2020 Trek Madone SL6 Disc Review
Believe it or not, the Trek Madone SL6 Disc effectively represents the entry point to Trek’s top end 2020 road racing bikes. While technically the 2019 Trek Madone SL6 (non-disc) is the entry level Madone, its a now a generation old and looking at Trek’s 2020 lineup, it seems that the 2019 model year is the end of the road for the non-disc Madone. So the $6000 Trek Madone SL6 disc now takes up the mantle as the entry level superbike in Trek’s lineup.
I wrote a review a couple of years ago on the Trek Madone SL6 non-disc and categorized it then as a nearly perfect road bike. You can read the review here, and I lavished the bike with praise for its non-compromising aerodynamic figure, its plush ride even on rough surfaces, and snappy responsiveness. Today’s Madone continues and elevates those characteristics, and keeps Trek current with its competitors with a number of thoughtful refinements, and the road disc treatment.
I’m going to be straight up here, this is a great bike. And in fact, there are a lot of great bikes out there today. Bikes like the Specialized S-Works Venge, the Cervelo S5, The Giant Propel, and The Cannondale SystemSix are all phenomenal performance rigs and you can’t really go wrong with any of them. Sure there are differences between all the bikes, but for the journeyman rider or weekend warrior, it would take thousands of kilometres in the saddle of each to split the hairs and discern the differences between each of these. Given that I don’t have that experience (until Specialized, Cervelo, Giant, and Cannondale want to send me their bikes anyways) the “review” I’m going to write here is going to seek to answer the questions that you may have about getting into a Madone SL vs a higher end Madone SLR, or one of the other aforementioned superbikes, or other rigs in Trek’s lineup like the Domane or Emonda.
Now, at $6100 CAD or $5300 USD, the Trek Madone SL6 disc isn’t a cheap bike, so it ought to be great. Over the past few years bicycles manufacturers have been upping the ante in the road/aero superbike category, throwing every piece of technology and high end carbon into the wind tunnel. The result has been to the benefit and detriment of consumers, as the bikes are better than they’ve ever been but their price point has been steadily creeping up until “decent used car” territory. No surprise there, but I just thought there was merit to mentioning that the pricepoint on these superbikes will make your bike a conversation point among non-cyclists and you’ll have to deal with statements like “tell them how much your bike cost” and “how much does your bike weigh?”.
Why the Trek Madone SL6 Disc versus other manufacturers? IsoSpeed…
The purchase decision for me came down to the Giant Propel and Specialized Venge. I omitted Cannondale and Cervelo straight away in my selection process because the former doesn’t have a whole lot of local bike shop availability here in Calgary, and the latter was simply not as plush and compliant a bike as what I was looking for. I rode Cervelos for several years and I’ve just always found them to be a little more high maintenance than I’d like. I don’t really mean that as a knock against it, but being able to travel with bikes is something that I value, and Cervelos are just too fickle for me.
Trek Madone versus Giant Propel
Now the Propel versus the Madone. The Giant Propel Advanced Pro 1 Disc hits the credit card at $6200, so roughly the same price as the Trek Madone SL6 Disc. Giant has long provided better value than many of the other bike manufacturers out there, largely thanks to the fact that its a bike manufacturer for many of the bike manufacturers out there. If you need to read that sentence twice over, go ahead. Giant started out as a manufacturer for other brands before they began selling to consumers directly a couple of decades ago. They still control a fair amount of manufacturing volume in the market so they build frames to other brands specs, thanks to that volume they can take advantage of economies of scale to get aggressive in the market.
But I digress. The Propel takes the edge over the Madone in terms of value with Ultegra Di2 versus the vanilla mechanical Ultegra you get with the Madone SL6. Going up to the Di2 on the Madone SL7 will run you $8449 CAD or $6500 USD. So if you’re looking for value in a well spec’d bike, Giant will never disappoint.
So why not the Giant Propel? Firstly, I didn’t really care much for the Di2. I don’t want to get in to the whole Di2 versus mechanical debate here but I even having owned three Di2 bikes over the past several years, its never really been something that I’ve taken too much stock in outside of my TT bikes. Di2 is awesome but I just don’t need it. Secondly, and being perfectly honest, I prefer Trek to Giant. Trek invests far more into product development and design and I’ve always found the ride characteristics like handling, responsiveness, and plushness to be superior in Trek. That shows when you start looking at the IsoSpeed adjustable rear diffuser in the Trek which allows the seat tube to flex independently of the top tube. By contrast, there’s literally nothing in the Giant marketing on the Propel’s website at the time of writing that references the Propel’s ability to soften road feel. Other bikes in the Giant lineup like the Giant Defy have references to D-shaped seat tubing to allow flex, but not the Propel. If you live in California or Spain or somewhere that roads are glassy and smooth, that may not matter to you, but climates where real winters wreak havoc on pavement, a vertically brittle ride will drive you nuts.
Trek Madone versus Specialized Venge
Velonews ran a great piece a couple of years ago comparing the Specialized Venge and the Trek Madone head to head. And this is probably one of the best rivalries you could come up with in the cycling industry, two top tier mass market bike manufacturers with their top end aero road bikes. The result of the review, and the many bike roundups since, consistently conclude that while the Venge takes a bit of an edge when it comes to aerodynamics, this comes at a price. Gran Fondo Cycling articulated this best last year in a roundup stating, ” The most agile and in a professional’s hands extremely fast Specialized Venge is the lightest and quickest in the test but requires an experienced and capable rider […] Ultimately, however, it takes a perfect all-round package of comfort, safety and stability in order to be aerodynamic and fast for the long haul. And that’s exactly what the Trek Madone SLR 9 Disc 2019 can do.”
And once again in both those comparisons, whole IsoSpeed feature of the Madone plays a big role in the decision making here. The 2020 iteration of the Trek Madone SL6 offers adjustable IsoSpeed, which in its softest setting makes the bike feel more like a plush, smooth Trek Domane or Specialized Roubaix, and in its stiffest setting will rattle your teeth like a Cervelo S5 (why someone would want to ruin their day like that is beyond me). That adjustable IsoSpeed is an evolution of the tech and Trek claims it offers a range between 17% softer and up to 21% stiffer than the previous Madone.
The beauty of the IsoSpeed is how it feels like a normal bike until you hit a bump. Since the suspension consists of a carbon tube and not a spring or a hydraulic system, there is no bob when pedaling normally. You can create rider-induced flex by hopping on the bike cyclocross style or an intense seated sprint, but in normal conditions it is bumps in the road activating the system.
Madone versus Emonda versus Domane
From working at a bike shop, I’m actually a little surprised when people come in asking about the Madone versus another bike in Trek’s lineup like the Domane or Emonda. I actually find them to be such different bikes that I figure that consumers would have already made up their mind with one bike versus another. But I’ll write a couple paragraphs about how they stack up against one another anyways.
Trek Madone versus Trek Emonda
This is probably the most apt comparison since looking at pro tour riders, they’ll often switch between the Emonda or the Madone depending on whether we’re looking at mountain stages, sprint stages, etc. And myself, for my main rig I’ve gone from the Trek Emonda SL6, to the Trek Madone SL6, to the Trek Emonda SL6, to the Trek Emonda SL6 disc, and finally back to the Madone SL6 disc. Clearly I’m a fan of Ultegra and I’m a fan of Trek’s SL frames.
Though Trek markets the Emonda as more of a climber’s bike, with its light weight and snappy handling, the bike really does shine as a traditional road bike with round tubes, a wide bottom bracket, and classic design cues. At $4000 I think that the Emonda is straight up one of the best bikes that you can buy dollar for dollar on the market today. Its a bike that you can put any level rider on, and they’ll have no excuses for why they can’t chase their own PR or KOM on that big local climb. I love the Trek Emonda.
But not as much as I love the Madone. While the Emonda shines as a classic road bike, the Madone shines as a contemporary cool classic road bike. Only slightly heavier than the Emonda, but a potentially smoother ride (thanks again IsoSpeed), and faster on the flats.
So why would you get an Emonda rather than a Madone? Well price is certainly one issue, the Madone being a cool couple grand more (an entire bike more in fact), and the complexity of the build and maintenance, which comes with the territory with aerobikes. If you’re someone who likes to maintain their bike themselves, the Emonda shouldn’t really cause you any headaches, whereas the Madone is a bike mechaic’s nightmare with its winding brake cables and integrated everything.
Trek Madone versus Trek Domane
Its possible that today’s 2020 Trek Domane shares more in common with the Madone than the Trek Emonda does with the racier Trek Madone. Both the Madone and the Domane have front and rear IsoSpeed decouplers, both share the micro-adjustment seatposts (whereas the Emonda retains Trek’s traditional seatmast cap), and the Domane has even integrated the squared off kammtail virtual foil tube shapes that once were found on the old Madone.
In spite of this, the Madone and the Emonda couldn’t be on further ends of the spectrum when it comes to bikes. While the Madone is available in Trek’s semi-aggressive H1.5 fit, and race ready H1 fit, the Domane is a more upright, consumer friendly H2 fit. The Domane is made for long days in the saddle, rough roads with gobs of tire clearance, and leisure performance for consumers who don’t need to be hunched over the front of the bike in a full aero position.
Speaking as a bike shop guy, I don’t often have guests cross shopping the Domane and the Madone. Its usually either the Emonda versus the Madone, or the Domane versus the Emonda. So I won’t really cut too much further into the topic, but if you’re wondering which rig to go with one way or another, its probably more important to ask yourself what kind of riding you’d like to do? Is it chasing KOMs and hanging in with the leads groups in a Gran Fondo? The sure, go Madone. Is it riding around Sonoma County with friends at a relaxed, conversation friendly pace? Then go Domane.
Madone SL? Or Madone SLR?
Now this is the question that I know some of you have been reading for. Is it worth it to go from a Trek SL frame to a Trek SLR frame? Given that there’s about $2000 that separates the two bikes, its important to ask if that “R” is worth it.
The outstanding difference between the Madone SL and the Madone SLR is the quality of the carbon fibre frame. The Madone SL uses Trek’s 500 series OCLV carbon fibre, while the SLR uses Trek’s 700 series OCLV carbon fibre. This probably doesn’t mean a lot to you in and of itself but what it translates into is the 700 series carbon fibre is lighter and stiffer since the ratio of carbon to resin is higher (more carbon means stiffer and lighter). In fact, according to Trek, Trek’s 700 series carbon fibre is so high end that it is in fact a regulated material which only they have access to. The alternative uses for that level of carbon fibre is military and space applications.
Another main difference is the wheels the bike is spec’d with. The Madone SLR6 comes spec’d with Aeolus Pro 5 wheels, while the Madone SL6 comes with Aeolus Comp wheels. To the untrained eye, there isn’t a big difference. To your non cyclist friends, there is absolutely no difference. But the Aeolus Comp wheels are a little more like a traditional rim with an added carbon fairing and you can see the spokes go through holes into the fairing, while the Aeolus Pro wheels have spokes that go into the nipple right at the spoke. In terms of aerodynamics, its probably still a toss up, but in terms of stiffness and weight, this is what gives the Aeolus Pro 5’s an edge.
Last big difference, and this one could kind of go either way depending on who you ask, is in the stem. The Madone SL6 retains a stem/handlebar integration thats going to look very familiar to most riders, because its basically a traditional, non-integrated system. The Madone SLR6 on the other hand gets a much cleaner aero integration from the headtube to the stem to the handlebar. And this is one feature that I’m not sure that I love. It means that if you need to swap out a stem on the SLR you won’t be able to just pick up a different stem at your local bike shop, and if you’d like to add clip-on aerobars to the bike you’ll need to do a full bar swap to the setup provided with the Madone SLR Speed. So what you have added in terms of aerodynamics comes at the price of versatility.
So is the Madone SLR 6 disc worth the over $2000 price difference over the Madone SL 6 disc? Thats entirely up to you. The SLR is lighter and even sexier than the SL thanks to luscious paint schemes. Is it faster or stiffer? Thats where we’re REALLY splitting hairs. I suppose it is technically, but are you going to notice that difference in speed and stiffness, unequivocally no.
That being said, when we’re talking about bikes that are upwards of five or six thousand dollars, does that matter to the person who’s looking at a Madone SLR? Still probably no. But if it were my dollars and someone was forcing me to spend the extra couple grand, I’d probably opt for the Madone SL7 with the Ultegra Di2 treatment, or go big and go home with a Trek Project One Madone built exactly to my liking, and if a quick search of #TrekMadone on Instagram indicates anything, that seems to be what people do.
Buy the Trek Madone SL6 disc if…
If you’re looking for your dream superbike that you’re going to hang on to for several years, look no further than the Trek Madone SL6 disc. It certainly comes with a heavy price tag, but thats what dream bike territory looks like. Even at the SL level, the Madone is a bike that you can get in the saddle of and feel like a pro tour rider.
That being said, if you’re looking for a low maintenance bike that you can work on yourself, or a cushy ride that you can travel with and take on mellow rides through the rolling countryside, or on little in the city loops, then the Madone is a lot of bike. Even now when I take my Madone out for a quick 30km in town or on a recovery ride, it feels like taking a Ferrari to the grocery store. But get it out on to the open road and boy does it fly.
Breaking it down to basics, here are the pros and cons of the Trek Madone SL6 Disc
- Fast, stiff, and aggressive, this bike will have you reaching for your green jersey
- The adjustable IsoSpeed decoupler gives the Madone a big leg up on other aero superbikes
- The Madone SL6 features a traditional stem and handlebar setup that makes aerobars and stem swaps easy
- Even the “entry level” Madone SL6 disc carries a jaw dropping price tag
- Because of its complex cable routing, don’t even think about anything doing other than basic maintenance on the bike
- Did I mention its expensive?