Carbon wheels are appealing for many of us thanks to their weight savings and ride stiffness, but whether it be price or performance, carbon is not for everybody.
This is especially true for gravel and cyclocross, where the demands of the riding can leave you with an expensive broken wheel either at the local park or much farther afield.
Easton has long offered an alloy option for gravel and cyclocross in the EA90SL Disc wheelset. Last year, the company added its new Vault hub in an effort to increase its gravel durability and shave a few grams off the total weight.
Even with Easton's full complement of wheels available for the choosing, both Amanda Nauman and Michael van den Ham ran them at the 2018 Dirty Kanza 200, demonstrating one situation where alloy might be the material of choice.
We have had the chance to put our own gravel and cyclocross miles in on a set of the re-designed EA90 SL Disc wheels. Read on for our impressions from the long-term review.
Easton EA90 SL Disc Tubeless Clinchers
Easton constructs the EA90 SL Disc rims from its EA90 aluminum with a deep, wide center channel for tubeless setup. When we reviewed the EA90 SL Disc’s carbon cousin the EC90 SL, we noted Easton’s move toward wider rims. The EA90 SL Disc has a 19.5mm internal width and checks in at 27mm deep.
The width splits the difference between a deep-profile aero rim and shallow mountain-bike oriented design. It’s a width that accommodates road, cyclocross and gravel tires. These days for just non-UCI cyclocross and gravel racing, we would probably opt for something a tad wider between 21 and 23mm, but Easton took aim at a moving target and got close to the center with this versatile width.
Our review wheelset is the EA90 SL Disc model, which comes with Centerlock rotor mounts. We’ve previously ridden Easton wheels with 6-bolt hubs, and some manufacturers state they can offer a wider bearing replacement, but anyone who needs to replace, remove or change rotors often will appreciate the EA90 SL’s Centerlock rotor mount, especially when boxing your bike up for Nationals or a far-flung gravel adventure.
The wheels are both current and retro-friendly. Easton provides caps for quick release, 12mm or 15mm thru-axles up front and quick release and 12x142mm thru-axles out back.
The newest addition to the EA90 SL wheelset is Easton’s Vault hub it released last year. The company claims the larger bearings and wider bearing stance of the cone-shaped hub help increase its durability, especially for gravel and ’cross riding. It also claims the new hub shaves 48 grams off its older M1 hub.
A quick turn of the alloy freehub with your fingers or pedals reveals a quick-engaging 3-pawl system, based on 2 teeth per pawl that turns into 6 degrees of engagement on a 60-tooth drive ring.
We measured a weight of 1,557g with tape and valves, or an estimated actual weight of 1,529g, which is rather light for a tubeless alloy wheelset. In fact, it is lighter than the 1,710g Ritchey WCS Apex 38 and 1,644g Derby CX 23i carbon wheelsets we have reviewed, but a tad heavier than the $849 PBO spoke alloy Spinergy GX wheels we recently reviewed.
At $900, it’s certainly less expensive than carbon options too.
While we don’t expect to break a spoke, it’s nice to know that Easton has included five extra spokes with each pair, and thankfully, the wheels use only one spoke length and the external nipples are accessible.
With a deep, wide center channel, tubeless tire installation is very easy and likely won’t have you reaching for tire levers. We installed Ritchey WCS Megabite 38mm tires, which admittedly are not the tightest of tubeless clinchers. They went on without levers and seated quietly with a tubeless pump.
They’ve been relatively air-tight since after a typical post-installation top-off and thanks to a small bead-retaining lip, have remained seated upon complete deflation, allowing a chance to re-air, plug or top-off with a mini-pump.
Although we've often stated that it’s difficult to find a tubeless rim that tackles high pressure and low-pressure duties equally well, Easton’s road-oriented tubeless rims have typically been one of the better low-pressure options we’ve tried, thanks to their subtle bead-retaining lips. The EA90 SL continues this trend and has offered more burp resistance than Road Tubeless options we’ve seen from Shimano and others.
We had the Easton EA90 SL wheels mounted up for cyclocross races through the fall and found the setup to be problem-free. We’ve bottomed out without burps and folded sidewalls in turns without unseating the tire, ridden up and down stairs, and may have even ungracefully banged them on a few botched barrier hops. After all the use, we have still found the wheels to be dent free, round and true.
The new EA90 SL Disc wheelset was launched at the same time as the Vault hub. We found the hubs spun smoothly and provided quick engagement when it was time to put power down. It held up nicely during our test period over the months. We'll keep an eye on them to see if they provide the additional long-term durability Easton claims.
The Ritchey Megabite measures just about 38mm on the Easton EA 90 SL but gives a slight “lightbulb” cross section since the rim is nearly 20mm narrower than the widest portion of the tire. At low pressure, this adversely affects cornering and handling in tight situations for a given tire pressure compared to the same tire mounted on a wider rim, but is far superior to the 13mm rims we rolled on not long ago.
If you're only riding 40mm tires, you might reach for a wider rim, but if you like to mix it up, perhaps between road, cyclocross and gravel tires, the EA90 SL might meet your needs.
All said the EA90 SL is an excellent value with a weight less than many carbon offerings that cost double. They are versatile and durable. The hubs are smooth and reliable. The rims set up reliably for tubeless, and they are tough, whether you use them for gravel, cyclocross or road.
Wide tires might require you to run a higher pressure than normal, but with the narrower rim profile, you gain the versatility of being able to run road tires at high pressures with the same wheelset.
For more on the Easton EA90 SL Disc wheelset, see the specs and photo gallery below.
Easton EA90 SL Disc Alloy Tubeless Clincher Specs
Price: $900 USD
Weight: 695g front, 834g rear, 1,529g total (estimated without tape/valves)
Rim: alloy, tubeless-ready, disc-only
Rim Width: 19.5mm internal, 24mm external
Rim Depth: 27mm
Spokes: 24 bladed Sapim, laced 3x
Hub: Easton Vault, CenterLock disc
Axles: Front: quick release, 12, 15mm thru-axle; Rear: quick release and 12x142mm thru-axle; end caps available
More Info: eastoncycling.com