Enve gets into the frame business with new ultra-premium Custom Road
Enve Composites — a brand best known for its carbon fiber wheels and cockpit components — has today announced that it’s getting into the carbon fiber frame business with the new Custom Road. It’s actually two closely related custom frames, both featuring a sleekly modern silhouette, an emphasis on blending ride comfort and aerodynamic performance, a low weight and custom paint, and fully custom geometry using a novel modular construction that’s made from start to finish at the company’s headquarters in Ogden, Utah.
As you’d expect, it’s also eye-wateringly expensive with just the “chassis” draining your wallet to the tune of US$7,000.
But I also suspect that given the seemingly limitless supply of well-heeled customers looking for something a little different, Enve will likely have no shortage of people putting a deposit down to secure a spot in line.
What makes it different
It perhaps goes without saying that it’d be foolish for Enve to dive into this crowded segment with only its well-known brand name to lean on. After all, there are the likes of Crumpton, Parlee, Argonaut, FiftyOne, Alchemy, Appleman, and a number of others already offering full-carbon, high-end road frames with custom geometry.
What sets the Enve Custom Road apart is how it’s managing to offer the more modern look and feel of a more conventional modular monocoque frame with the custom geometry of lower-tech tube-to-tube construction that’s more typically used by small builders.
Each Enve Custom Road frame is formed as nine separately molded sections: a head tube, a top tube, a seat tube, two seatstays, two chainstays, a down tube, and a bottom bracket shell. But instead of cutting and mitering all of the joints like you see in tube-to-tube construction, each of the Enve sections has a number of socket-style connections built into it. The joints are still bonded and overwrapped like in tube-to-tube frames, but instead of that happening at the tube intersections, those joints are located more inline with the tube where there’s less stress.
As for that step-down joint geometry, it’s similar to what Trek debuted on the Madone back in 2009. The plug-and-socket construction style makes for somewhat more straightforward construction when the frame is being built, while that step-down joint geometry also yields more consistent joint integrity plus a more seamless finish.
Interestingly, the idea behind the Custom Road’s frame construction shares some thinking with Specialized’s SmartWeld aluminum technology. Although the specifics are obviously very different, both feature modular construction with joints that are moved away from the areas of highest stress, and result in a finished product that looks more like a mass-manufactured modular monocoque carbon frame than what it really is.
Enve’s construction method doesn’t just make for a pretty shape, either.
By mixing up the different sizes and lengths of those nine separate frame components Enve says it can mimic equivalent frame sizes from 47-63 cm, along with a generous variation in dimensions like head and seat tube angles, top tube length, and head tube length.
Say, for example, you want the height of a 54 cm frame, but the length of a 58 cm (like what Cannondale used to do for Peter Sagan and Daniele Bennati back in the day). That’s no problem. Maybe you actually want the opposite because you’ve got really long legs and a short torso, and you’d prefer not to have any headset spacers. Done. Want to tweak the bottom bracket height a little? Sure thing.
Also unlike most tube-to-tube bikes, Enve is able to form all of these tubes into modern truncated-airfoil cross-sections instead of just round shapes. Enve says this reduces aerodynamic drag (the company doesn’t provide any data, however), but it also lends a pleasantly contemporary appearance. In other words, think of the Enve Custom Road offering the look and feel of a Specialized Tarmac, Giant TCR, or Trek Emonda, but with the freedom to have it fit however you want or need.
The modular monocoque construction pays dividends in terms of weight, too. Enve says raw frames in the 54-56 cm range are coming in around 850 grams — a very good number, albeit not entirely competitive with true ultralights.
“[It’s] not a featherweight, but that wasn’t the goal,” said Enve’s VP of product and consumer experience, Jake Pantone. “We have found a certain amount of mass aids in damping and ride quality. The other bit is simply acknowledging that weight is a compromise when doing custom geometry. If the front triangle were to be molded in one-piece, it could be lighter.”
That up-to-date look and feel isn’t just limited to the frame itself, and there’s a reason why the company prefers to refer to the Custom Road as a “chassis”. In addition to the dedicated fork (which blends very nicely visually with the head tube, I should point out), there’s also a matching one-piece carbon fiber handlebar-and-stem, based on Enve’s conventional AR Road bend.
Like the frame, each one is built to order in terms of length and width, and painted to match for a pleasantly cohesive visual package. To make sure you can attach your favorite gear, K-Edge has built a dedicated CNC-machined aluminum computer and accessory mount.
Routing is fully internal, of course, with lines running through the bar tops and stem extension before taking a downward arc alongside the steerer tube and into the frame.
Speaking of the headset, Enve has partnered with Chris King to create a special setup just for the Custom Road. Dubbed the AeroSet, it features a large-diameter upper bearing (basically the same thing you’d normally find for the lower bearing) to create enough space for the lines to pass through without resorting to a goofy non-round steerer tube shape. Wire and hose guides are built into the just-for-Enve upper bearing cover and headset spacers, and the whole thing is profiled to visually match the Custom Road frame.
As with most internal routing configurations like this, replacing the upper headset bearing will require a whole lot of extra work since all of the lines have to be disconnected and then reconnected (and in the case of the hydraulic hoses, with new fittings and a fresh bleed), but that’s par for the course these days. Unfortunately for the serviceability minded, that ship has sailed.
Out back, Enve has also equipped the Custom Road with its own integrated seatmast and dedicated molded carbon fiber topper. As you’d guess, Enve justifies the unconventional layout with the same arguments as other brands with integrated setups (such as Trek, Giant, and Look). It’s supposedly a little lighter, sure, but Enve says it allowed its engineers and designers more freedom in tuning the ride quality relative to a standard telescoping seatpost where all of that overlapping material is sitting right where you’re trying to get some extra flex. Tilt adjustment comes courtesy of the same two-bolt design Enve uses on its standard seatposts, and there’s 35 mm of height adjustment.
It’s one thing to create the modular design that allows for as much fit variation as the Custom Road does, but another entirely to build a system that tells you how to put all those pieces together — and exactly what pieces and lengths to use — to get the desired fit. For that, Enve engineer and co-founder Kevin Nelson got super nerdy, creating what he has dubbed the Best Fit Calculator.
I should emphasize here that Enve is not trying to get into the business of figuring out your ideal fit for you. The thinking here is that whoever is interested in a Custom Road frame likely already has a good idea of what they want, based on some combination of what they’re riding (and have ridden) and perhaps a professional fit session or two. What you won’t be able to do here is input a bunch of body dimensions and get a prescribed frame geometry in return.
Instead, what Enve’s system does is take an array of target hard points — such as frame stack and reach, handlebar stack and reach, saddle height and setback, and so on — filters it through an algorithm that automatically figures out all the possible frame and cockpits, and then returns a subset of proposed combinations that come closest to the targets. Each of those combinations are numerically scored in terms of how well they mimic the targets in order to eliminate a lot of the manual trial-and-error often associated with this sort of thing.
Nelson’s system also allows for some tweaking. For example, if you know for sure that you prefer the handling of a 110 mm-long stem, you can set that as a fixed, anchor value. Likewise with headset spacers, if you have a minimum front-center dimension in mind to avoid toe overlap (something that will be especially appealing to shorter riders), and so on.
Visually, the Best Fit Calculator isn’t pretty; it’s basically one giant Excel spreadsheet that many will see as a bunch of numerical vomit on the screen. But that’s ok since this part of the process happens behind the scenes. As far as the buyer is concerned, they’ll be involved with the initial measurements of their existing bike and discussing the pros and cons of the resulting subset of proposed geometries with one of Enve’s dedicated Custom Road customer service reps, and that’s it.
In other words, they get to say how they want their sausage, and they get to eat it when it’s ready, but they don’t have to know anything about how it’s made.
And what if, even after all of this, what gets delivered still doesn’t fit the way it’s supposed to?
“We are doing everything in our power to ensure that doesn’t happen,” Pantone said. “We are requesting potential customers, and shops representing customers, to provide a professional fit report, measure the customer’s current bike, and provide us with all the information we can collect to design the perfect fit. We also have several geometry design consultations and finally the customer needs to sign off on the geometry. Assuming all that happens, and the fit ends up being wrong for some reason, we’ll work with the customer on a case-by-case basis to get them squared away.”
Have it (mostly) your way
There are some limits to all of this, of course. While Enve is offering a wide latitude in terms of fit, it’s not exactly like starting with a completely clean slate. It’s sort of like ordering a sandwich at a deli: you can play around with the toppings or maybe even the type of bread all you want, but you’re still starting and ending with a ham-and-cheese or roast beef.
Enve has split its Custom Road frame into two general flavors: Race and All-Road. Both use the same building blocks, and can handle tires up to 35 mm in measured width as desired, but the Race features a shorter wheelbase and is designed to work best with tires ranging from 28 to 30 mm in measured width. The All-Road, meanwhile, has a slightly longer wheelbase and is ideally suited for 30-32 mm tires. Enve has a handling feel in mind for both of these, too. Suggested trail dimensions for both fall in the low 60s, although Enve says it can honor specific requests, especially with the dedicated fork being offered in three rakes: 43, 47, and 51 mm.
There are also some restrictions in terms of sizing, although not many. While Enve’s modular monocoque method of construction yields a more modern-looking frame than what you get with most tube-to-tube setups, there isn’t quite the same nearly-infinite range of possibilities with angles. Seat tube angles, for example, are limited to about 71 to 76°, and while Enve says it can accommodate mellower handling, if you ask for 100 mm of trail, expect to hear no as an answer.
It’s a similar story with the integrated handlebar. You have your choice of five widths and stem length increments of just 5 mm, but if you want an extension shorter than 90 mm or longer than 130 mm, or a bar width narrower than 38 cm or wider than 46 cm, you’re out of luck. Currently, you’re limited to just the single bar bend borrowed from Enve’s AR Road model, too, although Enve is considering adding more depending on consumer demand.
In terms of bottles, it’s just the standard two in the usual locations (although Enve says it can add extra ones if someone really insists), and top tube feed bag mounts are pretty much not an option. Front and rear fender mounts are offered, but there’s some custom hardware involved (which Enve will provide) and probably some fender trimming, too, depending on what you’re starting with.
“The installation is pretty standard, but given different fender shapes and materials, there may need to be some creativity applied,” Pantone advised. “We provide the eyelets that thread into the frame and the rest of the hardware comes with the fenders. Customers may also use clip/strap-on fenders. As for tire clearance, if someone goes with a full-size fender like the SKS Raceblades or PDW Full Metal Fenders, tire clearance will be reduced to a max of 32 mm in most cases.”
And not surprisingly given recent trends, it perhaps goes without saying that the Enve Custom Road is disc-only and for use solely with electronic drivetrains. If you were hoping up to this point that you’d finally found the perfect match for that new rim-braked Campagnolo Super Record 12 mechanical groupset, these are not the droids you’re looking for.
Ok, but why?
It was perhaps always an inevitability that Enve would get into the bicycle frame business. Although the brand is best known for its high-end carbon fiber wheels and cockpit components, it has plenty of experience making tubing and frame sections for the likes of Parlee, Santa Cruz, Independent Fabrication, Cervelo, and countless other smaller builders. Unbeknownst to many, Enve actually still produces tubing for small builders to the tune of about 300-400 frames per year.
And so the fact that Enve is now making its own frames probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. If anything, what’s surprising is that it took as long as it did. Either way, what’s different now is that it’s Enve’s own logo on the down tube instead of someone else’s.
Part of the answer regarding the motivation behind Enve’s expansion into custom road frames is easy: it’s because Enve could, and has always wanted to. In fact, Pantone recounted to me that even when he started at Enve almost 15 years ago, the company was already batting around the idea of building its own bikes.
That timeline obviously took a lot longer than originally thought, but in the end, Enve believes it has something legitimately different to offer relative to what’s already out there, supposedly blending the most important performance aspects of premium mass-manufactured bikes, but with the personalization you can only get with custom.
As for Enve’s relationship with existing custom builders, that issue seems a little more nuanced.
Enve has a long and storied history with the handbuilt community, not only serving as that aforementioned tubing supplier for a number of years, but also acting as the preferred component and wheel brand for much of that crowd to this day. There’s a lot of cachet attached to the Enve brand name, after all, and when you’re treating yourself to a custom frame, the tendency is to pair it with a bunch of chi-chi bits to match.
“We were admittedly nervous on how the news would be received,” Pantone confessed. “After a few calls and positive feedback, we’ve stopped worrying. The general feedback was that if Enve is making a bike, it will generate more attention for the custom hand-built market and US manufacturing.
“In practice, the frame is advancing Enve’s ability to better serve our small builder partners. One example is the integrated front end on the Custom Road. The development of this part has allowed us to develop an aftermarket version as well that builders have been asking we make for a few years. The volumes just weren’t there, but with the Custom Road, we have piggybacked the development and are offering an aftermarket version of this integrated front end.
“Additionally, our goal is that we can expand our manufacturing in the future. With this bike, we’ve established a process that could potentially scale to other bike models. If we had additional capacity, we like the idea of becoming a manufacturing partner for small builders looking to expand into carbon. In short, yes we’re making a bike, but it really isn’t aimed at competing with our small builders. We are looking to compete against the big brands from a technology standpoint. We remain dedicated to serving the needs of the small framebuilder community.”
A place for everything, and everything in its place
Enve isn’t exactly looking to undercut anyone on price, either — not by much, anyway.
As noted, retail price on a Custom Road “chassis” is a whopping US$7,000, including the frame, fork, bar/stem, seatmast head, bar tape, headset, and thru-axles. For another US$1,000, you get a “Rolling Chassis Premium” that bundles all of the above with a set of Enve Foundation wheels, or you can pay another US$1,000 for premium-level ones. Complete bikes start at US$9,950 for a SRAM Force eTap AXS Foundation or Shimano Ultegra Di2 Foundation build, and top out at US$12,500 for SRAM Red eTap AXS Premium or Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 Premium setup.
All of those come with semi-custom paint, including a choice of four standard layouts and up to two colors from the standard palette of 33 hues. So-called “specialty” colors (or adding a third color) costs an extra US$500, and painted-to-match cages are an extra US$400. Or if you want to go all-out, full custom paint starts at US$1,500.
Availability is restricted to US customers only for now.
No matter which way you go, to ease the hassles of traveling with that one-piece front end and integrated seatmast, Enve is including with every Custom Road a Scicon Aerocomfort 3.0 TSA soft-sided travel case that doesn’t require either to be removed.
Those are high prices by anyone’s measure, but the reality is that they’re not far off from what you see from folks like existing premium custom carbon brands. If anything, when you factor in the integrated cockpit, seatmast topper, and Scicon case, one could even argue that the Enve is a fair bit cheaper. And have you looked at flagship models from mainstream brands lately? Suddenly, the price tag for this Enve Custom Road is looking a lot less outrageous.
It’s crazy, I know. But hey, numbers are numbers.
Warranty coverage is five years for “defects in workmanship and materials” for all the carbon bits, and two years for the paint, excluding the usual wear and tear, etc. Enve also has a crash replacement policy in place, although it sounds like that will be run on a case-by-case basis.
Either way, Enve obviously isn’t expecting that it’ll be everyday customers that might be interested in one of these. The price will dramatically limit the prospective clientele right off the bat, but then it’ll also be a fairly particular buyer that might be looking into this, too. Enve is only expecting to sell 150 to 200 Custom Roads this year, and hopefully about double that in 2022.
“The target customer in our minds,” says Pantone, “is going to be the following: The Enve superfan that has been riding Enve for years, trusts us to deliver the best product around, and will buy a Custom Road because they’ve honestly been requesting that we make a road bike for years; performance riders with a bad fit; [and anyone who] wants to be different, collectors, and bike aficionados.”
If you think you fall into one of those categories, or just want some additional information, you can head over to www.enve.com. In the meantime, my test sample just arrived, so I’ve got some riding to do.