Review by A.J. Barlas // Photography Jon Anthony & A.J. Barlas
Technology in mountain biking has been progressing at an alarming rate the last 5 or so years. 10 years ago carbon on a mountain bike was often thought of as a scary, testing-fate kind of scenario to enter into, but now it's all over the place and if you aren't riding a plastic frame many won't even look twice at your rig. When carbon hoops first came to market, the one name that really caught many riders' attention was ENVE Composites. Under the Santa Cruz Syndicate's riders, on their downhill race bikes no less, we really began to take notice of the material's potential capabilities.
Fast forward a number of years and there are a lot more options for carbon hoops on mountain bikes, and a lot more people (at least in Whistler and the surrounding areas) running rims made from the fantastic plastic. ENVE has also grown a lot in that time, releasing the second iteration of their carbon hoops earlier this year, with a large number of options to cater to any rider in what is touted as a more robust, refined version of their very desirable wheels. We've been rallying the M70 Thirty version since it was released - do these bad boys live up to the hype?
ENVE M70 Highlights
- 26", 27.5" (650b) and 29" wheel sizes
- Rim weight: 26" = 433g / 27.5" = 453g / 29" = 481g
- Internal width: 25mm
- External width: 32mm
- Rim height: 34mm
- Available in 32 and 28 hole configurations
- Full wheel built on DT240 hubs: 1,560g (in 26")
- MSRP: $2,718 (DT 240, 650b, 15/142 builtwheel set, as tested)
We received a pair of M70 wheels for review in their 650b, 32 hole incarnation, and when they arrived it was certainly better than Christmas! These are the mountain bike version of the BBS wheels on that sweet sports car you're dreaming of - total luxury and function combined. There is a reason they are so lusted over; the finish is top tier, from the internal spoke nipples and the hookless technology to the clean rim bed on the inners of the rim, everything is well executed giving a very purposeful and clean appearance to the wheelset. When you pick them up the first thing you are likely to notice is how light they are, especially for such a burly wheel. The M70 is built to take a hiding, but weighs far less than a wheel built for this intent should ever be allowed. ENVE makes 4 versions of this new wheel, ranging from the 90% Descend/10% Climb heavy duty bomber to the 50/50 AM/trail option - the 70/30 we tested is the second most burly option on offer, yet it weighs in at traditional trail/XC wheel weight.
The wheels come with a cool little zip 'pouch' that houses the tubeless valve stems, if you choose to run tubeless (would anyone not with these?) and a roll of rim tape, specifically matched to the internal width of the associated wheel. We grabbed a fresh set of treads - a Maxxis Minion DHF EXO and a High Roller 2 EXO for the rear and after taping up the rims, proceeded to mount the new tires. Having changed many tires over the years and being of the mindset that you shouldn't need a tool to put tires on, I continued to fight with the tires until my thumbs were bruised, and still lost. These are tight! Perhaps my tape job wasn't as dialed as it could have been, or I should have popped the valve up out of the rim bed for that tiny bit of extra space? In either case I was forced to resort to the tire levers. Once armed with levers the battle continued, but it was clear that the tires were going to lose, and after a couple minutes the first tire was mounted! Seating the tires was easy with a floor pump, with such tight tolerance between rim and tire leaving little room for air to escape, and they popped in completely at around 40psi. The internal rim width of 25mm resulted in a nicely shaped tire, perfect for plenty of traction on the trail - only yourself to blame if you lose that front end with these bad boys.
On The Trail
Many may have heard that the best place to save weight is at the wheel. Not being one to run thin, flimsy tires, this often means looking at better wheelsets, but in the past that wasn't all that feasible either, unless you were prepared to ride on a pair of wet noodles. These days there are a lot of good options for strong wheels that come at a reasonable weight, but the M70 wheels are in their own league. They feel as stout, if not more, than a number of downhill wheels ridden in the past, but save hundreds of grams on even more recent trail bike wheelsets. This amounted to great acceleration once the hammer went down on the first climb and when getting on it down flatter sections of trail, but also makes it easier to move the bike around on the trail. It wasn't until we stopped pussyfooting about though that we were really treated to the full extent of the M70's abilities on the trail. Coming into one of the best corners in Squamish, the bike was prepared and loaded up in the corner with everything we had - but were never ready for what happened next. The lateral stiffness in the wheels resulted in the bike being spat out in such an unexpected manner that we ended up running off the trail, and all without any hint of breaking a bead (with 22psi in the rear). A few more rides in and getting familiar with how the wheel feels when placed under full pressure, this is something we don't want to go without.
Another key benefit noticed in the M70s was through rough, chundery sections of trail. The wheels take it all in their stride, extending beyond the propulsion normally experienced off every little backside of trail encountered. This helps incredibly with acceleration through the trail and the more aggressive you get, the more they give back. The ride is smoother, more compliant and more precise than anything else we have experienced from a wheelset, leading you to believe in getting away with more than you probably should try, but often do… hucks and all.
Long Term Durability
We've had absolutely no structural issues with the M70 wheel set, they've been flawless! The most important elements are the ride they provide and the strength and durability, which are all covered by the truckload! As mentioned above, there has been no need to tension any spokes yet and they do nothing but continue to exceed our expectations as we push them harder and further on every ride.
We've heard quite a number of rocks bounce off these hoops but have noticed little more than a bit of damage to the stickers, which are thin at best, so expect this to happen. The main point is that there is no damage to the rims yet with multiple fairly solid rock strikes in recent weeks as the trails have been drying out. The DT hubs that our test set were built on have been solid as well and make for easy maintenance with DT's simple and well thought out internals. We have had issues with bearings dying in DT's earlier than expected recently, but they are fairly simple to replace and besides, the hoops are what you really care about, right?Nevertheless, these wheels exhibit no problems in this department.
Things That Could Be Improved
Not that we've had any issues with spoke tension thus far (which is a really good sign), but if we did, having to take everything apart to twist a spoke half a turn here and a quarter there would be a royal pain! Carbon hoops tend not to have issues with running out of true, but I would imagine that at some point the spokes will need tensioning. You would think that having the ability to give a couple of tweaks to the spokes while the wheel is on the bike, or without taking the tire and rim strip out would be advantageous.
The spoke nipple being internal actually has some sound rationale, with a smaller hole being stronger than a larger one (spoke hole as oppose to nipple) and ENVE adopting a patented technology to create the holes for the spokes and the valve stem. This process sees ENVE mold the holes into the rim during construction rather than drilling through the fibers of the rim after it is built, resulting in completely intact fibers around the rim and in turn adding to the wheel's durability. The potential awkwardness of the internal nipples for many will no doubt be outweighed by the durability and strength afforded by this construction process - they have been for us so far.
A final point - it sounds kind of lame, but when you throw down $2,700 US for a wheelset, you want everything to be dialed, everything. The stickers on the wheels are cheap and thin, tearing and ripping with ease and after 8 weeks use, our rear wheel especially has started to look a little ragged. It's unfortunate they're starting to look this way after such a short period of time and while nothing will stop every bit of damage, a more robust sticker or a different method of getting the graphics on there would keep your expensive wheels looking tight for longer. We can only imagine the thin vinyl is to help keep the weight down, which to be fair, is a far more important selling point.
What's The Bottom Line?
ENVE wheels are lusted over for a reason, they're simply amazing on the trail, adding to the ride in a way we honestly weren't even convinced we would notice. They have added subtleties to the way the bike handles that only increase the experience on the trail, making every ride more fun than the last as you push to see what else can be gotten away with. The M70 wheels are burly, so if you're on a trail bike and are at all nervous about carbon hoops, these may well be the best and most confidence inspiring route to go. They are by no means a budget item, but what's more and more apparent in this day of technology is that you get what you pay for.
For more information visit www.enve.com.
About The Reviewer
AJ Barlas started riding as most do, bashing about dirt mounds and popping off street curbs. Not much has changed, really. These days the dirt mounds have become mountains and the street curbs, while still getting sessioned, are more often features on the trail. He began as a shop monkey racing downhill since day zero, only to go 'backwards' and start riding and racing BMX later on. He then came full circle once moving to Whistler. AJ loves riding everything from 8 hour mountain pass epics (bonking) to lap after lap in the park and 20 minute pumptrack sessions at sunset. Driven by his passion for biking and exposing people to the great equipment we ride, AJ started and maintains the Straightshot MTB blog. So long as wheels are involved, and preferably dirt (the drier and dustier the better), life is good.