Monday, May 4, 2015
Review: Easton EC90 Aero Wheelset
Rim Material: Carbon Fibre
Rim Depth: 56mm
Rim Width: 21mm
Hubs: R4 SL
Spokes: Sapim double butted black
Bearings; Hybrid Ceramic Bearings
Weight: 1700g without skewers
Spoke Count: 18/20
Tyres used: Vittoria Rubino Pro. Continental GP4000. 23mm
OK, I've resisted this one for a while. These wheels have been knocking around in my collection for a couple of years, but I could never quite take them seriously.
You see, as soon as I'm anywhere that has hills, there are 2 things that just rule these wheels out: weight and braking surface. The second is probably more crucial for me. Weight is just about performance: a) you're dragging weight you don't need up a hill, and: b) you can't change pace as fast. Braking surface is about safety, much more significant, though with an indirect effect on performance as a result. Carbon just doesn't stop like alloy does. Most specific brake pads for carbon are virtually useless, and then if it rains you might just as well not have brakes at all. If you don't have confidence that your brakes can stop you, you don't ride fast.
So I live in a place that is surrounded by great hills. Actually it's hard to find a flat ride around here, and my most regular training route has at least one 15km stretch of descent, so you can see that a deep rim carbon clincher has little scope for me. My usual choice of wheels are relatively light, strong laterally, but forgiving of road roughness, with alloy rims, and I usually run 25mm tyres now.
Anyway, it's kind of unfair that these wheels never get much of an outing. I bought them a few years back for my TT bike which I hardly ever use now. They are great, fast wheels, when put to the purpose for which they're designed. So when I found myself doing a few days of long, relatively flat riding, I set my stiff race machine up with these and enjoyed getting low and fast. I then did a bit more than a week in a different area, almost completely pancake-flat except for one single nasty 15-18% grind for 3km on either side. The bike was once again my choice, considering the amount of flat, but I couldn't resist the occasional blast up that hill. This of course meant coming down at least one side, which I accomplished gingerly with a lot of screeching-of-rubber-on-carbon.
It was actually these rides that convinced me that these wheels could have a life beyond the flat time-trial. Between these rides I was experimenting with just about every carbon specific brake pad I could find. Most of which are pathetic (I mean I'd get better resistance with rolled up bits of sock in my brake shoes!)
The best performers were the good old SwissStop yellow pads. I think once I'd been down that hill a couple of times with the brakes on, the braking surfaces were a little less pristine and perhaps more primed so that the yellow pads actually worked quite well....in the dry at least. So now that I've discovered that I can stop relatively reliably, I'm starting to take them a bit more seriously.
The wheels roll beautifully. Ceramic bearings of course. And they show their true colours once you're hitting some decent speeds, with a definite aero advantage. My reservations about the strength of carbon clinchers are beginning to fade, and the fears of weak points or general lack of durability have so far proved unfounded. I'm really enjoying riding these. They feel stiff and strong and yet I don't feel a lot of road vibration through them.
I still don't have the confidence to throw myself down hills like I do with my alloy rims, so it's hard to get a really good feel of these on some of my test descents, and they are definitely sluggish on the uptake going uphill - completely expected of this type of rim. As a result it's difficult to compare these to any of the other wheels I ride regularly since they are such completely different animals, but when I get onto a flat or slight downhill, they really come into their own.
THE X FACTOR
But maybe I'm missing the point here. Ever since triathletes started using the deeper rims, and companies like Zipp and Hed reciprocated with the coolest-looking wheels on the planet, deeper rims have become increasingly de rigeur for the majority of us, and offer another chance to spend a king's ransom on a bit of gear. It's not about performance, it's about style isn't it? Deep rims are sexy.
A quick glance through the pro peloton would confirm that on your average road race, pretty much every rider sports something between a 35mm and a 60mm rim, provided for them of course by their wheel sponsor. All carbon, and all tubular. Only on long climbs or windy days will you see anyone on anything more shallow. The rims are being built to take a serious hammering these days, with even the Paris-Roubaix riders choosing deep carbon for the cobbles! These guys must have sorted out the braking issues, but then they probably have the surfaces customized somehow.
Where the pros go, the rest of us will follow, and even guys I know who ride deeper carbon rims (mainly around cities) happily point out that the braking is woeful. They still ride them in preference to anything else. This means, I guess, that being safe has been traded for being fast and looking good.
The bling factor on these is definitely reduced by the fact that they sport the rather in-your-face, bold decal lettering of a few years ago, whereas newer offerings from most companies - including Easton - have gone more understated, if not downright "stealth". However, on the right bike (I have the right bike!), they still look pretty awesome.
Anyway, I'm not likely to be replacing these with anything more modern anytime soon, so I'm banking on them retaining some element of coolness for a few more years.
Bottom line is that, though these work perfectly well, for me they have limited value. On solo rides on quiet roads with moderate gradient and reliably dry weather these have some applicability. That unfortunately doesn't account for much that I do on a bike, so I'll still opt mainly for the more versatile and controllable shallow alloy rims.
I challenge anyone to recommend (or better still, lend) me a pair of deeper carbon wheels that they believe work as well, if not better than, my favourite alloy climbers on long rides with hills. Surely all those pros can't be riding dodgy stuff just because someone's paying them lots of money to do so (!!). Until then I'm relegated to being one of the "old school".
Other related posts:
Orbea Orca Build
My reviews of other wheelsets:
Fulcrum Racing 3
Rolf Prima Vigor