Trek Madone SLR 9 eTap Review Fast as ever, now lighter

In both everyday life and the world of cycling, we’re conditioned to expect transformative product updates every couple years or so. And while we love an exciting new toy as much as the next person, sometimes huge overhauls to designs can feel like a step to the side, resulting in a bike that is fine but doesn’t actually seem any better. But Trek’s latest Madone SLR 9 is the farthest thing from that. In fact, you might not have realized it even got an update in the last year.

Sometimes a small improvement comes along that perfectly complements an existing design, making an already good product even better. This review is a praise of small, iterative improvements, the kind that don’t try to reinvent the wheel but still make something better.

The Details

The latest version of the Trek Madone SLR 9 is nearly the same as the previous version, save for the material it’s made of. Visually, the only way to know it’s the newer version is to find a small decal on the downtube that reads “OCLV 800 Carbon,” the latest and greatest carbon material at Trek’s disposal. Otherwise, it maintains the same geometry, component integration and aero tube shapes as the previous version.

But that material update is important. As in most things in life, a final product is only as good as the materials or ingredients it’s made of. OCLV 800 carbon, originally debuted in the Émonda aero-climbing bike, is Trek’s newest, highest performance carbon, and it makes a difference. The new material is an impressive 30 percent stronger than previous OCLV Carbon while maintaining the same stiffness, allowing less material to be used to achieve the same ride characteristics. Overall, the frame is about 80 grams lighter than the 2019 version. It’s a small gain, but one that is helpful nonetheless, especially on an aero bike like the Madone which falls on the heavier side of bikes raced in the WorldTour. Our size 54 model with deep section Aeolus XXX 6 wheels tipped the scales at 17.47 pounds (7.93 kg).

The latest Madone SLR 9 is made with Trek’s latest generation 800 OCLV Carbon.

The Madone is proof that Trek still very much believes in the value of a highly integrated aero speed machine that prioritizes aerodynamics first and foremost. That priority is unmistakable from its design. It features Trek’s deep aero KVF tubes, and there is not a cable in sight (and not just because it has a wireless SRAM Red eTap AXS group—the Shimano Di2 version also tidily tucks everything internally). Trek’s own integrated cockpit beautifully hides shifter cables while also providing some adjustability to the tilt of the handlebar.

Trek’s own integrated cockpit beautifully hides shifter cables while also providing some adjustability to the tilt of the handlebar.

But, of course, even the fastest aero bike would be worthless if it were unrideable. The Madone has a couple adaptations to add in comfort to the ride. Its geometry gets a sort of Goldilocks treatment. Called H1.5, it sits somewhere between the aggressive H1 geometry and the relaxed H2 endurance geometry. It’s a balance that puts you in a definitely more aero position, but one which we could ride for hours no problem. The next comfort trick the Madone employs is adjustable top tube IsoSpeed, a concept originally developed for the Domane spring classics race bike. This damper system takes the edge off the road, and most riders will certainly want to open it up towards the maximum compliance level for that extra comfort.

Pricing on the updated Madone SLR 9, the top of the line Madone model, remains the same as before: high. Our build, which features a paint option from Trek’s Project One bike customization program, comes out to $12,500. 

The Ride

We enjoyed the previous Madone—immensely. It’s not hard then to imagine what we think about essentially the same bike, with a few grams cut out. So, this is more of a review to confirm that, in fact, shedding weight from a bike while keeping intact the characteristics that made it a top-tier aero bike does make it better, even if it’s only a little bit.

With so many brands today trying to make one race bike that does it all—balancing low weight, aerodynamics and stiffness, Trek unabashedly keeps the Madone as a go-fast aero platform. And it excels at it. It feels highly responsive in all out efforts—though pure sprinters will probably want to tone down the amount of damping in the IsoSpeed decoupler to get the most responsive feel from this bike.

It has some ability beyond flats, too, so long as you’re not contesting grand tour mountain stages. Toss on a lighter wheelset than the Bontrager Aeolus XXX 6—which has recently been replaced by a new lighter, faster generation—that came stock with our build and you have a bike that can hold its own on hilly terrain and short climbing stints (think Tour of Flanders bergs, not Alpe d’Huez).

Comfort is one area that aero bikes have made huge strides in in recent years, and the Madone is no exception. It’s easily rideable all day. Although, if comfort is the name of the game for you, the Madone still can’t touch a more endurance focused bike. But upping the tire size and running them tubeless at a lower pressure is a surefire way to make any aero platform more comfortable. We upgraded the stock 25mm tires to 28mm and didn’t look back.

Would we upgrade to this from a Madone SLR 9 made with the previous generation carbon? Probably not. The 80-gram weight savings is helpful, but doesn’t warrant a full upgrade unless you simply have to have the best. However, would we put this at the top of the list if we wanted a purpose built speed machine that can sprint and stay competitive on hilly terrain? Without hesitation.

Specification

$12,500 as tested

17.47 pounds (7.93 kg) size 54 without pedals or cages

SRAM RED eTap AXS group (48/35T crank, 10-33T cassette); Bontrager Aeolus XXX 6 wheelset; 25c Bontrager R4 tires; Bontrager Aeolus Pro saddle; Trek Madone seatmast; Trek Madone adjustable aero VR-CF handlebar; Trek Madone aero stem

trekbikes.com