We take a look at what Trek calls “the lightest production road line ever”
When Trek launched the Emonda last year the fanfare was all about weight. The Milwaukee-based firm already had proven race-winning road bikes in its Madone and Domane ranges, and while the former was getting a bit long in the tooth, and the latter focused on endurance rather than outright performance, the Emonda’s birth was designed to give a new option for competitive riders.
The Emonda line-up goes up to the £11,000 SLR10 with its staggering total claimed weight of 4.6kg. Here, though, we have the SL5 — a far more reasonable prospect at £1,900, and a more realistic 8.1kg weight.
Trek markets the Emonda range as “the lightest production road line ever”. But a lot of the credit for that can be attributed to the top-spec SLR models with their 690g frames and ultra-light components. At the sub-£2k price point we have to make do with an SL version of the Emonda frame, which weighs in at 1,050g. It’s no bloater by any means, but perhaps not as light as you might imagine.
Up close, though, the quality is absolutely what you’d expect from Trek. The finish is superb, although the lime green colourway is not one for shrinking violets. More importantly, Trek has been just as brave in the frame details. Eschewing the current fad for aero elements, you’ll find rear brake calipers attached to seatstays rather than behind the bottom bracket, and rounded tubes rather than anything with a Kamm tail.
There is a definite shifting of philosophy as you pass your gaze around the Emonda frame. While the head and down tube are immense, the top tube, seat tube and stays are far more svelte, and grow more slender as you head further backwards.
In the saddle, this mix translates to a solid and easily controllable front end and a rear where both comfort and efficient power output really are possible.
With such an exquisite frame from a big brand bike maker you can’t expect a top-spec gearset at less than £2k. Previously, Shimano’s old 10-speed 105 would have been seen as a decent enough compromise for the typical keen leisure rider or sportiviste. However, this is the new 11-speed Shimano 105 and it is possibly the best value-to-performance gearset on the market.
Gear selections are very quick, very smooth, and almost imperceptible to the point where we actually found ourselves looking down at the rear mech just to check something was happening.
The 105 brakes are also excellent. Faced with a car pulling out of a side road at the bottom of a short, damp descent, we were sure a lock-up was on the cards, but the calipers brought us to a rapid and stable stop.
Because all the ingredients are so impressive, once you forget about supposed spec-sheet hierarchies and focus just on the ride, the Trek Emonda SL5 doesn’t feel as if it’s been constrained to a budget at all.
As we’ve already mentioned, the overwhelming ride sensation is smoothness. Even fitted with stock 23c tyres the Emonda copes with small and medium bumps better than many comfort and endurance-focused carbon frames.
If there are any negatives, it’s that the Emonda’s refined ride does slightly disguise its overwhelming speed. This is a very fast bike — but everything works so well there’s no seat-of-your-pants agitation.
Finally, the compact chainset with 11-28t cassette might not be the biggest, but it does offer a range of ratios for a mix of abilities and terrains. This really is a sports bike for all.
The Trek Emonda SL5's real attraction is that it’s one of those bikes that makes you want to keep on riding. Every turn in the road is a chance for fun; every climb is another challenge you can truly attack. Trek might promote the Emonda range on its lightweight qualities but, actually, we’d recommend you forget about that because it’s the bike’s all-round quality that is most noteworthy. For less than £2,000 the Emonda SL5 is a truly stunning package, perfectly combining developments in Trek’s frame design with developments in Shimano’s 105 groupset. For a huge number of riders — from sportivistes who will appreciate the light overall weight, comfort and gearing; to more competitive cyclists who can take advantage of the dynamic handling and silky gear changes — it may well be the perfect bike. It’s certainly the best bike I’ve tested for a very long time.