ENVE SES Smart Handlebar Review / Update

I previously wrote about the ENVE SES Smart Handlebar a few months ago, when they were newly installed.  They’re pretty purty.

It’s road bike season, and they’ve been getting a lot of use.  Normally, if I was reviewing an ENVE product, I’d be tripping all over myself to bask in the glory that is their carbony-wonder.  Here, not so much.

They’re pretty.  They’re undoubtedly aero.  The flats are amazingly comfortable to the hand.  But if I had it to do over again, I would not have purchased these bars.  Instead, I would have run a set of the ENVE road drop bars, in compact.

Here are my beefs:

  1. They are amazingly stiff.  Punishingly stiff.  The first ‘real’ road bike I had was a carbon Scattante with an oversized aluminum handlebar and a super-stiff carbon fork.  It was harsh.  This bar takes me back to those days.  Believe me, on a high-modulus carbon frame/fork combo and 23c tires, you can tell the difference between handlebars with compliance and those without.  These bars are about as stiff as it gets.  That may be great if you’re a super-muscley sprinter who rides on glass-smooth roads.  In the real world, it’s annoying.  The ENVE compact carbon bars have the best blend of stiffness and compliance that I’ve yet found, after riding a lot of different bars.  The ENVE Smart bars are just harsh.  Running these on anything other than a road bike would be a terrible idea.
  2. The drops are too short.  If you have the flats aligned properly for ‘max aero’ position, the drops are too short.  If I had another inch, or even half of an inch, it would be soooo much better.  Don’t get me wrong…I love the flare out on the drops.  It’s just that they’re too short.

That’s it.  Pretty short list of beefs, but they’re critical faults.  A good drop bar should be a good blend of stiffness and compliance, and should have a perfect shape.  It should also do basic things like not fall apart when you use it, and steer where you point it.  The ENVE Smart bars do the basic things, but they’re all stiffness and no compliance…and the shape is just not quite right.  Again, they may have their applications (track sprinters who want aero + super stiffness?) but they’re not right for a general purpose road bike, and they would be a terrible idea for any kind of multi-surface or gravel bike.  As I don’t do track sprinting, I can’t say that these are recommended.

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