The Trek Émonda ALR 6 is a lively aluminium road bike with a good ride quality and a high spec for the money.
- Pros: Lively ride, comfortable, very good Shimano Ultegra groupset
- Cons: Some people are going to want carbon no matter what
The Émonda ALR proves that there's still plenty of life left in aluminium, if that was ever in doubt. Many people seem to think that carbon fibre bikes are inherently better than aluminium bikes, but that really isn't the case. Carbon fibre isn't an end in itself, it's a means to an end. It's a material that can be built into lightweight, stiff and sometimes aerodynamically efficient bikes, and aluminium can be made into great bikes too, as the Émonda ALR shows.
Trek's Émonda lineup is interesting this year in that the carbon-framed Émonda SL 4 (£1,400, Shimano Tiagra groupset) and Émonda SL 5 (£1,800, Shimano 105 groupset) are both cheaper than the aluminium-framed Émonda ALR 6 (£2,000, Shimano Ultegra groupset). Essentially, you can choose between an aluminium frame and a higher level groupset, and a carbon frame and a lower level groupset. This is the highest specced aluminium model in the Émonda range.
The Émonda SL 6, with a carbon frame and a Shimano Ultegra groupset, is £2,250.
The ALR 6 rides really well, providing snappy acceleration through its taut frame. Weighing in at 8.1kg (17.9lb), our review bike is quick off the mark. It's actually Trek's lightest ever aluminium road bike. Sure, there are plenty of lighter bikes out there, but this is a good weight and, equally important, the frame is stiff enough to hold firm when you put the power down.
Trek uses its premium 300 Series Alpha Aluminum for the three aluminium Émondas rather than the 100 Series it uses for the Domane AL models or the 200 Series it uses for the Domane ALR , and this higher grade material is hydroformed (high pressure fluid is used to shape the metal) into size-specific tubes. In other words, the tubes are made differently so that each size of frame performs the same.
The Émonda ALR 6 has good climbing skills, transferring your effort efficiently into forward movement. The decent weight helps here, as does the fact that it's equipped with a new Shimano Ultegra 8000 groupset (we'll be reviewing it separately) that includes a compact chainset (with 50-tooth and 34-tooth chainrings) and an 11-28-tooth cassette.
This provides you with lower gear ratios than you get with a standard chainset, so getting up steep hills becomes easier – and even the pros sometimes use compacts for the big mountains. You might yearn for a larger inner sprocket, I guess. If so, the short cage version of the Shimano Ultegra R8000 rear derailleur will take a maximum 30-tooth.
The compact chainset does mean you have to do without the biggest gears you get with a standard chainset, so you'll spin out sooner on fast descents. That said, you're still likely to be able to pedal at over 35mph with the setup you get here (100rpm gets you 35.7mph, 120rpm gets you 42.8mph).
Speaking of descending, the Émonda ALR 6 provides you with plenty of assurance on the way down. The E2 tapered head tube, with a 1 1/2in lower bearing, provides a high level of stiffness at the front end, and that becomes more noticeable the harder you slam the bike into corners. Rather than wavering about, it takes you exactly where you want to go and that gives you the confidence to keep pushing the speed up.
When required, the Shimano Ultegra brakes bite the Émonda's alloy rims hard to provide strong and predictable power whether you just need to shave off a bit of speed or come to a complete standstill. With all that muscle at my disposal, I felt I could rag it down sketchy descents without things feeling at all hazardous.
The aluminium Émondas are built to what Trek calls its H2 geometry. Essentially, this is a performance-orientated geometry but it's a little more relaxed than a Trek H1 setup; the head tube is a little taller and the top tube is a little shorter, giving you a slightly more upright riding position. The idea, of course, is to provide more comfort and confidence.
We have the 58cm model here on test and it comes with a 19cm head tube. That's fairly lofty for a race bike but it's not up there with that of some endurance road bikes – not even close. With a stack height of 596mm and a reach of 391mm, the Émonda ALR 6 still has half an eye on an efficient aero position.
Trek has specced a compact handlebar so your riding position isn't too extreme when you rest your hands down on the drops. The Bontrager Race VR-C has a drop (the vertical distance from the centre of the bar at the stem clamp point to the centre of the bar at the ends) of 125mm so when you make the switch from the hoods you certainly feel like you're moving into an 'attack' position, but it's not crazy-deep.
Aluminium bikes are often characterised as harsh but that's largely unfair, the Émonda ALR 6 providing at least an average amount of give. It's certainly a long, long way from jangling. The skinny seatstays doubtless contribute to that, as does the lengthy amount of carbon fibre seatpost that you're almost certain to have extending out of the frame thanks to the sloping top tube. That seatpost is a slim 27.2mm in diameter and it flexes enough to help polish over bumps and dents in the road surface.
Bontrager's Montrose Comp cutout saddle has loads of flex in its shell along with quite deep cushioning – a little too deep for my taste, if truth be told, but we're all different. If you feel the need for more comfort you could simply swap the 25mm Bontrager R2 Hard-Case Lite tyres for something in a 28mm width. The frame and fork have enough clearance and so do the Shimano Ultegra R8000 dual-pivot brakes, so there's nothing stopping you. The other option would be to run tubeless tyres (the ones fitted aren't tubeless compatible) at lower pressures on the Bontrager Aeolus Comp 5 Tubeless Ready wheels.
The rims of those wheels are aluminium, a carbon fairing on the spoke-side taking the total depth to 50mm without the addition of a whole lot of weight. The idea, of course, it to improve the aero efficiency. One drawback to this design is that you can't get to the spoke nipples externally; they're hidden away inside the fairing. This means you need to take off the tyre, inner tube (if you're using one) and rim tape for adjustments if the wheel goes out of true. That's a pain, especially if you're using a tubeless system with sealant in there. That said, both wheels have run straight and true throughout testing so it's a non-issue so far.
The rest of the spec is very impressive, particularly the new Shimano Ultegra 8000 groupset – and that's a full groupset right down to the chain, rather than a mix of eye-catching components and downgrades.
You probably already know that Ultegra is Shimano's second tier road groupset, and we have only good things to say about it. The bottom line is that Ultegra provides great shifting and braking to keep you fully in control. It's excellent stuff! As mentioned above, we'll run a full review on it separately.
Shimano 105 makes up the biggest share of groupsets on £2,000 road bikes, so the Ultegra specced on the Émonda ALR 6 is a bonus. There are plenty of exceptions, though. Giant's TCR Advanced 1, for example, with a carbon composite frame and a Shimano Ultegra groupset, is only £1,799, and Merida's Scultura 5000, priced £2,000, has a carbon frame and fork and an Ultegra groupset. This means the Émonda ALR 6 is up against some stiff opposition on value. I'd say it offers a very good deal, but it's not out on its own.
Overall, the Émonda ALR 6 is a very strong offering. Do yourself a favour and take aluminium seriously. This is a quick and taut bike that provides plenty of comfort, and the Shimano Ultegra components are superb.
Quick and lively aluminium road bike with a good ride quality and excellent Shimano Ultegra components