. For those of you keeping score at home, $645 is 18% of $3500. And we're not talking about compromised components, here. Tune and White Industries hubs. Top line Sapim spokes. Class leading rims. You could also do a Corima 32 build from us that costs nearly 40% less than the Enve reviewed. 

This isn't a rip on Enve, though it will undoubtedly be broadly received as such. Enve's business is carbon, and they'll sell more 2.2 clinchers this year than we'll sell wheels. By a TON. They have ProTour(tm) teams which demand super light wheels (they'll all be using the tubular version, btw), and in order to convert on their whole strategy, they have to do it. Same with the other big brands and those who want to seem like or become a big brand. But as we told our moms, you know we're not like other guys (will anyone get the reference?). We can't make shallow carbon clinchers make sense, so we can't put undue resources into them. 

Some of you are old enough to remember this.


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  • PC Mountain on

    Prior to purchasing my Rail 52s I considered the 34s and then you pulled them and made the decision for me. I'm so glad you did because the 52s are plenty light, haven't been affected by crosswinds (and I live in a very windy place) and offer all the aero benefits. Now I'm not sure why I was even debating between the two sizes. If you want carbon rims get the real thing. If you're gonna go shallow go alloy. It just makes sense.

  • Dave on

    I'm nervous and my socks are too loose.

  • Martin on

    Waldo!!!!

  • ggj on

    Great read . Thank you . My trust in brick and mortar shops such as yours is strong . The corporate machines not so much . Thanks for making honest wheels at an honest price .

  • Dave on

    It's fairly clear that we're talking about clinchers. The review was about the clinchers, the previous blog referenced was all about clinchers, I made the distinction of the protour™ team riding tubulars instead, and clinchers are a strangling majority of the wheels sold. You make a good point but I don't think there's a lack of clarity. Tubulars can get really light, and though they have a price premium to carbon, often not much less than that of clinchers, tubulars aren't the same game.



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