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Trek Emonda SLR 8 - long-term review

Fabulously light and quick but best for smooth roads

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The new Trek Emonda SLR chassis is awesomely light and snappy but its very firm ride means you'll likely want to limit longer rides to smooth pavement

The new Trek Emonda SLR chassis is awesomely light and snappy but its very firm ride means you'll likely want to limit longer rides to smooth pavement (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Trek says the 'Emonda' name is a play on the French word, émonde, which means 'to trim down' - a clever reference to the frame's ultralight weight. It's also a requisite anagram of 'Madone'

Trek says the 'Emonda' name is a play on the French word, émonde, which means 'to trim down' - a clever reference to the frame's ultralight weight. It's also a requisite anagram of 'Madone' (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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All of the tubes on the Trek Emonda are nominally round with smoothly transitioned joints throughout

All of the tubes on the Trek Emonda are nominally round with smoothly transitioned joints throughout (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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The latest iteration of Bontrager's DuoTrap wireless speed and cadence sensor pocket now leaves the outer surface of the chainstay untouched for a cleaner appearance

The latest iteration of Bontrager's DuoTrap wireless speed and cadence sensor pocket now leaves the outer surface of the chainstay untouched for a cleaner appearance (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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The VR bend on the Bontrager bars is versatile and comfortable. We would have appreciated some additional padding, however, given the frameset's rather stiff ride

The VR bend on the Bontrager bars is versatile and comfortable. We would have appreciated some additional padding, however, given the frameset's rather stiff ride (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Further helping to lighten things up is the carbon fibre Bontrager handlebar (the stock stem is aluminum but we had to swap it out for fit purposes). And sorry about the stack of spacers, folks - it's not our bike, after all, so we're not at liberty to hack the thing down at will

Further helping to lighten things up is the carbon fibre Bontrager handlebar (the stock stem is aluminum but we had to swap it out for fit purposes). And sorry about the stack of spacers, folks - it's not our bike, after all, so we're not at liberty to hack the thing down at will (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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We have no complaints whatsoever with the outstanding Shimano Dura-Ace crankset

We have no complaints whatsoever with the outstanding Shimano Dura-Ace crankset (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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The complete Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 group rattles off reliable shifts mile after mile

The complete Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 group rattles off reliable shifts mile after mile (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Our more aggressive H1 frame geometry comes with semi-compact 52/36T chainrings. The more upright H2 version comes with easier-spinning 50/34T rings

Our more aggressive H1 frame geometry comes with semi-compact 52/36T chainrings. The more upright H2 version comes with easier-spinning 50/34T rings (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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While some might question Trek's inclusion of a non-aero wheelset to the Emonda SLR 8 spec sheet, we say that the stock Bontrager Race X Lite TLR alloy wheels are excellent in their own right with impressively low weight, a relatively smooth ride quality, very good stiffness and tubeless compatibility

While some might question Trek's inclusion of a non-aero wheelset to the Emonda SLR 8 spec sheet, we say that the stock Bontrager Race X Lite TLR alloy wheels are excellent in their own right with impressively low weight, a relatively smooth ride quality, very good stiffness and tubeless compatibility (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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The excellent Bontrager hubs use DT Swiss internals

The excellent Bontrager hubs use DT Swiss internals (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Further helping to lighten things up is the carbon fibre Bontrager handlebar (the stock stem is aluminum but we had to swap it out for fit purposes). And sorry about the stack of spacers, folks - it's not our bike, after all, so we're not at liberty to hack the thing down at will

Further helping to lighten things up is the carbon fibre Bontrager handlebar (the stock stem is aluminum but we had to swap it out for fit purposes). And sorry about the stack of spacers, folks - it's not our bike, after all, so we're not at liberty to hack the thing down at will (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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The complete Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 group rattles off reliable shifts mile after mile

The complete Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 group rattles off reliable shifts mile after mile (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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The internal cable routing setup is tidy and relatively easy to service

The internal cable routing setup is tidy and relatively easy to service (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Trek builds the Emonda SLR frame with its highest grade of carbon fibre

Trek builds the Emonda SLR frame with its highest grade of carbon fibre (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Kudos to Bontrager for using internal-cam skewers for the Race X Lite TLR wheels, which are more secure and easier to use than ones with external cams

Kudos to Bontrager for using internal-cam skewers for the Race X Lite TLR wheels, which are more secure and easier to use than ones with external cams (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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We recently became aware of relatively common complaints regarding creaking on Shimano Dura-Ace cassettes with carbon-reinforced spiders - and now that we're actively listening for it and trying to reproduce symptoms, we're hearing it now, too

We recently became aware of relatively common complaints regarding creaking on Shimano Dura-Ace cassettes with carbon-reinforced spiders - and now that we're actively listening for it and trying to reproduce symptoms, we're hearing it now, too (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Brazed-on reinforcements provide localised strength without requiring a thicker and heavier extrusion

Brazed-on reinforcements provide localised strength without requiring a thicker and heavier extrusion (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Trek proudly touts the Emonda's country of manufacture - not because frames built in the United States are necessarily better, but because it's quite rare to see these days

Trek proudly touts the Emonda's country of manufacture - not because frames built in the United States are necessarily better, but because it's quite rare to see these days (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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The new Shimano Dura-Ace direct-mount brakes are some of the finest rim calipers we've ever used

The new Shimano Dura-Ace direct-mount brakes are some of the finest rim calipers we've ever used (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Our Trek Emonda SLR 8 test sample came with Shimano's excellent Dura-Ace mechanical group

Our Trek Emonda SLR 8 test sample came with Shimano's excellent Dura-Ace mechanical group (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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The front derailleur mounts to a very stout bonded-on plate. The internal routing system can be used for either mechanical or electronic drivetrains

The front derailleur mounts to a very stout bonded-on plate. The internal routing system can be used for either mechanical or electronic drivetrains (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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The new Trek Emonda SLR chassis is awesomely light and snappy but its very firm ride means you'll likely want to limit longer rides to smooth pavement

The new Trek Emonda SLR chassis is awesomely light and snappy but its very firm ride means you'll likely want to limit longer rides to smooth pavement (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Whereas the Trek Madone frame was designed at least partially with aerodynamics in mind, the Emonda is sculpted purely to trim weight and maximise stiffness

Whereas the Trek Madone frame was designed at least partially with aerodynamics in mind, the Emonda is sculpted purely to trim weight and maximise stiffness (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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While the main tubes are enormous, the fork blades and seatstays are quite slim. That said, the Emonda is still a fairly unyielding ride on rough pavement

While the main tubes are enormous, the fork blades and seatstays are quite slim. That said, the Emonda is still a fairly unyielding ride on rough pavement (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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The 90mm wide bottom bracket shell allows for an extra wide down tube and seat tube, plus chainstays that are pushed further apart than usual

The 90mm wide bottom bracket shell allows for an extra wide down tube and seat tube, plus chainstays that are pushed further apart than usual (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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How big is the down tube, you wonder? Even a large hand can't completely wrap around it

How big is the down tube, you wonder? Even a large hand can't completely wrap around it (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Asymmetrical chainstays keep the rear end in check

Asymmetrical chainstays keep the rear end in check (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Direct-mount brake calipers are used at both ends - and they're absolutely awesome

Direct-mount brake calipers are used at both ends - and they're absolutely awesome (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Carbon dropouts trim a few precious grams

Carbon dropouts trim a few precious grams (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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Not surprisingly, Trek infuses the Emonda with its long-running no-cut integrated seatmast design

Not surprisingly, Trek infuses the Emonda with its long-running no-cut integrated seatmast design (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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A simple - but very effective - chain keeper is built into the base of the seat tube

A simple - but very effective - chain keeper is built into the base of the seat tube (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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The cable routing layout makes for a clean-looking front end but we'd like to see a little more care in keeping the lines from marring the finish

The cable routing layout makes for a clean-looking front end but we'd like to see a little more care in keeping the lines from marring the finish (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)
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The coating on Shimano's Dura-Ace cables may be slick but it also seems rather prone to fraying

The coating on Shimano's Dura-Ace cables may be slick but it also seems rather prone to fraying (Image credit: James Huang/BikeRadar)

This article originally appeared on BikeRadar

Trek made quite a splash when it unveiled the stunningly light Emonda SLR 10, with its jaw-dropping 4.65kg (10.25lb) claimed weight and a correspondingly high price.

We'd argue that the SLR 8 model makes an even bigger impact though. It has the same feathery frame but a more sensible build kit, and costs less than half of the flagship model. Trickle-down, you say? Yes, please.

  • Highs: Incredibly light, fantastic handling, awesome brakes, huge range of sizes
  • Lows: Chattery ride, potentially creaky cassette
  • Buy if: You absolutely live for climbing

Ride and handling: Light and efficient but far from smooth

Fans of prototypical top-end German machines will feel right at home on the new Emonda SLR. The chassis is not only extremely light but also remarkably rigid and efficient. It's quick and responsive when you get on the gas and, as you'd expect with a total weight of just 6.19kg (13.65lb) without pedals, it's an absolute beast on steeper climbs, where that stiffness-to-weight ratio can really shine through.

Big, round(ish) tubes and high-end carbon fibre materials make for a light and stiff frame

The Emonda's geometry figures are nearly identical to those of Trek's long-running Madone, so it's no surprise that it handles extremely well. It has perfectly neutral manners that are well-suited to road racing and all-day rides. It's quick enough to easily adjust your line if you encounter an obstacle mid-corner, for example, but is stable enough to inspire confidence at speeds that are well in excess of common sense.

We find the rider positioning spot-on too. The suitably short head tube and reasonably spacious top tube on our H1 version inspires an aggressively long-and-low stance. As with the Madone, Trek also offers the Emonda in a taller H2 version for riders who want the low weight but with a more upright profile – both in a huge range of sizes.

Not into a super-low position? No worries – Trek makes the Emonda SLR frame in a taller H2 version too

Such low weight and high stiffness doesn't come without penalty though – and in this case, it's the ride quality.

Whereas the top-end Madone is firm but still reasonably comfortable for a long day in the saddle, the Emonda is more unyieldingly rigid in every direction. Although Trek claims its in-house bench testing shows the Emonda has a similar ride to the Madone, we find the Emonda to be noticeably buzzy. This is particularly evident on coarse pavement, but even relatively smooth dirt roads tend to rattle your hands until they're numb and lifeless, made worse by the relatively sparse stock bar tape.

The superb chassis stiffness that's so good on the way up can sometimes cost you on the way down too. Whereas smoother bikes can capably carve through bumpy corners, the Emonda is prone to getting knocked off-line if you encounter a hiccup when you're arcing a twisty downhill pass, particularly with the rather narrow 23mm tyres that come stock.

The big tube profiles and stiff carbon fibres don't make for the smoothest ride

Asymmetrical chainstays make the most of the available space

Although there are plenty of ovalised sections, all of the tubes are nominally round in profile to maximise the frame's structural efficiency. Likewise, all of the joints feature smooth transitions free of abrupt kinks or unnecessary geometric filigree. Fork tips and rear dropouts are made from fibre – of course – and the bearing seats for both the headset and bottom bracket and moulded directly into the structure so no additional cups are needed.

The cable routing is fully internal and the setup is convertible between mechanical and electronic drivetrains. The former features a remarkably minimal guide on the underside of the bottom bracket shell. Housing paths are generally well situated and it's fairly easy to replace the lines when needed, although there's quite a bit more rub on the sides of the head tube than we'd prefer.

Even the bottom bracket cable guide is remarkably minimal

Otherwise, all of the usual Trek hallmarks are present and accounted for, including the 90mm wide bottom bracket shell, the e2 tapered head tube with an asymmetrical steerer tube profile, a no-cut integrated seatmast, and integrated chain catcher bolted to the base of the seat tube. As before, there's a pocket on the non-driveside chainstay for a Bontrager wireless speed and cadence sensor but this latest iteration is now smaller and tidier, plus it no longer pierces the entire tube.

The internal finish of the frame is utterly fantastic, too. This of course isn't visible when the bike is built but it does lend some confidence in terms of the overall build quality. After all, if this much attention is paid to the bits you can't see, that bodes well for the parts you can see, right?

Equipment: Awesome direct-mount brakes, versatile tubeless-ready wheels

Our Emonda SLR 8 model may only sit second rung from the bottom in the Emonda range but it comes with a complete Shimano Dura-Ace mechanical group and excellent finishing kit from Trek's Bontrager arm.

H1 Emonda bikes come with semi-compact 52/36T chainrings but the taller H2 bikes come with easier-spinning 50/34T ones

As in previous encounters, the transmission is fantastic with smooth and consistent shifts both front and rear, superb ergonomics, and generally quiet running. We say 'generally', since we're now paying much closer attention to the creaks and groans that occasionally emanate from the cassette's carbon reinforced spider under especially hard efforts – an issue we're currently investigating.

The brakes, however, are quite possibly the best road rim brakes we've ever used, with gobs of power, very good control, and an extremely positive and direct lever feel – all thanks to the new direct-mount standard's much stouter foundation, which more firmly anchors the pivot points and decreases caliper flex.

Granted, even this significant advance in rim brake technology isn't as good as a fully hydraulic disc setup but for traditionalists who just can't wrap their heads around road bikes with rotors, these are an awesome way to go.

The direct-mount Shimano Dura-Ace brake calipers are fantastic

We also have nothing but praise for the Emonda SLR 8's Bontrager Race X Lite TLR alloy clincher wheels. While some might lament their decidedly non-aero shape, their modestly wide (17.5mm internal width) profile lends good casing support for secure and predictable cornering characteristics. They're also impressively stiff and quite light – just 1,440g for the set (or 1,518g if you add the tubeless-compatible rim strips). Previous experience has shown these to be very durable long-term, too, plus the DT Swiss Star Ratchet rear driver is simply bombproof.

The rest of the Bontrager finishing kit is very good, too. The Paradigm RXL saddle is firm but comfy and supportive, the workhorse Race X Lite stem is reassuringly solid and reasonably light, and the carbon fibre XXX handlebar boasts a versatile semi-anatomic bend that's easy to like.

The Bontrager Race X Lite TLR wheels may not be aero but they're stiff, durable and reasonably wide

'Easy to like' would be a good way to describe the Emonda SLR 8 in general. Riders who regularly look to blast their Strava times on faster courses won't be blown away by the bike's middling aerodynamic performance but if you're after light and stiff – and can tolerate the firm ride – this would be a good place to start (and possibly end) your search.

The new Trek Emonda SLR chassis is awesomely light and snappy but its very firm ride means you'll likely want to limit longer rides to smooth pavement 

Complete bike specifications

Frame: Trek Emonda SLR
Available sizes: 50, 52 (tested), 54, 56, 58, 60, 62cm (H1 geometry); 47, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64cm (H2 geometry)
Fork: Trek Emonda
Headset: Cane Creek Forty, 1 1/8 to 1 1/2in tapered
Stem: Bontrager Race X Lite
Handlebar: Bontrager XXX VR-C
Handlebar tape: Bontrager gel cork
Front brake: Shimano Dura-Ace BR-9010 Direct Mount
Rear brake: Shimano Dura-Ace BR-9010 Direct Mount
Brake levers: Shimano Dura-Ace STI Dual Control ST-9000
Front derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace FD-9000
Rear derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace RD-9000-SS
Shift levers: Shimano Dura-Ace STI Dual Control ST-9000
Cassette: Shimano Dura-Ace CS-9000, 11-28T
Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace CN-9000
Crankset: Shimano Dura-Ace FC-9000, 52/36T
Bottom bracket: Enduro
Pedals: N/A
Wheelset: Bontrager Race X Lite TLR
Front tyre: Bontrager R4 Hard-Case Lite, 700x23mm
Rear tyre: Bontrager R4 Hard-Case Lite, 700x23mm
Saddle: Bontrager Paradigm RXL
Seatpost: Bontrager Ride Tuned Carbon seatmast
Total weight, as tested: 6.19kg (13.65lb) without pedals