Trek Emonda ALR long-term review

Matthew’s dream alloy eTap build

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
GBP £800
Frameset only
Purple aluminium Trek Emonda ALR road bike with SRAM RED eTap groupset

Our review

This is a first ride review score and may change as I spend more time on the bike
Pros: Gorgeous finish, light and lively feel, low weight, intuitive eTap shifting
Cons: Disappointing SRAM brakes (have now upgraded to Dura-Ace), firmer than expected front end

Trek’s Emonda ALR is the affordable aluminium version of its lightweight climber’s bike, a dainty alternative to the aero dreadnought that is the Madone.

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Trek kindly lent me a frameset and I’ve built it up with SRAM RED eTap and some choice finishing kit from Ritchey.

Trek Emonda ALR long-term review update #1

It’s been a quiet month for the Emonda between time away and unpleasantly damp weather, but I’ve taken steps to address my one real concern with the bike: the brakes.

The rather generic looking S-900s, SRAM’s sole direct-mount offering, have proved to be a disappointment. That they’re a non-series option perhaps reflects the fact that even SRAM doesn’t consider them groupset-worthy — I certainly don’t think they’re RED-equivalent and I’ve been wanting to replace them since my first ride on the ALR.

My disregard for brand purism should be pretty clear by this point, so I’ve doubled down with it and fitted a set of Dura-Ace R9100 brakes in place of the S-900s. Yes, I’m trolling you. Shall I get some Campagnolo wheels to complete the effect?

Direct rim brake mounts on rear of road bike
Removing the rear brake revealed this dirt trap, which I definitely cleaned thoroughly and didn’t just cover up again
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

The Dura-Ace brakes (product codes BR-R9110-RS and BR-R9110-F if you’re geeky about that sort of thing) are near enough exactly the same weight as the S-900s at 300g, but it’s not mass I care about here.

I haven’t had the chance to test them out properly on the road yet, but even on the workstand it’s obvious that they’re much stiffer, with a more defined bite when you pull the levers gently and less visible flex when you squeeze them hard.

From a pure vanity standpoint, they’re also much nicer looking than the SRAMs, even if they do clash horribly from a brand perspective.

Direct mount rim brake on road bike
Clashing or not, they’re handsome calipers
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

Brakes aside, I’ve not changed much on the Emonda, and while I’m still vaguely mulling wheel options, I don’t feel compelled to make any more big upgrades for the time being.

My most memorable ride on the bike so far was a hilly 56km in the wonderful and aptly-named Peak District. Not far, I hear you cry! But somehow that distance took in almost 1,100m of climbing, vindicating my decision to choose very low gearing.

I’m looking forward to putting more miles on the lovely purple ALR, watch this space.

Trek Emonda ALR build and spec — original post

Purple aluminium road bike with SRAM RED eTap groupset
This is pretty close to a dream spec for me
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

I’ve already taken a detailed first look at the Emonda ALR’s frameset which you can read here. Suffice to say, it’s made of metal and it’s a very lovely looking thing. At 1,203g including its hanger, cable guides, bottle-cage bolts and seat collar, it’s also reasonably light.

I chose to build the ALR with SRAM RED eTap because I’ve long wanted to get to know the groupset properly. I love the clean-sheet approach SRAM took when it went wireless and I was hugely impressed when I first tried eTap, but I wanted to spend more time actually using it day-to-day.

I opted for super-low gearing by road standards because experience tells me that I wouldn’t regret it — I’m no gear masher.

Of course, since building this bike, SRAM has launched its updated RED and Force eTap AXS 12-speed groupsets. When the news broke I immediately started feeding the Trek into the nearest woodchipper but then I remembered that the bike industry launching new products doesn’t actually render my current kit unrideable.

Emonda ALR SRAM RED eTap drivetrain
Despite the launch of eTap AXS, this still works just fine
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

Incidentally, SRAM doesn’t make a RED direct-mount rim brake, instead it offers the non-series S-900, so that’s what I went with. More on those later…

Finishing kit: Ritchey riches and a hot mess of other things

I chose Ritchey finishing kit because it’s consistently impressed me with its feel and finish.

Trek Emonda ALR Ritchey WCS cockpit
The Ritchey bars’ swept wing tops are very comfortable, as is the matching bar tape
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

The WCS Carbon Streem bar is particularly nice (and expensive), with slightly swept wing-profile tops that are very comfortable.

The one issue it presented is that I couldn’t figure out a neat way to mount eTap Blip shifters on the tops as I’d originally intended, so I ended up not using them.

The FlexLogic seatpost is similarly attractive and has a flippable head which gives you a wider-than-normal range of setback adjustment.

Saddle and seatpost fitted to purple road bike
The Ritchey post gives you a large range of fore-aft adjustment
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

The rest of the build is a bit of a parts bin special, using components I had lying around.

The low-profile Shimano Dura-Ace C24 clinchers are an old favourite, albeit ones that are looking a bit dated with a narrow rim profile. I’ve also mislaid the matching skewers, so the bike is currently wearing a set of FFWD QRs.

Close up of road bike front wheel showing quick-release skewer
Some people just want to watch the world burn
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

The saddle is a Specialized Power which, after many, many miles, I still can’t decide if I prefer over my old love, the Romin. Oh, and I had to have tan-wall tyres, because of course I did.

So yes, it’s a SRAM-equipped bike with Shimano wheels and mismatched accessories. Purists, avert your gaze.

Trek Emonda ALR full specification

  • Sizes (*tested): 50, 52, 54*, 56, 58 60, 62, 64
  • Weight: 7.0kg (including pedals, two bottle cages, Garmin out-front mount)
  • Frame: Emonda ALR Ultralight 300 Series Alpha aluminium, Invisible Weld Technology
  • Fork: Emonda full carbon
  • Shifters: SRAM RED eTap
  • Derailleurs: SRAM RED eTAP
  • Cranks: SRAM RED 50/34t
  • Wheelset: Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 C24 clincher
  • Tyres: Veloflex Master 28mm
  • Brakes: SRAM S-900 direct-mount
  • Bar: Ritchey WCS Carbon Streem 40cm
  • Bar tape: WCS Race
  • Stem: Ritchey WCS C220 100mm
  • Seatpost: WCS Link Carbon FlexLogic seatpost 27.2×350mm
  • Saddle: Specialized Power
  • Pedals: Speedplay Zero Stainless
  • Accessories: Arundel Stainless bottle cages

Trek Emonda ALR geometry

  • Head angle: 73.0 degrees
  • Seat angle: 73.7 degrees
  • Chainstay length: 410mm
  • Seat tube: 540mm
  • Top tube: 543mm
  • Head tube: 155mm
  • Bottom bracket drop: 70mm
  • Wheelbase: 981mm
  • Stack: 555mm
  • Reach: 381mm

Why did I choose this bike?

Front view of road bike with aero drop handlebars
Yes, the Garmin mount is slightly crooked. Deal with it
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

I’ve been boring people about how good aluminium bikes are for a while now, so it felt like it was time to put my (hypothetical) money where my mouth is.

I really liked the Emonda ALR when I reviewed the first generation model a couple of years ago so the news that there was an updated model designed for my beloved direct-mount brakes got me all in a lather.

I cleave naturally to spindly climber’s bikes rather than rolling billboard aero machines. I’m not built for speed on the flat and my weight means I get blown around on deep section rims anyway.

The fact that the Emonda is sold as a frameset (as well as complete bikes) and comes in a gorgeous purple-flip paint option was very much the cherry on top.

Trek Emonda ALR initial setup

Building a bike with eTap was a welcome novelty. With the derailleurs and shifters bolted on, it’s a process that’s more akin to pairing a Bluetooth speaker with your phone than conventional cable routing. Only the rear brake cable needed to be fed through the frame.

Blanking plate in place of cable stop on bike frame
With no gear cables, things are kept very neat
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

I did manage to break the tiny support shim that sits behind the front derailleur with what I thought was minimal force, but otherwise it was largely trouble free.

I cut the fork to allow for 30mm of headset spacers and with 20mm under the stem, I haven’t seen fit to move it up or down so far.

My intention was always to take advantage of the clearance the Emonda’s direct-mount brakes offer to fit decent sized tyres, and I’ve been running those lovely 28mm Veloflex Masters at around 60psi front / 70psi rear.

I actually set the bike up with latex tubes initially, but immediately destroyed one through incompetence and latex’s preternatural ability to get trapped by a tyre bead. That leaves me with a butyl tube at the back and latex one up front, a sort of rubbery mullet setup that probably won’t ever catch on.

Emonda ALR ride impressions so far

Purple Trek Emonda ALR road bike with SRAM RED eTap groupset
The Emonda ALR is remarkably light for a metal-framed bike
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

The new ALR is the same taut, lightweight machine I remember and with this dream spec, it’s properly lively. Climbing on a bike as light and stiff as this is a delight and my choice of gearing means I can winch up the nastiest of inclines.

I don’t know if it’s my memory playing tricks or the fact that I now live somewhere with pretty awful roads, but the ride quality isn’t exactly what I was expecting.

The Emonda ALR’s back end is delightfully smooth but the front is firmer than I recall, enough so that on fast descents with a bit of broken tarmac I’ve found myself holding back ever so slightly to maintain composure.

I’m honestly not sure why this is. Was my choice of super-stiff aero bars a mistake? Am I going soft? I need more time to work this out.

I also need to check my hanger alignment because my shifting seems to be very slightly out, but overall the eTap groupset has been a delight so far. The two-paddle shifting is very intuitive and I get on well with the shape of the hoods.

I’m genuinely disappointed with the brakes however. My experience with Shimano and Campagnolo direct-mount calipers has been nothing but positive, but the S-900s feel like a phoned-in afterthought.

Front brake of road bike
I’m really disappointed with SRAM’s lacklustre S-900 calipers
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

Even leaving aside the generic looking finish, a squeeze of the lever produces visible caliper flex and they just don’t have the solidity and modulation of, say, Ultegra direct-mount brakes. I expected better, SRAM.

If it sounds like I’m feeling negative towards the Emonda, don’t get me wrong. It’s a delightful thing and I’m very much looking forward to putting more miles on it.

Trek Emonda ALR upgrades

Close-up of road bike front wheel showing hub
Shimano wheels on a SRAM bike? No regrets
Matthew Allen / Immediate Media

While I’m very fond of the Dura-Ace clinchers, a wider, more modern set of wheels would be an obvious upgrade and could add a smidge more comfort. If I do upgrade, I’ll stick with something fairly low profile as I feel it suits the aesthetic of the bike.

The biggest surprise with my build has been those S-900 brakes. They’re remarkably bad and, in keeping with the parts bin theme, I’m very tempted to swap them for Shimanos, although I’m not certain if the lever pull would be optimal.

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Should I mix groupsets? Should I seek out some ridiculous weight weenie specials instead? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.