This time of year it is good to reflect on the many things we are thankful for. Here at the PELOTON Max Wattage Institute we are thankful for the Easton EA90 SL Disc wheelset. The EA90 SL Disc was our wheel choice for a custom gravel build on a Salsa Warbird to tackle the 2018 Gravel Mob and its over 8,000 vertical feet of gravel. The Easton EA90 SL Disc wheels were the standout part of the build with their 19.5mm internal tubeless rim, 27mm depth, and the new Easton Vault disc hub.
Images: William Tracy
At the PELOTON MWI we know that a great wheelset has the most significant effect on ride quality and performance. So our test of the EA90 SL Disc had us shaking our heads in disbelief. You see, here at PELOTON we are blessed to have ridden and tested many, many carbon disc wheelsets, and now having tested the new EA90 SL Disc alloy wheelset, it really makes us appreciate what Easton has accomplished with a race-ready alloy wheelset that is $900 and 1537grams.
The first ride was an easy two-hour pre-ride over to Sulphur Mountain, which is the first climb of the Gravel Mob in Ojai, CA. During the first few miles of paved bike path and kid-like detours onto the berms and over jumps on our way to the climb, it was obvious the EA90 SL Disc was going to be just as comfortable on the road as in the dirt. Over the next couple hours on a way too hard course pre-ride, we couldn’t help ourselves from doing hard, seated accelerations, quick-snappy out of the saddle sprints, and then charging the corners to just rip the exits. Once back at the bottom and cruising back along the bike path, we started thinking of all the carbon wheels that were twice, if not thrice, the price of the EA90 SL Disc and similar in weight.
The all-new Vault hubs are a big part of this performance. They are massively oversized with huge cartridge bearings and the seals to keep them spinning smoothly in the worst conditions. They cassette body uses a three pawl system, with two teeth per pawl, and 60 teeth on the drive ring. The result is the fastest engagement Easton has ever created, just six degrees. In steep, technical climbing or tough ‘cross courses where you may need to crank your way over a root or a nasty rock section, that quick engagement is critical. While it may be oversized, it’s 48gram slighter than the Echo hubs.
The Gravel Mob, although not a race, is a very tough and competitive ride. A great test for the EA90 SL Disc. The route has over 8,000 feet of gravel climbing that ranges from hard packed fire-roads to loose rocks, shale, and ruts to fast paved descents. The EA90 SL Disc felt like the perfect balance of performance and durability. At 1537 grams they felt light and fast as we stayed with the lead group, matching acceleration after acceleration, on the smooth gravel climb of Sulphur Mountain. They were stable and handled exceptionally well down an aggressive and twisty road descent down into Upper Ojai and they accelerated quickly as we navigated the steep, loose, and rocky pitches up the long Sisar Rd. climb.
Then as the ride comes off the top of Nordhoff Ridge there are a series of big, fast rollers that, if you can keep your speed up down the very rough section, you can make it two-thirds up the steep sides of the rollers without a pedal stroke. But, to do that you need confidence that your wheels can take golf ball and baseball size rocks trying to destroy them. The EA90 SL Disc confidently destroyed the Nordhoff Ridge Road and as we passed a rider with a broken rear-wheel (yes, we offered help) we thought, “Should we back off or keep crushing across the ridge?” Of course, the answer was to keep crushing the ridge. A big shout out here to the Panaracer GravelKing tires. A good wheel needs a good tire, the GravelKing was tough and fast enough to unleash the EA90 SL wheels all day.
While carbon has gotten unimaginably strong, there is a peace of mind to ripping nasty surfaces on alloy, and Easton, lest we forget, made its name in alloy. The EA90 SL rims represent Easton’s best alloy tech after decades of working with the material. It also doesn’t hurt knowing if a rock does manage to win the battle, the repair will be a fraction of what a comparable carbon rim would be.
Once off the ridge the route transitions to a long road descent that is fast, but requires a lot of pedaling to maintain your speed with constant head wind. The EA90 SL Disc dropped off the mountain with ease and thanks to a 27mm rim depth in Easton’s Fantom shape and bladed Sapim straight-pull spokes I hit a max speed of 44 mph, allowing me to catch two more riders on the leg-burning descent.
A nice bonus to theses wheels was the tubeless tire installation with the Panaracer GravelKing SK 38s. It was very easy and this combo shouldn’t have you reaching for tire levers anytime soon. We set the tires at 35psi front and 38psi rear for ride day. When setting up new wheels the morning before a big event, it’s nice to know it will go smoothly.
At just 1537grams and $900 the EA90 SL disc wheels prove that when it comes to a fairly shallow set of wheels, Easton alloy can go head-to-head with a lot of carbon, and outperform budget carbon on the road, gravel, or otherwise. Easton provides caps for quick release 12mm or 15mm thru-axles up front and quick release and 12x142mm thru-axles out back.