An all-day ride with nearly 14,000 feet of climbing seemed an appropriate proving ground for this new lightweight bike from Trek. There we are — in pink — grinding away.
About a half dozen miles west of Boulder, Colorado, is a nasty little pitch of dirt known as Lickskillet Road. According to Strava it’s exactly one mile long with an average gradient of 14 percent and numerous pitches in excess of 18 percent. Some kid named Taylor Phinney has the KoM of 8 minutes, 53 seconds. My first (and likely last) attempt at this ridiculously steep ascent took more than 17 minutes. Average speed was 3.3mph. I literally rode gutter to gutter, paperboy style, the entire way up — and still nearly toppled over on several occasions.
The reason I share this woebegone tale of marginal cycling talent pushed to its breaking point is to confirm that the recently released Trek Émonda is indeed one very light bike with serious climbing chops. I dare say, had I not been pushing the pedals of a wispy compact cranks-equipped machine on that balmy July afternoon, walking, not riding, would have been the lasting memory of that road ride to perdition.
Instead, it was the defining moment of the 2014 Rapha Colorado Gentlemen’s Race, an 103-mile affair with nearly 14,000 feet of climbing and approximately target=”_blank”>50 miles of dirt roads. No, my team of six did not parlay this effort into podium glory. But we were one of the few squads that finished intact.
The decision to use a test bike that day had been fraught with anxiety. It’s one thing to pedal an unfamiliar steed around the flats for an hour or so, another to invite it along on a two-wheeled vision quest. But the combination of top-shelf parts spec (mechanical Shimano Dura-Ace), wide tire compatibility (I squeezed on a set of 28s to counter the rough road sections), and that irresistible tagline (Trek trumpets the Émonda as, the world’s lightest production road bike) made it too hard to pass up.
After a few brief shakedown excursions, the Émonda and I rolled away from the garage early that July day hoping for the best. And fortunately it all worked out, thanks in large part to a bike that delivered on its promise of being both light and really fun to ride.
Aerodynamic enhancements are nowhere to be found on the Émonda. Instead tube shapes are designed to be stiff and light.
When Trek launched the Émonda back in early July, the sales pitch to a gathering of media types was direct and simple: utilizing a super light frame (claimed weight for a size 56cm SLR model is 690 grams) and combining it with a host of lightweight parts, they’d managed to build that aforementioned, world’s lightest production road bike. The halo model in the new line, the SLR 10, tips the scales at 10.25 pounds and can be yours for just $15,750.
But as sexy as that sounds, reality is that neither of those numbers have much bearing on the majority of the bike buying public. It’s simply too much money. Instead, the more germane discussion revolves around the rest of the Émonda line, which includes three frame levels (SLR, SL, and S) and 16 bikes, ranging from the 19-pound Émonda S4 ($1650), to the 13.45-pound SLR 9 ($12,080), to our test bike, the SLR 8, which weighed 14.1 pounds out of the box (size 58cm) and will only set you back $7500.
For that comparatively modest outlay you get a top-level SLR frame dressed with full Shimano Dura-Ace mechanical shifting groupset, Bontrager RXL tubeless ready alloy clincher wheels, and a Bontrager finishing kit, which includes XXX carbon bars, an alloy Race X Lite stem, Ride Tuned Carbon seatmast cap and a Paradigm RXL saddle with carbon rails. It an attractive package both in terms of potential performance and aesthetics.
Shimano’s direct-mount brakes shed weight and add tire clearance. Cable routing is internal and modular. Just be wary of cable rub. Our frame was scared right out of the box.
Also notable is the use of Shimano’s increasingly popular direct-mount brakes, which come stock on all the SLR Émonda models (SL and S get traditional post mount set-ups). Besides offering a hint of aero efficiency due to integration with the fork and chainstays, these stoppers are lighter than traditional set-ups because attachment threads are molded directly into the frame, meaning fewer parts and less redundant material.
There’s also greater tire clearance. The bike comes stock with a set of 23c Bontrager R4 Hard-Case Lite tires, but as mentioned above, we had no problem slipping in a set of 28s for our all-day Rapha ride adventure, and probably could have gone even bigger. The direct-mount brakes also provide exceptional stopping power due in part to the reduced flex that’s a hallmark of the design.
Fare to say, we’d like to see these brakes adopted as standard equipment on all road bikes. Just be careful when braking hard. The bite point comes a little quicker than standard models. I’ve managed to lock up my brakes twice in the last month, without consequence thankfully.
Our first test ride came at the bike’s launch in the United Kingdom, where the ever rolling roads provided a perfect proving ground.
Not a Wind Cheater
Alas, perhaps the only thing aero about the Émonda is its brakes. One look at the frame’s shape and you know this bike was not designed to cheat the wind. The downtube is the shape of Popeye’s forearm, the head tube is bulbous, and even the rear of the top tube bows out in an effort to maintain front triangle stiffness. Indeed, with this bike, frame design was focused solely on structural efficiency. The idea is that stiffer and lighter (not slimmer) equals faster.
Frames are made of descending grades of carbon, with the SLR models getting Trek’s top shelf 700 series OCLV, SL models dropping to 500 series, and the S line getting 300 series composite material. As we mentioned, the SLR frame is claimed to weigh 690 gram, with the mid-range SL frames coming in at 1050 grams and the S line at 1200 grams, all for size 56cm frames. The SLR fork is said to weigh 280 grams.
Trek also trumpets its use of size specific tubing, taking a subtle jab at Specialized, which earlier this year used the concept as a primary marketing point when launching a new version of its Tarmac race bike. “What about all this size-specific tube shaping that has been in the media lately?” a piece of Trek PR collateral reads. “We’ve been ahead of the size-specific curve since 1992, when we first introduced OCLV carbon… We’ve led the industry in this area ever since.”
We’ll leave the industry infighting to the crews from Waterloo and Morgan Hill, and just say that we appreciate the fact that the Émonda is available in two stock headtube lengths, standard (H1) and tall (H2). Being 6-foot-4, our test rig came with the H2 sizing, meaning our headtube measures 19cm as opposed to the 16cm standard height. Better for this aging back.
Crankset set-up is also tied to your choice of H1 or H2. The more racey H1’s get a mid-compact 52-36, while the H2’s come with a 50-34 compact configuration.
Frame geometry is close but not identical to the Madone, heretofore, Trek’s go-to race bike. The Émonda’s chainstays are tad longer (on size 58cm H1’s, chainstays are 41.1cm to 40.7cm respectively), while the wheelbases for both bikes of that size are 99.2cm. Trail and head angle measures for both bikes also mirror each other fairly closely. That little extra chainstay length gives the Émonda a bit more stability and predictability. But really the two bikes handle almost exactly the same, which certainly isn’t a bad thing considering the Madone’s long and successful track record.