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Enve Melee review: The bike to make you feel young again

Are you looking for something different, unique, and ready for fun?

Enve Melee in front of purple door header version
(Image: © Josh Ross)

Our Verdict

Enve has been working to define what it sees as the modern fast-ride experience, and the Melee is the current pinnacle of that vision. It’s light and aerodynamic but more importantly, it’s stiff, responsive, and it has mudguard mounts plus room for 35mm tyres. This is the bike that handles every ride on your schedule but more than anything, this is the bike that’s ready for fun.

For

  • Room for 35mm tyres
  • Mudguard mounts
  • Sold as a semi-custom chassis with no 'take-off' reselling needed
  • Integrated front end is uncomplicated and modular
  • Threaded bottom bracket
  • Branding is minimal and tasteful

Against

  • Only one colour currently available
  • Not everyone loves an integrated front-end
  • Not compatible with Campagnolo EPS

Only a few years ago there were distinct classifications when it came to the best road bikes available. If you were light and you spent your time climbing then you'd choose one of the best lightweight bikes available. On the other hand, if you lived where the roads were flatter and your passion was outright speed then you'd choose one of the best aero bikes. There was even an option to choose one of the best gravel bikes as some gravel bikes lean towards all-road and make for a perfectly capable all-around bike with just a wheel and tyre swap. 

Those choices continue to exist, made obvious by our buyer's guides, but as technology has progressed the differences have begun to shrink. Specialized might be the poster child for this merging. It once had the highly aero optimised Venge only to later see it disappear as the Tarmac got aerodynamically faster. Enve is taking things even farther. 

The Enve Melee is the first production bike from the American brand that isn't custom. With the Melee, the Enve vision of what a modern road racer looks like is coming into its sharpest focus yet. It's aerodynamically optimised, lightweight, and it sat at the top of a gravel race podium shortly before release. If you are looking for something from a brand that's a little different, and perhaps a little more unique, with the capabilities to go anywhere a modern road cyclist is likely to go, keep reading.

Enve Melee frame

When the light hits the Damascus colour there's a lot of depth to see (Image credit: Josh Ross)

Design and aesthetics 

There are a lot of complaints about modern aero bikes all looking the same. I would argue that's not really true, but if you want to dive deeper into why there are such similarities, and if it matters, we did run a recent article on aero bikes' data-driven design convergence. One of the bigger points in that article is that if your goal point is singularly aero driven then that will dictate a look. That flows into this discussion because the Enve Melee looks a bit different despite being aero optimised.

As with other aero bikes, like the Orbea Orca Aero, there are certainly some similarities. The most shared design feature of this modern aero style has to be the dropped seatstays. They aren't as low as something like the Cannondale Topstone, and don't look so drastic thanks to the sloping top tube, but they do make for a small rear triangle. What you won't get however is any kind of cutout in the seat tube as per something like the Cervelo S5. This is a bike with a massive (for a road bike) 35mm of tyre clearance and there's nothing aero related to compromise that. 

The headtube is also a familiar shape. Like every aero bike on the market, it's a narrow hourglass but there seems to be a move away from the ultra-narrow headtubes from a few years ago. In the image above you might also notice the bulges on the downtube, just below the bottom of the headtube. This is a less common detail but it's there on the Orca Aero as well to smooth the airflow from the fork to the frame and rider. On that bike, it's a tight crease and you won't miss it. On the Melee, it's not nearly as prominent as the picture would have you think. Although the light obviously picks it up, just as the air will, in person it's smooth and not really visible. 

Where things start to differentiate from aero frames more is in the top tube and chainstays. The best aerodynamic option seems to be keeping those as close to horizontal as possible but the Melee isn't strictly an aero frame. Dropping the top tube might enact a small aero penalty but it also exposes more seatpost for better compliance. To that end, the top tube also narrows pretty dramatically as it approaches the seat tube. This is another way to add compliance at the seat tube. Like the concept behind the latest Merida Time Warp TT, Enve recognizes that smooth is fast and the roads we ride aren't as smooth as we'd like. 

Like it or not, paint is a big part of the aesthetic appeal of any bike, but when it comes to colour choices for the Melee...there aren't any. You get a matte grey colour called Damascus and that's it right now. The reason behind this is the supply chain is still a mess and it's best to streamline choices; even though the bike is made in an overseas factory rather than Enve's domestic base, it's still subject to the same paint bottlenecks as occurred when manufacturing the Custom Road.

Don't despair though, the colour isn't boring at all. An initial glance might lead you to believe that it's flat and non-descript but the reality couldn’t be more different. The finish is matte and all the "dirty" areas like inside the fork blades or the back of the seatpost use a darker grey that's less likely to show dirt. There are also various places that make use of the truncated kammtail as an opportunity to ghost Enve logos or, like on the inside of the downtube, the name of the bike. 

Both colours though are far from flat. Instead, there's an incredible depth to them. Hit it with light and it sparkles. In some images it may show up as "just a grey" but it's far from that. There's enough depth to dive into and there's very little to distract from that. The only places where you don't see the depth are areas like the headtube badge, or downtube logo, that get a bit of gloss black on top. 

The build

Consider the Melee a semi-custom bike. It starts with a base of seven frame sizes ranging from 47 up to 60cm. Across those seven frame sizes, there will be five unique fork rakes to ensure optimal handling for riders of all sizes. From there, the bike isn't sold as a traditional frameset with build kits. Instead, it's available from select Enve retailers as what Enve is calling a chassis which includes handlebars, stem, and seatpost. That part isn't completely radical for an aero frame since often those parts are proprietary and required. In this case though, it goes a bit farther than normal.

Select retailers will help you order all the sizes for all the pieces you need. The handlebars are the Enve SES AR bars in sizes from 38mm up to 46mm and there are three seatposts available with seat rail clamp options covering everything on the market, including the elusive 7x10 from Fizik, and either a zero or 20-degree setback. The stem options range from 80mm up to 130mm, all with a negative seven-degree rise. Then with the chassis pieces selected, you'll work with your retailer to build the bike to your specifications.

For my build, I started with a SRAM Red AXS groupset. Both Shimano and SRAM have fantastic 12-speed electronic options available but my heart lies with SRAM if given the choice.  The gearing is better suited to the riding I do and charging is easier. In this case I went with SRAM Red and I made one additional change; Hope RX4+ callipers up the braking performance and add a pop of colour too. 

One note that is worth spending some time on is that the frame isn't compatible with Campagnolo electronic drivetrains unless you get drastic with a drill to enlarge the wiring ports. 

For wheels, the choice was obvious. You can run any wheels you’d like on the Enve Melee but the Enve SES 4.5 is an excellent all-around choice. They happen to be the wheels I set my fastest informal time trial time on this year and they are also a wheel with a personality that fits my riding style. As I’ll discuss in the next section, the Melee is a stiff bike, but the added volume of the SES 4.5, with its 25mm internal width, is a perfect match.

One other small detail is the bottom bracket choice. Envee has gone with the T47 bottom bracket. It's a standard that combines the performance of a larger bearing with a threaded design that is less prone to creaking. It also happens to be a standard that local company Chris King helped develop, and the matte slate colour option is almost the same colour as the Melee frame. 

Performance

Often the first ride on a new bike is when you get the most information about how it feels. Within the first thirty minutes of riding the Enve Melee, my whole plan shifted. This is a bike that feels stiff, responsive, and fun. It will make you feel young again and it had me thinking, for the first time in a long time, that I might beat my best climbing times. 

Over the last few years, I've spent most of my time on strictly aero bikes and the Melee is a sharper tool than those bikes. It feels like a bike that's ready to respond when you are. It practically begs you to sprint at every opportunity and it takes off at the slightest increase in power. Like the Enve G series bars, there's a tight bend in the SES AR bars right behind the controls. It's perfect for getting into a static position and leaning on your forearms for long distances but that's not what you'll find yourself doing. The bike feels more playful than that. Instead, expect to head for the hills and get out of the saddle for every stop sign and little rise. You will feel fast. 

When you turn around at the top of whatever hill, the ride is still fast. Without hyperbole, this might be the best descending bike I've ever ridden. The brakes are certainly powerful but the frame will stand up to the power and it never loses composure. At one point I was descending at almost 80km/h when a car pulled out in front of me. The brakes helped bring down the speed but the frame never chattered or skittered. My heart was in my throat but I couldn’t have asked for a better response from my equipment.  

On that first ride, that urge to climb and confidence to descend meant that early in the ride, I wanted to head to my benchmark hill. The Melee had me convinced that I could reclaim my fastest times of five years earlier. At 7.65kg in ready-to-ride guise, the Melee is a little heavier than the pure climbers' bike I was on back then. I'm a little heavier too, and my training has shifted to distance instead of top-end climbing and speed. None of that comes through in the feel though and I was sure I would beat my time. 

Without keeping you waiting, I did not beat my best time. That's not the important takeaway though. What's more important is that the bike urged me to try and beat that time and made me feel like I might. When I turned around at the top, the pull continued and I had a big smile all the way down that long climb. Every subsequent ride has been the same. I get on the Melee and I feel fast. This is a bike that’s ready to party.

Verdict

The Enve Melee is a different kind of bike. It's almost as aero as an all-out aero bike and it's almost as light as a climber’s bike. Categorically speaking, it compares to the S-Works Tarmac SL7 or the Cannondale Supersix Evo Hi-Mod but it has room for more tyre than both of those bikes. It also has mudguard mounts for winter training and the buying experience is much closer to a custom experience. 

In terms of pricing, it sits right at the top of modern mid-level road bikes. The next step up gets into the superbike category. Names like Bianchi and Colnago live in that category along with top-tier options from a host of other brands. The Enve Custom Road also lives in that space if you want to stay with Enve but trade a bit of weight, and money, for a truly custom experience. 

The Enve Melee is a bike for the experienced modern road rider. It’s a bike that you can order exactly how you want and it can do almost anything you can expect from a road bike plus a little more. If you spend a lot of time off-road you’ll still want a dedicated gravel bike but for those that only occasionally head for unpaved roads, the option is there with the Melee. Otherwise, the Enve can handle anything you can. It might not dial back the clock but it will make you think it might. It's comfortable and fast on flats but rowdy and ready to climb, or sprint, at any time. 

Testing scorecard and notes
Design and aestheticsThe colour is gorgeous and the subtlety of the graphics are a joy but one colour can’t possibly satisfy everyone. More options would be welcome.7/10
ComponentsThe options are, almost, completely up to you. The chassis concept comes with a variety of top quality Enve pieces and from there you work with your retailer to spec it as you’d like. 10/10
Performance, handling and geometryGeometry is exactly what you’d expect from a race bike designed to sit on the pointy end of the group. The handling and performance benefits from the stiffness and tops many other bikes of this level.10/10
WeightNot a category leader but it’s where you’d expect a bike of this type to be. 8/10
ValueSame price as the S-Works Tarmac SL7 but you do get handlebars and you can spec what you want for the stem and seatpost. Cannondale, Trek, Look, and Orbea are all less expensive. 7/10
Overall84%

Logbook: Enve Melee

  • Temperature: 30-38 degrees C / 85-100 degrees F
  • Weather: Sunny
  • Road surface: paved roads including chipseal 
  • Rides: 6
  • Mileage: 480km / 299 miles

Tech Specs: Enve Melee

  • Price: $5500
  • Frame: Enve Melee
  • Size: 54cm
  • Weight: 7.65kg (actual with pedals, cages, and computer mount)
  • Groupset: SRAM Red AXS
  • Crankset: SRAM Red Power 46/33
  • Cassette: SRAM Force 10-33T
  • Wheels: Enve SES 4.5
  • Tyres: Enve SES Road Tyre, 27c
  • Brakes: Hope RX4+
  • Bar/stem: Enve SES AR handlebar / Enve Aero Stem
  • Seatpost: Enve Aero Seatpost
  • Bottle cages: Silca Titanium
  • Saddle: Fizik Vento Argo R1 Adaptive Saddle

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