Reviewed: Enve SES Aero flared road bar
Narrow is aero. But a wide handlebar is sometimes preferable for control and comfort. The SES Aero has both covered.
A clever 25-mm flair built into Enve’s carbon fiber SES Aero handlebar allows racers to get narrow up top while retaining the control afforded by a wider bar while riding the drops during sprints or descents.
The SES Aero is available in three widths: 44cm, 42cm, and 40cm. Those widths are measured at the flared-out drops, and correspond to 39cm, 37cm, and 35cm hood widths, respectively. At 251 grams for a 42cm bar (which has a hood width of 37cm), the SES Aero is not particularly light. And at $400, it’s also one of the most expensive bars available today. But the essential design could easily be translated into cheaper options, and it should be. Even those who will never toe a start line, and don’t give a hoot about aerodynamics, will love the ergonomics of the flared drop.
Matching modern race fit
Flat, aero tops like those found on the SES Aero are nothing new to the handlebar world. But while they are effective in reducing drag from the bike itself, they don’t do anything for the principal source of aerodynamic drag: the rider.
That’s where the narrow hoods come in.
The shape of the SES is a reflection of the way that positioning has changed in recent years — as bars have dropped relative to the saddle, and our understanding of aerodynamics has improved, it has become clear that the lowest drag is often found with hands on the hoods, elbows bent at 90 degrees, chin to the stem.
The SES design allows for a narrow, aerodynamic hood position — 37cm on my test bar — while retaining a wider drop area, 42cm. Narrow when you want it, wide when you need it.
Professionals have been trending toward narrower bars in recent years. Tom Boonen, for example, is riding 40cm bars in the classics following wind tunnel and track testing that showed a dramatic decrease in drag compared to the 44cm bars he was riding just a few years ago. Adam Hansen, renown for his attention to technical detail (and his propensity for breakaways), rides even narrower bars. The narrower bars give these pros a more aerodynamic position.
The drops, these days, are reserved for descending, sprinting, and cruising, so a bit of extra width is appreciated. Why cruising? Because the drops of a racer’s bike are often low enough to provide for a flat, aerodynamic back position even with arms almost straight. It takes a lot less energy to hold yourself up on arms that are almost straight than it does on arms bent at 90-degrees (as they would be in the hoods if one tried to maintain a flat back). So if you need to be somewhat aerodynamic for hours on end (say, in a day-long breakaway), the drops are the place to be.
For the average rider, none of this really matters. But for racers, or group ride regulars, the clever design of the SES bar allows for improved aerodynamics without sacrificing stability when you need it.
Average riders do care about ergonomics, of course, and the SES stands out here as well.
The flair built into the drops puts the shifters and brake levers at an angle. The new position of the brake lever and shift buttons takes a few rides to get used to, but the grip position is extremely comfortable, both in the hoods and drops. The wrist angle feels more natural tilted in slightly — hold your arms out in front of you and note how your hands tend to stay horizontal, not vertical. Swapping back to a traditional, non-flared bar now feels a bit odd, like hood grip has been decreased.
Reach on all three widths is 77mm, and drop is a somewhat shallow 127mm. Both shift and brake cables can be routed internally.
Suggest retail price: $400
We like: Flared drop is very comfortable; aerodynamic hood position and stable drop position.
We don’t like: Price is very high; not particularly light.
The scoop: Fantastic bar for racers or anyone who likes to hunker down over the stem and hit the gas.