Trek Madone SLR Disc Review
Rumour has it that the new Madone SLR Disc is worth 20-30 watts at 40kmh. But can this be true?
“The new Madone is worth 20-30 watts at 40kmh.” Say what?
The words were spoken at Cyclefit earlier in this year by our friend and long-time colleague, Jordan Roessingh. It is very easy to dismiss such bombast and rhetoric. Except Jordan is a pure scientist and engineer and not prone to flourish or exaggeration. On the contrary. Jordan was our Trek Factory Racing/Trek Segafredo Team liaison for four years (pictured). We worked with him at team-camps, velodrome, races etc. Jordan was the technical link between emerging Trek technology, team staff and of course the riders. His pivotal role was to empower the riders and the team with everything they needed to win races. We reported to Jordan, because we were part of that interface from equipment to rider. Over the years that we worked with TFR/Trek Segafredo, we learnt a huge amount from Jordan, especially about aerodynamics and materials technology.
“It became increasingly clear that if you are not on a Madone SLR Disc, it is very unlikely you will stay with the group, at the speed we ride”
Jordan made the 20-30 watt claim in his understated way, in his new role as Trek’s new Road Project Manager. He went onto add that even a drafting rider can expect to save 10-15 watts at 40kph. Once a week The Wednesday Worlds Group leaves Trek’s rural HQ in Waterloo, Wisconsin, for an hour ride at an average speed of between 40-45kph. WWG comprises ex professionals, a current world-champion and amateur racers. Every one of them is damn fast. Jordan is traditionally to be found at the sharp-end of this grupetto, driving hard and maintaining discipline as historical Captain On the Road. Trek’s R&D is well known to be world-leading, simply because they spend more money and time crunching drag coefficient numbers than any other company on the planet. But the 20-30-watt claim comes from straight from WWG real-world experience, riding Emonda’s, Domane’s and new Madone Discs, head-to-head in the heat of fraternal battle -
“It became increasingly clear that if you are not on a Madone SLR Disc, it is very unlikely you will stay with the group, at the speed we ride"
That one comment has resonated with me and Jules, whilst we wait for our opportunity to test the new Madone Disc for ourselves. Full disclosure - this is not the bike that we thought we would be testing. Our Madone SLR9 intended test-bike was sold before it even arrived at Cyclefit. Such is the pent-up demand for Trek’s Madone Disc, that this was the only bike available world-wide currently. Not only us it seems, who are excited. Note if you are interested in a Madone SLR Disc on Project One the wait is now two months.
Trek Madone SLR Disc Design
- Class-leading aerodynamics – to match the Madone rim brake fuselage
- Integrate H1 and H2 platforms into a more usable H1.5 platform
- Adjustable Top Tube IsoSpeed – 17% more compliant than current year rim-brake Madone
- Class-leading frame-weight – 1021g-Disc/ 1036g-Rim
- Flat-mount disc-brakes with 12mm thru-axles for optimal wheel/chassis stiffness
- More cockpit variability with more bar/stem sizes and +/- 5 degrees of bar rotation.
“In these fabulous moments the bike and the whole world made sense, ensconced in a wonderful tension between the physical laws of the world and man’s ingenuity to escape them. I tell you this because Trek’s new Madone SLR Disc has a whiff of these addictive sensations”
In A Bubble
I used to have an Aprilia RS250 Biaggi Replica 2-stroke track bike pictured above). It was quiet, beautiful and taut when you were pottering around. Inoffensive, affable even. Until you wound up it up to around nine thousand RPM, at which the cliff-shaped 2-stroke power-band took you from 25bhp to 75bhp in the fraction of a millisecond. In these fabulous moments the bike and the whole world made sense, ensconced in a wonderful tension between the physical laws of the world and man’s ingenuity to escape them. I tell you this because Trek’s new Madone SLR Disc has more than a whiff of these addictive sensations to me.
Bimbling around Covent Garden for the pictures, the Madone was digitally balanced and refined. With the IsoSpeed set in the middle if its range, there was discernibly touching Dolby separation from the worst of the cobbles – in touch but intact. The H1.5 geometry on a size 54 kept me nicely pitched onto the front-wheel without being inappropriately slammed for a man of my years. Just like my Aprilia used to feel a decade and a half ago when I sometimes rode it into Cyclefit. The Madone SLR was happy to oblige but a limited turning circle, caused by the aero headtube design, hinted that city life wasn’t its best game.
Accelerating into Regent’s Park and the power-transmission is functional rather than dramatic. Acceleration of course, is all about watts per kg – I don’t have many of the former, and at around 8kg the Madone has more of the latter than I am used to from either my 622SLX or Emonda SLR. Move up through the gears out the saddle to 21mph, sit down to plug and play, and the Aprilia moment occurs - speed rises but effort actually seems to fall. Around 23-24mph and the fuselage and the wheels start to really sing in concert to devastating effect.
Mostly in life cheating is wrong and its natural corollary is feeling bad. Here in the park moving at speeds my power doesn’t pre-qualify, staying with riders half my age and twice my condition, it is completely addictive! This kind of riding is not about watts per kg it is about watts per CdA. The reciprocity of pressing down and receiving an aero dividend. Strava thinks I am averaging 270 watts, in large part, as I lap the park. I can tell you honestly that I wasn’t, because I can’t. We have learnt from our virtual wind-tunnel that keeping my elbows tucked in and my chin shrugged towards my wrists saves me about 20 watts, and the rest (30-40 watts) purely derives from the SLR chassis and Aeolus 5 Comp wheels.
The SLR Disc frame itself is truly impressive and tops the range. The Bontrager Aeolus Comp wheels however, whilst posting some reasonable aero credentials, locked into an A-grade fuselage, are the obvious place to look for future improvement. If this was my SLR fuselage, I would purchase a wheel package commensurate with its potential, not mine. A set of gold-standard Bontrager Aeolus XXX6 would transform the ride in every aspect, but especially change of pace and climbing. I no longer have the power to kick hard but even I can feel a certain gyroscopic reticence in play on the Aeolus Comps. But since I am having all these introspections as the dial consistently hovers more towards 25mph than 20, it is obvious I am also being a pedant. I am, in effect, operating in a devastatingly effective bubble, sucked around the park, beyond my natural potential, thanks to Trek’s diligence in a wind-tunnel and carbon technology heritage. The other aspect of the SLR’s personality that appeals is its proper race-bike handling high-sheen. This is no one-dimensional TT bike; it has a proper race-bike feel and drops accurately and predictably into tight curves and stays there like it should until the pilot updates the command. I like a sharp bike, it is a hangover from too many criteriums over too many decades. I covet the feel from a nicely weighted front wheel that dutifully counter-steers into a sharp turn with understated drama. And it is here here one gets the best sense of the IsoSpeed working at the margins on poor road surfaces, with plenty of weight on the outside pedal, driving for the apex. For me the IsoSpeed on the Madone is playing at its best for grip, speed and control, where the Domane’s combination of the rear and front IsoSpeed works best instil comfort and confidence.
“the IsoSpeed on the Madone is playing at its best for grip, speed and control, where the Domane’s combination of the rear and front IsoSpeed works best instil comfort and confidence”
The Madone SLR Disc has confused me. I am not at all its target audience. I am too old, too slow and no plans to race again. Yet if I walked into a Trek store now I would probably want an Emonda SLR like Jules’ but be prepared to be talked out of it in favour of a more comfortable Domane. But if anyone gave me a sniff of a test-ride I would end up with a Madone SLR Disc, I just know I would. And it is not all heart-over-head. My rides are not that long, and I don’t climb mountains or deliberately seek out steep hills. I ride fairly short distances on mainly flat roads, where watts per/kg is subservient to watts per/CdA. And beyond everything I find it tremendously exciting everytime I hit that sweetspot of 21.5mph and get the little rush of aerodynamic equilibrium. I completely believe Jordan's 20-30 watts @ 40kph because that is entirely how it felt. I have tested a few bikes around Regents Park this summer, when I was arguably slightly fitter. And yet all my personal Strava records were broken on the Madone SLR Disc on this ride, with seemingly less effort! What's every ride on the Madone is hugely fun, well it is for me.
“This kind of riding is not about watts per kg it is about watts per CdA. The reciprocity of pressing down and receiving the benefit plus aero dividend”
What's Not To Like?
The Madone SLR Disc is a huge march forwards in usable performance. Even so there are a few things worthy of note if you are a prospective purchaser - here is my list:
- The internal cable/hydraulic routing seems to be biased towards electronic shifting. We would pay the extra and go electronic on this bike
- The Aeolus wheels are an obvious price/value compromise on this particular model, and therefore a performance mis-match.
- 172.5 crank on a size 54cm? We generally work Project One and would expect to fit a 165 or 170mm.
- Shimano Ultegra Hydraulic levers are big and ugly (in our opinion)
- Pay a bit more and go Trek Project One - crank length, bar-width and fit are everything on this bike where torso angles will be lower. get the fit right!
About the Author
Co-founder, bike fitter and bike designer. Phil rides a Seven titanium disc bike. He likes dogs and fine wine. - Cyclefit Store