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Enve SES 8.9 vs 7.8: which is best for Time Trials & Triathlon?

Update 9/10/23: my latest TT wheel review can be found here (Enve 7.8 vs Aerocoach Titan vs Strada Trispoke).

When the Enve SES 8.9 deep-section wheelset first hit the roads in 2012 it quickly gained a reputation for speed. Essentially a matched set of tubular wheels with an 85mm deep / 26mm wide front paired with a 95mm deep / 24mm wide rear, the wheels not only tested well in the wind tunnel, they were swiftly adopted by fast riders on the road.

At the time of their introduction, there was no Enve rear disc option (there is now and it costs an eye watering £2900), instead Enve claimed that the aero efficiency of the 8.9 rear wheel was within 5% of the fastest disc wheels of the day.

Using the Enve 8.9 on the British Time Trial scene

I got my Enve 8.9 wheelset second-hand in 2017, well after the wheels were discontinued. So, they were technically already obsolete. Replacing my FFWD F9R tubular front wheel, the Enve 8.9 front had a noticeably different shape and was about 250g lighter.

In terms of handling, I’ve never really been afraid of riding deep wheels, so I didn’t really notice a huge amount of difference between the FFWD and Enve front wheels. Yes, it’s a bit of a handful on gusty days and yes, you get knocked off course slightly when an HGV passes you at 60mph, but find me an 85mm deep wheel that isn’t affected in those conditions.

And while I do tend to run a Parcours disc rear wheel for most races, on the rare occasion I have run the Enve 8.9 rear I don’t ever feel that it carries a significant time penalty. So maybe Enve was right about their disc comparison.

I will say that the Enve 8.9 wheels have been pretty bombproof. The front has a DT Swiss 240 hub and the rear has a Chris King and they both spin as sweetly in mid-2021 as they did when I got them in 2017 (and I bet they were never serviced by the previous owner either).

Likewise, they both still run as true as the naked eye can detect, and this despite me slamming the front one into a pothole at 40kph, which was sufficient to cause an instant blowout on the Vittoria Corsa tubular tyre. I was convinced after that mishap that I’d wrecked the wheel, but no, the spokes still ‘rang’ true and I can’t find any buckle in the rim at all.

Impressive stuff.

“Upgrading” to the Enve 7.8

It was after the pothole incident that I began looking for a new front wheel (so convinced was I that I’d broken the 8.9). Originally, I was going to opt for the Princeton Carbonworks Wake 6560 or the Aerocoach Titan wheel. However, when discussing these options with various friends from the Time Trial world, they expressed some concerns about build and durability issues with both (I can’t say whether or not those concerns were well-founded).

So that left me looking at the fastest wheel Enve offers today – the Enve 7.8. Like the 8.9 wheelset, the front wheel is supposed to be paired with a matched back (using a similar concept to the 8.9, the rear 7.8 is deeper and narrower). But I’m not made of money…

In clincher form, the Enve SES 7.8 is noticeably shallower than the 8.9, at only 71mm deep (as opposed to 85mm). It’s also a full 3mm wider at 29mm. Sufficiently wider that when I first fitted the 7.8 wheel, the front brake blocks were rubbing against the rim (leading to a minor panic as I was actually at a TT race!).

My first race with the 7.8 wheel was unremarkable. And I mean that in a positive way. It felt as it should. If I were to scrutinize the experience in more detail, I’d call out two specifics. First, the braking surface on the new wheel has a texture on it which not only makes it sound like a jet engine spooling down when you apply the brakes (I fitted the supplied Enve pads with the new wheel) but actually could be marginally more effective. Let’s say that braking is not a problem.

The second experience is that those HGVs rushing past at 60mph do perhaps have a slightly lesser affect on your ability to maintain a straight line on the road. You’re not immune to gusts by any stretch, but by virtue of the shallower rim depth, you do get buffeted around less.

Despite that shallower rim depth, Enve does claim that the 7.8 is at least as fast as the 8.9 in all conditions (by which I assume it means speed and yaw angle).

One surprise was that, fully loaded with a latex tube and a fast Michelin Time Trial clincher tyre, the Enve 7.8 weighs-in at 140g more than the 8.9 with a Vittoria Speed tubular tyre (1090g vs 950g). I suspect part of the weight gain is the revised shape and wider rim, and part of it is because the new wheel is a clincher.

Why did I go clincher? It was almost a coin toss, but my rear Parcours disc is clincher and I thought it made sense to have the same at the front. No more logic than that, really.

Head to Head : Enve 8.9 vs 7.8

So, if you’re currently using an Enve 8.9, should you rush out and buy a 7.8? Or if you’re in the lucky position to choose between the two, which should you opt for?

My Enve 7.8 came in at £1395 fully built and delivered by Strada Wheels. It uses an updated version of the same DT Swiss 240 hub and what I’m sure are snazzy spokes. It’s a big investment (albeit not as big as the Wake 6560 would have been!).

Obviously the 8.9 is out of production, so you’re only going to find second-hand examples on the market. I would guess you’re going to pay less than £800.

At that price (and assuming it’s in great nick) it’s hard to fault the Enve 8.9. If you hate tubulars, you’re probably not looking at it anyway, but the only other reason I can think of that would make the 8.9 unsuitable for you is if you really don’t having to deal with a twitchy front end.

As for the Enve 7.9; I’ve been very pleased with it. Was it worth the £1300 upgrade? Probably not. Should I now sell the 8.9 to recoup some of the expense? Probably! But of course, I won’t. Ridiculously, it will become a spare, just like the 8.9 usually is.

The one negative of the 7.8 is that 140g of extra weight. Oh, and 71mm just doesn’t look as impressive as 85mm! Size does matter, visually at least.

Either way, 7.8 or 8.9 you’re going to be happy and about as quick as you could hope to be.


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