Wheel Wars: Profile Design and Enve

By Tom Demerly.

Enve, formerly Edge Composites, and Profile Design enter the high performance aero race wheel category with two new models that are part of a complete wheel line for each company.

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Since the mid 1980’s HED and Zipp have been the visible brands in triathlon aero wheels. Two major triathlon brands join the wheel market for 2011 and beyond.

It’s a Race against Zipp.

If you use the Kona Wheel Count as a measure of wheel brand popularity Zipp is the de facto winner with 58.43% of the wheels on the pier in Kona. The remaining 41.57% of total wheel brands are shared among 24 brands with no single brand owning more than 7% of the market. That is total domination.

While Zipp’s market share is backed by proven innovation two things create an opportunity for new brands: Availability and distribution. Not every retailer sells Zipp and Zipp supply can get spotty at the height of the race season. HED, inventor of the deep section wheel, shares a similar set of challenges in addition to a smaller manufacturing base than Zipp. Enter Profile Design and Enve.

Two Big Names in Multisport.

Enve and Profile are two well established names in multisport. While Enve may not be as recognizable as Profile Design, a recent name-change from “Edge Composites” provides more visibility into the brand history. Enve includes a U.S. engineering cadre from Felt, Reynolds, Easton and even Schwinn. Manufacturing and design are done in the same building here in the United States. This is a formula that has worked for Zipp and HED. There is a segment of the market that shops for a U.S. made, hand built wheel and Enve serves that market.

A thumbnail comparison of wheels in a roughly comparable rim depth provides an interesting insight.

Profile Design is well know for a thick catalog of everything from aerobars, saddles, bottles, cages and computer mounts to wetsuits and triathlon apparel. Aero wheels were an obvious category for them. At one time Profile even dabbled in bicycles under the (then) leadership of a current Cervelo executive.

Profile Design brings an off-shore approach to wheel building. That’s a politically neutral reference to Taiwanese manufacturing. Before you become dismissive of composite manufacturing in Asia its worth acknowledging that the overwhelming majority of high end carbon fiber bike brands are built in high technology factories in Asia. The myth of under-paid workers slaving in a sweat shop is largely extinct for most brands. The region is simply better configured for high volume, high quality composite manufacturing.

Enve 45 Full Carbon Clinchers.

Enve's 45 Carbon Fiber Clinchers are excellent U.S. made wheels using proven hubs and full carbon clincher rims laid-up here in the U.S. They take on Zipp and HED and prominent U.S. made aero wheel brands.

The Enve 45 race wheel set we tested is a full carbon fiber clincher front and rear with 20 radially laced spokes in front and 24 cross-two spokes in the rear. Radial lacing on a front wheel is claimed to provide better aerodynamics by removing the wider points where two spokes cross. The 4 additional spokes crossing over each other twice on each spoke in the rear improves ride quality and side to side stiffness. The spokes are Sapim bladed, aerodynamic spokes with a black finish. Spoke nipples are concealed inside to rim. In the unlikely event any wheel truing or spoke replacement was needed it is simply a matter of removing the tire to access the spoke nipples.

The closer you look at the details and finish on the Enve 45's the better the wheels begin to look. Notice how the spoke nipple is concealed inside the rim, the industry standard for aerodynamic performance.

Our Enve 45’s measured 21.8 millimeters wide, staying with a more traditional approach to aero wheel width than recent trends with wider wheels such as Zipp Firecrest and HED wheels.

Of five wheels on our benchmarking spread sheet the Enve 45’s are the lightest weight at only 1454 grams actual verified weight for the pair. That is an impressive statistic that offsets their position as highest priced in our comparison at $2359.99.

DT Swiss is a well established sealed precision cartridge bearing hub manufacturer. The freehub on the DT Swiss rear hub used by Enve includes a patented pawl/ratcheting system for better durability and transfer of drivetrain energy.

Enve uses a DT Swiss hub as opposed to Zipp who has designed and machined their own hubs. The rear hub has the patented DT Swiss ratcheting system, claimed to have higher load capacity by DT Swiss than other freehub body ratcheting systems. The hubs have traditional flange spacing and size. The wheels we tested were SRAM/Shimano 10 speed compatible. A separate Campagnolo compatibility is also available.

We verified the dimensions and weights of the various race wheels and found both Enve and Profile Design in close compliance with their claimed weights and dimensions.

Enve supplies the wheels with gray colored carbon specific brake pads that fit most brake calipers such as Shimano and most original equipment brakes on major bike brands. They also include an alloy, threaded valve extender for inflation.

Enve provides a 50% off full retail lifetime crash replacement price for wheels damaged by a pothole strike, crash, flight case damage or other non-warranty, non-manufacturer defect problem. The wheels are warranted to be free from manufacturer defects for two years after purchase to the original owner with a valid sales receipt.  Enve notes on their website that “The finish or aesthetics of Enve Composites products are not covered under this warranty.” This includes irregularities in the appearance of the carbon outer layer which are common in carbon fiber products and don’t detract from their performance. There is no rider weight limit on Enve wheels and they have been featured on the website www.superclydesdale.com.

Despite Enve's light weight there is no rider weight limit published for the wheels. Like any race equipment though, they are optimized for performance oriented riders.

Ride quality on the Enve 45’s is comfortable and smooth, what you would expect from a premium carbon wheelset. Dry braking with the gray pads included is very good. Enve does comment about using both brakes, front and rear, on fast descents to avoid rim overheating and possible tire failure.

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Profile Design Altair 52 Full Carbon Clinchers.

Aerodynamic race wheels are a natural product category for Profile Design. Their new Altairs are well made, a good value and have racy graphics that match many bike paint schemes.

At $1729.95 for the set the Profile Design Altair 52 wheels are a good value. They race SRAM and HED to the bottom of the price category with a slightly deeper 52 millimeter rim section that may be more aerodynamic at higher speeds.

Weight and price seem to be correlated in aero wheels and the Profile Design Altair 52 is the second heaviest in our five wheel spreadsheet at 1700 grams. This is still a manageable wheel weight on flat and rolling terrain on a medium to large size rider between 150-200 pounds.

Profile Design did a good job of including a complete support package with their wheels including replacement spokes and brake pads. The fit and finish on the Profile Design Altair carbon clinchers is clean and free of major irregularities.

The Profile Design Altair 52’s come out of the box with a complete accessory package including replacement spokes in all sizes, brake pads, a spoke wrench, and standard items like rim strips and quick release skewers.

The rim shape of the Profile Design Altair 52’s was developed using computational fluid dynamics. According to their website their rim shape is optimized “Using data of wind speeds from Ironman and Ironman 70.3 courses and typical age group performance” .

Spokes on the Profile Design Altair 52’s are 20 radially laced front Sapim bladed aerodynamic spokes and 24 Sapim bladed spokes crossed twice for additional lateral stiffness and ride comfort in the rear wheel. Hubs are sealed cartridge bearings with a black finish.

The hub and wheel build quality on the Profile Design Altairs is good even when examined up close. Hubs use a traditional "J" bend spoke at the flange. The all-carbon fiber rims do impose some restrictions on tire pressure and size, so the owner's manual is a must-read.

As with most performance race wheels Profile Design requires registration of the original owner to validate the warranty. Warranty is against manufacturer defects- not crashes, flight case or shipping damage or pothole strikes. The warranty against defects is 2 years. The reality of wheels warranties is that if the wheel is received defective any problem usually shows up well before 2 years use.

A collection of quality control inspection stickers suggest a rigorous process. Wheels are individually serialed to track quality control and are hand made in modern Taiwanese manufacturing facilities.

An interesting line of fine print in the wheel owner’s manual mentions a tire width specification of 22-24 millimeters in ISO or ETRTO measurement system. According to this your tire widths are effectively limited to 23 millimeters with the exception of Continental’s 24 millimeter road tires. That means no 700 X 20c, 18c or 25c labeled tires should be used on these wheels according to the manual. The manual further specifies a rider weight limit of 220 pounds or 100 kilograms. There are particularly stern warnings about exceeding tire pressures of 125 PSI and the warranty species you do not inflate the tires on these wheels using anything other than a hand pump- no compressors. Profile offers a 30% discount below suggested retail for crash replacement and requires registration of the product for any warranty claims or crash replacement eligibility.

Bladed, aerodynamic spokes turn around sealed precision bearing hubs that felt very good to the touch out of the box and even improve with a few miles. Sealed cartidge bearing hubs are a good choice for most triathletes since they are nearly maintenance free.

The hubs on these wheels initially felt “sticky” out of the box but worked-in perfectly when clamped in a quick release on a bicycle. The graphics match most bike color schemes and look great. The graphic treatment is a thin appliqué that stays on much better than die-cut decals commonly used on some wheels.

Profile Design's Altairs are a top level race well option in their first year, with good quality finish and design.

The carbon fiber, aerodynamic race wheel category continues to grow as the number of athletes in triathlon grows. The introduction of carbon fiber clincher technology adds a recent update to the race wheel category. Bringing new brands and products to the mix gives customers two new options in high performance race wheels. In the case of both Profile Design’s Altair 52’s and the Enve 45 full carbon fiber clinchers these are worthy entries at the top end of the product category.

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A new culture of carbon race wheels gives customers more options than ever before.