If America has a bike it is the Trek Madone. The only race most Americans care about has been dominated by this bike since 1999. The only cyclist most Americans care about has ridden the bike to every one of his record setting seven victories. The Trek Madone is Americas bike and it will be forever linked with Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France. It is, and will always be, a Grand Tour bike.
It is interesting to note that as Lance Armstrong wrote his final chapter in Tour de France history last July he crossed the finish line on the most technologically advanced Trek Madone ever built. Yet, the finest version Americas bike, the finest version of perhaps the greatest Tour bike in history, crossed the finish line on the Champs Elysees without a yellow jersey. This is a bike with unfinished business, a bike determined to climb back to the podium it has been a top more often than not in its short, storied history. Two young men from Luxembourg have been recruited to take it there.
As great as the name Madone has become among cyclists, the rest of the monikers are not so well known. Starting with the entry level 4 series the Madone marches right on up to 6.9. Some are value driven, some are cost be damned, some have a taller relaxed head tube, some a short race inspired head tube. Keeping track can be difficult. When Trek Engineers used the same mold as the 2010 bike, but used new techniques and materials to shave significant weight, had they created the first 7 series Madone? No, the decision was to keep the bike in the 6 series family, but designate it a 6.9SSL.
Starting with last years mold is no handicap for the 6.9SSL. Using tube-to-tube construction along with 3D CAD design and analysis software, Solidworks, the molds tube shapes have been optimized to deliver the exact ride characteristics Trek and their top teams were after.
Using a process called StepJoint, all tube junctions are kept extremely light and moved away from any high stress areas. The pronounced bulge at the head tube is designed to deliver precise steering response while a unique Bontrager E2 fork design delivers a measure of compliance up front. The tapered steer tube actually has an ovalized cross section giving it incredible lateral rigidity, while complying front to back to protect you from nasty road surfaces.
The bottom bracket utilizes Treks BB90. Taking the reasoning that wider is better to the extreme in todays road market it is the widest BB currently available, over 2 centimeters wider than the standard road BB. The BB90 also eliminates the need for aluminum inserts. All these features combine to make the BB90 solution one of the lightest and stiffest options on the road.
The chain stays are slightly more svelte than the current trend hinting that true compliance was a real goal for this grand tour bike. A very trick integrated feature of the non-drive side chain stays is the DuoTrap sensor which works without destroying the lines of the bike and is compatible with all major ANT + computers.
Treks unique seat mast and cap system continues the trend bucking features of the Madone. What initially seems like a feature designed to be different simply for the sake of being different eventually reveals itself as a truly elegant solution to the seat post question. By removing the need for a seat post clamp the seat cluster can be lighter and designed to withstand load and impact more effectively. By using the seat cap system Trek gets all of this without having the adjustment limitations a typical integrated seat post encounters. In fact over 10cms of adjustment is possible while being significantly lighter than even the best seat post and clamps.
All of these are Madone 6 series feature. So what makes the 6.9SSL so different? In a word; materials. While many brands boast of using aerospace or weapons grade carbon in their frames what this actually means is less impressive. The typical go to fiber for bicycle construction is Tory T-700 or 800 carbon. These fibers have been and are used in the aerospace industry. Tory recently sold 3 billion dollars worth of carbon fiber to Boeing. What Trek uses are carbon materials so closely controlled by western governments that they can only be sold in NATO countries, HexMC and HexSL. These materials cannot be shipped overseas so Trek can use them on the 6.9SSL only because it is still handmade in the United States. These carbons offer the best combination of stiffness and strength of any materials used in bicycle construction, and they cannot be used in Asia.
The HexMC carbon specifically allows Trek to create very complex and intricate shapes. Their engineers have used this feature to design the very specialized internal and integrated cabling system on the 6.9SSL. Not only are the brake cables and mechanical shifting cables internal, but Trek as integrated Shimanos Di2 seamlessly into the frame with a one bolt under BB battery mount and 7mm cable stops to eliminate the need for zip ties or tape. It is unquestionably the cleanest routing of any bike on the planet while providing perfect cable path for smooth mechanical shifting and braking.
What do you get when you combine the 6 series mold with the new SSL materials? On the scale you get less, as in the lightest Madone in history, a shade over 800 grams for a 56cm with their lightest paint. Overall weight for our 58cm 6.9SSL with a Dura Ace 7900 build and big helping of carbon Bontrager XXX Lite components; bars, stems and wheels, was an incredible 14.5lbs with pedals and cages.
The Madone 6.9SSL offers 18 different sizes and geometry options, 9 unique frame sizes each with two head tube options, H1, a lower more race oriented fit, with H2 being a centimeter or two taller for an endurance oriented fit. The overall geometry gives the Madone a tight wheelbase with steep head tubes, while using longer chain stays, in fact their 50cm frame has longer chain stays by 5 millimeters than many manufacturers 60cm bikes.
The Madone 6.9 SSL is a Grand Tour bike by reputation and a Grand Tour bike by ride quality. The overwhelming impression of the bike is one of finesse. Real all-day compliance in a true race bike is rare, but the Madone 6.9SSL has it in spades. It is a pure joy for long days in the saddle letting its rider enjoy the road immune to the vagaries of the pavement. Any Tour bike worth its salt needs to shepherd its pilot across long days buried in the peloton using as little energy as possible and the Madone 6.9SSL is uniquely qualified for this task. Great power transfer at tempo along with its inherent compliance means the rider will reach the inevitable climbs or cross winds as fresh as is possible.
When the tempo rises as the flat days come to an end and the sprinters begin to fight for position any Tour hopeful needs to stay out of the wind while remaining upright despite the flying helmets and 50kph head butts. The Madones short wheelbase and incredibly stiff front end gives the rider split second pinpoint accuracy to thread the needle in a tight pack. The longer chain stays keep the riders center of gravity very evenly distributed to ensure that sharp handling never feels twitchy or unpredictable. What is truly incredible about this finely tuned handling is the front end compliance the bike still manages to give the rider thanks to the unique ovalized steer tube on the Bontrager E2 fork.
These same qualities deliver incredible performance in the mountains as well. The bikes light weight and stiff BB90 provide exacting power transfer at tempo. Add this to the real world compliance and Madone 6.9SSL riders get over the those first few climbs of the day with more in the tank for the attacks that inevitably come on a mountain top finish. The handling means those same riders wont need to worry about getting dropped on the descent into the valley or have to take their lives in their hands if they do need to close a gap of a few seconds over a KOM. The finesse and ride quality the Madone 6.9SSL possess sets it apart from every other bike in the peloton, but this does come with a price. The big effort responsiveness, that do or die reaction to the yellow jersey going up the road for a stage win and a fatal GC blow, is slightly muted in the Madone 6.9SSL. It doesnt have the same direct and frenetic feeling of acceleration a few other high-end tour bikes posses. It will get up to speed and do it in a hurry, yet it needs a much more progressive application of power and the rider must not panic if the initial gap opens a few meters before it begins to close. This is due to the slightly longer, more svelte chain stays and the riders weight residing between the wheels, not over the rear wheel.
The Madone 6.9SSL is undeniably a Grand Tour bike. It is about the efficient application of power over the long haul. It is about conserving energy until it is truly needed. It is about jerseys, Yellow, Pink and Gold. It is a bike every American can be proud of. Made in the heartland and victorious on foreign soil it is truly Americas bike.
The Madone 6.9SSL rider is looking for long day performance in a very race ready package. They want a bike that will allow them to remain fresh until it counts, then be ready to set a blazing tempo over punishing terrain and epic mountain passes. They want compliance without sacrificing handling; they want finesse with precision. They are not looking for a machine the bash over a 60-minute criterium before delivering 1500 watts and a 200-meter dash to victory.
As Tested: Madone 6.9SSL
MSRP: $8709.99 58cm with H1 geometry.
Dura Ace 7900 Bontrager XXX Lite Wheels, Bar and Stem.
Weight: 14.5lbs with pedals and cages.