Easton EA 90 SL Wheels: Getting Rolling- by Grannygear
I was sitting astride my bike, surrounded by riders all milling about, some on their bikes, some standing around drinking coffee, chatting, and taking pictures. I was about 15 minutes away from starting the Rivet Raid gravel event, a lovely tour of sorts over the Santa Monica Mountains. Lovely and just a bit sadistic.
I noticed a smart looking Specialized Crux S Works under an equally smart and fit looking rider….actually pretty much all of the riders looked fit…I expected to be pack fodder. The Crux was shod with some wheels that caught my eye. ‘Easton EA90 SL’, it said on the rims. Good lookers, they were. And then I remembered I had a set of these coming to me and if shipping had not conspired against me, I would have been riding them for this event.
I have to say I was a bit envious.
But now I can set that sin of covetousness aside and get to riding these new Easton gravel wheels as I have a set in hand. But first, let’s get them out of the box and see what we see. From the Easton website:
“The EA90 SL Disc wheel set has been impressing riders and reviewers since its firsts iteration. So what could you possibly improve? Built with a stout 19.5-millimeter internal tubeless EA90 SL rim that combines impressive lateral stiffness and aerodynamics with a 27mm rim depth, this standout wheel was chosen to launch our new Easton Vault centerlock hub. With disc road, cyclo-cross and gravel in mind, the Vault hub was designed from the ground up to exceed your needs from tarmac to sand traps. Larger bearings on a wider bearing stance and improved seals help to push durability to a new level. A reversed drive ring configuration, used on the Echo road hub with a less than 0.1% warranty return rate, gives 60 points of engagement at just 6-degrees for instant acceleration. Included in the box are tool-free swappable end-caps for all major axle standards and 5 extra straight-pull Sapim spokes that match the uniform spoke length throughout both wheels. At only 1537 grams this stiff, wide and stealthy aluminum wheelset is a knockout punch to just about every carbon wheel in the category.”
Suggested retail is right at 900 bucks.
There has been an explosion of late in gravel wheels, mostly in carbon, as Asian sourcing has made having a custom wheel company of your own…well, not easy really, but doable. It seems like I see a new wheel company every week. Good luck to them, but I really have to think that the wheel market is a seriously difficult place to survive. It’s like that somewhat awful Will Smith movie where his son is trying to survive on a planet that evolved to kill humans or something like that. If you have a weakness, it will be exploited and you will be dinner.
One thing that many new wheels have in common is a brand name I have never heard of before from folks I do not know. But EASTON is a name that has history. I remember the Easton Program Tubing that dared to do things no one else was doing with thin wall, butted aluminum. Now I am not sure that Easton is the company it was then, but you still have a recognized brand name behind the products and a phone number with customer and bike shop support, etc.
So, the EA 90 SLs. First of all they are aluminum, not carbon. And they are light too. I think that under 1600g is a benchmark for a light feeling wheel and these are stated to be 1537g. I weighed them at 685g front and 843g rear with tape and valves installed which is a bit less than claimed. Smart looking wheels with what is now the defacto 3x 24 spoke build F/R and a 27mm rim depth which is deeper than some other like minded aluminum wheels in the market.
One thing that puzzles me is the internal width. 19.5mm is a bit off the mark for a gravel bike that would be running wider tires like the 42mm WTB Resolutes I use. 21mm would be more like it. I am even seeing 25mm rims for 700c gravel use but I do wonder if that is a bit much. However, 19.5mm is right where I would want to be for All Road use with a tire in the 30mm-38mm range. So, do I think that the narrower internal width is a big buzz kill? Not completely and maybe not at all, depending on your intentions. If I were heading out into the dirt all the time, loved the biggest 700c tire I could get between the stays and always ran at low tire pressures, then yes, I would not have these at the top of my list.
But if I was looking for a light weight wheel for all road use and gravel rides where maybe I topped out at a 40c tire and I was not so concerned with running at 30psi and below all the time, then this would be fine, in my opinion. But we shall see, as I will be running the Resolutes and will be coming directly from wider rims, although they were heavier wheels. Time will tell.
It’s all a trade off, is it not? If you want a 27mm deep rim, and that adds some material yet might also add strength and stiffness, then weight goes up unless you make the rim narrower or use thinner walls which gets iffy. That rider on the S Works Crux was running 38s, if I recall correctly, and I bet he was more interested in an under 1550g wheel that is snappy and solid then a wide, adventure experience.
Horses for courses.
The Vault hub is quite a big boy and is good looking too. The engagement feels fast enough, although I think that super fast engaging wheels on a road or gravel bike is not a big deal. Easton has designed the drive ring into which the pawls engage so it is attached to the freehub, not the hub shell. Why might that matter? Well, if you manage to grenade a hub and damage the drive ring, and that drive ring is pressed into the hub shell, it might mean a lot of work to repair or replace the hub. But pawls are easy to replace no matter where they are, so if we have the drive ring on the removable freehub, then voila!…we are in a better place. Interesting touch, although I have never damaged a hub’s drive ring that I can recall.
One thing I do notice with the EA90 SLs is a fair bit of drag when I spin the freehub in my fingers. It feels like seals, or even the pawls are draggy themselves. Not sure, and it is not horrible, so we shall see how it feels after some miles. Most hubs are like this to be honest, but just for fun I grabbed the recently tested Rolf/Prima wheels with that White Industries based hub and gently spun the freehub. It was like turning a bank vault tumbler. Smoooooth, and a hard breath would get that freehub to spin if I leaned in and puffed at it. Remember the old Shimano XTR or Dura Ace hubs with loose ball bearings and angular contact races? Man, those things were smooth rolling, like glass.
Does that matter in the end? I cannot prove it does with any numbers or data, but watts are watts and smoother should be faster, even if it is incremental.
Cost? $900 dollars is not bad when most budget carbon is $1500 or so. A high end alloy wheel like the Rolf/Primas Hyalites I mentioned is $1200 at about the same weight. A Mavic All Road Pro UST Disc wheel set is 1610g (their number, not mine), is 22mm internal and $1100.00. The ES version (cheaper hub) of the Hyalite is about 900 bucks, and a Ritchey WCS Zeta Max wheel in alloy would be a bit less money at $700 and a bit more weight by 30g or so and is a bit wider internally.
With supplied end caps that allow for most any axle combo in gravel today (and spare spokes), with rims prepped for tubeless (tape) and valves installed, the EA 90 SLs are pretty road and gravel ready out of the box. And when you take that all in, the swappable end caps front and rear, the weight vs. cost vs. build vs. rim width/height, it is a compelling package.
Time to go riding now that the rains have backed off a bit.
NOTE: Easton sent over the EA 90 SL wheels for test and review at no charge to Riding Gravel. We were not paid, nor bribed for this content and we always strive to give our honest thoughts and opinions throughout.
About The Author: Grannygear hails from SoCal and spent most of his cycling days as a mountain biker from the formative years of mountain biking all the way up to the present day. His day job is in the tech sector, but he has spent time writing about off road 4X4’s, 29″ mountain bikes, and cycling in general. Grannygear and Guitar Ted have worked off and on together since 2009 after a chance meeting at Interbike. With gravel cycling on the rise, Grannygear has been exploring how this genre’ works in SoCal and now does guest pieces for RidingGravel.com in his spare time.