ENVE stormed onto the scene when their handbuilt in Utah hoops became the first carbon wheels to survive and win at the top World Cup level of DH racing. And over the past decade they’ve gone on to cement their reputation for top performance across all MTB (and road and gravel) disciplines. They’ve always been some of the stiffest, least forgiving wheels though, as well as being hyper expensive.
Their AM30 Foundation wheels are designed to be smoother, easier to work on, more affordable but are still handmade in the US with the same ‘Lifetime Incident’ warranty. So are they the all-round best mountain bike wheels win they sound like?
Design and specifications
The obvious difference with the AM30s is that they’re a lot lower than previous ENVE rims at just 20mm high. That means the spoke nipples for the 28 spokes each end are now outside the rim. They’re only available in 30mm wide internally (more expensive M7s also have a 35mm option) but use a broad well profile and wide, hookless sidewalls.
The molded spoke holes are offset 3mm in the rim to balance tension in the Sapim Race spokes.
The hubs are Industry Nine 1/1. These aren’t the hyper fast reacting Hydra hubs used in ENVE’s M7 and other premium wheels such as Reserve SL 30s but the 90-click, conventional pawl pick up is still super fast. I’ve had zero issues with seals or contamination either and they’re easy to pull apart and service if things do get sticky. They’re also one of relatively few wheel sets to offer Superboost 157mm width rear hubs.
You have to fit the rim tape and valves (both provided) though which is a pain in the hoop. Particularly as the tape is very stiff – which is great for toughness but awkward to apply smoothly and bubble free in the rim well.
The good news is that once the valves and tapes are in, tubeless setup is a breeze. There’s plenty of space in the asymmetric rim well for both tire beads and the slope is gentle enough for them to expand and lock into place with a casual track pump pace. I’ve had zero issue with burping or sealant spray on any of the sets of tires I’ve run, even when dropping into teen pressures.
That was more for experiment than necessity though as the key thing about the AM30s is how calm and comfortable they feel compared to ENVE’s previous and/or more expensive wheels. That’s backed up by a compliance score of 9 on ENVE’s handy wheel guide dashboard compared to 5 for the $2550 M7s. Interestingly the AM30s also score higher on Impact Toughness with an 8 rather than a 7, while the Descending and Climbing ratings are the same. To be honest we would argue with those too as while the Industry Nine Hydra hubs on the M7’s do connect faster, the 4-degree engagement on the Industry Nine 1/1 hubs is still pretty quick. More importantly, using ENVE’s own data, the AM30s are 100g lighter for a 29er set than the M7s. That’s not the full story either as the rims are actually 70g lighter each (580g V 510g) and as they’re at the outer edge that’s what matters most to acceleration in any direction.
It’s always more about actual trail feel than numbers though and that’s where the AM30s are really well dialed-in. They’re not ‘liquid’ compliant like Zipp’s ‘ankle articulated’ 3ZeroMoto wheels but the shallower rims still give a comfortably damped, ride quietening feel to the roughest sections. Kind of like running your favorite tire carcass slightly softer or with an insert and they definitely smoothed out the rear end of my long term test Santa Cruz Chameleon when I ran them in that for a while.
Crucially they do it without the dullness that can dope your pedaling enthusiasm in the recreational rather than road race sense. That means while they aren’t particularly light, they still feel worth putting some watts into as you get an immediate and tangible response. Their cornering character is exactly the same too. Taut enough to work knobs and sense slip early, but compliant enough to take out the sting, help whatever tire you’re running grip it’s best and keep slides managed rather than snapping out suddenly.
Hard riding confidence is also boosted by two other elements. Firstly those broader rim edges are designed to protect sidewalls when you bottom out, which makes inserts less of an essential if you’re a regular tire slammer. Despite their more affordable price, the wheels are also covered by ENVE’s ‘Lifetime Incident’ policy. This covers you for new rims, however you’ve managed to kill them, even if that’s involved running them over accidentally or melting them on an exhaust pipe if you’re a pick up uplifter.
Having easy repair and excellent warranty if things go wrong still comes second to actual toughness on the trail though and the AM30s have massively impressed here. I’m surprisingly good (it’s a professional requirement) at killing wheels for a 70kg trail rider, but what’s really impressive is that the wheels I’ve been running had already been through the mill for months with Mick Kirkman. That included several full-on Alpine trips and relentless local abuse from someone who’s not only a lot more hench than me but who rides with the speed and brutal component loadings of a racer with an international level BMX, DH and 4X history. So the fact that neither Mick nor I have managed to wonk, warp, split or crack the Foundations in over a year of combined testing is seriously impressive.
There are a lot of excellent carbon and alloy wheels around now for riders who want extra control and speed without getting beaten up. Despite being a lot more affordable than previous ENVE options the AM30s still aren’t cheap.
Their responsive yet quietly damped performance balance is a proper instant upgrade for anyone who loves pushing their bike super hard though. Their toughness, tire protection and excellent warranty also significantly reduce background anxiety when you’re doing it and boosts their relative value too.
Tech Specs: Enve Foundation AM30 wheels
- Price: $1750 / £1850
- Options: 27.5 and 29 (tested) Boost or Superboost hubs
- Width: 30mm internal, 39mm external
- Weight: 879(F) + 1011(R) = 1890g