Trek Émonda ALR 6 road bike - review - Road Cycling UK

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Trek Émonda ALR 6 road bike – review

Trek's new aluminium addition to their Émonda family is far from a novelty, and provides a quality ride for a sensible price

There’s a piece of what can reasonably be described as ‘cycling pseudoscience’ that says ‘good’ aluminium is better than ‘bad’ carbon.

But it’s been said so many times now that it’s become a complete cliché and although there’s definitely some truth to it, it mostly depends on what you think falls into the categories of ‘good alloy’ or ‘crap carbon’ and, of course, how you define the oh-so-subjective ‘better’.

What is inarguable, though, is that aluminium is making a comeback. Not only are Cannondale still going strong with their superb CAAD10, but Merckx, Giant, Specialized, Canyon, Kinesis and more have launched top-end aluminium road bikes over the last few years. The latest in that line are Trek who have added an aluminium model to their Émonda range.

Trek launched the carbon fibre Emonda in 2014 and have followed that up with the Emonda ALR, a lightweight alloy version of the American firm’s climbing’s chassis
  • Specification

  • Price: £1,700
    Weight: 7.8kg
    Size tested: 56cm
    Sizes available: 50-64cm
    Website: Trek

With a frameset that weighs in at a claimed 1,050g, the Émonda ALR 6 certainly has the potential to be a very light ride.

In fact, if you were to pick and choose the components and groupset you could almost certainly build the ALR up into a UCI weight limit-challenging machine, so the fact that Trek offer the Émonda ALR as a frame only option for £700 is a smart move.

That puts it right in the ballpark with other alu frame-only options like the Cannondale CAAD10, Bowman Palace or Kinesis Aithein. Building bikes up from frames isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve already got some smart kit that you fancy moving over, or have damaged your old frame but are happy the components are okay, then it’s an option worth considering.

Spec-wise, the £1,700, Shimano Ultegra-equipped ALR 6 (the more expensive of the two ALR models, with the ALR 5 decked out in Shimano 105 for £1,300) lines up with almost the same kit as its high-end carbon equivalent, the Émonda SLR 6.

The main differences between the two are slightly different stems and handlebars and, of course, the £600 difference in cost. And that’s one of the compelling reasons to consider buying aluminium: price.

It may have external cable routing, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it makes maintenance a lot easier for the home mechanic. Also, check out the impressive welds, it’s easy to see why Trek call it ‘invisible weld’ tech.

Carbon is more expensive for a number of different reasons, but the most compelling reason to consider high-end aluminium over lower end carbon is that it’ll almost always cost you less.

If you had £2,300 to spend and bought the ALR 6 rather than the SLR equivalent, you could then spend that extra £600 on a set of wheels and likely upgrade the ride quality of the bike to a level higher than its composite cousin. Or, you know, simply end up £600 better off, of course…

The frameset

The frame is made from Trek’s 300 Series Alpha Aluminium and uses what Trek call ‘invisible weld technology’. They say that this creates a better connection with each tube junction, increasing strength while simultaneously using less material.

Not being a welding expert, I can’t comment on that, but what I can say is that the finish is immaculate. It’s possibly the best looking aluminium bike I’ve ever seen in terms of weld quality and that, combined with the matte finish, means you could easily mistake it for carbon.

The frame is made from Trek’s 300 Alpha Aluminum and weighs a claimed 1,050g, making it one of the lightest alloy frames on the market

The geometry is slightly more relaxed than a typical race bike, with Trek’s H2 fit offering a slightly taller headtube. It doesn’t mean it’s any less race-ready than its competitors, just that Trek have decided that the H2 fit is a better geometry for most riders on their lower end bikes (the higher end Émondas come with a choice of the H2 fit and more aggressive H1 geometry), meaning they’re all more accessible out of the box, but you can change a few things around and make the front end pretty low if you set your mind to it.

Other frame features include a headtube which tapers from 1.5″ to 1.1/8″, an oversized BB86.5mm bottom bracket shell, DuoTrap S speed/cadence sensor compatibility. The cables run externally, which may or may not please you depending on whether you like external cable routing, of course. But it will likely please home mechanics. Either way, it’s a lovely looking frame.

The ride

Fortunately, out riding, the frame proves that the Émonda ALR’s beauty isn’t only skin deep. It rides very nicely indeed and is as accomplished a bike as any aluminium frame I’ve ridden, and plenty of carbon ones too.

Over the years aluminium has developed a reputation for providing a harsh ride largely because the tubes had to be large in order to reach anything like the required stiffness for a bike.

These days, however, that isn’t necessarily so, and you can always adjust the far more important qualities like tyre width and pressure to achieve a more comfortable ride anyway.

But there are no such worries with the Émonda ALR 6. It’s stiff enough to provide a reassuring response to anything I could put through the frame in power terms, and the ride was perfectly comfortable.

Plus, the ALR comes equipped with Bontrager R2 23mm tyres as standard, so switching those out for a wider set is an immediate upgrade that could help to smooth the road out straight away.

Handling is sharp, and climbing surprisingly easy

Handling is sharp, and there was no bedding in period with this bike: I felt able to get out and ride full on straight away. Sometimes, you get on a test bike and take things easily on the first ride, not wanting to push it until you’ve found your proverbial feet, but the ALR felt familiar straight away.

Part of this is due to the sure handling, helped by the more relaxed H2 fit, and even heading downhill I had no worries about leaning into bends or maneuvering around obstacles as I would on my usual bike.

Climbing is similarly pleasing. Obviously, being a nearly 8kg bike I wasn’t dancing up any slopes a la Pantani (not that I would on any bike, mind you) but it’s certainly a capable machine in or out of the saddle, and the weight is good for the money.

It might not be a super lightweight climber like its exalted carbon elder brothers, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper as well and, even if you’re a poor climber, it won’t make you feel like you’re struggling any more than usual.

The components

The ALR 6 is a well specced ride. Grabbing yourself an Ultegra-equipped bike, especially from a bigger brand, can be difficult for under the £2,000 mark and given the quality of Ultegra it’s a real selling point.

I hate to beat the same drum again but, for the price, Ultegra is pretty much unmatched in terms of the quality it provides. Front shifting is powerful, precise and leaves you with no uncertainties. One of the biggest failings in front shifting over the years has been a ponderous response that has made shifting – especially up to the big ring – a real act of faith in certain situations.

Shimano’s latest long arm front derailleur used on 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace has changed that. In what must be thousands of miles on various tests bikes by now I’ve rarely had a bad front shift with Ultegra 6800 and that includes riding on some terrible roads and shifting while riding hard uphill.

The wheels are by far the weakest part of the build, and add a lot of extra weight. Their RRP is a only just over £200, and they’d be the first thing I’d look to upgrade if I bought the ALR 6. A new set of wheels would not only liven up the ride, they’d shave a few hundred grams from the overall weight, too.

That surety at the front is paired with equally precise response from the rear derailleur. Back shifting is light and quick, but still gives enough feedback that it never feels vague.

But the undoubted star of the groupset, in my opinion, is the braking. Ultegra shifting has been good for a while – the 6700 group performed smartly in both departments – but when Shimano trickled down the dual pivot braking from Dura-Ace 9000 to Ultegra it took the whole groupset up a notch.

That extra power in the brakes just gives you the confidence to push a little harder knowing that should worst come to worst there’s a fail safe should you round a corner to be confronted with a pothole the size of Gloucester.

As I mentioned in the first ride report, the part of the bike that I’d want to change as soon as possible would be the bars. I’ve ridden the Bontrager Race VR-C bars on a couple of bikes and I just don’t get on with them at all.

Even in my preferred 42cm width there’s something about the shape that makes them feel wide and ungainly, but it’s a small issue and it’s perfectly conceivable that others might try them to find the exact opposite.

Once I’d swapped them out, though, the bike felt even better at the front end, proving how important it is to feel comfortable in the cockpit of your ride. They also tip the scales at a hefty 310g, so that’d be a way to save some weight immediately if you were looking to build a super-light version of the bike.

The weakest part of the build is the wheels (and I know, we say this about most bikes). The Bontrager Race wheelset might be tubeless ready, but it’s about as basic as they come which definitely detracts from the ride quality.

Although Bontrager should definitely be applauded for bringing tubeless availability right down to the bottom of the price range, the ALR definitely deserves a better set of wheels than the £230 stock option.

Having said that, the basic wheels are specced as a very obvious way of keeping the RRP down on the bike as a whole, and as I said at the top, grabbing yourself the ALR 6 rather than the carbon SLR 6 would automatically save you £600 you could use to buy a really rather nice set of aluminium clinchers.

Price-wise, it’s pretty much spot on. A CAAD10 with Ultegra will set you back £1,699.99, though Canyon do manage to undercut that, with the Ultegra-equipped version of their Ultimate AL SLX coming in at £1,499.99 with a better set of wheels in Mavic’s Ksyrium Elite S.

Conclusion

Trek set out to create a light, balanced yet responsive aluminium bike and they’ve certainly reached that goal with aplomb. The Émonda ALR 6 might not look quite as race-ready on the surface as some of its competitors like Cannondale’s CAAD10 but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be ridden hard, and you’ll get as much out of this bike as you put in.

Plus it’s relatively cheap. Full Ultegra for under two grand is a good deal, and even though the wheels could do with an upgrade, you’re getting a lot of bike for your money which is one of the compelling reasons to seriously consider aluminium.

Pros

– Full Ultegra spec is strong for the price
– Sleek look and beautifully finished frame
– Lovely ride quality: light, stiff and fun to ride
– Has all the crash-related bonuses an alloy frame provides

Cons

– A wheel upgrade would get more from the frame

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