Trek Emonda SL 5 Women's review£1,800.00

A carbon-framed race bike that will feel the benefit of future upgrades

BikeRadar score4/5

The Émonda is the lightweight climbing bike in the Trek family and the SL 5 is its entry-level carbon framed version. The bike comes with good parts and spec for the price and an OCLV carbon frame that is ripe for a few upgrades down the line.

  • The Trek Émonda SL 5 Women's is one of our Bike of the Year bikes for 2018. To read reviews of the other contenders and the categories tested across road, mountain and women's bikes, visit our Bike of the Year hub.

Trek, a long time supporter of women’s cycling, has recently confirmed its stance on the subject of women’s specific geometry, coming down firmly on the side of unisex frame geometry with gender-specific contact points, with the addition of a smaller size (47cm) for shorter riders.

Trek Émonda SL 5 Women's frame

The main selling point of this bike is the frame, Trek says itself: “If you're going to put money into any part of a bike, invest in the frame.”

In this case, the frame you’re investing in is constructed from 500 Series OCLV carbon. It’s not the same carbon as you’ll find in the top-of-the-range Émonda frames, so there is a slight weight penalty here.

Weighing in at 8.43kg for a 54 it sits comfortably around the midrange of bike weights in our test and is a comparable to other bikes in the same price bracket.

A carbon frame provides a good basis for future upgrades if you want to drop weight or improve performance
A carbon frame provides a good basis for future upgrades if you want to drop weight or improve performance

Interestingly, it’s also one of the few race-focused frames in our Bike of the Year test not to have aerodynamic elements incorporated into the frame design. Bikes such as the Canyon Ultimate, Specialized Tarmac and Liv Lagma all have features designed to reduce drag, and this is one area where the Émonda SL 5 loses out.

However, if you do want something that’s more aero-focused, Trek does produce a women’s version of the Madone, with unisex frame and women’s specific contact points.

The Émonda has sleek looks, due in part to internal cable routing, which keeps the frame clutter-free
The Émonda has sleek looks, due in part to internal cable routing, which keeps the frame clutter-free

For those riders who aren’t fans of flashy decals, loud logos or lairy colours, the stealthy satin black of the Émonda with subtle gold flashes here and there will be right up your street.

Trek Émonda SL 5 Women's gears, wheelset and finishing kit

Shimano 105 rim brakes are a reliable choice for the price point
Shimano 105 rim brakes are a reliable choice for the price point

The Shimano 105 groupset is a common sight at this price point and the Émonda SL 5 has the expected 50/34t compact crankset with an 11-28t cassette — a classic combo, which offers a good range of gears to cover all manner of terrain.

105 is good, and while it may not be as smooth shifting or light as the pricier Ultegra, it is reliable and durable.

The 105 rim brakes also work well and are reliable, but are noticeably less effective than Ultegra brakes, and in wet conditions or on steep descents I personally would prefer to have disc brakes.

The Shimano 105 groupset is reliable and durable, with a gear range to cover all manner of terrain
The Shimano 105 groupset is reliable and durable, with a gear range to cover all manner of terrain

The aluminium Bontrager Comp VR-S handlebars feature practical black tape with a little gold detailing peeking through the holes to match the subtle gold details on the frame, and while the tape does cushion the hands, the stiffness of the frame doesn’t do much to help mitigate road chatter and harsh bumps that transfer straight to hands, wrists, and arms.

It’s more noticeable at moderate speeds, get a good turn of speed and the Émonda flies over the surface, but for anyone planning on riding on rough roads, be aware that you’re going to get a bit knocked about.

Alloy handlebars are size specific
Alloy handlebars are size specific

However, at the other end of body and bike, the Bontrager Ride Tuned alloy seatmast topper — essentially, a cap on which the saddle is attached that slides over the top of the integrated seatpost — does do a good job of smoothing the road, so while you feel the jolts in your arms, your derrière is more cushioned.

The tubeless-ready alloy Bontrager wheels are noticeably heavy, especially when paired with the Bontrager R1 Hard-Case tyres.

An interesting seatpost design helps do a good job of smoothing the road
An interesting seatpost design helps do a good job of smoothing the road

While the added puncture resistance of the tyres is useful for commuting, training and clocking up those winter miles, in a race setting it’s worth switching over for something lighter.

If you want to up the zooms in the future, consider upgrading to a higher spec of alloy wheels or carbon if your budget can stretch to it.

The Bontrager wheels are noticeably heavy, something you definitely feel on climbs
The Bontrager wheels are noticeably heavy, something you definitely feel on climbs

Trek Émonda SL 5 Women's ride impressions

If you’re into fast-paced riding or racing and looking to make your first carbon road-bike purchase, or want a quality frame that’s perfectly placed for future upgrades, then the SL 5 is a good choice.

The spec is reasonable for the price, but it’s a bike that would benefit from a lighter wheelset and certainly some lighter tyres to really fulfil its potential.

It doesn’t have quite the instantaneous acceleration of some of its nearest competitors, such as the Liv Langma Disc, but it does have a noticeably stiffer frame, which comes into its own once you’ve got it up to speed or on longer climbs where the efficiency of its power transfer is a definite plus.

While it might not have the blingest of spec, it performs well and a few future upgrades can make all the difference
While it might not have the blingest of spec, it performs well and a few future upgrades can make all the difference

In the corners the Émonda feels stable, steady and fast — put down the power, lean in and feel the confidence this bike inspires.

Steering is responsive, light and agile but not twitchy, and while this is one of the least expensive bikes in our 2018 Bike of the Year test, it certainly holds its own with pricier options.

Trek Émonda SL 5 Women’s specs

  • Weight: 8.43kg (54 cm)
  • Frame: Carbon
  • Fork: Carbon
  • Gears: Shimano 105, 50/34 (compact), 11-28
  • Brakes: Shimano 105
  • Wheels: Bontrager Tubeless Ready Alloy wheels
  • Saddle: Bontrager Ajna Comp saddle
  • Seatpost: Bontrager Ride Tuned alloy seatmast cap, 10mm offset seatpost
  • Handlebar: Bontrager Comp VR-S handlebars
  • Stem: Bontrager Elite stem, 31.8 mm, 7-degree, with computer and light mounts

Trek Émonda SL 5 Women’s price, sizes and availability

The Trek Émonda SL 5 Women’s retails at £1,800 / $2,000 / AU$2,499 and is available in sizes 47, 50, 52, 54, 56, which covers a rider height range of 152—180cm or 4ft11.8in–5ft10.9in

While the frame is unisex, the women’s version offers the additional size 47cm, while the men’s versions go up to a 60cm frame size. Women who are taller than the height range offered by the Women’s version can, of course, opt for a unisex bike, though may want to swap the saddle out depending on personal preference.

Also consider...

If you're in the market for a bike and want to know what else is on offer, have a look at the following list of tried, tested and reviewed options.

Want more? BikeRadar Women has loads of women's cycling news, reviews, interviews and advice and more.

Aoife Glass

Women's Cycling Editor
A mountain biker at heart, also drawn to the open road. Likes big long adventures in the mountains. Usually to be found in the Mendip Hills or the Somerset Levels in the UK. Passionate about women's cycling at all levels.
  • Age: 35
  • Height: 173cm / 5'8"
  • Weight: 74kg / 163lb
  • Waist: 82cm / 32in
  • Chest: 86cm / 34in (below bust measurement)
  • Discipline: Mountain, road
  • Preferred Terrain: Rocky, rough and a long way from anywhere.
  • Current Bikes: Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2015, Juliana Furtado 2013, Canyon Roadlite AL
  • Dream Bike: Juliana Roubion, Liv Avail Advanced SL
  • Beer of Choice: Red wine for the win!
  • Location: Weston Super Mare, Somerset, UK

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