Last year, we had the opportunity to tour the ENVE factory just up the road from our shops in Northern Utah. We were deeply impressed by the ENVE Custom Road, a bike that offers custom geometry and modern features in a lightweight package made in the U.S.A. It was something unlike almost any other bike on the market, and an achievement in its own right. But ENVE said it wasn’t a one-hit-wonder. The release of the new ENVE Melee road bike is proof of that.
NOT A FRAMESET, BUT A CHASSIS
The ENVE Melee is the US carbon brand’s approach to a modern road race bike. While the Custom Road was made to prioritize customization and personalization, the Melee gets a standard frame size range, slightly more refined tube shapes, and lower weight. The adoption of a standard frame size range comes alongside an adoption of a monocoque carbon frame construction ENVE calls “Material Optimized Design,” or M.O.D. Simply put, Material Optimized Design is ENVE’s way of building up a carbon frame. They don’t share too much on what they do with this, but the brand’s experience building carbon components and wheels gives them a bit of credibility in carbon frame construction.
One benefit to ENVE’s experience building carbon components is that they can design everything as a cohesive package. ENVE has designed the Melee’s tube shapes to work cohesively with their own ENVE SES wheels (see our SES wheel writeup HERE). They say that by swapping out the SES wheels and tires, one can change the Melee’s personality to meet a cyclist’s goals. While a fast wheel is fast regardless of the rest of the bike, we haven’t really seen a top-spec wheel manufacturer build a frame they say best pairs to their wheels. It is a novel concept and one we wouldn’t be surprised to happen more in the future in the pursuit of marginal gains.
Most road bikes come with a frameset option, but ENVE calls what their version a ‘chassis.’ It isn’t unlike what BMC calls a “module.” Rather than just the standard frame, fork, and headset of most brands, the Melee gets a frame, fork, headset, handlebar, stem, and seatpost. The bar, stem, fork, and seatpost are designed to work with the Melee, though the bar and stem width/length are chosen specifically for the rider’s needs. Per ENVE, this allows for smooth integration of hidden wires and brake hoses, more complementary tube shapes, and greater efficiency in regards to aero and weight savings.
We’ve already mentioned the aero tube shaping that ENVE designs as part of their ‘Real World-Fast’ philosophy. But there’s a whole lot more going on here, which is interesting to note for a bike labeled as a road racer. Part of this is that road racing isn’t just criteriums anymore, but mixed-surface events like classics rides and even all-day affairs like Lotoja. As such, the Melee is rated to fit a 35mm tire, wider than most other race bikes. But Alexey Vermeulen won Belgium Waffle Ride California using massive 40mm tubeless tires without issue.
Interestingly enough, the ENVE Melee is actually more aerodynamic at speed compared to the Custom Road, as noted by the chart shown above. The expected culprits of aero efficiency are all there – a minimized frontal area thanks to hidden cables, Kamm-tail tube shapes, and a standard ENVE aero-profile seatpost. These tube shapes haven’t cut down drivetrain compatibility all that much, as Melee works with all electronic drivetrains, 1x and 2x drivetrains, and Shimano mechanical drivetrains. A threaded T47 bottom bracket provides great reliability with lots of compatibility options.
True to the road race aspirations and semi-aero design, a 56cm Melee frame weighs in at just 850g, painted. Fork weight is unspecified, but the range of aero seatposts weigh between just 160g to 192g.
Let’s talk more about the specifically chosen bar and stem options. While all Melee chassis come with a bar, stem, and seatpost, the bar and stem are chosen to best fit the rider. As of now, the new Integrated Road Stem is designed to work best with the existing ENVE SES AR handlebar, which we’ve come to really appreciate in both road and gravel bike applications. These are paired to a new ENVE Integrated Road Stem, which looks a whole lot like the Aero Road Stem. The difference here is that it clamps separately to the handlebar, allowing for independent bar angle rotation. Near-integrated bar/stem performance with standard adjustability? Sign us up.
The price is noticeably lower than the Custom Road and Custom All-Road, and part of that is possible through overseas construction at ENVE’s factory.
The Melee is designed first and foremost as a race road bike, which is fairly obvious looking at the geometry chart. Seven sizes are available, from 47cm all the way up to 60cm. Reach and stack numbers are adjacent to race road bike geometry, though the stack measurement in all but the largest sizes are 10 to 15mm taller than the most aggressive bikes. Call it similar to a current Cannondale SuperSix EVO, which itself is slightly less razor-sharp in its handling than other lightweight race bikes.
ENVE builds the Melee with an astounding FIVE different fork rake measurements, which keeps the trail figures in the high 50mm trail figures. A size 47cm frame with a 27mm tire gets the same 58.1mm trail figure as a size 60cm frame. Most manufacturers that tout different fork lengths based on sizes usually get two fork rake options. Serious stuff to make all the bikes handle similarly regardless of size.
As far as handling is concerned, Melee gets a 75mm bottom bracket drop before a 73mm drop in mid range sizes and a 71cm drop in the two largest sizes. Paired to the about average 410mm chainstays and longish front center length measurements, we anticipate the Melee to be at its best going fast. There’s a whole lot of stability here thanks to the lower bottom bracket height, and for many of us wanting a fast road bike, the extra tire clearance is a large selling point that adds even more stability and small vibration comfort.
The ENVE Melee road bike is a big step for a company that made their name with aero wheel efficiency. But considering the number of bike manufacturers offering their own in-house wheels to pair to their bikes, it makes sense that ENVE would start with their own frameset. And while the Custom Road was an impressive display of engineering in carbon construction, the Melee is the frame that tells us that ENVE is serious about making the best bikes possible. Low weight, high levels of adjustability, and the whole ‘designed as a package’ idea feels like a truly fresh idea in the road race bike market. Well done. ENVE.
Want one for yourself? We have the ENVE Melee frameset in stock now and ready to build. Contact us to get your custom bike build started today.