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First Ride: Trek’s astonishingly light Émonda SLR Disc

Alberto Contador piloted Trek’s new Émonda at the 2017 Critérium du Dauphiné, but no one would blame you if you missed it. Trek’s new WorldTour-level race bike looks almost identical to the previous Émonda. Aside from a few cosmetic details, there’s nothing to indicate the wholesale changes in this ground-up redesign (apart from the new disc-brake version, of course). Those changes are all hidden in an unassuming package.

Pick it up (with one finger) and you’ll notice a difference immediately. Trek claims it has made the lightest production frame available, at a paltry 640 grams (not including the fork, which is less than 300 grams for the rim brake version). And it wasn’t simply a matter of shaving away material to get there. Trek engineers used proprietary computer software to help determine what tube shapes could be redesigned to reduce weight without sacrificing strength. The real challenge then became making an exceptionally light bike that still handles confidently.

It’s lighter, but what’s new? Disc brakes, for starters. And what’s the same? The exceptional handling. With all the new touches resulting in the same lithe ride quality, the Émonda remains tops in the all-around category.

Embracing disc brakes

The disc brake-equipped frame is also absurdly light at 665 grams (313 grams for the disc fork). My test bike had Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 drivetrain and hydraulic flat-mount brakes, as well as new RT-900 rotors with their distinctive cooling fins. If you’re a SRAM devotee, you can spec a custom Émonda with that group in Trek’s Project One program.

One of the perks of going disc is the extra tire clearance. The disc brake-equipped Émonda comes with 28mm tires, and while Trek didn’t say so, I’d be willing to bet you could get some 30mm tires in there. That extra tire clearance is possible without a rim brake caliper — the usual culprit of tire size limits.

Geometry and handling

If you’ve ridden the Émonda before, the newest iteration won’t surprise you. It’s ultra-responsive, likely due to the 58-millimeter trail, 73.5-degree head tube angle, and super-short 983-millimeter wheelbase (size 56cm, H1 fit). Combine that with 410-millimeter chain stays and you’ve got a formula for an aggressive ride.

All that is borne from extensive testing both on the road and in the lab. Trek developed a proprietary cornering model that helped render a picture (literally and figuratively) of what happens to your bike when it’s under load in a corner. The results indicated that more deflection occurs the further away you get from the head tube. Based on that information, Trek then used software called Heeds Modeling to determine what each frame tube should look like to reduce weight and increase stiffness where it was needed. That initially yielded some pretty outlandish tubing designs, like dramatically arced chain stays in early prototypes. Those prototypes were 3D-printed in-house for concepting and even some road testing.

Heeds Modeling helped indicate where stiffness was needed most, and on-the-road testing confirmed it. As a result, Trek says it has increased both head tube and bottom bracket stiffness significantly over the previous Émonda SLR, all while reducing overall weight. That’s some feat.

We don’t have firm prices on all the models yet, but Trek representatives say the new SLR will be about $1,000 cheaper than the previous Émonda SLR. Notably, the Émonda SL offers many of the advantages of the SLR at an exceptionally low price point. You’ll take a bump down to a heavier 500 Series OCLV carbon frame, but much of the geometry and ride quality from the SLR trickles down to the SL version at an affordable $1,799 (for the full bike!). Plus it’s available in both rim and disc brake versions.

First ride

I spent two days and 100 miles on the Émonda SLR disc (H1 fit) in the hills near Trek’s Waterloo, Wisconsin headquarters. The terrain is rolling, with short, punchy climbs and plenty of opportunity for sprints and sustained efforts. There aren’t any grind-it-out, 40-minute climbs, so I’ll need more time to make a full assessment. Still, I was able to get a good sense of the Émonda’s personality.

Ultimately, the ride quality is strikingly similar to the previous generation Émonda, which is a very good thing. In fact, I could barely tell the difference. The ultra-responsive race handling was no surprise given the tight geometry, though the off-the-line pedaling response seemed slightly better than other Émondas I’ve ridden. The exceptionally wide BB90 bottom bracket probably makes a difference, based on Trek’s data. It’s also possible that the quick feeling was simply a byproduct of the Émonda’s handling.

The addition of disc brakes and wide, 28c tires only improves the ride quality. The predictability that comes with disc brakes allowed confidence in corners and more stability out of them. I did all the braking I needed to before the turn’s apex. Despite the frame’s gossamer weight, braking forces didn’t seem to have any adverse effect on handling — no shudder. We’ve talked at length about the advantages of wide tires, and this is a smart spec here, not only from a handling perspective but also for that last little bit of compliance.

Trek’s seat mast/seat cap system adds even more cushion. The seat mast allows Trek to eliminate overlapping materials that add weight. Namely, the seatpost that slides into a seat tube on most bikes. This way, Trek can control exactly how much stiffness and compliance ends up in the frame, all the way up the seat mast itself, while saving anywhere between 35 and 40 grams. The seat cap, according to Trek, is lighter than most seatposts. Regardless of the weight aspect, the seat mast/cap system is remarkably compliant without trending toward bouncy or sloppy. I call it a win.

The only complaint I have is the toe overlap. This is likely the result of that super-short wheelbase and other tight geometry numbers. It’s not a problem at high or even moderate speeds, but it almost sent me to the pavement in the parking lot when I tried to turn around sharply. I can see this being a problem at stop lights on my daily rides, but that’s really it.

The Émonda is once again the lightest frame you can buy, but it’s by no means a nervous featherweight. Trek was wise to preserve the quick and aggressive handling while rethinking what the Émonda was additionally capable of. Some change is good — particularly those disc brakes. When it comes to ride characteristics, if it ain’t broke, Trek didn’t fix it.

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