by Lee Trumpore
When it comes to mountain bike upgrades, ENVE Composites components are at the top of most riders' wish lists. From fancy carbon bars to some of the most lusted after carbon wheels in the business, the Utah-based company has a habit of making products that turn heads. The latest in their lineup include a new carbon mountain stem and riser bar.
ENVE Carbon Mountain Stem Highlights
- Unidirectional carbon construction with aluminum faceplate
- Reversible for 6 degree OR -6 degree rise
- Titanium hardware
- 1.125 inch steerer tube clamp diameter
- 31.8mm handlebar clamp diameter
- 40, 55, 70 and 85mm lengths
- Weight: 85 grams (40mm length) to 104 grams (85mm length)
- MSRP: $265 USD
ENVE Carbon Riser Bar Highlights
- Bar Width: 760mm (680mm minimum)
- Rise: 23mm
- Clamp Diameter: 31.8mm
- Backsweep: 9 degrees
- Upsweep: 5 degrees
- Weight: 194 grams
- MSRP: $160 USD
Out of the box both the bar and stem certainly look the part for components playing at the very upper limits of the high-end. Smooth finishes, attention to details, and strikingly simple but effective graphics give the ENVE bar and stem their definitive look. And while the bar felt, well, like a carbon handlebar, the stem took us a bit by surprise. We were ready for it to feel light, but we had to double check to make sure something wasn't missing (like the aluminum front plate) but sure enough it was all there. All 85 grams of it.
Graphics are all a bit to-each-their-own, but we well and truly do not like handlebars covered in logos, colors, or loud designs. The front end of a bike is already busy enough without the bar and stem looking like a graffiti artist's test sample. We think ENVE nailed it here, minus an almost complete lack of any angle markings whatsoever on either the stem or the bar. The minimalistic "less is more" aesthetic has limits, and in this case it's actually not quite enough.
The bar and stem installed as one would expect, though we took a bit of extra care torquing the bolts evenly as we'd been advised this was more important with the almost full carbon-to-carbon interface in order to keep things from slipping.
On The Trail
Stems are about as utilitarian a component as you can find on a bike, right up there with pedal axles and seatposts (well, until we started asking our seatposts to go up and down with the push of a button). A great stem should be sturdy, stay put in most crashes, hold the bars securely, not creak or groan, tolerate repeated removals, and if possible look good while doing it. The ENVE carbon stem passed all these test with flying colors for the past three months, and beyond that we cannot honestly give it any higher praise. It is, after all, just a stem, and a stubby 40mm one at that. If the carbon offered any sort vibration damping characteristics we weren't able to feel a discernible difference, especially not at such a short length and already paired to carbon bars. Judged solely on its merits, the ENVE carbon stem is both an impressive piece of engineering and reliable clamping interface between your steerer tube and handlebar. That is to say it goes its job very, very well.
The ENVE carbon riser bar only comes in a 760mm width, which happens to be our tester's exact preference, so we felt no need to opt for the wider (and heavier) 800mm DH model and cut it down to size. The benefit of a narrower starting width is that the bar can be made a bit lighter as it does not have to contend with almost an extra inch of leverage on each end. Now, we're no weight weenies, so it's not the shaving of grams that gets us excited but rather a bit more flex that comes with a bit less material. Carbon bars have long been touted for their vibration damping, but in some applications (DH and 35mm diameters in particular) we've found them to be just a touch stiff for our tester's 150-pound frame. The ENVE's had that 'just right' feel, the same one you are probably familiar with if you've had a favorite set of bars for a few years. There is nothing out of the ordinary in regards to up or backsweep, so really it came down to the intangibles of flex and feel. Not to stiff, not too soft, and just the right amount of trail feeling transmitted into my palms. This is not to say they will be just right for you too, but we certainly have no reservations making the recommendation.
Things That Could Be Improved
We have one really big complaint regarding the total lack of markings on the stem and only a single orientation line on the stem. While we're not opposed to the idea of a $265 ultra-light stem and $160 bar, we are, on principle, opposed to getting out a metal pick and scratching our own fine markings on both just so we can consistently re-fit our bars. Also of note, when paired with a few different stems in our collection the single marking on the bar was completely covered making it doubly hard to set everything up. For such a well thought out and finely executed duo, this strikes me as an avoidable oversight on both. ENVE also lacks a 50mm length stem (the most commonly sought after size for all-mountain riders), though the 55mm option is pretty dang close.
Long Term Durability
Our tester has had the bar and stem on his bike now for three months through repeated disassemblies for flights, EWS rounds in Europe and America, and hours of ride time back home in Taipei. There have been no issues with bolts loosening or interfaces slipping, no creaks, and no hints of any other trouble whatsoever. Given ENVE's excellent track record with previous handlebars we can't say we're anticipating this is going to change a few more months down the line.
What's The Bottom Line?
While not for everyone, there is certainly a place for a carbon stem among the high-end of mountain bike components. And while it may not provide any legitimate performance benefit aside from being about 30-50 grams lighter than the stem you already own, there is a certain vanity factor that can't be denied - especially if you already own the wheels.
The bars, while a bit more competitively priced, are something on which you can actually pass judgement. In our case the bars fell in the sweet spot of 'just right' in every way, with the simple graphic scheme being an added bonus.
The ENVE carbon stem and riser bar are finely engineered, ultra-light, good looking products that do exactly as they're intended without compromise. You'll have to decide for yourself what that's worth.
Visit www.enve.com for more details.
About The Reviewer
Lee Trumpore has been riding bikes for more than 20 years on just about every material and technology the bike industry has come up with. In more than a decade of professional DH racing, Lee won a Collegiate National Championship and was a mainstay at major North American races as well as occasionally snagging a last page result in the World Cup series. Testing prototype components and suspension setups was common during his racing days. He has a smooth, light style on the bike even while holding it wide open. An East Coast native, his favorite trails are fast and flowing technical descents with as many corners as possible and just enough moisture to keep things interesting. Nowadays, rather than racing the clock, he'd rather enjoy a rad descent after a hard pedal to the top. A closet nerd with a Master's degree in education policy Lee currently lives in Taipei, Taiwan where he splits his time teaching mathematics to the next generation of computer geniuses and behind the lens as a photo mercenary for Vital MTB and other industry clients.