Some brand names get your attention instantly when you hear they’re coming out with a new product—even if they’re not normally associated with the particular thing they’re releasing. These are the brands that have the tendency to take their time, do things right, and introduce products that become objects of lust for the rest of us. We’re talking about brands like Porsche, in their heyday. Then there’s also Ferrari and Zipp. And, even if you don’t ride their wheels, ENVE.
ENVE is a company that has, historically, gotten it right the first time. They produce high-quality products by hand in their facility in Ogden, Utah. And while their products won’t typically fall in line with the price range of a budget-minded athlete, we believe ENVE’s products are the perfect example of the old adage, “you get what you pay for.” So when we heard that ENVE had an aerobar coming out, we couldn’t wait to test it. We knew a couple things: it was going to be carbon, and it was definitely going to be different. What we didn’t know was that it would be quite this gorgeous.
The SES Aero Bar is a UCI-legal setup that allows for a fairly surprising number of orientations, with a reversible, angle-adjustable extension clamp system that allows for 86mm or 173mm extension spacing. A further adjustability exists on the pads by swapping between the two rows of bolt holes. Therefore your pads go from about 12 cm center-to-center (measured) in the narrowest (closest holes on the pads, extensions inboard of the risers) configuration to 20cm in the widest (pads at furthest holes, extensions outboard of the risers). If that isn’t enough, the holes themselves are deliberately widened to allow the rider to angle the pads themselves inward or outward to conform to the way your forearm lays in the cup – a feature we found exceptionally useful. We’ll go into more detail on that in a minute.
No matter what type of extension you prefer, ENVE has you covered with a single SKU. J-bends, S-bends, or straights, the 22mm carbon extension features a cut line that will work for you, and even offers different lengths, should you need them. We chose an S-bend cut, but if you find that there is just no way to get your position with the included extensions, fear not. They’re standard 22mm diameter, which means the clamp will work with just about anything on the market.
What really sells the extension setup, however, is the ability to angle the pad-and-extension bracket up or down by a whopping 15 degrees. You won’t be able to ride quite like TJ Tollakson, but you’ll be a whole lot closer than before. For example, with this bar, our pad-to-extension end length was 385mm. Inclining the extension 15 degrees gives a huge 100mm of rise to the end of the extension – more than enough for even the most dedicated high-hands riders. It’s important to note that without moving the extension clamp to the underside of the basebar, which you can do, giving the extension an angle rise or decline also moves the pad in the same fashion. Mounting the extensions on the underside, however, will limit your options for pad stack considerably.
Speaking of the basebar, it, too, has an interesting feature set. The base bar is reversible, with a 21mm height drop/rise from stem clamp center, depending on configuration. The pursuits themselves are swept forward dramatically, a measured 16cm from stem clamp center to the brake lever, and are joined in the middle by the bar itself. This gives a unique hand position when riding the pursuits, as your palm will tend to rest naturally on the bar itself, straddling the top curve of the pursuit. It also means that using bar tape to add cushion is effectively out of the question – a problem for those riders who need a hand position with something softer than naked carbon fiber.
Installation was somewhat hit and miss. Our Vision Metron shifters did not fit the extensions for some reason – the diameter of the Metrons being too large for the ENVE extensions. We’re not sure why this happened, but we chose to move over to Zipp R2C shifters, which fit just fine. Chalk it up to weirdness, but test fit before you have your entire front end apart. The exit hole for the brake cables are very close to the stem. This gave us some trouble with routing the front brake due to the nature of the Bayonet stem system on our Felt DA, and we would love a slightly larger exit from the base bar, which would solve the problem nicely. Aside from that, installing the SES was a breeze, and setting it up for our fit coordinates was relatively easy – with one small exception.
The two positions for the extensions, inboard and outboard, are just shy of 90mm apart, which means that you are going to ride either a very open position, great for beginners, or a very narrow one, which pros favor—and that’s it. Pad position is at the mercy of the extension clamp, as there is only one set of mounting holes on the clamp, and ends up with only three pad positions available – 12 cm (extensions inboard, pads on narrowest setting), 16 cm (inboard/wide or outboard/narrow), and 20 cm (outboard/wide) from pad center-to-center. If those widths aren’t to your liking, you may find that this bar is not going to work for you, but there is one small hope left.
The saving grace of the pad setup, for us, was the fact that the pads themselves can be rotated inward or outward by a couple degrees. This gave us the extra clearance (about 5mm at the rear of the pad) we needed for our elbows, while still allowing us to ride with a 16 cm setup on inboard extensions without collapsing our chest and being unable to breathe (Devon, who set up the bike, has a shoulder width of 45cm, for reference). Sometimes, the littlest things result in the biggest differences, and once we were on the road, what a difference it was.
|Base Bar Width||40cm|
|Base Bar Drop||+/- 21mm|
|Included Spacers||5, 10, 20mm|
|Extension Angle Adjustment||+/- 15 degrees|
|Min-Max Pad Width||125mm – 200mm|
|Min-Max Stack Height||15mm – 90mm|
The SES Aero Bar is exceptionally comfortable while riding in the aero position, and we owe it all to that extra pad rotation. The pads themselves are shockingly comfortable, won’t slip when you start to sweat, and the arm cups are scalloped enough to hold your forearms securely. We’re still experimenting with finding a comfortable pursuit position for any extended length of time – the lack of bar tape and riding without gloves tends to fatigue our palms fairly quickly. But then again, this is a bar to go fast on, not a bar for sitting up. Given the circumstances, we can forgive ENVE for this one; we suspect that we can lay a strip of padded tape along the top of the pursuits to help with the hand fatigue, but we haven’t had the chance, yet. Look for that in our Final Thoughts in a month or two.
What the ENVE SES Aero Bar isn’t is cheap. It’s only available as a single set—there are no options—and it retails for $1,365. In contrast, the Zipp Vuka Stealth is a relative bargain at $1,150, but only if your bike uses a non-integrated stem – something that has become common in high-end bikes these days. What the Zipp doesn’t do is let you mount your extensions underneath the basebar, and as a result, is a less aggressive setup than the SES can provide. Is the ENVE worth the extra $215 over the Zipp? That’s a question we’ll have to do a lot more riding to answer – stay tuned.