ENVE Melee (Ultegra Di2 build) review
Perhaps the one race bike mere mortals should ownGBP £10,400.00 RRP | USD $12,834.00 | AUD $19,220.00 Skip to view deals
The ENVE Melee is the American brand’s second bike frame, following its Custom Road debut.
It’s pitched as ENVE’s off-the-peg race bike, though you can only buy a frameset and finishing kit ensemble, rather than a full build.
The benefit, therefore, is being able to spec some key components, which (in theory) should help a rider arrive at their perfect build. Naturally, it can therefore be as expensive or value-focused as you like once you’ve forked out for the core.
On the other hand, you’ll need to choose and source the remaining parts of the build yourself (or with the help of an ENVE dealer), and won’t benefit from the favourable pricing many large bike brands are able to secure from component manufacturers when buying in bulk.
Fundamentally, though, the Melee is designed to balance race bike properties with ENVE’s concept of ‘real world speed’.
Although that distinction is slightly woolly, one thing is clear: the Melee is an addictively fast, comfortable, sharp-handling and easy-to-ride race bike.
Whether it would be the fastest all-round race bike under a pro rider or top-category amateur racer is debatable. However, it’s nigh-on flawless when a mere mortal swings their leg over it and rides it however they choose.
For that, it earns top spot in our 2023 Bike of the Year performance bike category.
ENVE Melee (Ultegra Di2 build) frame
Instead of the Custom Road’s fully customisable design, the Melee is like many of the best road bikes available today; a monocoque carbon construction.
Building a frame this way means ENVE (and just about every other mainstream brand) is able to create carbon bike frames using pre-established moulds.
The limitation, compared to a custom bike frame, is you can’t fine-tune the geometry to precisely match a rider’s bike fit and desired handling characteristics.
The upsides are they’re cheaper to produce and buy, while one can argue it’s easier to choose a bike from pre-set geometry figures.
ENVE says the Melee has been aerodynamically optimised for riding speeds between 32 and 40kph (as well as being tested at 48kph), which more broadly reflects the speeds amateurs are likely to ride at.
Meanwhile, the ride position is a little taller than you’ll commonly find on the extreme long-and-low setups pros often ride.
It’s logical, then, that ENVE doesn’t measure the Melee against competitors you might see on the WorldTour. To do so would be to compare, if not apples and oranges, then certainly different types of apple.
Regardless, it says it’s around six watts faster at 48kph compared to its Custom Road.
Overall, truncated aerofoil tube shapes dominate the frame design, with the head tube exhibiting a narrow frontal profile.
It features full internal cable and hose routing and is designed to work with the brand’s SES AR handlebar and Integrated Aero Stem (which are supplied as part of the frame kit in your chosen sizes).
The top tube slopes downward considerably to meet the comparatively slim seat tube, giving the bike something of a reverse-mullet appearance.
This approach exposes more of the seatpost on a given frame size than you typically see on contemporary aero bikes and all-rounder race bikes. This should (in theory) enable it to flex a little more for improved comfort.
Dropped, slender seatstays should further contribute to compliance, while also being a little more aerodynamic.
The frame and fork (the same as seen on the Custom Road) also have clearance for tyres up to 35mm wide – something that was gravel bike territory only a few years ago.
ENVE says an unpainted, size 56cm frame weighs around 850g.
With the Melee available only as a ‘chassis’ – that is, a frame, fork, stem and handlebar (including ENVE’s anti-rattle routing finishing kit), seatpost and thru-axles, a quick compatibility check is in order.
You can run any electronic groupset you desire, but enduring mechanical fans are stuck with Shimano thanks to needing a continuous connection from shifter to front derailleur.
ENVE Melee (Ultegra Di2 build) geometry
As BikeRadar’s deputy editor, Jack Luke, wrote in his news story on the Melee, the geometry is straight out of the race bike playbook.
My test bike is a size 58cm, featuring a 586.4mm stack. Compare that to an equivalent Specialized Tarmac SL7 (581mm), and it comes up a little taller.
However, there are taller race bikes still, notably Cannondale’s SuperSix Evo, at 595mm.
The frame reach measures 401mm, although the actual length to the bar’s touchpoints will naturally depend on the sizes you opt for with the component parts of the chassis (which ENVE gives you control over).
In this build, the Melee’s stem measures 120mm, with a handlebar reach of 85mm.
Rather than building a fork for every discrete frame size, ENVE has opted to design five fork rake variants across the seven-size range.
While many brands will offer only one or two such variants, ENVE says this additional variation helps maintain consistent handling characteristics throughout the size range.
The head tube angle is a steep 73.3 degrees, which promises nimble handling.
412mm chainstays contribute to a total wheelbase of 1,006.4mm. That’s 2.4mm longer than an equivalent SL7, but almost 6mm longer than a SuperSix Evo’s.
Taking a general view, the Melee has all the hallmarks of a typical race bike, just with some measurements that should constitute a slightly more relaxed ride.
|Seat angle (degrees)||75.1||74.5||74||73.8||73.5||73.2||72.7|
|Head angle (degrees)||71.1||71.5||72.2||72.4||73.3||73.3||73.6|
|Seat tube (mm)||417||434||452||466||490||508||531|
|Top tube (mm)||506||522||536||547||563||578||598|
|Head tube (mm)||105||120||130||145||160||180||200|
|Fork offset (mm)||55||51||47||47||43||43||39|
|Bottom bracket drop (mm)||75||75||75||73||73||71||71|
|Bottom bracket height (mm)||268||268||268||270||270||272||272|
ENVE Melee (Ultegra Di2) build
In order to test the Melee, we worked with UK ENVE distributor, Saddleback, to arrive at a complete build.
It may not feature all the trappings of a pro-level race bike, but hopefully more closely represents what many riders might choose to spend their own hard-earned money on.
A Shimano Ultegra Di2 R8100 groupset provides the drivetrain and stoppers, but in a nod to the freedom offered to a Melee customer, we opted for Dura-Ace brake rotors.
This saves a few grams versus Ultegra-spec rotors, but with the black IceTech cooling fins, looks most in keeping with the gun metal grey and black colourway.
Rolling stock is also provided by ENVE: its Foundation 45 carbon wheels and SES tyres (in a size 700 x 29c).
The wheels feature a contemporary 21mm internal rim width and are aerodynamically optimised for 25 to 28c tyres.
If you opt for a brand-tidy ENVE SES or Foundation wheelset, you’re locked into using tubeless tyres thanks to their hookless rims, but, again, this is entirely your decision.
In order to enable riders to achieve an optimum fit aboard a Melee, ENVE allows the free size selection of SES AR handlebar and Integrated Aero Stem.
The stem comes in sizes 80 to 130mm (in 10mm increments), while the bar can be had in widths from 38 to 46cm.
These widths are measured centre to centre at the brake hoods, with the drops flaring out by an additional 5cm.
BikeRadar’s senior tech writer, Simon von Bromley, would doubtless hanker after an even narrower 36cm bar, but the range on offer covers a wide range of bases, even straying into gravel-wide territory.
The ENVE carbon seatpost is also available in three lengths, and a choice of two setbacks (zero and 20mm).
My test bike was fitted with a 420mm handlebar (with 47cm drops), a 110mm stem, and the 20mm-setback seatpost. Fitted to the seatpost was an ENVE X Selle Italia Boost SLR saddle.
On top of this, Saddleback fitted ENVE’s carbon bottle cages, plus a matching K-Edge-made Garmin/Wahoo out-front mount for the ENVE handlebar.
All in, with all components as described, the 58cm Melee full build tipped the scales at 7.66kg, and will cost in the region £10,400.
This is expensive in almost anyone’s book, but is practically matched, for example, by the Trek Madone SLR 7 at £10,200. Bike price hikes continue apace, clearly.
The bike weighs in (including out-front mount) at 7.80kg.
ENVE Melee (Ultegra Di2 build) ride impressions
The ENVE Melee has to be one of the easiest-handling race-type bikes I’ve ever ridden.
From my first ride aboard it, I was struck by how stable and composed it is, regardless of what I challenged it with.
You can push hard on descents, get out of the saddle and hammer the bike from side to side, or ride hard into a driving headwind, and it deals with everything displaying real calmness.
Yet, the handling is incredibly well balanced, offering plenty of sharpness at the front and responsiveness at the rear.
Often, a stable and composed ride can be a little boring because reactions are slowed, and twitchiness is replaced with docile character. Here, though, there’s none of that.
The Melee’s reaction to inputs is quick, and there’s a sense of directness to the front wheel (as opposed to a front wheel of an endurance bike, which is normally pushed forward, slowing steering).
I’m hard-pressed to put my finger on exactly how ENVE has achieved such a complementary duality of poise and calm, but whatever the cause, the effects are brilliant.
It’s also unperturbed by crosswinds, yet seems to progress with quiet efficiency when the wind is still and the road flat.
I won’t claim it’s as fast as a full-on aero road bike in good conditions, but it feels near enough if your riding speed happens to be in ENVE’s ‘real world’ range, and you’re riding in varying wind conditions.
As Specialized’s sister brand Roval claims, energy (and speed) is likely wasted when you have to correct and counter-correct your efforts because of wind buffets on your bike. The Melee would appear to sing from a similar hymn sheet, prioritising stability.
The Melee is compliant too. The exposed seatpost shaft does a great job of smoothing out road buzz, while the cockpit and head tube together are well-tuned and – in combination with 29c tyres set up tubeless – balance the comfort felt through the saddle.
Overall, despite all its poise and the accuracy of its handling, the Melee isn’t quite as lively as some competitor bikes.
Of the Bike of the Year bikes tested alongside it, both the Cannondale SuperSix Evo and Colnago V4Rs can best it if the characteristic you covet most is sheer nimbleness.
Both of those bikes steer a little lighter and dart around more, and are probably a fraction stiffer too.
However, the whip-crack responses of those bikes isn’t always the key to overall speed – a more stable bike, for example, can bring greater energy come the end of a long ride, or prove faster on descents if you prefer a steadier-handling approach.
Which is right for you will ultimately come down to personal taste. For many, a slightly more predictable character may work out faster in the long run.
I suspect that with a couple of spec modifications, I could find an even better setup with the Melee that might augment the handling. This emphasises the importance of really dialling in to your bike fit before investing in such a bike.
A zero-setback post, for example, would enable me to have the saddle slightly further forward, putting me in a more powerful position over the bottom bracket and compacting the reach to the hoods and drops.
I could also bear to have a 40cm bar, rather than the 42cm bar as fitted here. Together, this might sharpen the Melee up a little.
ENVE Melee (Ultegra Di2 build) bottom line
Overall, the ENVE Melee is a truly impressive race bike.
Although there are possibly faster-handling race bikes, this isn’t always favourable, especially if it makes the ride harder.
In reality, while race bikes are designed primarily for racing, the vast majority of riders also ride them for sportives, club rides, training and even steady social jaunts. Despite the name, racing isn’t all most race bikes need to be able to do.
The Melee is a real standard-setter in that regard, excelling in every aspect of enthusiast road riding, while offering the opportunity to customise it to (almost) your perfect fit.
It costs a godly amount for the frameset, and to spec to the kind of standard I’ve tested here. However, smart purchasing of certain components could help to keep it competitive with many of the best race-type bikes.
Do it right, and the Melee could be the best race bike you’ve ever owned.
Performance Bike of the Year 2023 | How we tested
Each bike is set up as close as possible to the tester’s bike fit specifications, followed by a short, local shakedown to verify initial fit.
After this, longer separate rides are undertaken, punctuated by occasional side-of-the-road fettling (if necessary) to optimise the fit and desired ride behaviour.
Once set, a series of standalone and back-to-back rides are undertaken with each bike gradually dropping out of the running until the winner is left.
The bikes are measured in line with BikeRadar and Cycling Plus’ scoring criteria, considering overall performance in a variety of suitable situations, as well as comfort, handling, fit, specification and value for money.
Our Performance Bike of the Year contenders are
- Cannondale Supersix Evo Hi-Mod 2
- Wilier 0 SL Rival AXS
- Colnago V4Rs
- Basso Diamante Ultegra Di2
- ENVE Melee (Ultegra Di2 build)
Thanks to our sponsors, Lazer, FACOM tools and Band Of Climbers for their support in making Bike of the Year happen.
|Price||AUD $19220.00GBP £10400.00USD $12834.00|
|Weight||7.8kg (58cm) – including out-front mount|
|Available sizes||47, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60cm|
|Cassette||Shimano Ultegra R8170, 11-30t|
|Chain||Shimano Ultegra 12-speed|
|Cranks||Shimano Ultegra R8170 52/36t|
|Fork||ENVE Custom Road carbon|
|Frame||ENVE Melee carbon|
|Handlebar||ENVE SES AR Road carbon Handlebar|
|Rear derailleur||Shimano Ultegra Di2 R8170|
|Saddle||ENVE x Selle Italia Boost SLR|
|Seatpost||ENVE Melee aero carbon seatpost, 20mm offset|
|Shifter||Shimano Ultegra Di2 R8170|
|Tyres||ENVE SES 700 x 29c, tubeless|
|Wheels||ENVE Foundation 45, with ENVE Alloy CL hubs|