Easton EA90 SLX Wheels

In 1998 I was contacted by the owner of a new wheel company called Velomax. He proceeded to tell me how he was a cycling enthusiast who bought the company from the founder and believed that the wheels were revolutionary. I was a bit skeptical if only for the reason that the company founder had sold out. As it turns out, the company’s founder had been overwhelmed by production issues following a single favorable review.

You all know where this story goes: Company owner Brad Hunter conquers the production issues, gets OE spec and then sells the whole shebang to Easton. Bein jouer, as the French say.

Velomax wasn’t the first into the complete wheel game. Others, such as Mavic, had better distribution. Others made lighter wheels, though Velomax produced some very light stuff. They eventually abandoned their trademark T3 Technology (twin thread spokes, that is, they were threaded at each end to eliminate elbow breaks). So what made the wheels worthwhile?

They stayed true better than any other wheels I’ve ridden. Name a company making complete wheels: Campagnolo, Mavic, Reynolds, Zipp, DT. Velomax and now Easton wheels stay true better than any other wheels I’ve ever ridden. The secret is one I learned at Bill Farrell’s New England Cycling Academy back in the early ’90s: spoke tension. The secret to building a wheel that stays true isn’t high tension, it’s even tension. A wheel built with equal tension on all the spokes balances the forces working on it. Put another way, when I notice a wheel is out of true, the first thing I look for is a loose spoke; a low-tension spoke is a frequent culprit.

Tensiometers can tell a wheel builder spoke tension in broad terms. Most can be fairly difficult to read to single increments of Kilogram force (Kgf). A half-Kilogram force difference in spoke tension can result in a wheel that the average rider would consider to be significantly out of true. However, changes in pitch can be detected down to fractions of a cycle with ease. Velomax began truing wheels with the aid of transducers.

Velomox wheel builders would pluck spokes and check their pitch with the aid of what was essentially a guitar tuner. In the plainest of terms, Velomax tuned their wheels.

Naturally, I was curious to see if Easton kept up the practice of hand-built wheels after acquiring Velomax. The answer is yes. The EA90 SLX wheels feature 18 spokes front and 24 spokes rear, making truing especially difficult; the fewer the spokes, the harder it is to true a wheel and the more important equal tension becomes. A single spoke of high or low tension can pull an 18-spoke wheel out of true.

I’ve ridden more than 2000 miles on these wheels and while these shots were taken when this set was new, they still look good and run true. Why aren’t more wheels this reliable?

Products I review must run yet another gauntlet, one many of you don’t suffer. I live two miles from the ocean and the salt air will corrode any alloy part that isn’t properly plated. The EA90 SLXs are the only wheels I’ve reviewed featuring alloy spoke nipples that didn’t show corrosion after a year of use.

The front wheel features the single widest-spaced hub flanges of any wheel I’ve seen in years. Placing the hub flanges so far apart results in a wheel better able to stand up to side loads and with only 18 spokes, it needs all the strength it can find. I won’t lie; I can feel the front wheel flex in sprints and was able to flex it significantly under hard descents. What I didn’t detect was any twisting, which has a tendency to unnerve me because I’m not confident about my line; a bit of flex doesn’t seem to bug me.

The EA90 SLX wheels roll on ceramic bearings and while there is some valid criticism of lousy ceramic bearings that drive up cost without adding any real performance, I can say these wheels roll with little bearing drag. Wheel weight was a bit more than advertised; they claim 1398g but my set weighed in at 1436; not a capital offense.

Almost every company out there claims their wheels can be converted from a Campy freehub to Shimano and vice versa. Claim is the crux move in this phrase. On some wheels it’s so damn difficult I’d really rather try to run phone line through a crumbling 14-century Italian abby. Not so on the Eastons. I managed to do it in minutes and with a minimum of fuss. It took roughly as long as changing out the cassette. I’d have spent more time putting on a new set of tires front and rear.

I do have one criticism of the EA90 SLX wheels, but it’s not so much with the wheels themselves. It’s the rim strips. Like most companies, Easton is spec’ing a woven mylar rim strip that can get pushed to the side, exposing the rim holes, if you mount a tire with a particularly tight fit. It seems I can’t go more than about six months without writing some sort of rant about the worthlessness of these things, but they aren’t Velox, nor will they ever be. Technically, they have a value proposition roughly equal to feces. Whenever I receive a set of wheels, I use the rim strips included until I get my first flat caused by a rim hole and then I throw them away. This leaves me the opportunity to say I gave them a chance, while forcing me to chase the group like … well, like a guy who flatted. It’s good training I suppose.

The EA90 SLX wheels have a suggested retail of $1045. That’s a fair chunk of change, but I think they are more than worth it. They’re lighter than some frames, stay truer than a Supreme Court justice and because they feature an aluminum rim can be run anywhere on any day and with any amount of braking. Light enough for racing and yet all-purpose enough for daily riding and compatible with any bike you own—is there a better combination? I think I’m going to ditch some of the wheels I have to get another set of these.

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32 comments


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Wayne: I hope you can respect that product reviews cannot be indefinite in term. The folks at Easton have been waiting a year for this review, and a year is about 11 months longer than some bloggers and magazines devote to product reviews. You have to call time at some point. If you’d like, drop me a note in a year and I’ll let you know how they’re holding up, but if they are anything like the Velomax wheels I owned in the past, they should get about four years of hard riding/racing before they’re toast. I put nearly 10,000 miles on a previous set.

  1. Rich

    For Wayne, I have over 6000 miles on a older set of these same wheels minus the ceramic bearings and they have remained true over bad roads and dirt roads. I have yet to do anything to these except mount another set of tires!
    I highly recommend these wheels.

  2. James

    This is a very well timed review! I have been thinking about buying the EA90 SLX’s for about a month now. I have the EA90′s and love them. They do stay true! I thought I would use the EA 90′s on my commuting bike and upgrade my good road bike to the SLX’s. So, thank you for being so timely! I’ll pick some up on Friday!

  3. crankles

    @wayne, I can attest a bit to the durability. I trained on them all of last cross season. I race tubulars, but the race courses are butter compared to the trails I train on. They’ve taken rock hits a plenty, power washes..etc and held up great.

    As for rim strips…well we all know there’s only one rim strip.

  4. J

    FWIW,

    After mine and all of my teammate’s Easton wheels (EA 90 SLX and EC 90 Aero) started to develop lateral play last year (they were purchased last spring) we contacted Easton. It appears that there is a “problem” with the preload and their solution is to send out a new preload cone thing with a little o-ring inside that is supposed to eliminate the lateral play. Suffice it to say that it does not.

    While I loved the wheels, that they developed lateral play (such that they hit brake pads) was not reassuring.

    I am unaware of any changes Easton has made to the hubs but best find out before dropping coin on a set of wheels.

  5. mark

    As J says, Easton wheels are not all sunshine and rainbows. My EC90 Aero wheels required a rim replacement for which I was quoted an unreasonable-sounding four week turnaround, but that in fact required closer to six. I would rate the hubs OK but not great. The wheels do, however, do a good job of staying true. The rim replacement was also much more reasonably priced than a rim replacement from Zipp, Enve, or Reynolds. Plus with tubulars, you don’t have to worry about a rim strip.

    That said, amongst carbon race wheels, I think the Eastons are lower maintenance than Reynolds or Zipp. Which is a good thing, because when they do need service, it’s a huge hassle.

  6. pdx velo

    i have a set of velomax’s going on 10 years, the rim tracks are shaped like an hourglass and they survived 2 seasons of PDX cross. they now are retired, but I wouldn’t expect another pre built wheel to last that long.

  7. Dombo6

    I have a set of these, bought in early 2008 and done about 5000 miles on them, Etape du Tour, Dragon Rides, countless club rides and sportives on pot-holed Surrey roads. Tyres were Conti 4000S and now Michelin Pro Race 3s. Still true.

  8. A Velo

    I agree on Easton doing an excellent job of lacing and tensioning wheels. I’ve been riding the EC90 SL carbon clinchers for a year and have not needed to break out the spoke wrench once at 200+ pounds and 1500+ miles. They ride beautifully and stay true. But as others have noted, Easton’s rear hub design is a major weakness. The front hub is beautiful, set it and forget it. Rear bearing preload requires readjustment every 100 miles or so and it will not hold. If you have it just right, it will work it’s way loose, and if you have it just a hair too tight, goodbye ceramic bearings in a few hundred miles. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to err on one side or the other, as I’ve gone thru a freehub body in 700 miles and now the hub bearings are on their way out at about 1500 miles, all due to the hub being unable to hold a proper preload. If these wheels were built with Dura Ace rear hubs, they would be the cat’s meow!

  9. JG

    I can concur with the comments about Easton’s hub and feel compelled to share my experience in case potential buyers are curious about the possible (very significant) downside to these wheels.

    I bought a set of EC90 SL Clinchers last year and have had nothing but problems with the rear hub (which is the same hub as the EA90 SLX; the R4 hub). After about 200 miles mine developed a cyclical crunching noise that no amount of tightening or service was able to remedy. The shop that installed them took the hub apart and reassembled/tightened every part (basically serviced the entire hub) on two separate occasions to no avail. Both times they would start exhibiting the same noise within a matter of miles.

    Reading positive reviews of these wheels is confounding, to say the least. The R4 hubs are pure crap and if Easton cared about their customers they would show some transparency regarding the issue and institute a recall as well as fix the design issues.

    I am glad the reviewer had a positive experience with the wheels but mine are currently taking up space in my hallway as doorstops until I either have the rear rim rebuilt on a proper hub or figure out some other solution to keep them from loosening up within the first 3 miles of every ride.

  10. Erich

    Nice review. I got a pair of these for less than $500 through a team deal when they came out a few years ago. They’ve survived two Tours of the Battenkill and despite quite a pounding, have never needed truing. I’m of slight build (even for a cyclist) yet I still coast by my heavier friends on downhills – crediting the bearing set in these wheels.

    My only gripe is that I had to replace the freehub body (bearings), about 18 months in, after a few particularly wet rides and quite a bit of intrusive grime. Looking back, I should have paid more attention to cleaning and relubing, but I was actually surprised to see others on the interweb have had similar issues with the R4SL hub being overwhelmed in nasty conditions.

    I actually replaced that original R4SL body with a standard R4 – steel bearings and half the cost – and still coast by my friends.

    Once and a while I get the itch to upgrade wheels, but can’t find much out there in this category (aluminum clincher) to beat it at that price.

  11. limestonecowboy

    I’m a bit late to this review, but was not surprised by the glowing positive review. However, I was also curious why Padraig did not experience the loose hub issues and wheel flex that I have experienced. I was going to write a comment, then I saw the multitude of readers that have the same issues that I have.

    I have ridden the EA90 SLX, EC90 SLX, and EC90 SL wheels for 3 years now.I also owned a set of the Haven MTB wheels. After a decade of being a Mavic-only rider, I decided that while I didn’t want to build my own wheels anymore, I wasn’t into the wagonwheel feel of Ksyriums. Enter the classic form of the Easton wheels. The ride quality is outstanding. Comfortable, lively, and, man, do they accelerate! And, as is mentioned in the review, they stayed true. I do like these wheels. However…

    On all of the wheelsets, I have had the hubs loosening to the point where they have to be adjusted mid-ride! On both of the SLX wheels, they have flexed to the point where the rim rubs the brake pads, though this was on steep climbs while standing in a high gear. When fit, I’m 185. Not a featherweight, but not a behemoth. I’m not so worried about the flex so much as the loosening hubs. This is an outrage, and an issue that Easton doesn’t seem to acknowledge.

    It’s just as frustrating that the reviewers of Easton wheels apparently don’t experience these deal-breaking design flaws like guys who buy and ride the product. I’m not assaulting your integrity or test methods, Padraig. I think you rode the wheels a sufficient amount of time, and I’ve always found you to be forthright and honest in all of your writing, especially your reviews. I just wish that someone with a voice that is heard by the manufacturers of otherwise great products with horrible flaws would speak for us!

    Keep on truckin, and thanks for the input from all of the reviewers that have confirmed that I’m not alone with my loose hubs.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Limestone Cowboy: I have to admit that I had hub issues with a front Velomax hub six or seven years before the company was sold to Easton, but that was a different generation of hub; I’ve had zero hub issues with this generation of hubs and am dismayed to hear so many people report that they have. As to wheel flex, I can say that I did experience some, however, the difference between your experience and mine is that: 1) you have 15 lbs. on me, and 160 is on the heavy side for me and 2) I run my brakes loose, so while I’m aware that the wheel flexes, I don’t get brake rub. Also, I’m assuming you run your brakes tighter than I run mine because *everyone* runs their brakes tighter than I do, except for some PROs. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  12. Andrew

    I’m just curious about 2 things… the first being the weight of the people that are having hubs issues. The second is what year wheels do you all have. I really like the look and sound of these wheels and am conemplating getting a pair. I weigh 160 and by no means do I put out a ton of power. I really don’t like Mavic wheels so I was hoping that these would work for me.

  13. Lee Douglas

    Hi everyone, im quite interested in some of these posts, I have a set of Easton 90SLX about 18 months old and only ridden in good summer weather. Ive had many other wheelsets in my racing years but never have I wasted so much money on such a supposedly good wheelset. From the start the rear bearings were rough, I thought given time they would run themselves in however this was not the case as they seemed to get worse. Slight adjustment made them noisy and loose. A spoke in the rear wheel then broke and took 8 weeks to be repaired, once fixed another spoke broke, having had this fixed again I have decided to get rid of them. I’m not alone in having problems with these wheels as several of my team members can testify. For anyone wondering the spokes broke on a smooth, flat tarmaced road and I only weigh 150lbs?

  14. scott michaels

    I also tried these wheels. Yes, they’re light and spin up fast, but the hubs were garbage. Lateral play developed in 500 miles. The LBS rebuilt them but it didn’t solve the problem. Called Easton and they sent a new free hub body n/c. That didn’t help either. Then a spoke broke. Not to mention they seemed very soft/flexy for a 145lb rider. Very disappointing for this $. I learned one thing from the experience: Dura Ace hubs are the way to fly.

  15. Steve

    I have 16 wheelsets in the garage and really want to,like these wheels…BUT the rear hub just does not work. Adjust preload so wheel runs free and lateral ply! Nip it up slightly and hub drag something awful. Why wont Easton come clean on this and let us buyers have a solution. i will never wear the brake rims out on these as i will go nuts with the rear hub issue. oh btw front hub works great and no broken spokes. if only they had a campuy hub!!! is .e


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Steve: There’s no denying that people have had problems with bearings on Easton wheels over the years. That said, how old are the wheels you have? The ones I have might be more recent than yours; they work fine and I’ve put thousands of miles on them. Further, they do offer Campy-compatible freehub bodies now. Or perhaps you’re just saying you want their rim and build with a Campy hub? Maybe that’s it.

  16. Peter

    Hi, just thought I’d add the experiences I’ve had my Easton wheels. I purchased the EC90slx and Ec90aero when I was working at my LBS. Two pairs? I know but the staff pricing was insane. Anyway, I’ve had constant problems with the rear hub/preload loosening issues as some of the other riders. The internals of both sets have been replaced but the problem continues. It’s gotten to the point where the preload backs out most the way with a 10mile easy ride leaving a lot of pay in the rear hub. Same problem with both sets and they’re 2007 models (First gen of the r4 hubs). I don’t race or thrash these wheels. Don’t get me wrong, they’re sweet looking, very true solid wheels but the rear hubs leave much to be desired. Sounds like this problem hasn’t been fully remedied by Easton with current models which is a shame. I bought them to ride not to have sit in my basement. Come on Easton, re work the hub or come up with a better solution than a rubbber o-ring.

  17. Paddy Hudson

    I am thinking of buying a used set of these (about 2 1/2 years old) with light use according to the seller. The rear has been built onto a Powertap SL+ hub although I will have to change the campy freehub to Shimano. Could anyone please tell me whether that is likely to be a problem, and whether the Powertap hub is likely to clear up the problems a lot of people seem to talk about with these?
    Even at used price they are a fair chunk of cash as I’m new to cycling and they will go on my basic Cube Attempt alu frame. I just can’t figure out what to think of the massively polarised reviews these get all over the forums!

  18. Lee

    An update on an earlier post, a total of 4 spokes broken in the rear wheel so far and now a broken spoke in the front 45 mile from home leaving me stranded as the wheel just about collapsed, utter garbage, dont even buy a second hand set for a spairs or a training as theyll fail. Do Not Touch!!!

  19. Dan Siehl

    I agree with all the wonderful things said about ride quality, acceleration and near friction-free glide. My only problem is broken spokes, which renders the bike unridable. I weigh 180 lbs.

  20. Brad Hunter

    Thanks for the props, Patrick. As usual, you are accurate in your historical information. Except for when you’re not. So include these, and you’ll be spot on:

    1. Clarification – lots happened between our original OE spec deal and the sale to Easton. Our rapidly growing company required resources that would have taken years to accumulate, whereas Easton seemed to have them in hand. Your version is necessarily summarized (because you know the long version from our many conversations), but the ego I have attached to my baby cries foul. Small one, and understandable. But it wasn’t as “sell out” as it sounds. Plus I have my bully pulpit right here, right now, to set the record straight. Even tho’ it’s old news and nobody (except me) cares anymore.
    2. Easton jettisoned the threaded hubs, not Velomax. I’ll take it to the grave that it was a grave (intentional use of “grave” twice!) error…it was great technology and did more for the quality of the wheel than you can imagine. Sleepy? I can fix that by explaining in fine detail just why it was so important.
    3. Equal tension is critical, but so is high tension – as much as the rim can handle. Equal tension keeps them straight, high tension keeps the strong (and stable). So we tuned by ear, QC measured by instrument. As far as I know, Easton still does this. Kudos to them for keeping it going. Again, lot’s of boring reasons, all valid and important. Sleepy? I can explain…


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Brad: Thanks for dropping by. The clarifications are nice. I admit I mis-wrote when I suggested that Velomax jettisoned the threaded hubs; I’m aware that was an Easton decision. Likewise, I’m aware that high tension is important and should have done more to make that clear to readers. I appreciate you checking in.

  21. allen

    I bought a pair of ea90slx in early 2010. They have been excellent wheels. I ride about 4k a year on backroad Texas hill country roads. I with in at 185. I do mostly long rides, no racing. I love these wheels. They are extremely durable. I have had no hub issues. This at has about 10k miles on them. I have only recently had to do some minor truing. I would buy another set when it comes time to upgrade to 11 speed.

  22. LesB

    ” Easton is spec’ing a woven mylar rim strip”

    The mylar rim strips can become soft and pliable when the rims heat up on a steep descent, as did these (link). After these cooled they retained the deformed dimples from being pushed through the spoke holes:

    http://i163.photobucket.com/albums/t306/lesiz/Rimtape.jpg

    These were on a DT Swiss Mon Chasseral, which are similar to the Eastons.
    The dimples courtesy of the Deer Creek Rd. descent near Malibu.

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