Think carbon fibre wheels and it's highly likely Enve is one of the first brand names that springs to mind. The US company knows carbon wheels and has put all its expertise into its first dedicated gravel design, these G23 wheels. They provide phenomenal performance, low weight and impressive durability, but you'll max out your credit card to purchase them.
Enve has built its reputation on carbon fibre wheels since it first launched in 2007 (when it was called Edge Composites) and with the new G Series, it's bringing this experience to the growing gravel and adventure bike market. It is offering the G27 (650B) and G23 (700C) using a rim profile optimised for wide tyres and a unique hookless profile intended to minimise pinch flats.
Before we get bogged down with all the nitty-gritty spec details, let's talk about what they're like to use. No doubt about it, you feel pretty special slotting a £3,100 pair of lightweight carbon fibre wheels into your bike. Very special indeed.
With 23mm internal width rims designed for gravel tyres up to 45mm, they're perfect for the sort of tyre widths that are proving popular on gravel bikes. I opted for 40mm Bontrager tyres, my preferred width for combining road riding and an assortment of gravel paths, forest tracks, bridleways and towpaths. I've swapped the wheels between various test bikes but they mostly resided in my Fairlight Secan.
And colour me impressed! Enve says it has developed the shape and carbon layup of the rim to provide a bit of give when riding over rough ground and it really does seem to deliver on its promise.
Despite the obvious vibration-damping qualities of a low pressure 40mm tyre, the Enve rims appeared to provide a bit more 'give' when barrelling along boulder and gravel-strewn paths and gulleys compared with many other wheels I've tested.
They just seem to help take the edge off the hits, whether it's riding along washboard surfaces, hard gravel tracks or taking on bigger impacts from rocks or roots.
It is possible to make a carbon fibre rim too stiff, but Enve gets it right with these. Build a really stiff rim and it'll give a harsh ride feel that can result in less control and more fatigue. The ride quality on offer here is exceptionally good, the rim helping to dissipate energy to generate a smoother ride with more control and less fatigue.
Comfort and fatigue are important factors when riding on rough gravel roads over very long distances; I can see the Enves being a good choice if I was doing a long-distance gravel event like Dirty Reiver.
A gravel wheelset also needs to be tough. Given how light the rims are, a claimed 330g, I was initially sceptical they would have the desired durability. But they've taken everything I've thrown at them. Granted, I'm not a heavy rider and I'm not prone to breaking kit, but it's testament to how strong they are that they've coped as well as they have. I've not had to get the spoke key out after several months of testing either.
Over the several months I've been riding these wheels I've basically punted them into every rock, hole and root going, but the impact resistance has been highly impressive. I've run the tyre pressures deliberately low, too, just to explore their limits, but even with the rim noticeably bouncing off rocks, I've failed to incur either a flat tyre or an expensive repair bill.
The rims have a profile unlike any other I've seen, and here we see an influence from the company's mountain bike rims. Pinch flats (pinching the inner tube or tyre sidewall between the ground and rim) is a common cause of punctures and mechanical failures according to Enve, so it has developed a rim profile to combat that.
Most carbon rims are shaped to reduce drag – these are not. Instead, a bell-shaped profile with a 4.5mm-wide bead is designed, in tandem with the rim shape and carbon fibre layup, to absorb and disperse impact energy better, leading to a claimed 60 per cent reduction in pinch punctures. This profile avoids adding extra material and bumping up the weight, so they can be strong and light.
The wider bead is intended to minimise rim damage if you smash into a rock really hard. It also decreases the risk of flatting an inner tube, or – in a tubeless setup – slicing the tyre sidewall. I certainly suffered no flat tyres during testing, but I doubt that's an indicator of anything other than sheer good luck.
"The inspiration for the Wide Hookless Bead technology comes from sitting on the side of the road or trail fixing flat tires. We understand intimately that nothing puts the damper on a fun ride like a flat tire. In gravel, the problem is exacerbated given that tire volumes and tire pressures are lower than you have in mountain biking, but with gravel, the bikes have little to no suspension. The Wide Hookless Bead technology can eliminate pinch-flats and allows riders to run their perfect tire pressure," explains Enve design engineer Clint Child.
Wide rims are on-trend now to meet the growing appetite for wide tyres, not just on gravel bikes but all road bikes. These measure 23mm internally with a 31.5mm external width and are 25mm tall. They're optimised for 33-45mm tyres but accept up to 50mm. There's also nothing stopping you slinging on a 28mm slick tyre.
The 650B G27 rims are even wider, with a whopping 27mm internal width.
Like all Enve rims, these incorporate the company's moulded spoke hole technology (most carbon wheel rims have nipple holes drilled) using proprietary spoke nipples. Each rim is laced to Chris King R45 hubs with 24 Sapim CX Ray spokes in a two-cross pattern. You can also opt for Enve or DT hubs if you prefer, or buy the rims on their own and build up with any hub you prefer.
The Chris King hubs have been reliable during testing, only needing one touch of bearing preload adjustment, which is an easy job. Installing the rear rotor was a bit of a pain compared to most other hubs as you need to remove the adjusting clamp first. The hubs are compatible with 12mm thru-axles and quick release.
As well as being strong and tough, the wheels are also seriously light. Enve claims 330g for the rim, which with the Chris King hubs and Sapim spokes produces a complete wheelset weight of 1,346g (front 614g; rear 732g). That's impressively light and surpasses some of the lightest carbon road wheels designed for mountain climbing and weight weenies, like the stunningly expensive Lightweight Meilenstein C Disc wheels (£4,800 and 1,370g).
The closest to them in weight – and they were smaller 650B wheels – were the Roval CLX 32 Discs at 1,350g (£1,850). And for reference, at the other end of the price scale are the Hunt 35 Carbon Gravel Disc X-Wide wheels at £899 and 1,548g.
I found tubeless installation a breeze, using the supplied rim tape and tubeless valves. The tyre bead is retained in the rim not by a hook but by a moulded bead channel which locks the tyre bead into place. This appears to ease getting the tyres on and off, and I managed to get them inflated with just a regular track pump.
Air retention has been excellent, with only occasional topping up of pressure needed. I've also had no issues with the tyres unseating or burping air at lower pressures.
Because of the hookless bead profile you might want to check that the tyres you are using are okay. I've used several with no issues at all.
The performance of these wheels is highly impressive. They're ridiculously light, bloody tough and with a hint of damping that makes them ride like a dream.
But the price makes them the stuff of dreams, too. It does reflect the US production and investment by Enve, and the lifetime warranty, but there is no shortage of good wheels on the market at much cheaper prices.
Does the performance justify the price? The ride quality, toughness and low weight certainly put them ahead of most of the rivals, but you need some serious disposal income to afford them. If you want the best, though, you better start saving.
Seriously impressive wheels with low weight, toughness and lovely ride quality. But then you see the price...
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Enve G23 wheelset
Size tested: 700C
Tell us what the wheel is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The G23 is the definition of a true disc gravel wheelset. At 330 grams, ENVE's lightest 700c tubeless rim accelerates quickly and ascends with ease. Armed against pinch flats with the patent pending Wide Hookless Bead, the G23 is tough and relentless on road, path or trail. The G23 is a 700c tubeless carbon clincher wheelset, with a generous 23mm internal width, specifically conceived to meet the performance and ride quality demands of serious mixed surface cyclists.
Created for those seeking to discover new experiences, new terrain, and new challenges. Built to reflect the versatility of today's gravel and mixed surface riders, these wheels will excite ambitious, daring and indomitable riders everywhere. If your path leads to classics like Dirty Kanza, Landrun, Crusher in the Tushar, or a new wave of events like Grinduro, or Lost and Found, the G23 is your wheel.
There is a place between road and mountain open to discovery. Beyond the range of your trail bike or the capabilities of your road bike. Terrain littered with contradicting challenges and demanding requirements are at odds with the bikes and products available today. We built the new G23 to thrive in this new environment because insight gained through building the world's best road and mountain bike rims told us that the perfect combination did not exist in our stable, or in our opinion, anywhere at all. The higher volume and lower pressures would demand MTB toughness and flat resistance, while big days and long miles would require the lightweight and efficiency of a road machine. Above all, the combination of rough and rigid would require a wheel with the ride quality to make those long miles enjoyable and multi-day treks possible.
We want people to have as much fun riding gravel as we do, and for that reason, we've targeted rim geometries that favor the tire treads and volumes that have proven to be the most fun. With an inner rim width of 23mm the G23, is designed to be paired with gravel treads between 35mm and 45mm. While 35mm-45mm tires provide ample control and traction, for most gravel riding endeavors, they do not offer much by way of pinch-flat protection. Despite 'minimum PSI' markings to the contrary, many riders are experimenting with pressure setting in the 20s. The forward-looking G23 is ahead of the trend using our Wide Hookless Bead anti-flat technology, which provides a larger, more forgiving surface during bottom outs, protecting the tire from the dreaded pinch-flat. This technology means you can ride the tire pressures you want, confidently, without limitations. The G Series are intended for tubeless applications and features a molded bead-lock to ensure that your tires will remain secure and sealed to the rim over even the roughest terrain.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the wheel?
Enve lists these details:
Clincher / tubeless ready
Wheel size: 700c
Rim ERD (Effective Rim Diameter): 608mm
Rim depth: 25mm
Internal rim width: 23mm
External rim width: 31.5mm
Spokes: 2x Sapim CX-Ray
Spoke count: 24 front, 24 rear
Hubs: ENVE alloy
Disc standard: Centre Lock
Front axle: Thru-axle
Rear axle: Thru-axle
Recommended tyre size: 700c x 33c-45c
Wide Hookless Bead Technology
Claimed weight: 1,306 grams (front 591 grams, rear 715 grams)
First class construction quality.
Stupendously good performance, live up to and exceed expectations.
They're darn tough.
Also extremely light.
This is where it gets tricky, because they are very expensive and everyone has their own way of measuring worth. If you value the best performance, first-class design and being made by the company and not outsourced to a third party vendor, these might be better value wheels for you than some less expensive ones.
But really, it doesn't matter what I write here because most people will just think they are a rip-off and way too expensive.
Did the wheels stay true? Any issues with spoke tension?
Yes, they stayed true.
How easy did you find it to fit tyres?
How did the wheel extras (eg skewers and rim tape) perform?
Tubeless tape and valves worked as expected. They are also lovely valves too, no skimping on details.
Tell us how the wheel performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Very light, very tough and lovely ride quality.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the wheel
The ride quality is just lovely, they aren't harsh and overly stiff at all.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the wheel
The big price.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
They compare nicely to the Roval CLX 32 Disc 650B wheelset when it comes to weight, but the Enves are about a grand more (though they have a slightly nicer ride quality).
Did you enjoy using the wheel? Yes
Would you consider buying the wheel? If I had a pay rise...
Would you recommend the wheel to a friend? The rich ones, yes.
Use this box to explain your overall score
Seriously impressive wheels, but hard to overlook the massive price.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.