Words by: Liam Woods
When it comes to high end carbon mountain bike wheels, the first name that typically comes to mind is ENVE Composites. They have been in the carbon wheel game longer than anyone and is often considered the benchmark in quality in mountain bike, road, and now gravel wheels. Established some 13 years ago in Ogden, Utah, the company has grown a bit since then but the core values still remain, ENVE is out to make the best products they can without compromising performance or quality. While the traditional ENVE wheel is out of the budget for many riders, the new ENVE AM30 aims to bring that same quality and performance at a lower price point.
For 2020, ENVE has started a new line of wheels, the Foundation Series. To start, ENVE has taken steps to help reduce the price from the layup process and production, fewer decals, and fewer options. This is not to take away from the focus on the ride quality by any means. In fact, it actually makes them slightly more compliant that the ENVE M-Series wheels but still have that snappy carbon wheel feel you expect from ENVE.
The Foundation Series from ENVE is a new, ground up development that took their findings from previous wheels into making a wheel that was capable of performing at the top level while also not being affordable for the average rider. At the end of the day, ENVE does not want to put their name on a product that falls short of expectations. Another reason why it took them so long to release a mountain bike wheelset under the $2000 price point. Not only did they achieve that goal, but got down to the $1600 range which competes with many different carbon wheel options on the market. Still made in the USA, still ENVE quality. Before we go into how they did that, let’s talk about how ENVE focused on making these Foundation AM30 wheels have the typical ENVE ride feel.
There are a ton of carbon wheelsets that are under the $2000 range, and well, they feel decent on the trail but really cannot compare to ENVE and other high end carbon brands. With a heavy focus on ride feel, ENVE changed the shape of the carbon rim, a departure from the M series shape. The new AM30 rim is more shallow and features an Asymmetrical rim profile. This helps lead to a more compliant rim than ENVE has previously been known for, which translates into a smooth on trail feel. ENVE has molded the carbon layup around each spoke hold, instead of molding a smooth rim, then drilling out the spoke holes like traditional carbon. This helps make each spoke hole stronger, while not cutting through the carbon fiber which also makes the rim stronger as a whole unit. The patent pending wide hookless bead helps prevent pinch flats from occurring while riding, allowing you to run lower pressures to further improve ride feel without worry about getting flats.
So how did ENVE make the Foundation AM30 wheels live up to the ENVE quality standards while also improving ride feel, durability, and reduce price? ENVE has perfected the art of carbon development and therefore has been able to reduce production time and costs with the AM30 rim, while also improving their tooling costs. That combined with the fewer decals, fewer rim options, and also using Industry Nine’s 1/1 hubs, have helped get these wheels to an affordable $1600 price for two complete wheels.
In a perfect world, and you could afford both M-series ENVE wheels, why would you want to choose one over the other? Well, for me, the Foundation AM30 wheels have a pretty big difference that has not yet been mentioned. External Nipples! Yes, the AM30 rims use external nipples as you would find on more traditional wheels. Why is this a big deal? M-Series wheels use internal nipples, there are many reasons for this, from looks to strength, but they can be a pain if you break a spoke or your wheel requires some truing. You have to remove the tire, rim tape, true or replace the spoke, then re tape the rim and install the tire. It's quite a process, especially if you are on a trip or you do not do your own maintenance, most shops charge extra for this. The Foundation rims use external nipples, meaning wheel truing, and spoke replacement just became much faster and easier.
The AM30 rims slot right between the M6 and M7 wheels, making it a great all mountain style wheelset for any kind of riding. Both the ride feel and weight sit between the M6 and M7 as well. The AM30 wheels don’t have quite the light and snappy feel of the M6, but also are not as strong as the M7. The AM30 wheelset weighs in at 1852g, whereas the M6 and M7 are 1516g and 1951g respectively. The AM30 rims as mentioned above, is more compliant than both the M6 and M7 rims which gives them great ride feel, solid durability, and decent weight. Aren’t the ENVE Foundation AM30 wheels sounding great so far?
Last would be the hub choice on M-Series vs the AM30. On the M-Series you can choose between Industry Nine Hydra hubs and Chris King hubs. Both are amazing high end options but also cost a bit more than the Industry Nine 1/1 hubs that you will find on the AM30 wheels. The 1/1 hub from Industry Nine, while cheaper than Hydra, has that amazing quality you expect from I9. It’s a shop favorite at Worldwide Cyclery with 90 points of engagement. If you want to learn more about the Industry Nine 1/1 hubs, check out our full review.
Warranty on the ENVE Foundation wheels is the same as you would find with their other wheel options. There is a flat out 5 year warranty against any manufacturing defects, that does not include any riding, or other accidents that cause damage to the rims. That is pretty straight forward. Because ENVE takes pride in their quality and products, they are confident that the craftsmanship leaving their facility will be great for all of us average riders.
ENVE also has lifetime incident protection as they call it, which is pretty much a solid crash replacement program to help out with damage caused by riding or other accidents (driving over your wheel). Now ENVE covers this for life, but it is more like a crash replacement program, not a no questions asked we give you free shit warranty. If you do damage your ENVE wheels, ENVE will replace your wheel with the following charges, parts, labor, and return shipping. Meaning, ENVE is not trying to make money off you a second time, but rather just try and get you a working wheel at the lowest cost to you as the consumer. If you want to know more about this in ENVE’s own words, check that out here: https://www.enve.com/en/support/warranty/
The AM30 is made for all types of riding, and is as they call it, the working class hero of the ENVE wheel line. The AM30’s boast a clean look that might make you look twice, at first not realizing they are ENVE wheels. When we first got them, I wanted to immediately put them on my enduro bike. At the time, that was a Mondraker Foxy 29 that was long shocked, overworked, and made to be durable. It's the bike I take with me on trips, shuttle or park days, and pretty much built with enduro or downhill parts. When putting on the ENVE AM30 wheels after my previous DT Swiss EX511 wheels, I was a bit nervous that I might have a new part that could possibly cause an issue. I chose to mount up the AM30 wheels with Maxxis DHR II 2.4 tires with DH casing front and rear, I typically run DH in the rear, but I had two fresh DH casing tires laying around so I figured I would put them on front and rear. Those ended up being a great choice as I got into my riding.
Immediately on the first ride I could tell that these are carbon wheels, and while not as jarring stiff as some I have ridden in the past, were certainly more stiff and responsive than my alloy wheels. This took about a ride or two to get used to as well as dial in tire pressures to get the ride feel and traction to what I was looking for. I was able to run lower pressures with the AM30 rims, down to about 22/23psi front and about 25/26psi rear. This is down from my alloy pressures of 24/25psi front and 27/28 psi rear, while this seems small, the difference can be felt on the trail and not only do I get a bit more traction but also more comfort on the body too.
I really tried to give these wheels everything I could. I rode every type of riding from our local rocky trails, to shuttle laps in Santa Barbara, even a weekend trip up to Big Bear to ride the lifts. These are all the hardest types of riding we have near us in SoCal which gave me the chance to really push the wheels. Although I was running DH tires, it wasn’t uncommon to get a pretty big rim ding especially in some of the rock gardens in Santa Barbara. There is this one spot that is about a 50 yard rock garden and in the middle once you start to lose momentum there is about a 3 foot drop into a trail covered with different sized and shaped boulders. This spot, without a doubt, is a rim dent, or cracked carbon wheel waiting to happen. While I have only dented alloy wheels here, I have been behind a few different riders and seen some carbon rims break on this exact drop. With the AM30, first go of course, double ping from the wheels, front and rear upon landing. I rode it out and listened for the dreaded hisss of a flat tire bu theard nothing so I kept riding through the trail. When I got to the end of the trail I took a look at both the rim and tire, to my surprise not a mark on either. I was impressed, but with 3 more shuttle laps to go I continued to check after each lap, hitting rim a few more times throughout the day in this spot as well as the rest of the 18 minute trail.
At the end of this shuttle day, about 12k feet of descending and can easily half wear out a Maxxis 3c compound tire, the rims were spotless from scratches and certainly no damage. On the tire there was a small gash in the sidewall, but luckily the DH casing did its job and I did not flat. I actually ended up riding this tire for the rest of its life even with this gash on the ENVE wheels. I was impressed by the durability of the AM30 rims, but also had more trails to try them out on.
Once I made it up to Big Bear, I really started to like the feel of ENVE wheels. High speed jumps and berms, the stiff carbon wheels really help hold momentum through these sections. To no surprise, the AM30’s felt great up there, with no issues even riding some outside the park raw trails, they took the riding abuse with ease. Not once in the 4-6 months of riding these wheels did I have to true or tension them. Tons of riding, I wore through 3 back tires any not one issue with the wheels.
ENVE is the benchmark in high end carbon mountain bike wheels, and until now, only had top level premium options. With the introduction of the Foundation AM30’s, ENVE has been able to offer a premium wheelset that can carry the ENVE name while coming in at a much lower price than the M-series wheels. The working class hero of the ENVE lineup, the AM30’s feature external nipples, a wide hookless rim bead to reduce pinch flats, molded spoke holes, are still made in the USA, and come in at $1600 with I9 1/1 hubs. After abusing these wheels for months, we could not inflict any damage, not to say they are unbreakable, but when riding in your means the AM30’s will make an excellent upgrade to your mountain bike.
This article was written / authored by Liam Woods. Liam has been in the bicycle industry for over 10 years as a racer, professional mechanic, service manager and as of late, media and content creator. Liam has ridden thousands of different bikes, ridden countless components, tested endless MTB apparel of all kinds and written reviews on it all. He's a key piece to the Worldwide Cyclery "All Things MTB" content creation puzzle. He also makes consistent appearances on the Worldwide Cyclery YouTube channel and Instagram.