Last year’s Trek Madone 3.5 took the eventual Bike of the Year 2012 victor, the Focus Izalco Pro 3.0, right to the wire, earning a runner-up spot in the process. For 2013, Trek have significantly upped their game with the Madone 4.5.
Frame & equipment: Strong all round
The 4.5 uses a significantly better grade of carbon than that of the already impressive 3.5, making it notably light at a claimed 1,100g for the frameset. The frame itself incorporates Trek’s take on the press-fit bottom bracket BB90, for improved stiffness and less weight.
As with the previous top-of-the-range 6-Series, the seat tube is asymmetric, with the same going for the rear chainstay mount for the ANT+ DuoTrap sensor (available separately for £39.99).
The E2 tapered head tube and highly sculpted shaping is taken from that US-built superbike, which is essentially what you’re getting with the 4.5; in terms of specification it’s a stripped-down version of their previous Grand Tour winning machine. The 5-, 6- and 7-Series bikes now have aero-optimised KVF designs, but we’re glad Trek have kept the wonderful Pro level chassis alive.
A frame with design credentials this good and on a sub-£2,000 complete bike would suggest some downgrades and compromises elsewhere, but Trek have been clever with the budget. For a start, they’ve used Shimano’s Ultegra system for the mechs and shifters, only downgrading the brakes and cassette to the still-impressive 105 range, while the chainset is Shimano’s non-series R565.
The wheel package hasn’t been compromised, though, as Trek’s component brand Bontrager have supplied the new-for-2013 Race wheels, featuring classy, minimal hubs with quality bearings, great seals and butted spokes. The all-new rims are also compatible with tubeless tyres.
The Races are shod with Bontrager’s R1 tyres – with a nominal size of standard 23, they are in fact slightly broader than that, and in our opinion all the better for it. The difference in size allows them to be run at the lower pressures necessary for winter grip, without increasing the chances of you puncturing. As you’d imagine, Bontrager also provide the rest of the Madone’s finishing kit.
The slender, compact reach and drop VR-C bar is an adequate performer – nicely shaped with great dimensions but little to make it stand out beyond that. The Race Lite stem is a bit classier, and nicely finished with quality hardware.
At the back it’s a much more impressive affair, with the Affinity 2 saddle (fast becoming one of our favourites) sitting atop an elegant carbon seatpost (though we did need a liberal coating of carbon prep to prevent it slipping).
Ride & handling: Smooth and extremely capable
Out on the road, the class of the 4.5 is completely evident. We loved the 3.5 last year but the 4.5 takes everything that made it exceptional and turns it up to 11. The overall feel is completely smooth, and a low overall weight and broad 50/34, 11-28 gearing make the bike a complete breeze on climbs. Yet the stiffness and oh-so-sorted position make it an absolute blast down hills.
Smashing the 4.5 through a succession of bends never caused it to get flustered or drift off line. Some bikes can have snappier initial turn-in, but the 4.5 doesn’t need to be as rapid; with a bike that gives this much communication through its feel, we never found the need for last-minute direction changes mid-corner.
Plenty of the 4.5’s ultra-confident ride comes down to the H2 geometry (the top tube is shorter than the pro H1 by a few millimetres, and slightly taller at the front, again by just a few units). Dimensions that include a 190mm head tube and 992mm wheelbase are nowhere near excessively relaxed, especially when you factor in a standard 73-degree seat angle and steeper-than-average 73.8-degree head angle.
The 4.5 scores a lot of its points from the frame being stiff where it’s required (the head and down tube, BB and chainstays) and comfortable elsewhere. We’d eventually upgrade the average handlebar and chainset but would be more than happy to pay the price to have this sublime chassis in our lives.