February 7, 2018

By Jonathan Fey

Less than a year ago, Trek teased images of their updated Emonda in the lead-up to a little bike race in France you might have heard of. What wasn’t expected was the concomitant release of a disc-brake flavor of this relatively recent mainstay in Trek’s fleet of race bikes. Bemoan the gradual departure of the elegant rim brake if you must (cue the retrogrouches). This disc iteration of Emonda doesn’t replace its rim brake counterpart per sé, but for the right rider it is a welcome addition to an already diverse road bike lineup from Wisconsin’s preeminent bike maker.


Since we’re on the subject, let’s get the big question out of the way. The weight penalty to make the move over to those weird shiny discs next to the hub is markedly less than it was a few years ago. Whereas the weight differential for most like-for-like road bikes tends to be about 2 or more pounds, Emonda Disc is only 1.5 pounds heavier than its rim brake counterpart. This bike in the SL 6 trim level with Shimano’s new Ultegra R8000 mechanical drivetrain weighs in at a respectable 17.75 pounds.


Some riders will wonder if the power of disc brakes is necessary, given the fairly limited braking traction of a narrow tire on pavement. I find that most riders will benefit in both efficiency and comfort by using tires up to 30mm in width for most real-world applications. This being the case, I also find that the improved traction of a larger tire allows riders to access the increased braking power the disc brake affords. If you're stuck on using those 23mm tires, the disc brake may not offer a significant advantage over the rim brake. If you're looking to ride in the real world though, with its chip-seal roads and expansion gaps, riding those larger tires and disc brakes may offer a more seamless experience between rider and road.


So how does this bike feel on the road? In a word, light. Emonda is so light-feeling underfoot that you’ll think there are helium balloons tied to your saddle rails. Emonda rewards both long seated efforts and higher intensity efforts in steep terrain. For a rider with lots of experience on traditional road geometry, this bike feels fairly neutral. That is to say, it is not overly nervous-feeling nor is it slow to maneuver through a set of tight hairpin turns. If, on the other hand, you have more experience on the established crop of endurance bikes, this bike will feel on the active side of neutral with regard to steering.

Emonda rides smoother than most road bikes in its class, without feeling quite as floaty over the rough stuff as Domane and other endurance-oriented road bikes. Few riders would regret upgrading to a pair of 28mm Vittoria Corsa G+ tires for a little added cushion.

Trek leaves the stack and reach of their well regarded H2 geometry untouched for this bike, and makes updates to the chainstay length to accommodate bigger tires. The fit is performance-oriented, without being overly aggressive.

I have a couple bones to pick with this bike, though. The handlebar ergonomics don't work well with my medium-size hands. While Shimano’s update to their robust Ultegra groupset is widely better in function, there’s a lumpy little section in the palm of the brake hood my hands don't get along with. More on the ergonomic end: Trek tends to specify extra long-ramped handlebars on road bikes in this category, where some other companies spec a more modern short-reach bar. You may find that investing in a bike fit up front will help tie up these potential loose ends.

Emonda excels on long days in Colorado’s high country. It's for those who seek out mountain passes and steep country roads. The update to disc brakes will allow riders to descend steep mountains more confidently when that sudden midsummer rain shower hits. The disc brake version will tackle hardpack gravel roads on occasion, but it's better suited to pavement.


Here's what I find appealing about this bike: Emonda is just a road bike, but a very good one, especially given its price point. I mean this in the sense that Trek didn't get too sophisticated with design elements. We’re told in the marketing that Trek spent hours using complicated modeling to analyze stresses and materials in order to remove unnecessary structures, but most of that lies below the surface. It's simple, it’s light, and it’s clean. It has nice lines. It asks to be clipped into and ridden far all day, as hard you want to go.

The 2018 Trek Emonda SL6 Disc is available for demo and available for sale in-stock now.

Emonda SL 6 Disc

Trek’s singular goal with Emonda was to create the lightest production road bike line in existence. But in doing that, Trek has pushed the envelope of what can be done with carbon fiber and proper spec. The result is not only the lightest bike, but also a bike with unequalled ride performance.