A semi integrated sleeved seatpost with the clamp at half mast.
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Trek Émonda SL8 Review

The Trek brand has been around for 38 years now, founded in 1976 by Richard Bourke in Waterloo, Wisconsin. You might think a US based bike company is something of an outlier given cycling’s rich European heritage, but there are several big names based in the States (including Cannondale and Fuji) and Trek has forged a name for quality and performance, and sits amongst the top global brands owning a pro team in the WorldTour.

Their latest road racing machine the Émonda caused quite a splash when it launched in July this year with a top shelf model weighing just 4.65kg (that’s just 10 pounds and four ounces in the old money) making it the lightest production road bicycle in the world.

The Émonda is Trek’s latest concept frame – a newcomer to the stable to go with the Madone (the aerodynamic race-ready frame) and the Domane (their endurance/aero frameset). Domane in Italian means ‘tomorrow’; as in it’s comfortable enough that you’ll be able to ride again after today’s effort. Émonda is again an Italian word meaning ‘pared back’ or ‘trimmed down’ – suiting the lightweight Émonda range to a T. Quirkily, Trek has devised names of their bikes using the same set of six letters—Émonda, Madone and Domane, and speculation about the next possible name abounds with demona or daemon attracting the smart money, perhaps it’ll be an electric bike called the enomad?

A tapered headset and the broad headtube help the Émonda achieve good steering control.

One of the pioneers of carbon fibre technology in cycling, Trek was producing their OCLV (optimum compaction low void) frames from as far back as 1992. The OCLV process continues still today with several grades of carbon fibre employed across different models according to weight, performance and cost requirements. The base level Tiagra equipped Émonda S4 uses 300 series OCLV carbon and costs just $1,899 (and Trek claims weighs a reasonable 8.74kg) while the ethereal SL10 is a breathtaking $15,999.

The SL8 uses OCLV 500 for its light weight and good stiffness response. The frame itself is a fairly traditional shape as carbon frames go, painted a gleaming glossy black which does attract fingerprints, though when polished looks quite immaculate. I do have a problem with white tape and saddles; they were comfortable enough but no matter how ‘pro’ white may look, it looks old and shabby too soon for my liking.

The seatstays / seatpost junction is effectively quite broad continuing the theme of wide, shallow tubes.

The SL 8 reviewed here is indeed pared back. It has no vibration damping inserts, no cables are to be seen along the tubes, there are no concessions to aero shaping or suspension— it’s a frame that is stripped back to the essentials. It’s a climber’s machine, with singular focus, light and stiff, designed to transfer power efficiently and go up. A couple of additional features that are worth noting here are the DuoTrap S sensor in the non-drive chainstay. You can purchase the optional sensor kit that mates with your Ant+ or Bluetooth computer but remains hidden within the stay minimising drag and maintaining the clean visual lines. There’s also a built-in chain catcher to keep you on the move.

Trek manufactures the Émonda frame in two formats; H1 and H2. The H1 is the racier version, the longer top tube / shorter head tube variant for exceptionally flexible riders who can cope with lower handlebars and a more aero riding position, and want the lower drag they can achieve with such geometry. The H2 frameset is aimed at the other 99% of riders.

Bontrager wheels stand ready for some tubeless tyres to replace the standard 23mm clinchers.

A 11/8 by 11/2  headset holds the fork in the asymmetric headtube—it’s wider than it is long for increased lateral stiffness and steering precision. The result is a bike that is neither twitchy nor slow, but direct and predictable when cornering at speed. Leaning into turns the bike rails through as you hope it will, tracking nicely, holding its line without deviation. It’s stable at speed, a comfortable and confidence inspiring ride on the downhill, suitably matching the efficient climbing it gives on the way up.

Looking at a side-on shot of the Émonda you see quite slender tubes, even around the bottom bracket which is different to the way many bikes have moved recently, with some using bulky box sections around the BB. Then when you look down from above, you see the significant width of the frame tubes in this area. The BB90 allows the widest possible bearing placement for a stiffer drivetrain and less chance of axle deflection.  Seat stays are slim, as is the seat tube to bring some comfort to the austerity of the frame. It has a partially integrated seatpost with the saddle attached to a half-length seat tube that slides over the frame’s mast; a solution that means it doesn’t need to be cut. This allows you to have a wider range of saddle heights and removes some uncertainty around resale. The sleeved seat tube doesn’t result in as harsh a ride as I thought it might, though there is some road feedback coming through the frame.

This shot gives a clear view of the width of that stiff down tube which extends fully to the edge of the BB90.

The Émonda SL is spec’d with a full array of Bontrager parts; stem, bars, saddle, wheels, tyres, tubes and bar tape all emanate from Trek’s house-brand factories. The full complement of consistent branding looks planned and intentional. Bontrager has succeeded in creating a brand that stands in its own right as suitable for aftermarket purchase for riders of brands other than Trek; quite remarkable as many other house branded ranges seem a mismatch on other branded frames.

The Bontrager wheels on the SL8 are tubeless-ready alloy clinchers, with a rim 23mm wide at the brake track. Across the review period I rode about 800km on this bike and from the outset these wheels were quiet, straight and dependable, delivering a reasonably lively feel uphill and providing a solid brake track for the Dura Ace pads to squeeze. They come with 18/24 spoke pattern, radial and two crossed on the drive side. The rear hub is a fairly quiet three pawl unit, spinning on very smooth bearings. The wheels register 730g front and 1,066g rear for an uninspiring 1,780g total weight, but the tubes (76g) and R3 hard case lite tyres (195g) are light enough to shoulder some of the wheels’ burden. Bontrager has large range of wheels like the full carbon Aeolus 3 D3 (1,440g, circa $3,100) or the alloy Race Lite TLR (1,518g, circa $850) either of which would make a reasonable upgrade for your bike down the track. 

The titanium railed Paradigm saddle was too narrow for my liking but I was able to switch it for their widest size, the ‘blue dot’ sized carbon rail version of the same unit which I quite like. See your Bontrager dealer for saddle sizing options.

Shimano’s mechanical Dura-Ace groupset is quite exceptional, easy to set up and adjust, smooth quiet and efficient. It is much like the Émonda itself, refined, unassuming, getting the job done without great fanfare. Compact cranks 50/34 and the 11-28 cassette suit the style of this climbing machine to a T, especially in this H2 configuration.

I enjoyed riding the Émonda. It’s more suited to climbers than rouleurs, but it’s a classy understated machine that performs as well as its pedigree suggests it should.

A semi integrated sleeved seatpost with the clamp at half mast.

Quality

Trek are known for their precision and quality. This frame is very well finished, with good attention to detail. The frame is light and stiff and component spec from Bontrager is very high quality. Shimano’s mechanical Dura Ace tops off a high quality bike. 

Performance

Trek set themselves the goal of producing the lightest production road racing bike on the planet and they fulfilled their brief. A few rungs down the ladder from the featherweight SLR 10 the Émonda SL 8 is a light and stiff bike, spec’d well to succeed as a capable performer in the hills. The frame and components are a good match, though the wheelset seems a little heavy for a bike with a climbing reputation to build and uphold.

Value

A light, high-quality carbon frame with tubeless ready wheels and Dura Ace components…at $4,999 the Émonda is good value for your money.

Overall

The Émonda looks good but isn’t overtly flashy. There are no ostentatious features to this bike, no exotic frame shapes or garish paintjob screaming ‘look at me’. It doesn’t demand attention as soon as you roll up to the bunch. It is however very well spec’d, well designed, comfortable and efficient, a refined and dependable quiet achiever… I’d suggest even a high achiever.

SPECIFICATIONS

Frame: OCLV 500 Carbon Fibre

Fork: Émonda full carbon, E2

Stem: Bontrager Race X Lite, 31.8mm, 7 degree

Headset: Integrated, cartridge bearings, sealed, 1-1/8” x 1.5”

Handlebars: Bontrager Race Lite, VR, 31.8mm

Saddle: Bontrager Paradigm RL, hollow titanium rails

Seat Post: Bontrager Ride Tuned Carbon seatmast

Shift Levers: Shimano Dura-Ace 11-25, 11 speed

Brakes: Shimano Dura-Ace

F Derailluer: Shimano Dura-Ace, braze-on

R Derailluer: Shimano Dura-Ace

Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace 11-28, 11 speed

Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace

Crank: Shimano Dura-Ace, 50/34 (compact)

Bottom Bracket: BB90

Wheels: Bontrager Race Tubeless Ready

Tyres: Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite, 700x23c

Pedals: NA

Distributor: Trek Bicycle Corporation

Weight: 7.08kg

RRP: $4,999

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Dunc Gray

Effectively now all scratchmen, NRS riders have the benefit of a level field.

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