In 1998 I was contacted by the owner of a new wheel company called Velomax. He proceeded to tell me how he was a cycling enthusiast who bought the company from the founder and believed that the wheels were revolutionary. I was a bit skeptical if only for the reason that the company founder had sold out. As it turns out, the company’s founder had been overwhelmed by production issues following a single favorable review.
You all know where this story goes: Company owner Brad Hunter conquers the production issues, gets OE spec and then sells the whole shebang to Easton. Bein jouer, as the French say.
Velomax wasn’t the first into the complete wheel game. Others, such as Mavic, had better distribution. Others made lighter wheels, though Velomax produced some very light stuff. They eventually abandoned their trademark T3 Technology (twin thread spokes, that is, they were threaded at each end to eliminate elbow breaks). So what made the wheels worthwhile?
They stayed true better than any other wheels I’ve ridden. Name a company making complete wheels: Campagnolo, Mavic, Reynolds, Zipp, DT. Velomax and now Easton wheels stay true better than any other wheels I’ve ever ridden. The secret is one I learned at Bill Farrell’s New England Cycling Academy back in the early ’90s: spoke tension. The secret to building a wheel that stays true isn’t high tension, it’s even tension. A wheel built with equal tension on all the spokes balances the forces working on it. Put another way, when I notice a wheel is out of true, the first thing I look for is a loose spoke; a low-tension spoke is a frequent culprit.
Tensiometers can tell a wheel builder spoke tension in broad terms. Most can be fairly difficult to read to single increments of Kilogram force (Kgf). A half-Kilogram force difference in spoke tension can result in a wheel that the average rider would consider to be significantly out of true. However, changes in pitch can be detected down to fractions of a cycle with ease. Velomax began truing wheels with the aid of transducers.
Velomox wheel builders would pluck spokes and check their pitch with the aid of what was essentially a guitar tuner. In the plainest of terms, Velomax tuned their wheels.
Naturally, I was curious to see if Easton kept up the practice of hand-built wheels after acquiring Velomax. The answer is yes. The EA90 SLX wheels feature 18 spokes front and 24 spokes rear, making truing especially difficult; the fewer the spokes, the harder it is to true a wheel and the more important equal tension becomes. A single spoke of high or low tension can pull an 18-spoke wheel out of true.
I’ve ridden more than 2000 miles on these wheels and while these shots were taken when this set was new, they still look good and run true. Why aren’t more wheels this reliable?
Products I review must run yet another gauntlet, one many of you don’t suffer. I live two miles from the ocean and the salt air will corrode any alloy part that isn’t properly plated. The EA90 SLXs are the only wheels I’ve reviewed featuring alloy spoke nipples that didn’t show corrosion after a year of use.
The front wheel features the single widest-spaced hub flanges of any wheel I’ve seen in years. Placing the hub flanges so far apart results in a wheel better able to stand up to side loads and with only 18 spokes, it needs all the strength it can find. I won’t lie; I can feel the front wheel flex in sprints and was able to flex it significantly under hard descents. What I didn’t detect was any twisting, which has a tendency to unnerve me because I’m not confident about my line; a bit of flex doesn’t seem to bug me.
The EA90 SLX wheels roll on ceramic bearings and while there is some valid criticism of lousy ceramic bearings that drive up cost without adding any real performance, I can say these wheels roll with little bearing drag. Wheel weight was a bit more than advertised; they claim 1398g but my set weighed in at 1436; not a capital offense.
Almost every company out there claims their wheels can be converted from a Campy freehub to Shimano and vice versa. Claim is the crux move in this phrase. On some wheels it’s so damn difficult I’d really rather try to run phone line through a crumbling 14-century Italian abby. Not so on the Eastons. I managed to do it in minutes and with a minimum of fuss. It took roughly as long as changing out the cassette. I’d have spent more time putting on a new set of tires front and rear.
I do have one criticism of the EA90 SLX wheels, but it’s not so much with the wheels themselves. It’s the rim strips. Like most companies, Easton is spec’ing a woven mylar rim strip that can get pushed to the side, exposing the rim holes, if you mount a tire with a particularly tight fit. It seems I can’t go more than about six months without writing some sort of rant about the worthlessness of these things, but they aren’t Velox, nor will they ever be. Technically, they have a value proposition roughly equal to feces. Whenever I receive a set of wheels, I use the rim strips included until I get my first flat caused by a rim hole and then I throw them away. This leaves me the opportunity to say I gave them a chance, while forcing me to chase the group like … well, like a guy who flatted. It’s good training I suppose.
The EA90 SLX wheels have a suggested retail of $1045. That’s a fair chunk of change, but I think they are more than worth it. They’re lighter than some frames, stay truer than a Supreme Court justice and because they feature an aluminum rim can be run anywhere on any day and with any amount of braking. Light enough for racing and yet all-purpose enough for daily riding and compatible with any bike you own—is there a better combination? I think I’m going to ditch some of the wheels I have to get another set of these.Brad Hunter, EA90 SLX, Easton, Velomax
These Easton EA90 SLX tubeless-ready aluminium wheels are lightweight and quick while at the same time being strong and durable. Although designed as race wheels, they're robust enough for daily use year round.
I've been using these wheels regularly for months (sorry, Easton, I know this review was due ages ago) and they've proven to be pretty much bombproof. They're the sort of wheels you can fit and forget. Hit a huge pothole? No worries. Take on some gravel? Pah! They've handled everything I've thrown at them and they've not needed so much as a tweak.
> Find your nearest dealer here
Despite being sturdy, the EA90 SLX wheelset is also lightweight. Ours hit the road.cc Scales of Truth at 1,430g without the quick releases. They feel lightweight in use too.
I've been running them with inner tubes and Continental Grand Prix 4000 S tyres and with Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tyres, both types in a 25mm width. They've performed impressively both ways.
The alloy rims are 25mm deep with a 22mm external, 17.5mm internal rim width. That's not as wide as many rims these days but it's similar to a Mavic Ksyrium Elite (£525) and Ksyrium Pro (£775), for example.
There's no need to add rim tape because the rim bed isn't drilled. As well as meaning that there's no danger of air escaping from a tubeless system, this adds to the rim's rigidity.
I didn't find setting these up tubeless any more or less difficult than any other wheels I've used. It's worth noting, though, that the valves supplied don't have a removable core so you need to pour tyre sealant directly into the tyre rather than via the valve. I prefer to do it like that anyway. I had no trouble with air escaping even when riding tyres at low pressure over bumpy gravel surfaces. The rims handled all that without any drama.
> Read the road.cc guide to tubeless wheels
Although they've been around for a while now, the Echo hubs are a highlight. They use sealed cartridge bearings so you don't have to adjust them at any time. Those bearings are reasonably well protected and no water or gunk has got in during testing.
The Echo rear hub is the interesting one in that Easton has moved the axle bearings super-wide (they're 95mm from one another) to improve durability.
Easton has also reversed the design of the hub's drive mechanism. Unusually, the individually sprung steel pawls are attached to the rear hub shell and the drive ring is on the cassette body.
Engagement (producing drive when you start to pedal) is quick because there are 51 teeth on the drive ring, so you're looking at just 7° before your power starts to kick in.
The front wheel has 16 radially laced spokes while the rear has 20. They're laced one-cross on the non-driveside and two-cross on the driveside. The spokes are straight-pull double-butted spokes from Sapim. Easton's own UST alloy nipples – threaded on both the inside and the outside – are externally adjustable although replacements might not be available from your local bike shop.
The EA90 SLX wheels might not have the ability to slice through the air like something with a deep-section rim but, on the other hand, the 25mm depth means crosswinds have very little effect.
> Buyer's Guide: The best road bike wheels
To me, the key aspects of the performance are that these wheels are light enough to be lively and responsive yet they're strong and durable enough that you can use them day in, day out without giving them a thought. Some people won't want to spend this amount on an all-round wheelset, but if you do you'll be rewarded with a top-end aluminium performance.
Light and lively tubeless-ready wheels that are durable enough for fuss-free everyday use
Make and model: Easton EA90 SLX Wheels
Tell us what the wheel is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Easton says, "The EA90 SLX is Easton's top-of-the-line aluminum wheelset. These are race wheels by all accounts, yet strong enough for daily duty and cyclocross riding. These wheels roll smooth and fast, thanks in part to the wide 17.5-millimeter (internal) rim. And with durable Echo hubs, EA90 SLX wheels are built to keep rolling smooth season after season. Don't be fooled by all of the technology packed into these wheels''they are easily serviceable. They roll on sealed bearings and standard double-butted straight-pull spokes. The only proprietary pieces are the dual-threaded spoke nipples which are serviced just like standard nipples with no special tools necessary"
I'd agree with all that. You might save these for best but one of their key attributes is the ability to stand up to everyday use and abuse.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the wheel?
Easton lists these technical features:
FINISH SAND BLASTED / WATER TRANSFER DECALS
TYPE ROAD TUBELESS ALUMINUM CLINCHER
RIM MATERIAL EA90 ALLOY / WELDED
RIM DEPTH 25mm
INTERNAL RIM WIDTH 17.5mm
EXTERNAL RIM WIDTH 22mm
SPOKES SAPIM STRAIGHT-PULL / DOUBLE-BUTTED
FRONT SPOKE PATTERN 16 / RADIAL
REAR SPOKE PATTERN 20 / 1x NDS / 2x DS
BRAKING SURFACE MACHINED ALUMINUM
NIPPLE TYPE EASTON UST ALLOY
FRONT/REAR HUB EASTON ECHO
BEARING TYPE SEALED CARTRIDGE BEARINGS
Rate the wheel for quality of construction:
Rate the wheel for performance:
Rate the wheel for durability:
Rate the wheel for weight
Rate the wheel for value:
Did the wheels stay true? Any issues with spoke tension?
No issues at all, and I've ridden these loads in all conditions.
How easy did you find it to fit tyres?
Fine. Nothing to report there. Getting tubeless tyres to inflate first time can be a pain, but it's the same with all tubeless wheels I've used.
How did the wheel extras (eg skewers and rim tape) perform?
There is no rim tape because the rim bed isn't drilled. The skewers work fine.
Tell us how the wheel performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The wheels are lively and durable. That's a good combination.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the wheel
Lightweight and durable. Easton's Echo hubs, particularly the rear one, perform very well.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the wheel
Nothing springs to mind.
Did you enjoy using the wheel? Yes
Would you consider buying the wheel? Yes
Would you recommend the wheel to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
These are a straightforward 8/10. They perform really well at a good price.
I usually ride:My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding
Easton EA90 SLX Road Wheelset - rim.jpg
Easton EA90 SLX Road Wheelset - rim bed.jpg
Easton EA90 SLX Road Wheelset - rear hub.jpg
Easton EA90 SLX Road Wheelset - front hub.jpg