Trek's launch of the new generation Émonda is a big deal. The previous generation was a very good bike but I felt it was out-classed by its arch rival the Tarmac SL6 (no harm there as the Tarmac was exceptional, but Trek and Specialized products are much closer in abilities in the aero road and endurance categories).
So a new Émonda is an exciting prospect; especially when the hype coming from the Pro teams has been so loud - this bike is aero enough that it will apparently replace the Madone as the main stage race weapon. That's some welcome extra versatility for a very light bike.
Being a bike tart I was initially focused on the top of the range Émonda SLR series (and I do have one on order).
But when we looked at the specs we realised the SL series (made with OCLV 500 carbon vs the 800 on the flagship range) looked a cracking bike for the money, and the pick of the bunch was the SL 6 Pro at £3350. A lightweight climbing bike with aero advantages, Ultegra disc groupset and carbon wheels. That's a heck of a bike for the money.
And it comes in a super smart Lithium Grey / Brushed Chrome finish (well, these things matter too!) that belies the price point.
In the first week it was launched we sold 10 of the SL 6 Pros; everyone loved it and I said to Dan that based on spec and first impressions this was a (very) early contender for 2020 Bike of the Year. And so, in the interests of editorial thoroughness, I decided to buy one myself and see how it performed.
I have wheelsets that cost more than this entire bike; so I was really keen to see how it performed vs the £9000 super bikes I kid myself I 'need'.
On unboxing my first impressions were immediately very positive; it looks very smart indeed. I have always loved dark grey (slightly darker than Nardo grey if you are a car geek) and the chrome decals really set it off. Its a really good looking bike, with a sleek look from the aero tubes that still manages to be quite 'classic' in profile.
The SL range don't have the trick one piece bar/stem that features on the SLR models. Instead it comes with a separate alloy stem and an alu bar with Bontrager's VR-C shape. This is the first time I have ridden them and they are long - 100mm reach when most bars are 75-80mm; so my maths shows that all things being equal you need to lose some stem length. My bike comes with a 110mm stem in 58cm, and truth be told I might go down to 100mm (which hurts the ego... but fit matters!). But the bar shape overall is great, and the drops are super useful.
The saddle is the new Aeolus shape; with a massive pressure-relieving cut out in the middle, running almost the full length of the saddle. It comes in a posh one at £150 (with carbon rails and shell), a middle range one at £90, and this 'budget one', the Comp, which retails on its own at £49. The Comp is relatively heavy at 280g, thanks to steel rails, but that's my only issue with it; the shape is great and £49 for a saddle this good is outrageous value for money.
I like mechanical Shimano; I have Dura Ace 9000 and 9100 on other bikes; but this was the first time I have ever owned a bike with a mechanical disc groupset. As ever with Shimano shifting is flawless, and I really like the shape of the hoods (whisper it, but more than the Di2 version) as there is a lot to grab hold of; its closer in size to AXS than Di2 (and to me, thats a good thing).
My only change from the stock bike is to put my SRM power meter crankset on the bike, replacing the stock Ultegra crank. Everything else is 'as is'.
Those carbon Aeolus 35 wheels look the part, the only thing I would recommend changing from stock immediately is the Bontrager R2 tyres which are decidedly 'budget' in feel and don't roll that well. You can feel the stiffness in the casing, and a more supple tyre would improve the ride and handling at little cost.
I popped on a set of my favourite Specialized Turbo Cotton 320TPI in 28mm and it really made the ride come alive. Sacrilege, I know, but they're what I had to hand. Something like the Vittoria Corsa would also be a superb option when you're looking to upgrade from the stock tyres, that supple casing makes all the difference.
It's still early days; but I have tested enough bikes to know that good bikes rarely become bad, but sometimes bikes you don't immediately gel with can come good with some small positional or component tweaks.
I am pleased to say the Emonda SL 6 Pro is simply a very good bike from the off. I had to keep reminding myself it was 'only' £3350; apart from some small weight gain and cheaper tyres it rides like a bike that costs double this. Swap the tyres out and it's even better.
Trek have mirrored the Madone geometry. There's no longer the choice of H2 (moderately relaxed) or H1 (Pro aggressive), but instead they've gone to H1.5 across the range. This to me is a welcome development - it's a Goldilocks geometry; aggressive enough to be racey but not so low or long as to need lots of spacers.
It's hard to 'feel' the aero gains of the new Émonda; I am coming off a Venge with 65mm wheels so that's setting a pretty high benchmark. But it doesn't feel slow on the flat by any means; it's certainly competitive (especially vs the old Émonda which was a bit of a brick wall aerodynamically). Where it does shine is uphill; the thing just flies.
I have read some people think the SL 6 rides 'harsh'; I certainly don't agree. Direct and responsive yes, but definitely not harsh, and swapping out to 28mm tyres (vs the stock 25mm) has improved things further, without any downsides.
Trek offer the Émonda SL 6 as standard in two variants; the SL 6, at £2900 with Bontrager Paradigm alloy rims and the SL 6 Pro at £3350, which is the same bike but equipped with Bontrager's Aeolus Elite 35 carbon wheels.
Both wheelsets are tubeless ready, but the Paradigm are a fairly "entry level" wheelset, tough and durable but not especially matching the light weight of the frame (at approx 1750g per pair). So for the relatively small uplift in price it's no surprise that the SL 6 Pro is proving to be vastly more popular, it's a really cost effective way to get some decent carbon wheels from the offset.
I was really impressed with the 35mm deep Aeolus Elite carbon wheelset in my testing, it packs a lot of punch for the money, part of the new generation of superb value wheels that have reduced the cost of entry to carbon.
The Émonda SL though is a bike that makes a perfect platform for upgrading over time, it's such a strong base to build on. I couldn't resist trying it with some of my other wheelsets (some of which are £2000+ and thus 2/3rds of the bike's price!). You can tell a good bike when good wheels "lift" it further.
That's certainly the case here, and as seen in my photos I've been putting in some miles on the ENVE SES 5.6 and my Rovals, both of which take things up a notch further still. With a high-end wheelset the SL 6 really flies, it can hold its own with bikes costing much more.
As you can tell, overall I really liked the bike. It's an outstanding privateer's race bike; for £3350 it offers everything you need; an aero climbing bike, with disc brakes and carbon wheels. The pace of technology is such that this is better than a £10,000 bike was a generation ago...
Of course me being me, I can't help but wonder when I get the SLR frame (rumoured to be 400gm lighter than the SL one) just how good it will be! But that'll get its own review, I'll just have to wait...
In the meantime the SL 6 is already proving to be a justified sales success for Trek, and has got the revamped Émonda line off to a superb start. If you're looking for an exceptionally capable race day bike and this fits your budget, it's got to be on your (very) shortlist. Its the most impressive new bike I have ridden in 2020.
words and pictures by Barry Scott
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