We take a look at what Trek calls “the lightest production road line ever”

Product Overview

Overall rating:

Score 10
Weight:
Weight:

Pros:

  • Beautifully made carbon frame
  • Superb ride experience
  • Excellent Shimano 105 11-speed groupset
  • Bontrager tubeless-ready wheels are a nice addition

Cons:

  • Light, but not as light as you might expect
  • If you’re after aero details, you’ll be disappointed
  • Watch out for heel clearance at the chainstay

Product:

Trek Emonda SL5

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£1,900.00

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.

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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 Emonda SL5

Up close the quality is absolutely what you’d expect from Trek, with a superb finish

Frame

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.

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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.

Bontrager finishing kit

Bontrager finishing kit

Specification

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.

Trek Emonda SL5

Ultra light carbon turns up the tempo

Riding

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.

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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.

Verdict

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.

Details

Frame:Ultralight 500 OCLV carbon
Fork:Carbon
Size range:50-62cm
Size tested:58cm
Weight:8.1kg
Miles ridden:394
Groupset:Shimano 105
Gear ratios:11-28 cassette, 50/34 chainset
Wheels:Bontrager Race Tubeless Ready
Tyres:Bontrager R1 Hard-Case Lite 23c
Bar:Bontrager Race VR-C
Stem:Bontrager Race Lite
Seatpost:Bontrager Ride Tuned carbon seatmast cap
Saddle:Bontrager Paradigm 3
Distributor:trekbikes.com
  • kidag

    Well, agree to disagree. My alu bike is comparably stiff and light, and more comfortable.

  • saian

    don’t agree, i own this bike, and I’ve ridden it for over 2000km on terrible roads (sand, cracks, rock debris and even gravel). Its extremely comfortable and rides very smoothly, even without bike shorts. You cant compare the stifness with an aluminium bike.

  • kidag

    10? Having ridden it for a day, that’s just ridiculous. Yes, the frame is firm and light, and gears and breaks are very good as well. That, and the reasonable but not spectacular weight means it climbs well. However, what goes up must come down, and that’s likely to be a bumpy ride on anything but a buttersmooth road. I guess the wheels, which seem very average, have to take most of the blame; the cockpit doesn’t seem to make it better either. In comparison I’d prefer my alu canyon (for about half the dollar) any day.

  • djconnel

    It’s interesting you say the bike has “overwhelming speed” despite a combination of poor aerodynamics and for carbon being rather heavy. Of course, the difference between 690 grams and 1050 is still very small in comparison to bike + rider together, and the aerodynamic differences are a few % relative to a frame designed for that, so it’s not a difference you’d be able to feel anyway without careful testing.