Integrated handlebar and stem; integrated cable routing through head tube; aero tube shaping; Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37 carbon wheels; SRAM Red eTap AXS drivetrain
Geometry updates are spot-on; Impressively light, and lithe without feeling nervous
Tires aren’t durable; no cockpit adjustability
The updated Emonda packs one helluva punch, and Trek has a winner on its hands. The integrated cockpit is nice and all, but the real win is the H1.5 fit, which makes the Emonda feel more stable while maintaining the aggression and responsiveness of previous Emondas. That, coupled with a lightweight construction, comfortable ride, and aerodynamic shaping, brings Trek’s top of the line climber from a very good bike to an excellent one.
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Almost exactly two years ago, Trek redesigned its Emonda SLR, but the changes were so subtle you couldn’t really tell without a very close look, and were a roadmap of changes from Trek engineers. In that sense, Trek relied on its proven track record and simply sought to make its climbing bike even, well, climbier. This time around, however, the redesign goals for the Emonda took more factors into consideration, and it got revamped geometry, aerodynamic incorporations, and a brand new carbon dubbed OCLV 800.
OCLV 800: Emonda’s special sauce
Up until now, OCLV 700 was Trek’s top of the line carbon. OCLV 800 is better! By 100! But what exactly does that mean?
For starters, OCLV 800 is a completely new material exclusive to Trek. Of course, Trek wasn’t ready to spill the beans on what’s in said special sauce, but representatives did say it’s a new fiber type that’s 30 percent stronger than OCLV 700. With the OCLV 700 materials, the new Emonda would have weighed about 60 grams more than it does with OCLV800.
And Trek says the new material may be stronger, but that doesn’t mean it’s stiffer. OCLV 800 can absorb more energy at the same weight, or less, than OCLV 700. This allows Trek to use less material but still pass all the structural testing it does on all its frames. All told, the Emonda touts a sub-700-gram frame that is largely stronger than the previous Emonda.
XXX no more
Do naming conventions matter? In this case, absolutely. Do you want to punch XXX into your work computer’s browser? Didn’t think so. Trek’s finally wise to this and has changed its top of the line Bontrager components from XXX to RSL, or Race Shop Limited. The XXX name had previously been appended to Bontrager’s components and clothing to indicate the top of the line, while RSL has been Trek’s nomenclature for other products in its lineup for years. So not only does the elimination of XXX help keep your search history G-rated, but it also simplifies some of the letter soup in the Trek ecosystem. Win-win.
Trek switched its Madone SLR to the H1.5 fit in 2018. As you might have guessed, the H1.5 fit splits the difference between the H1 fit — Trek’s most aggressively aero position — and the H2 fit, which positions the rider slightly more upright. The result is the optimal position for aggressive riding without sacrificing too much comfort.
The Emonda now gets the same H1.5 treatment. Trek developed the H1.5 fit with professional riders to tailor an ideal geometry, and it certainly shows with the Emonda’s H1.5 fit. On the road, the updated Emonda feels a bit more stable and less nervous than its predecessor. But it still feels like an aggressive all-rounder with racing on its mind.
Emonda aero shaping
Check out that integrated cockpit. Clearly Trek has invested some time thinking about aerodynamics on the new Emonda, which makes sense given the data that has come out over the last few years to indicate that aerodynamics probably matters more to most riders than low weight. Fortunately, Trek has its cake and eats it too, keeping the Emonda light while adding some aerodynamic touches.
But you’ll also notice it’s missing one of the most common features on aero-esque all-rounders these days: the dropped seat stays. “We investigated deeply if dropped stays were the right solution,” says Jordan Roessingh, director of road bikes at Trek. “From CFD perspective, testing came back that dropped stays are faster, but they’re also structurally less efficient. When the stays are high, it provides more torsional stiffness so you can make it lighter. This was the lighter weight solution, and we still get to our aerodynamic goals.”
The aerodynamic shapes on the frame tubing are all quite subtle, yet Trek says that all yields some pretty remarkable aerodynamic data. All told, Trek says the Emonda is 143 grams of drag faster than its predecessor. That equates to 60 seconds per hour faster than the last Emonda at a 0-percent grade; 18 seconds per hour faster at a grade of 8.1 percent; and 13 seconds per hour faster than the Specialized Tarmac at 8.1 percent.
Since the Emonda now features an integrated cockpit, that means you get some internal cable routing to contend with. It’s not that difficult really, but I did run into a problem with the stem spacers and the routing through the head tube.
I won’t get into details, but at one point I had to take the fork out of the frame. When it came time to put it back in, I found myself cursing the internal routing, which was difficult to line up precisely in the stem spacers and head tube. Eventually, I got it all in there, but now when I turn the handlebars, I can sometimes hear the brake hoses moving within the frame. It’s just annoying, and it’s probably my fault, but it does speak to the pitfalls of internal routing through stems and head tubes in particular. If you’re not a home mechanic and will be leaving maintenance to the bike this probably matters to you not at all. For the home mechanic, this is far from a dealbreaker, but it is an annoyance.
The cables run externally on the bar itself to avoid drilling holes where they shouldn’t really be. And the Aeolus RSL Bar/Stem offers aerodynamic advantages, weight savings, and structural efficiency (you can yank real darn hard on ’em!), so the goofy routing seems like a fair trade-off.
The Emonda also gets new wheels: The Aeolus RSL 37 wheels weigh in at 1,325 grams for the set. They are tubeless-ready and are not hookless. The 37mm deep rims are also 21mm wide (inner rim width) to capitalize on wider tires for lower drag. Trek says the Aeolus RSL wheels have been tested aerodynamically, every 5 degrees from -20 degrees yaw to +20 degrees yaw. The result is an average of 136 grams of drag.
There’s clearance for 28mm tires, though the bike is optimized for 25mm tires. Unofficially, you can fit 30mm tires in there (and if you’re daring, you could probably squeeze 32mm tires in the Emonda, though Trek won’t say so).
Finally, Trek has wisely outfitted the Emonda with a T47 bottom bracket. This system features oversize bearings in the frame, which are threaded rather than pressed in. It’s an excellent system that’s likely to do away with creaks.
Riding the Emonda
This is clearly a better bike than the previous Emonda. That’s apparent just by sitting on it and rolling out of the driveway. I struggled with the previous Emonda’s geometry and found it far too tight; the front triangle seemed very small, while the rear end of the bike was longer. That led to a ton of toe overlap that became problematic more than I’d care to admit. It was lithe and easily maneuverable, yes. But that maneuverability came with a compromise I wasn’t crazy about.
The new Emonda SLR seems to solve that problem, largely thanks to the H1.5 fit. This fit really seems to suit me especially well; I like an aggressive position that allows me to get long and low, especially during sprints, but when I’m over the front wheel, I don’t want the handlebars reacting to every little input. The Emonda’s geometry accommodates that without becoming cumbersome on climbs. It’s maneuverable, but it doesn’t punish you for slight sloppiness.
I also get a lot less toe overlap than the previous Emonda. That’s not to say I don’t get any; I still darken the toes of my shoes at stoplights, but I don’t get nervous turning at slow speeds on this version of the Emonda. I certainly did on the last one.
The component spec is mostly good and occasionally brilliant. The Bontrager tires that came stock on the Emonda only lasted me two rides, which wasn’t surprising. I have ridden the cotton-casing R4 tires before, and the ride quality is actually quite wonderful. But the durability is woeful.
On the flip side, I was duly impressed with the Aeolus wheels. They track the ground well, a testament to their stiffness, but they don’t feel punishing, either. I did get some buffeting in really tough crosswinds on a high-speed descent coming down the backside of Lookout Mountain in Golden, CO, but otherwise, in moderate winds and most riding conditions, the wheels felt stable.
Trek’s seat cap system takes a lot of the complication out of seatmasts. It’s a decent system that maintains some adjustability. The Emonda’s seat tube flexes fore and aft for compliance, while still isolating much of the frame’s structure from flex to maintain stiffness. It works well — almost too well, in fact. The fore-aft pivoting actually felt a bit too generous at times, but it was a minor nitpick overall.
My test bike got the Project One treatment, with a sparkly purple base color and pink Trek branding. The combination looks incredible in person and the colors change depending on how the sunlight hits it. It’s a nice upgrade if you’ve got the cash.
Speaking of cash, this is one expensive bike at $13,000 (with the fancy paint Project One paint job). Fortunately, there are other build options, ranging all the way down to the Emonda SL5 for $2,700 (and plenty of options in between).
The Emonda SLR is a vastly better bike than its predecessor and I have largely enjoyed riding it. Trek’s climbing bike feels lithe and maneuverable without the tight, toe-overlapping feel of the last Emonda, which makes it a joy on climbs. The integrated cockpit sure adds a cool look and feel to the Emonda, though I would have felt just fine with a non-integrated system that lends a bit more adjustability and less of a hassle with the hose routing. To be fair, though, the integrated handlebar felt comfortable to me, so I didn’t actually need anymore adjustment.
Trek’s improvements here are notable, even if they aren’t immediately noticeable visually. I like this Emonda vastly better than the last one and it’s well-equipped for just about all race conditions.