Easton has revamped its road wheel range from head to toe for 2014, with much more aerodynamic rim shapes, lots more tubeless compatibility on clincher models, and more value at the low/mid range than ever. Even better, all the hubs have been completely overhauled for what should be vastly improved durability.
EC90 Aero 55
Topping the new Easton range are the 1,330g EC90 Aero 55 carbon tubulars (US$2,400) and matching 1,580g EC90 Aero 55 full-carbon clinchers (US$2,800), which will go on sale towards the end of 2013.
Both feature a 55mm-deep section, called Fantom, that's a whopping 28mm wide at the tire bed and nearly 30mm across about one-third down the cross-section. Naturally, Easton claims the Fantom rim makes for the "fastest 50-60mm wheel on the market" based on wind averaged drag (WAD) measurements.
The company says WAD research provides a more realistic view of a wheel's aerodynamic performance as it collectively considers a wide range of wind angles (0 to 20 degrees) in a single calculated figure rather than cherry picking a particular data point.
Based on those WAD conditions, Easton claims a 15sec time saving over 40km when traveling at 48kmh (30mph).
Easton EC90 Aero 55 tubulars on our Trek Madone 7-Series
Intricacies aside, the new Fantom rim shape also features a very blunt nose. This should make for good stability in blustery conditions compared to more traditionally shaped rims with more acutely angled spoke beds.
Full-carbon EC90 Aero 55 clinchers will be wholly Road Tubeless compatible, for easy setup with either tubeless or tube-type tires – an industry first if you ignore the notably rare Corima Aero+ (or its rebadged Hutchinson RT1 cousin).
Easton has carried over the threaded rivnut concept from its Haven and Havoc mountain bike wheels, to anchor the dual-threaded spokes. This not only leaves a solid outer rim wall (requiring no tape to be airtight) but allows for a thinner and lighter spoke bed, as the rivnuts also provide localized reinforcement against pull-through.
Easton gives its new EC90 Aero 55 clincher a generous 19mm internal width
EC90 Aero 55 tubulars will instead use internal nipples that will require users to unglue tires if truing is required – a move Easton says was made in the interest of saving weight.
Interestingly, the company has abandoned the once-touted Thermotec brake track for the new EC90 Aero 55 rims, saying that recent advancements in fiber and resin technologies have since rendered the treatment unnecessary. According to Easton, the only comparable competitor wheelset to pass its in-house brake testing is the Zipp 404 Firecrest.
Easton will grace the EC90 Aero 55 wheels – and several other models – with a radically new Echo hubset, whose design looks to be a major step forward from the longstanding R4 and R4 SL currently used throughout the range. Easton says the new Echo hubs are actually about 5g heavier, but that the resultant boost in durability more than makes up for the weight gain.
Conventional cartridge-type hubs feature two bearings for the freehub body, which is then pressed up against the hub shell, which houses two more bearings that support the axle. The setup works but the bearing spacing is less than ideal in terms of axle support.
Echo, on the other hand, shuffles the order of the four bearings so that the ones supporting the axle are pushed nearly all the way out to the dropouts, moving one of the freehub bearings between them. Compared to R4/R4 SL, axle bearing spacing more than doubles from 44mm to 95mm (notably, Easton references the supremely durable Shimano Dura-Ace bearing spacing at 90mm, DT Swiss at 55mm, Mavic at 60mm, and Zipp's 188 at 64.5mm).
Bearings are pushed very far apart on the new Easton Echo front hub
All of the bearings are made for Easton by Enduro, with the innermost ones using an angular contact design and the other two featuring a tight-tolerance C0 spec for what should be far-better off-axis load capacity and durability. To give a sense of scale, the enormous inboard freehub body bearing is actually a 1in headset bearing. Echo hub owners won't have to worry about preload, either, as it will be factory set with no chance of loosening.
The Echo ratchet mechanism also bucks convention with an inverted layout that puts its spring-loaded steel pawls outside the driver ring instead of the other way round. According to Easton, this allows for a more efficient use of material in terms of distributing stress, while allowing for more room to push the driveside axle bearing further out.
The 52-tooth driver ring offers a speedy 6.9-degree engagement speed, too. This would be handy on Easton's off-road models, too, which we expect to get the Echo treatment for 2015.
The 52-tooth driver ring on the new Easton Echo hub
Other Echo features include large-diameter forged and machined bodies, factory-set bearing preload (so owners won't have to worry about adjustments or loosening), additional seals behind the end caps to prevent water damage, and intricately machined flanges with stainless steel reinforcement rings that supposedly keep spoke tension from influencing bearing preload.
Carbon and aluminum models
The EC90 Aero 55s obviously cost a lot for a pair of wheels, so Easton has wisely revamped the rest of its range, too.
EA90 (SLX or SL)
The 1,400g EA90 SLX clinchers (US$1,200) get a wholesale redesign, with a certified Road Tubeless-compatible alloy rim and the same Echo hubs as the EC90 Aero 55s. As before, the rim uses a shallow profile to minimize weight, but the internal width has grown to a more generous 17.5mm for improved ride and handling characteristics. Spoke count is a spindly 16h front, 20h rear.
Easton EA90 SL clincher
Alternatively, the new 1,580g EA90 SL clinchers (US$900) use the same rim material as the SLXs but extruded in last year's narrower (but still tubeless compatible) EA90 RT shape. Spoke count is also a more generous 20-/24-hole front/rear for extra stiffness.
"The alloy used in EA90 SL and EA90 SLX rims is the same but the profiles are different – same raw material, different processes," said Easton product manager Scott Junker. "Additionally, we use some specialized tools to manipulate the EA90 SLX rim after extrusion."
The 1,660g EC70 SL (US$1,400) will use the same 42mm-deep carbon-and-aluminum rim as last year – and, sadly, the same 15mm internal width – but gets a new V5 hubset. Based on the Echo, the V5 features a similar external design with its large-diameter body and stainless steel ring reinforced spoke flanges but a more conventional internal layout.
Easton EC70 SL
EA70 (SL or standard)
The 1,590g EA70 SL (US$700) wheels do get new 17.5mm wide (internal) non-tubeless aluminum clincher rims to go along with their new V5 hubs. Finally, there's the standard 1,650g EA70 (US$500) pair, which uses the same extrusion as the EA70 SL but with a pinned joint and straight spokes instead of butted ones.
The EA90 XD is the only Easton road wheel that will be wholly carried over from this year, and will remain the only disc-compatible option for 2014. We expect a much more comprehensive disc-compatible selection, however, for 2015.
All of the new alloy wheels will arrive in stores a little earlier than the all-carbon EC90 Aero 55s, with projected availability in July.
First ride impressions
We were able to give both the EC90 Aero 55 tubulars and EA90 SLX tubeless clinchers a good workout in the mountains surrounding Bassano del Grappa, Italy. Initial impressions were very encouraging.
Stiffness on the EC90 Aero 55 tubulars was noticeably high and, not surprisingly, they hold speed very well. Unfortunately, relatively calm conditions didn't allow us to test stability, but the plentiful climbs and descents gave us plenty of opportunity to try the braking. Dry braking performance was excellent, with alloy-like levels of initial grip and predictable progression. Braking was silent, too, until the rims got fairly hot, at which point there was some moderate squealing.
Testing in the Dolomites
With just an extra 70g on board, the EA90 SLX tubeless clinchers didn't feel any heavier when we were accelerating or climbing, but their very good stiffness – not to mention the fantastic versatility and durability of tubeless tires – suggested they'll be an excellent everyday wheel for both training and racing.
We'll have long-term samples shortly, and are particularly looking forward to putting some miles in on the EC90 Aero 55 full-carbon clinchers, whose deep-section rims, wide profile, and tubeless compatibility should make them a worthy partner for fast, all-day rides.
Meanwhile, for more information on Easton products see www.eastoncycling.com.