The Trek Madone 3.5 surprised and impressed us in equal measure. The frameset is quite brilliant and the fact that it’s completed with such good quality components makes the 3.5 a highly tempting proposition.
Over the years we’ve been a little underwhelmed by the lower model Madones. It’s not that they’ve ever been bad bikes, more that, if you’ve ridden a sublime 6-series OCLV frame, the ‘lower orders’ have tended to feel a little bit neutral, never getting your pulse racing in the same way as the flagship unfailingly does.
That makes us all the more happy to report that the 3.5 is, quite simply, brilliant. The new OCLV carbon fibre frame has a beautifully smooth quality, evening out the ripples of poor roads with magic-carpet-like ease. At £1,800, the complete bike price is what we'd have expected to pay for a frameset of this quality just a few short years ago.
Trek haven’t skimped on the spec either, with a complete Shimano Ultegra drivetrain save for a 105 front mech and 105 brakes. The rest of the finishing kit comes from Trek’s in-house component line Bontrager, including a semi-compact drop bar that's ideally shaped for plenty of in-the-drops efforts, and a superb Bontrager wheel and tyre combo: smooth and tough rolling, with gummy, grippy rubber.
The 3.5’s smoothness isn’t just about how it deals with rough surfaces, though. When the road starts to drop and you’re into a descent full of corners, the 3.5 is exactly where you want it to be. It might lack the knife-edge sharpness of the best bikes in this class, but it’s not far off, and we actually felt more confident aboard the 3.5; get it leaned over into a high speed corner and it tracks through exactly where you point it.
When the road starts to rise the Trek’s supple comfort comes to the fore. Extended in-the-saddle grinds are much more bearable when a bike cossets you the way the Madone does. That said, if you want to change the tempo and stand to attack a summit then the 3.5 rises to the challenge, feeling smooth and tight, the faultless Ultegra drivetrain handling pressure shifts under load well.
Lastly, we wouldn’t expect to see mudguard mounts on a bike of this type, but for riders in the UK, where wet seems to be our default weather, they’re likely to be much appreciated. We’re impressed. The 3.5 has an exceptional frameset and real quality component choices, and it’s fair to say Trek now have a mid-price Madone that’s more than worthy of the name.
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This bike was tested as part of Cycling Plus magazine’s 2012 Bike Of The Year feature – read the full results in issue 260, on sale Friday 2 March.