I was in Tijuana, Mexico late last year visiting Easton EMX, Easton’s wheel development facility (and Easton’s prodigious carbon fiber hockey stick production base), to see how the wheels were developed in Mexico for production in Asia. As a small collection of media was queued in a room for the tour, a wheel leaning against box in the corner caught my eye. It looked….different. Below is what I saw (and captured covertly with my iPhone camera:
I cruised over, lifted it high over my head and asked in an innocent tone, “what’s this?” Heads swiveled. Clearly, I had some “project” in hand. An alarmed Easton employee rushed over, relieved me of the wheel and hurried it out of sight. “This was not to be seen by you guys.” But I could not unsee it; I knew Easton was headed toward the industry trend of wider rims for increased aerodynamics. But I didn’t know the backstory on its shape.
Months later takes us to last weekend; while all new-tech eyes were looking at the Tour de France, it was Ironman Austria where the EC90 Aero 55 was spied last weekend as the front wheel (along with a disc) that carried Andreas Raelert to a win and sub-eight-hour performance.
Today, Easton unveils that wheel: The new EC90 Aero 55. It’s a 55mm deep wheelset with its own new wider shape, its own aero storyline and a marked hubset improvement. The combination results in what Easton claims makes for the new category (50-60mm rim depth wheels) leader. Raelert’s result on the covert wheel is one thing, but given this wheel’s all-around performance story, it’s going to be better suited to the rest of us age groupers, at slower speeds, on different courses, at different wind angles. In short, the Aero 55 is cycling’s version of the utility player: damn good at doing it all.
The Aero 55 has been several years in the making, and was the product of the company’s own engineers as well as help from noted aerodynamicist Len Brownlie. The result, Easton says, is a wheel much shallower than Easton’s now-defunct 90mm deep (but narrow design) offering. While it’s easy to lump Easton’s Aero 55 in with the rest of the wide rim lot, the Easton rim’s cross-section shape is very much it’s own. In fact, Easton brought out cross sections of tubulars of its key competitor models in the mid-depth aero wheel category to provide editors a sense of the difference: a Zipp 404, Hed Stinger 5, Bontrager Aeolus 5.0 and the front wheel of an ENVE SES 5.6.
A look at them indicates that the Easton EC 90 Aero 55 is a fair bit fatter, and a fair bit blunter than the others. At 55mm deep, it’s not as deep as the Zipp 404 (58mm) Bontrager or Enve SES 6.7 (60mm front, 70mm rear), but is deeper than the Hed Stinger 5.
But it does have a wider brake track and tire seating width; a massive 28mm wide at the tire bed. It also has a 19mm internal width; that means more air volume for a cushier ride.
The eight-year development, which took place both within CFD programs and in 10 separate testing sessions at the San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel, came with an assist from noted aerodynamicist Len Brownlie.
The Aero 55 with a 16-spoke radial front, 20-spoke (1x nondrive, 2x driveside) rear configuration, will be available in two versions: a standard tubular and a fully certified Tubeless-ready carbon clincher; it is fully-sealed interior (i.e., no spoke holes) without the need for carbon rim bands. Just install the valve core, tire and a bit of sealant and you have a bombproof wheel. While Corima claimed to have the first tubeless carbon clincher, it never made the production rounds, so Easton may well have the first production tubeless-ready carbon clincher on its hands.
It all starts at the rim, which is… fat. FAT. Phat. No matter how you slice it, this thing is big. And with an “all-rounder,” it ought to be. For starters, the rim width, is 21mm wide internally, and a gaping 28mm wide at the brake track.; plenty of space to aerodynamically seat a tubular or clincher. The blunted shape helps keep air attached to the wind longer for less separation, and thus less drag, at a greater range of wind angles.
The result is a wheel that has great aero qualities, while serving as a great handler in crosswinds.
Of course, the wide rim’s physical provides all its inherent physical benefits: greater tire stability within the tire bed, as well as greater volume capacity, being that the internal width of the rim is a roomy 19mm.
The carbon clincher features a rivnut spoke threading design that has been employed and seen success on Easton’s mountain bike wheel line, which in Easton’s experience, provides a greater level of strength with greater weight savings.
NEW, IMPROVED ECHO HUBSET
While the new rim will be the big draw, the new V5 hubset is quietly a star in its own right. Gone is R4 hub that required user-adjusted bearing tension; too loose and the wheel had lateral play, too tight and it had high resistance and required more servicing to replace worn bearings.
The new Echo hub is a complete departure. Instead of focusing on weight savings, Easton made durability—increased bearing life—the key feature. To that end, Easton went away from the conventional approach of locating freehub body bearing at the freehub body, and hub bearings at the hub flanges—a design that makes for an inherently narrow bearing stance. Add the proliferation of 11-speed groups (which further narrows the flanges), and you get wheels with greater lateral load on the bearings and thus decreased bearing life.
For starters, Easton employs angular contact bearings. Then they moved them out—way out. The previous bearing stance on the old Easton R4 hub was 44 millimeters. Not great, especially compared to DT Swiss at 55mm, Edco at 56mm, American Classic at 67mm and the wide-stance standard, Shimano’s Dura-Ace 7800 hub, at a massive 90mm of bearing-to-bearing distance. That’s a reason Shimano wheels have had such a solid reputation as bombproof, sturdy wheels: they were so wide.
Easton’s new Echo hub goes wider: a massive 95mm. The gap was achieved by locating the non-driveside bearing at its traditional place on the flange, but placing the inboard bearing on the spindle within the midline of the freehub body. The design makes it one of the widest bearing stance hubs on the market.
The pawl/ratched engagement is reversed as well; the pawls live on the hub shell, with the drive ring exists on the cassette body. A seven-degree engagement makes for a wheel that engages quickly out of a corner or after a coast.
Pre-setting the bearing load means it’s one less thing for you as a consumer to have to mess with.
The wheels are, as they have historically been, acoustically-tuned while trued.
Easton contends that while many brands claim to be the fastest, they are quick to trot out the trend that their “fastest” looks sharp within a narrow yaw angle constrainment. That’s great when the wind hits you only between 17 and 19 degrees, but it doesn’t represent the full range of wind angles we experience on the road. “It’s hard to say ‘aw, I’m gonna take out my 17.5 degree yaw wheels for this ride or race,’” says Junker.
So instead of claiming to be fastest within one yaw, Easton developed the EC90 Aero 55 to be an all-arounder; Easton isn’t claiming to the fastest wheel at an acute range; they’re claiming their wheel as most adept (and thusly, the best handling wheel) at all ranges. Consider the Aero 55 the utility of the race wheel world; damn good at everything.
To gather that “jack of all trades” moniker, Easton applied a study analysis called Wind Average Drag (WAD). The formula has been in use by the automotive industry for decades, and now stands as Easton’s metric for finding the wheel’s aerodynamic performance across a range of yaw angles, from zero to 20 degrees.
“WAD takes into account a lot of wind angles, wheel speeds, wind speeds and assigns them a weighted average drag number,” said Easton product manager Scott Junker. “We said zero yaw, we don’t need to worry too much about that; let’s put a lot of importance on tests at these more frequent side angles.
Testing speed was also done at both an “industry standard” 30 miles per hour as well as 25. “The average age group bike split is under 25 miles per hour, so why are we testing at 30?
Their results? With testing executed at the San Diego Wind Tunnel, with all tires set up on Continental Podium 22 tubular tires on a BMC TM01 frame and fork as a baseline, The Aero 55 came in with a weighted Wind Average Drag average (at 30mph) of 371 grams for the Aero 55 tubular, and 381 with the Aero 55 clincher. Easton’s comparatives found a WAD number of 411 grams for a Enve 6.7 tubular wheelset, 422 for the Hed Stinger 5 tubular, 426 for the Zipp 404 Firecrest tubular and 458 for its own previous aero wheel in the category (and the test’s baseline), the Easton EC90 Aero tubular.
The drag savings of the Aero 55 against their baseline EC90 Aero added up by their estimation to 32 seconds over 40 kilometers of riding.
Further, Easton tested the Aero 55 across a range of tires, using the Continental Competition serving as a baseline and a WAD of 478 grams. Other tires mounted to the Aero 55 and their WAD numbers include:
- Vittoria Open Corsa 23mm clincher: 427 grams
- Zipp Tangente Clincher 23mm: 428 grams
- Continental Competition Tubular 25mm: 405 grams
- Continental Competition Tubular 22mm: 383 grams
- Hutchinson Atom 23mm clincher: 381 grams
- Zipp Tangente Tubular 23mm: 374 grams
- Vittoria Corsa Evo KS Tubular: 372 grams
- Continental Podium TT: 371 grams
- Zipp Tangente Tubular 21mm: 370 grams
- Zipp Tangente Clincher 21mm: 358 grams
And the best tire mating for the Aero 55? The Bontrager R4 Aero Clincher, with a WAD of 364 grams.
Again, Easton provides a new option. As one would expect, the Aero 55 is available in tubular and carbon clincher versions. But a new twist is that the carbon clincher version is also certified tubeless compatible. While Corima debuted the tubeless-compatible Aero+ carbon clincher over a year ago, it never saw store shelves. As such, Easton can fairly claim that they will have the world’s first production tubeless-ready carbon clincher.
The Aero 55 tubular will tip the scales at 1,330 grams for the pair, while the tubeless-ready carbon clincher will weigh in at 1,58 grams.
The question was posed whether a hydraulic brake-ready road disc version of the carbon wheel was in the works. The answer was no, “but we absolutely have plans for that, in 2015,” Junker said.
OTHER NEW WHEELS
The Aero55 wasn’t the only debut; only the one that we wanted to focus on for race action. In fact, save for the EA90 XD, Easton will discontinue its entire wheel line from 2012 and prior.
The remainder of the Easton road wheel line for 2014—all 9, 10 and 11-speed compatible for Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo platforms, include:
- EC70 SL: this 1,660g wheelset featuring the updated V5 Hub will price at $1,400 a pair
- EA90 SLX: This tubeless-ready wide-rim design aluminum race wheel weighs requires no rim bands, weighs in at 1400 grams and will retail at $1,200.
- EA90 SL: The SLX’s little brother has all the same features including road tubeless capability, at a slightly higher weight of 1580 grams. It will price at $900 a pair.
- EA70 SL: New to the line, the EA70 SL has the V5 hub and wide rim, light double-butted spokes and weighs 1590 grams for the set, pricing at $700.
- EA70: Again, a younger cousin to the SL, the EA70 uses a slightly heavier jointed rim and straight gauge spokes, weighing 1,650 grams and pricing at $500.
The overhaul on the 2014 wheels runs across the range; all road wheels 2013 and prior are being discontinued.
Easton’s media launch for the Aero 55 took place on the doorstep of the famed Dolomite Mountain range. While we found it an odd place to debut an aero wheelset, it was our test on the tubeless EA90 SLX alloy wheel across four massive passes seen in the Maratona d’les Dolomiti Granfondo that served to make it appropriate.
But for those aero wheels we were more rapt to test? We had two days leading up to our big five-hour, 20-minute ride in the mountains. And those were done on the flatter roads east and west of our base in Bassano del Grappa—aboard a set of tubular Aero 55s.
Oh, one more thing: in order to get the best true-feel experience, Easton asked all editors to bring their personal bikes to test their wheels aboard. I brought my Cervelo S5, built (appropriately for the region) with Campagnolo Record EPS. Kindly, Easton commissioned Bassano-based Calavera Bikes to build our bikes upon our arrival as we unpacked. Just two hours off the plane, we were riding through the Italian countryside.
As to the EA90 SLX road tubeless climbing wheel that we took over the Dolomites, I loved the ride. Stiff, light and straight-tracking, the wheels largely went unnoticed as the lot of us wrestled up Passo Pordoi and Passo Selle and went laser-focused on the switchback descent—which is all I could ask. At 1,200 for a set, and with their road tubeless versatility, they’ll make great day-in, day out trainers.
Back to the Aero 55: The first thing I wanted to experience was the hubset. I’d fussed with Easton’s preload adjust on previous wheels, and always accepted it left much to be desired; too loose and there was lateral play. Too tight and the freehub body dragged. This one was just perfect, and knowing it’d require no more thought though the length of its existence is nice.
Sure, freehub quick engagement is not a big deal for Ironman guys, athletes doing sprint or Olympic-distance racing on technical courses will appreciate the quickness of engagement. In fact, after our rides in Italy, we found it one of the quickest-engaging stock-option freehub bodies outside an aftermarket outfitter like Chris King.
Things like lateral stiffness were what we would expect, while things like crosswind stability we were unable to ascertain due to, well, lack of winds riding the Aero 55along the rolling foothills of the pre-Dolomites.
Certainly, the Aero 55 is only the beginning; Easton’s had a 90mm wheel in its arsenal, and we see no reason for a deeper-dish mold to come to market in the future. But for now, this 55 is the perfect all-conditions wheel option; deep and aero enough for any race action, shallow enough for rolling or climbing course utility, and now strong and durable enough for daily battering.
PRICING AND AVAILABILITY
The Aero 55 tubeless-ready carbon clincher will both retail for $2,800. All alloy rims are shipping to Easton retailers currently, and will be in shops this month. As for the new carbon fiber wheels, there’s a slight waiting period; the Aero 55 tubulars will be in stores after Interbike in October, while the tubeless-ready carbon clincher will be available at the end of the year.