Almost three years ago, Trek launched what it claimed to be the world’s lightest production bike, the incredible carbon Émonda SLR. The Émonda ALR is its more affordable aluminium counterpart, and it offers an experience that’s closer to the big daddy than you might think.
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The Émonda ALR’s frame is everything you’d hope for from a modern aluminium bike in tech terms.
It’s dainty in key areas for comfort, with slim seatstays and a 27.2mm seatpost promising compliance. The press-fit bottom bracket won’t warm the cockles of your mechanic’s heart, but it (probably) contributes to a stiff pedalling platform, and as you move to the front of the bike there’s more beefiness as the top tube and down tube broaden to meet a head tube with a big 1.5in lower bearing.
Cabling is fully external and I'm fine with that. I wish Trek had stuck mudguard mounts on, but you can’t have everything.
At every tube junction, the welds are nicely smoothed, and the overall finish is excellent. I sometimes lament the ubiquity of sombre-toned bikes, but the ALR’s “black pearl” paint is indeed pearlescent and looks rather luxurious up close, sparkling in direct sunlight.
As an added bonus, the grey logo and additional highlights are reflective — safety first! If you’re not convinced, there’s a matt red version too.
Shimano’s shiny 10-speed Tiagra groupset seems to have become the go-to for bikes like this, and it’s not at all unwelcome. Its glossy grey finish is strongly reminiscent of Ultegra and its shifting feel is remarkably close too. The most noticeable difference is in the brakes — the calipers are stiffer than the budget alternatives found on some of the competition and braking is fine, but the pads are basic one-piece items.
As you’d expect on a Trek, all the finishing kit is from in-house brand Bontrager, and it’s all good stuff, albeit not particularly eye-catching.
The Montrose saddle may be a little bit soft for some riders, but it does have a decent pressure relief cut-out. The wheels are Bontrager too and whilst basic, they do offer tubeless compatibility, although you’ll need new tyres if you want to ditch your inners.
The Émonda ALR’s real selling point is its ride, which is nigh-on perfectly judged. If this is your first road bike, you’ll be blown away by how stiff and alive it feels; and if you’re accustomed to more exotic fare you’ll marvel at a bike this affordable being so good.
Even with relatively modest rolling stock, the Émonda feels stiff and alive, rewarding aggressive out-of-the-saddle riding. It doesn’t have any fancy bump-taming technology and it’s not as comfy as a dedicated endurance bike, but it’s still commendably smooth.
What’s really impressive is how taut and together the whole frameset feels. It’s the sort of bike that encourages you to lean hard on the outside pedal and fling it through sweeping bends. It’s racy enough for actual competition, but not so extreme that novices won’t enjoy it.
The reality is that this budget Émonda is 95 percent as good as the Ultegra-equipped version. It’s a little bit heavier and the brakes aren’t as good, but the ride quality is identical and it’s a lot cheaper.