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Road Gear

Reviewed: Trek Madone Race Shop Limited

Trek made good on its promise to deliver an aerodynamic beast that solves the comfort puzzle.

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Lab: 19.5/20 (.41mm bottom bracket deflection; .41mm head tube deflection)
Build: 14.5/15
Comfort: 12/15
Value: 9.6/15
Handling: 14.1/15
Pedaling response: 14.6/15
Aesthetics: 4.8/5

Overall: 89.1/100

Trek made good on its promise to deliver an aerodynamic beast that solves the comfort puzzle. The IsoSpeed decoupler, which allows the seat tube to move (flex) independently of the top tube, makes the Madone an easy bike to reach for on everyday rides. It even addressed road chatter when we took it on dirt in ways we’ve never experienced on an aero bike. It’s still a bit chattery in the front end, which makes sense, given the head tube stiffness numbers we got from the lab and the aero carbon handlebar. That stiffness matches nicely with the 90mm-wide, sprinter-friendly bottom bracket shell.

In a direct wind (zero-degrees yaw), the Madone produced 836 grams of drag — a low number for an aero bike, but not incredibly so. By comparison, the fastest bike in our August 2015 aero bike issue, the Cervelo S5, bested its competition with approximately 865 grams of drag at zero-degrees yaw. The Venge ViAS from Specialized measured 787 grams of drag at zero degrees.

But at slight yaw angles, like five to 10 degrees, the Madone’s drag numbers improved significantly. Trek’s truncated Kamm-tail tube shapes and touches like lower water bottle mounts make a difference in the sorts of side winds riders encounter on the road.

The Madone shrouds its front brake behind flaps in the head tube (Trek calls them Vector Wings) that open when the handlebar turns to provide clearance. But we found that the brake can catch on the Vector Wing doors when turning the handlebars past certain angles — approximately 45 to 60 degrees from center — preventing the brakes from actuating fully and making contact with the rim. This problem isn’t a concern while you’re riding at speed, but watch out when you’re track-standing at stoplights or pulling a slow, sharp U-turn.

Like the Vector Wings, the Madone’s Di2 port is a neat example of using the frame to hide componentry. Charging the battery involves releasing a button and prying up the port door. Given the weeks you can generally get out of a charge and the 10 seconds it takes to pop open the compartment, that’s a minor inconvenience at worst.

The most aerodynamic bikes in the world — triathlon bikes — are the most difficult to build up. In that regard, the Madone would be right at home in Kona. The tight integration means even something like changing a cable involves routing through the handlebars, down through the head tube, and through the frame. If you’ve run internal routing on another bike in 10 minutes, plan on 30 to 40 minutes here.

Adjusting the brakes properly can be time-consuming as well, since the cable routing and actuation is different than traditional road brakes you’re likely used to. Center-pull actuation, reminiscent of vintage roller-cam brakes, also complicates set-up, especially on the front brake, which is tucked tightly into the head tube, leaving little space to maneuver fingers. Plan your day around this build. If you can typically build an internally-routed bike in an hour, expect three to four hours for the Madone.

But that integrated handlebar and stem make for a surprisingly comfortable cockpit. Between the flats and the hoods lies a perfect platform for your hands, and the drops, while ergonomic, eschew any sharp angles that might limit hand positions.

Our test bike features Trek’s H1 fit, which is its most aggressive geometry. With its 140mm head tube, H1 makes sense on the Madone, a bike made for focusing pure aggression into forward movement. With the rider’s weight forward and low, steering feels intuitive and tight.

At 15.19 pounds (size 56), the Madone is exceptionally light for a bike with so much going on. With moving frame parts and a Di2 battery, plus deep Bontrager Aeolus 5 D3 wheels, the Madone still gets close to climber-bike light.

But those are all numbers. The most important thing about the Madone is just how much fun it is to ride, and how, despite the massive tubes associated with stiff aero bikes, it manages to be so comfortable. The Race Shop Limited model we tested is ridiculously expensive at $13,000, but the Ultegra-level Madone 9.2 is more attainably priced for the serious amateur at $6,000. You’ll take a step down from Trek’s top-of-the-line 700 series OCLV carbon to the 600 series, though, so the bike is not quite as light.

Price: $13,000
Component Highlights: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 drivetrain with 53/39 crankset and 11-28 cassette; integrated direct-mount Madone brakes; tubeless-ready Bontrager Aeolus 5 D carbon wheels
Weight: 15.19 pounds (size 56cm)