Trek launched the Emonda range back in 2015, leading the “lightweight production bike” charge with their SLR10 which weighed in at a scant 4.65kg for a complete 56cm bike - yes, that's the complete bike weight! Although that bike was awesome, very few people were in a position to part with the $20,000 needed to throw their leg over one. Fortunately Trek trickled the technology from the SLR10 model all the way down to a much more palatable $2000 price point (Emonda ALR).
At the time, Emonda cemented itself as a market leader in the ‘Climbing Bike’ category, not only did it climb like a mountain goat thanks to its geometry and weight, it surprised while descending too. Praise was high to begin with, but as the seasons ticked by the shine wore off the range and Emonda became somewhat plain-jane as the wider industry caught up and surpassed it.
For 2021, Trek has started with a blank slate and completely re-created the Emonda. New tube shapes offering enhanced aerodynamics, fresh bold graphics, and lighter weight once again. As before, Trek has selected full groupsets for their inline bikes, with each level featuring a complete groupset, an area where other manufacturers skimp and mix groupsets to save some money. The other welcome addition to bikes from the SL6 level upward is the 52/36 tooth chainrings, where we previously saw a compact 50/34 up front, frustrating for racers the bike was targeted at, as this meant an upgrade to bigger rings before even rolling off the showroom floor. The SL5 retains the compact chainrings which broadens the appeal of this bike.
Having a new platform is all well and good, but how good is it, really? Having spent 5 years aboard the original Emonda SL6, I was pumped to throw a leg over the latest version before it hit stores. While the spec of my old bike and this new one differs slightly, ie non-disc versus disc brakes, and older model Dura-Ace vs. latest series Ultegra the differences are close enough to give a pretty good “then and now” comparison.
The new frame shape features much, much sexier lines, helped by some aero tube shaping and clean (and simple) internally routed cabling, Trek’s used their tried and true “KVF” (Kamtail Virtual Foil) tube shaping that tricks the wind into thinking it's much more aero than it looks, because aerodynamics count when going uphill as well as the flat or descending.
The previous SL model was quite soft through the bottom bracket, particularly when launching a sprint out of the saddle, causing almost a ‘lag’ before it shot forward, and a bit of a squishy feel while climbing. Fortunately Trek took feedback from the market onboard and the bottom bracket lateral stiffness increased significantly on this new model, helped by a stout front end which feels solid when swinging off the handlebars bars while sprinting, or tucked behind them railing descents. On downhills the new frame brings responsive handling, precision cornering, and an “on rails” feel, thanks in part to the new Aeolus 35 Elite wheelset and of course the additional torsional stiffness. The new wheelset is a complete deviation from the previous Aeolus, with a new shape said to outperform much deeper shaped rims. Alongside the killer handing we can't ignore the comfort of the bike, as with the previous model, the ‘21 edition hits the sweet spot of comfort, but this time without the additional “softness”.
One gripe many owners had of the old Emonda was the BB90 bottom bracket. Any type of bottom bracket can creak, but unfortunately this press-fit style was more prone to it and became one of the few real downsides of the bikes as the bearings worked themselves loose over time and began to creak and groan, particularly while climbing out of the saddle. For 2021 however, it’s goodbye press-fit, hello the T47 Threaded BB, creaking be gone!
There’s certainly been some “borrowing” from the current Madone when it comes to tube shapes, particularly in the head tube and fork. The rear end of the bike throws back to the 2013 Madone, with it’s stunted KVF tube shapes and strikingly similar look. Thank heavens they ditched the old brakes situated behind the bottom bracket though, they were the worst idea ever, particularly if you wanted to slow down!
This year Trek have come out loud and proud, finally embracing their logo and covering the entire down tube with it on production models. Two tone paint jobs are featured across the range, not too ‘out there’ or polarising but certainly a step up on the previous offerings. If this new scheme isn't to your liking, find something more to your liking with Trek’s Project One program, a custom one-off bike could be all yours.
While the SL platform is really the “everyman's” bike, the person riding the SLR is more discerning, possibly a dentist, or maybe they just love their riding and are happy to part with significantly more money than the SL level. As much as the dollars differ, the actual differences in performance between the two can’t be ignored. The SLR frame employs Trek’s fresh new 800 series carbon, stiffer, lighter, and, well, in a nutshell, better at everything. Couple the lighter, stiffer frame with top shelf components and you get one heck of a race bike that nudges under the UCI weight limit with ease.
We managed to get our greasy mitts on a fresh Project One edition SLR with SRAM AXS groupo, and a fresh Aeolus RSL 37 wheelset. What a thing of beauty!
Overall I think it’s fair to say the only true similarity (outside of the fact it's a lightweight climbing bike) between this 2021 edition, and the previous model, is the Emonda name. The new bike is truly a level up in every aspect - as you’d expect from an industry heavyweight like Trek.
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