Trek Émonda SL6 review

We put the lightweight Trek Émonda SL6 through its paces. It’s designed to be a climber’s bike, but how does it measure up? Find out more in our review.

Words - Tom McQuillan     Images - Andrew Clifforth

ABOUT

We’ve been keen to test Trek’s lightweight Émonda since it was launched just before the Tour de France last year.

The name Émonda comes from the French verb emonder, meaning to prune or trim away, which is precisely what the American company have been doing with the weight of this bike. Unlike Trek’s other road frames, the Émonda isn’t designed to be aerodynamic like Trek’s long-standing Madone, nor to conquer the cobbles of Northern Europe like the more comfort-focused Domane*. It's marketed as a lightweight climbing weapon for the likes of Trek Factory Racing's Bauke Mollema and Julian Arredondo.

The top of the line Émonda SLR10 debuted in July last year sported a SRAM Red groupset, Bontrager direct-mount brakes, a weight of just 4.6kg and a price tag of $15,999 AUD. It's hard to say which of the last two figures is more jaw-dropping.

For those of us who haven't recently found a winning lottery ticket lying around, there's the bike we've been testing – the 2015 Émonda SL6 with a mechanical Shimano Ultegra 6800 groupset. While that means the weight drops to a more modest 7.4kg without pedals on our 54cm test model, it also means the price is more modest too - $3,699. 

We put it to the test to see what it was all about.

QUALITY

There are two stock paint options for the Émonda are a matte black with black decals, or the vibrant red (Trek calls it ‘Viper Red’) with black decals we have here. We found ourselves ogling the rich and even paint job on more than one occasion, and having internally routed cables means that the clean look of the bike is preserved.

All the components are from Trek’s in-house firm Bontrager, and almost nothing on the bike is screaming out to be changed – these are all parts that should last you for a number of years. There are also some handy little extras thrown in, such as a chain catcher to protect your frame if your chain slips off the inner ring.

BUILD

Its frame is made from 500 Series OCLV Carbon, a lower grade of carbon fibre than the more whiz-bang Émonda SLR frames. The head tube is reasonably high, as the SL6 we have on test is only available with their H2 fit, designed for those of us without the flexibility for a ‘pro’ H1 fit - so it should save you some back pain.

The mechanical Ultegra 6800 series groupset worked beautifully throughout our review, and we were particularly grateful for the inclusion of a compact 50/34 chainset and 11-28 cassette while tackling some of the steeper pitches on our test loop in Melbourne’s north-east.

The supplied Bontrager Race Tubeless Ready wheels are perfectly serviceable, stable in crosswinds and seem like they'd be a dependable set of training wheels for years on end. As the name suggests, the wheels can be converted to a tubeless setup if you’re looking for a bit more puncture protection and the ability to run lower tyre pressures for greater comfort.

The Bontrager Race Lite handlebars were comfortable and allowed a good set of hand positions, but our tester found himself banging his forearms against the bars when sprinting in the shallow drops. The Émonda may not be a bike designed for sprinters, but it'd be nice to have the option when the mood takes you.

Saddle choice is one of the aspects of a bike that varies most from person to person and while the supplied Paradigm Race saddle was firm and supportive, it was the wrong shape for our tester’s body.

RIDE

The first ride we had on the Émonda was during some particularly foul Melbourne winter weather. A combination of intermittent rain, single digit temperatures and double digit winds (about 50km/h) caused a few nervous moments, especially in crosswinds.

Thankfully the Émonda's handling was reliable and predictable enough that staying upright wasn’t a fuss – for a bike designed to be lightweight it holds the road really well. The more time you spend on this bike, the more comfortable you’ll get throwing your weight around through corners. The brakes functioned well and had a good level of feel, though they pulsed a bit on the few occasions where grabbing a fistful was necessary.

The traditional frame shape and low-profile wheels certainly helped too - had we been on its aero brother the Madone (or any bike with deep-section wheels) we would almost certainly have been blown off the road.

The more time we spent on the Émonda, the more obvious the bike's purpose became. The lightweight frame, compact crankset and 11-28 cassette have all been included to make going up hill as easy as possible. If you’re not a climber you won’t suddenly become Nairo Quintana on this bike, but we really noticed a difference any time the gradient got over about 7% - there was definitely less effort involved in getting to the top than on our standard bike. However, we couldn't help feeling that a lighter wheelset (a set of Fulcrum Racing Zeros come to mind) would help fully unlock the potential of the Émonda, especially if you want to take it racing.

Where the Émonda was caught out was on rough roads. Three consecutive laps on the buzzy surface of Melbourne’s Yarra Boulevard were enough to have us cutting our ride short in search of some smoother tarmac. The ride isn’t going to shake your teeth out, but it’s obvious that the bike’s been built for performance rather than comfort. If a comfortable ride is what you’re craving, check out the review we did of the Émonda’s older brother, the Domane.

SIZE

The Émonda is available in a whopping 10 stock sizes – 44cm, 47cm, 50cm, 52cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm, 60cm, 62cm and 64cm. Our test model was a 54cm medium, which fitted our 175cm tester well.

PRICE

The Émonda SL6 is $3,699 as tested. If you want the lighter SLR 6, which has the same mechanical Ultegra groupset but uses 700 Series OCLV carbon and a lighter wheelset to drop 800 grams, it’ll set you back $7,399 for a bike with the same mechanical Ultegra spec.

If your budget can’t stretch to that amount, you can have the heavier Émonda S frame with the same mechanical Ultegra groupset and heavier wheels for $2799 – provided you’re willing to accept a 1kg weight penalty. If you’re happy to have Shimano’s 105 groupset instead of Ultegra, you can have the same SL frame for $2,999.

WHERE TO BUY

Any licensed Trek dealer. Cycles Galleria QV can provide you with a demonstrator model for a four-day test ride for $100. You can see more on their website here

OVERALL

A solid climbing machine that is among the lightest in its price bracket and gets better the steeper the hill you have to climb. Most of the components perform well, seem extremely reliable and won’t need to be replaced for years after the bike is purchased. However, we feel like it’s slightly held back by its heavy wheels, and the ride is harsh enough that you’ll need to seek out smooth roads if you want to take it on an all-day epic.

If you’re looking for a mid-range climbing bike with some upgrade potential and don’t mind a firm ride, the Émonda could well be the bike for you.

*Seeing as Trek likes to use the same six letters in the names of all its road frames, we're predicting their next model will be a touring frame called the Nomade. Don't say we didn't warn you.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Weight 7.39kg/16.29lbs, 56cm (weight varies by frame size) 
  • Frame Ultralight 500 Series OCLV Carbon, ride-tuned performance tube optimisation, E2, BB90, internal cable routing, DuoTrap S compatible, Ride-Tuned seatmast, 3S chain keeper
  • Fork Émonda full carbon, E2
  • Sizes 44, 47, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64cm
  • Frame fit H2
  • Wheels Bontrager Race Tubeless Ready
  • Tyres Bontrager R2 Hard-Case Lite, 700x23c
  • Shifters Shimano Ultegra, 11 speed
  • Front derailleur Shimano Ultegra, braze-on
  • Rear derailleur Shimano Ultegra
  • Crank Shimano Ultegra, 50/34 (compact)
  • Cassette Shimano Ultegra 11-28, 11 speed
  • Chain Shimano Ultegra
  • Saddle Bontrager Paradigm Race, chromoly rails
  • Seatpost Bontrager Ride Tuned Carbon seatmast cap, 20mm offset
  • Handlebar Bontrager Race Lite, VR, 31.8mm
  • Stem Bontrager Race Lite, 31.8mm, 7 degree
  • Headset Integrated, cartridge bearings, sealed, 1-1/8” top, 1.5” bottom
  • Brakeset Shimano Ultegra
  • Grips Bontrager gel cork tape