First look: 2018 Trek Emonda SLR, Velocis helmet, and affordable carbon wheels

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Trek launched in 2014 its first-generation Emonda: an ultralight, full-production frame and fork that slipped under the 1kg mark. Trek held the launch event for that bike just before the Grand Depart for the Tour de France, in my home region of Yorkshire, and on climbs that I know well: the now-famous Buttertubs Pass and Grinton Moor. My memories of that bike were one of an outlandishly light and agile bike that allowed me to climb my home hills in gears I’d once reserved only for racing. Fast-forward three years, and Trek gathered the press yet again for a new, second-generation Emonda that promises to push that lightweight envelope even further.

Discs don’t have to be heavy

The most glaring change for this second-generation Emonda is the inclusion of a disc-specific model in the lineup, which will sit alongside the revamped rim-brake version. According to road product manager Ben Coates, Trek took inspiration from the quote that sits atop the team bike of Alberto Contador – “querer es puder”, or “where there’s a will there’s a way” – and applied it to the new Emonda’s development. Trek believed they could produce a bike that was lighter than the original Emonda, yet with discs.

And they have.

Claimed weight for the new disc-specific frame is just 690g (56cm size, H1 fit): 25g lighter than the previous-generation rim-brake Emonda. The new rim-brake version is lighter still, dropping a further 25g down to just 640g.

Trek built about 300 prototype frames for the original Emonda, and bits of those initial test samples were even built into a sculpture for that first launch event. There was no such display this time around as Trek relied more heavily on supercomputer technology to reduce development time and cost, building and testing thousands of frames virtually, and only building physical testers once they got closer to the final product.

Not all development took place in the cloud, though; Trek-Segafredo climbing specialist Peter Stetina let on that he’d tested multiple versions as far back as two years ago. “We have to add practically a second frame to the new Emonda for racing [because of UCI weight rules],” he said – a testament to how light this new Emonda has become.

Design

The design of the new Emonda SLR isn’t that vastly different from the original version on first inspection. As before, the pointed head tube/head badge nose flows into the top tube, there’s a lack of sharp angles, and Trek’s 90mm-wide BB90 bottom bracket and no-cut integrated seat mast are still all present, but now all hung on a newly compact profile with a more sloping top tube. Tubing diameters have shrunk a bit overall, and the profile is narrower where the top tube meets the seat tube; knees no longer brush this area while riding. Tire clearance has gone up to 28mm front and rear, too – although it looks like there’s room to possibly go even wider.

The smaller tubes haven’t negatively impacted stiffness, either, although part of the credit probably falls to the newly upgraded OCLV 700-Series carbon materials now used on upper-end models. Overall, it actually feels slightly more rigid than the first generation, and Trek’s in-house testing backs this up.

The new rim-brake fork is similarly wispy at just 313g (claimed), and the disc version isn’t far behind at 350g, swapping the former’s carbon quick-release dropouts for aluminum 12mm-diameter thru-axle ones. The disc version is a little disappointing aesthetically, but understandably so due to its lightweight intentions. Although internal hose routing looks better, the new Emonda disc fork’s external routing weighs less, using a cable tie at the crown and then running the hose down the left leg. Many buyers won’t mind the look – and it also eases the initial build and maintenance – but it just looks untidy up close.

Cable routing for the rest of the bike is otherwise as tidy as you’d expect from a top-tier bike. Trek’s Control Freak Cable Management system includes a number of interchangeable ports and cover plates, allowing for any mechanical or electronic setup to be neatly and efficiently routed through the frame.

As with the Domane and Madone, the Emonda is offered in both the aggressively low H1 fit option as well as the more relaxed H2 option with its higher head tube. For a rough idea of overall weight, an 56cm H1 Emonda 9 Disc with Bontrager Aeolus 3 D3 carbon clincher wheels and Project One paint just sneaks under the UCI weight limit at 6.78kg – and that figure could be reduced dramatically with Trek’s 5g U5 Vapor Coat paint job and a more exotic mix of equipment.

If you’re looking at building an ultimate lightweight bike, then the Emonda rim version is the one you’d gravitate towards, especially now that it uses Bontrager’s new direct-mount Speed Stop Pro brakes, which come in at a feathery 95g each. We didn’t get to test these, though, so the jury’s out on their stopping power; the disc version was the focus of the launch.

The industry’s move to flat-mount disc brakes has served the new Emonda well, with the smaller and lighter calipers keeping keeping the bike looking slick and clean, as a race bike should. Trek is sticking with the now-standard 160mm front and 140mm rear rotors, along with 12mm thru-axles at both ends.

SL, women’s-specific, and alloy versions

In addition to the upper-end Emonda SLR versions – which tops out at just under US$11,000 – Trek will also offer a more wallet-friendly SL model, which uses the previous-generation Emonda SLR mould and more affordable OCLV 500-Series carbon. Claimed weight for a 56cm rim-brake SL frame is still very light at 1,091g; the disc version is slightly heavier at 1,149g. Sizes offered range from 50-62 cm in the H1 option, and a broader 44-62cm spread for the H2.

A women’s SL rim-brake option is available, too, with the frame being identical in geometry but with different touch points and a different paint scheme.

For those on even tighter budgets – or for riders that just prefer metal frames – the aluminium Emonda ALR carries on unchanged with a four-bike range that starts at US$1,799 with Shimano 105.

Overall, the new Emonda range seems to be more accessible on all price points, and yep, the bike is available on Trek’s custom Project One platform if you have the cash to splash.

A speedier Velocis helmet

If you’ve kept a close eye on the Trek-Segafredo team recently, you may have noticed riders in a new version of the Bontrager Velocis helmet. About all it shares with the older model, however, is the name.

The new Velocis has more in common with Bontrager’s Ballista, their all-out aero road model. The more rounded and aerodynamic shape is in keeping with current trends, and it will undoubtedly be compared to the Giro Synthe, Louis Garneau Quartz II, and others with similar lines.

The new Velocis has fewer vents than the previous model with just 11 in total, but this doesn’t seem to hinder the airflow across the head thanks to each opening being larger than usual, plus deep internal channels to help air pass through. The pad system – sourced from a Boulder, Colorado-based company called 37.5 Technologies – supposedly allows for sweat to evaporate before the pad gets saturated.

In spite of the more aero shape, Bontrager claims the new Velocis actually moves more air across the head than the original Velocis, and that seemed to be true in testing. It was very hot and humid during my test ride in the Blue Mounds area near Trek’s headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin, and yet the Velocis was still cool enough to wear all day.

The new height-adjustable retention system seems to cradle the head better than the older version, and the new Boa cable system is easier to tighten or loosen on the fly (although I found that it didn’t much much adjusting at all once it was set). The colored-to-match detailing is also a nice touch. Riders who tend to be rough on equipment will be happy to hear that the polycarbonate shell now wraps under the foam, too, making it less prone to being damaged when in transit or storage.

At a claimed 260g for a CPSC-approved medium sample, the new Velocis sits midway in the weight league of top-end aero road helmets – and this is with the welcomed inclusion of MIPS technology. In fact, safety has clearly been prioritized just as much as aerodynamic performance here, as the liner extends further down than most road helmets for better coverage, especially around the temples.

In the event you unfortunately happen to use the Velocis for its intended purpose in the first year after purchase, Bontrager even offers a free crash replacement guarantee.

Bontrager will offer the Velocis in three sizes and five unisex colours (or six if you include the supposedly women’s-specific pink version, in which I thought I looked quite fetching). A team sticker set comes with the red, white, and fluoro yellow versions if you want to look a little pro. Cost is US$200, including a helmet bag and Bontrager’s handy Neovisor add-on.

New cost-conscious wheels and a 68g saddle

Bontrager also released a new Aeolus Pro 3 TLR carbon clincher road wheelset, which uses the same 35mm-deep aerodynamic shape, 19.5mm internal width, tubeless compatibility, and straight-pull DT Swiss Aerolite stainless steel spokes as the premium Aeolus 3 D3 model, but at a substantially lower retail price of US$1,200 – roughly the same as high-end alloy models from Fulcrum, HED, and others.

Claimed weight is a competitive 1,506g per pair for the rim-brake version (656g front; 850g rear), and 1,573g for the disc version (715g front; 858g rear).

To keep costs down, the rear hub uses a more conventional three-pawl driver instead of DT Swiss’s Star Ratchet mechanism, and the rim-brake and disc-brake models will both the same rim (with the exception of a laser-etched brake track on the rim-brake model). Unlike many of Bontrager’s other wheels, these are built in Asia instead of Waterloo, although Bontrager insist that these go through the same testing protocols, including for heat-related durability.

In use, the ride quality and braking of the disc version was impressive. Though a little heavy when compared to more expensive wheels, they performed their job admirably, accelerating with ease – and for a bike like the new Emonda where heading off the smooth asphalt is now an option, the extra internal rim width is a perfect compliment. I’d be intrigued to see how the rim brake version performs, as the disc version certainly gave a sure-footed and confident ride.

Also included amongst all the new items was a new Bontrager XXX road saddle. Keeping with the trend of the trip, this new saddle was all about keeping things as light as possible with a claimed weight of just 68g. The all-carbon construction may sound uncomfortable, but according to Trek, the inForm BioDynamic Design and central cut-out reduces soft tissue pressure.

Retail price is US$380. A rider weight limit is imposed and it’s officially designed for road use.

Personal opinion

It’s pretty much impossible to disagree that discs are here to stay, and the more I ride bikes designed from the ground up with them, the more I slowly (but begrudgingly) begin to see a place in the road market for them. There’s still work to be done on this relatively new technology in the road market, but even at this early stage, they’re changing the way people ride and where they can ride.

In my experience, disc fork design is still a ways off from being perfect; it’s the one niggle I had with this bike. At least as compared to the previous rim-brake Emonda, the disc-specific fork rode noticeably harsher than on the rim-brake models, especially on pothole-strewn roads or rougher surfaces – something I also noticed when compared rim and disc version of the new BMC Team Machine SLR Disc.

Yet under heavy braking, the fork also has a certain amount of fore-and-aft movement. Without having the rim version available to test, it’s not possible to say whether this flex is present on both models. But given the extra material needed around the disc mount, it feels to me like the flex points aren’t the same as on a standard rim-brake fork.

Nevertheless, the added confidence that the discs provide is to be welcomed. Along with that, the ability to run 28mm tyres gives the Emonda a lease of life that the original bike didn’t have. A normal ultralight road bike wouldn’t see service on gravel, but the new Emonda should have no issues on leafy lanes and smoother gravel paths. Make no mistake; this is no Domane. You wouldn’t go and do a full day of gravel riding on the new Emonda SLR, but a ride where you dip in and out on such roads is more than within the bike’s capability.

Despite its capabilities, the Emonda doesn’t feel like a bike that needs to be pushed all the time. It’s a fast machine, but it handles lower speeds in just as well as it does higher ones. On the H1 version of the bike I rode, I found that the head tube and bar/stem setup also allows for an amount of what I like to refer to as “whip”. When climbing, I like a bike that’s not overly stiff on the front; it needs to float a bit when out of the saddle, and the Emonda provide this. The bars, stem, and head tube have some spring and flow to them, and like the first generation, it adds to a comfortable and natural feel when climbing. It’s not a bike that blows you away, and this isn’t a bad thing: it behaves as expected, and responds as you’d want a race bike to.

I still remember the original Emonda and the first time I took it up Buttertubs; you knew straight away the bike was built for climbing, and the lightweight equipment only added to that overall feel. The 2018 model has that same climbing spirit, even with the added bulk of the new entry-level Aeolus 3 TLR wheelset. It manages to feel stiffer, yet doesn’t forgo the comfort of the original, and on top of this, it doesn’t seem nearly as fragile.

There’s a little-known gravel track at the top of Alpe d’Huez that takes you higher and off over the back end of the mountain. Where the previous Emonda would have preferred to stop the clock at the traditional finish after those classic 21 hairpin corners, this new version would happily continue onward, and I’m looking forward to creating some more good memories.

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