First Ride: Trek Madone SLR No. 6

Trek has fine-tuned its IsoSpeed Decoupler, improved the fit, and added disc brakes, making this edition of the Madone even better.

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WATERLOO, WI (VN) — There was much to love about Trek’s fifth iteration of its flagship Madone, perhaps the most trend-setting aero bike to hit the market. With integrated everything, sleek aero tube shapes, and an IsoSpeed decoupler to make the whole thing comfortable — simply unheard of in the aero category — it seemed like the Madone was nearly perfect.

But engineers within the Wisconsin-based company would certainly disagree. The first step in redesigning the Madone took place in a conference room with lots of people, and lots of sticky notes. Those sticky notes got stuck all over the bike, outlining feedback from riders and engineers, pointing out all the bike’s warts. By the end of the meeting, it was impossible to see the actual bike behind the rainbow of colorful paper slips. Even trend-setting bikes need refining.

It was obvious the cockpit needed work. And the Vector Wings? Yeah, those needed to go. Could Trek do the IsoSpeed decoupler even better? Engineers thought so. What about tire clearance? Disc brakes? Could the bike perform even better in the wind tunnel?

Lofty design goals have led to Madone No.6, as it is affectionately called around Trek’s Wisconsin headquarters. While the No. 6 may look a lot like its predecessor at first glance, this is a different beast altogether.

Same-same? No, different

The IsoSpeed decoupler was Trek’s trick up its sleeve when it released the Madone in 2015. And it remains on the new No. 6, though it’s been completely overhauled.

For starters, it’s adjustable, much like the sliding system on the Domane. Just loosen a couple of bolts, reposition the slider that’s tucked underneath the top tube, and tighten it all back down. With the slider positioned all the way forward, you get 17% more compliance than the old Madone; slide it all the way back and the bike becomes 21% stiffer than the old Madone.

That slider is actually a piece separate from the frame itself. It slides in through the seat tube, and the L-shaped piece secures to the frame via a pivot bolt at its crux. There’s another bolt at the very end of the unit to secure the slider once you’ve set it where you want it.

This dogleg-shaped piece encompasses both the seat mast and the decoupler. The knuckle at the junction presses up against a rubber damping bumper to control rebound. The long arm attaches to the bottom of the top tube, and a slider sits between the arm and the top tube itself. This allows the user to adjust how much compliance he or she gets for specific ride conditions. Photo: Dan Cavallari |

There’s also a rebound damper built into the system to control the decoupler’s motion after encountering road input. Trek says this provides more stability, and rebound is reduced by 13% as compared to the previous generation Madone.

Perhaps the biggest complaint among riders of the Madone No. 5 was the lack of adjustability in the integrated handlebar. Since Trek’s main focus was aero performance over comfort, the handlebar fit that bill well. But for real riders who also wanted their cockpits tailored to them, not the wind, it was a problem. That problem is solved with the new integrated two-piece handlebar and stem that offers +/-5 degrees of handlebar rotation.

The Vector Wings, while novel, were also something of a bugaboo. They’re gone entirely from the rim brake version of Madone No. 6. Instead, the front rim brake is tucked behind the fork. It’s still integrated and works in much the same way as the previous rim brakes, with a cam-style cable pull system.

But if you want to go faster, opt for the disc brake-equipped bike. The disc frame is faster than the rim brake version in aero testing by about 15 grams of drag — not to mention lighter. And you’ll be able to run larger tires: Officially, you’ll be able to fit 28mm rubber in there, but there’s plenty of clearance to run a larger tire. 30mm for sure; 32mm is a possibility.

Trek also developed a slightly different geometry — dubbed H1.5 — to put the rider in an optimal aero position. It’s a bit taller than an H1 fit in the head tube and therefore the stack, and the reach is slightly longer too. All the other geo numbers are the same as the previous Madone.

According to Trek’s in-house CFD testing, the Madone is the fastest bike in the world when drag is measured from -12.5 degrees to 12.5 degrees of yaw sweep. This is the range of yaw angles most riders are likely to encounter in real-world situations, according to Trek.

To really complement the distinct lines of the Madone, Trek is also launching the Icon paint scheme line through Project One. Color-shifting paint brushed liquid metal, and a team option all make this Madone look aesthetically epic. These paint jobs are available on the Madone SLR only.

The top of the line Madone SLR 9 Disc costs $12,000. On the other end of the spectrum, the Madone SL6 costs $4,000, but you’ll do without Trek’s high-zoot OCLV 700 carbon (the SL6 features OCLV 500 carbon instead), and a few other bells and whistles. But the geometry, technology, and ride characteristics should remain largely the same. The SLR 6 and SLR 6 Disc both come in a women’s specific version as well.

First ride

It should come as no surprise that the Madone was born in the hills near Waterloo. The terrain suits it perfectly. Rolling stretches jump suddenly into steep, short pitches, followed by screaming descents into the next straightaway. Then up again. All totaled, we climbed about 4,300 feet in 61 miles.

The Madone shined from start to finish. It’s especially adept exactly where you’d suspect: on screaming descents and straightaways married to a blistering pace. The difference between descending in an upright position and tucking down close to the bars proved vast: Once in the aero tuck, the Madone wanted to blast away. Hang on, because it happens quickly.

It’s no dog in winding turns, either. The handling trends toward stable rather than ultra-responsive, yet it requires little muscling and it tracks predictably. While we’ll have to test this more in the sharp switchbacks here in Colorado, early impressions are very positive.

Unsurprisingly, the Madone reacts solidly to sprints. Trek is able to use very stiff tube shapes that would otherwise lead to an unbearably harsh ride. The IsoSpeed decoupler essentially neutralizes that risk, which is perhaps why the Madone feels so explosive underfoot. Breakaway artists and puncheurs take note.

When the road kicks up, the Madone exposes what could be considered something of a weakness. If you’re used to feathery climbing bikes, you’ll notice the weight difference and slower handling. It’s by no means lumbering, but you’ll never mistake the Madone for a pure climber’s bike. It’s quick on short, punchy climbs, but the deceleration happens rapidly when you’re transitioning from flats to climbs. Of course, this could have all been in my head, or worse, in my legs. I’ll reserve final judgment on the Madone’s climbing abilities until I get it on home roads.

Of course, the real conversation piece is the new IsoSpeed decoupler. I rode with the slider on the flexy side of the spectrum, offering tons of compliance without opting for the Cadillac-with-blown-shocks feel. The best endorsement I can give is this: I forgot all about it. With such stiff tubing beneath me, that’s really something. The rebound damper works wonders too, preventing that bounce and buck that would otherwise have me yearning for a solid seatpost. It’s not too much of a stretch to think more than a few Trek Segafredo riders might choose this as their Classics bike in 2019. (Some Trek-Segafredo riders have made it clear they want to ride 30mm tires at the Classics. The Madone accommodates that easily.)

With only a single ride on the new Madone, it’s difficult to say whether Trek has yet again set the standard for aero bikes. But early impressions certainly indicate that’s so. Adjustability in integration and best-in-class comfort combine to make this a surprisingly versatile bike that’s exciting to ride.

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