If you’re looking for an all-around carbon road bike with a lights-out stiffness-to-weight ratio and a smooth, compliant ride—and you have north of $5,000 to spend—you are spoiled for choices. As much as brands want to tell you they have a secret recipe or unique process, the materials and production of carbon road bikes is very, very well understood. Bottom line: There are a lot of good bikes out there.
This is the world into which Trek is launching the new Trek Émonda SLR, a world it helped create with a production frame under 700 grams in the original Émonda. How could its bike stand out in this environment? Perhaps even more difficult, how could it do it with disc brakes?
The numbers are a fine place to start. The old rim-brake Émonda was a mind-blowing 690-gram frame. The new rimbrake Émonda SLR is 640 grams but, more impressively, the disc-brake version is still lighter than the old rim-brake bike at 665 grams. As a complete bike, the Émonda SLR Race Shop Limited we have been testing all summer hit the scale at just 6.8 kilograms (14.9 pounds). That’s for the complete disc build with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 9170, Bontrager Aeolus 3 TLR carbon clinchers, a Bontrager cockpit and Montrose PRO saddle in a size—wait for it—60cm! In this regard, the new Émonda SLR disc certainly stands out.
The other numbers Trek touts appear equally impressive. Despite the weight savings, the frame is stiffer than its predecessor. We know what you’re thinking: “Lighter, stiffer? Let me guess, more compliant too?” Yeah, but barely. This is a crazy-light race bike—compliance isn’t its forte, but it’s the stiffness numbers we got excited about. The previous Émonda was, and still is, a great bike, but the rear end always felt a bit soft under big power. We looked at it as a trade-off for the light weight. Can’t have it all, right? Maybe we can now.
This lighter and stiffer Émonda SLR uses Trek 700 Series carbon and the tried-and-true OCLV process the brand pioneered over two decades ago. It’s that process that has gotten better, which is why Trek can do more with less. It started with virtual analysis, going through literally thousands of virtual designs before heading to actual prototypes.
While numbers are a good place to start, they are certainly not winning any bike races. There are no scales at the top of the local climb to determine who got there first or rigidity test rigs at the county line to determine who should have won the sprint. You must turn the pedals, and this is where the new Émonda SLR Race Shop Limited truly stands out against all comers in the very crowded world of the lightweight, allaround race bike.
The Émonda SLR’s response under power is next level, as if your desire to accelerate is hardwired to the contact patch. It’s not good for a disc-brake bike, it’s not good for a climbing bike, it’s phenomenal for any bike. The incredibly light package possesses plenty of stiffness, but it’s balanced perfectly with a feeling of incredible precision. It’s a scalpel for surgically inflicting your will on the peloton.
We are big fans of short chain stays—they tuck the wheel up under your weight for a direct feel under acceleration. This is one of the reasons we’ve been underwhelmed by disc bikes in the past. With a 135mm rear spacing Shimano previously recommended 430mm chain stays. Thanks to changes with the new Dura-Ace cranks that recommendation has shrunk by 20mm. Trek’s new Emonda, rim and disc, posses 411mm chain stays. Are there chain line issues with disc? Sure, riding the 39/11 over rough road might result in the chain snagging on the big ring. Here’s an idea, don’t do that, enjoy the crisp feel of the bike’s short rear end in the other 21 gear combinations.
The Race Shop Limited geometry is tight and steep with a short wheelbase and aggressive stack and reach numbers. Some might call it a bit too quick; we call it precise. It adds to the bike’s race-inspired feel and we love it. As nimble as it is, take a jacket off at 30 mph, and the Émonda confidently tracks right ahead. If you want a more relaxed response to input, go for the H2 geometry.
The increased compliance in the frame really is negligible; with narrow tires pumped up like rocks, it feels as if it would skitter off cobblestones in a heartbeat, but this is where discs come in. Sure, the stopping is better and weatherproof, but now you can put a 30mm tire on the bike and with a set of tubeless tires they make this ultra-light, ultra-stiff, ultraprecise race bike an adventure-ready companion with a magic carpet ride.
Individually, all the things Trek has achieved with the new Émonda are impressive—a stock disc frame under 700 grams, beautiful balance under power and, at the bars, instantaneous response to the smallest application of power. But what is most impressive is that Trek has created a bike that manages to stand above a crowded field, stacked with other very impressive bikes. It’s a good time to be a rider.
PRICE: $3,500 (frame only)
WEIGHT: 6.8kg/14.9 lbs. (60cm w/o pedals or cages)
BUILD: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 9170, Bontrager
Aeolus 3 TLR carbon clinchers with Bontrager R3 tires, Bontrager XXX carbon bars and Bontrager PRO alloy cockpit. Bontrager Montrose PRO saddle.
∗ Race Shop Limited disc model. Available as a Project One Option only.