Friday, June 29, 2012

2013 Trek Madone 6-Series first ride review

Our first ride on Trek's 2013 Madone wasn't the best to judge aero performance, but with nary a flat road in sight in the Ardennes region of Belgium, it was a good test for everything else. Despite a radical chassis redesign, the 6 Series is still a classic Madone with snappy reflexes, brilliant handling and a suitably stout backbone, but it could be a little lighter and many riders may never realize the full aero benefits.

Why hello, old friend, something about you is… different

Our test ride unfortunately combined a multitude of new variables so it was impossible to fully distinguish their individual effects: redesigned frame, new Aeolus 3 D3 carbon clincher wheels, unfamiliar Bontrager tires. Nevertheless, the combination was notably firm and taut – but not overly so – and quite the departure from the ultra-smooth rear end of the new Trek Domane.

Casual cyclists looking for a super plush feel won't find it here, but racers will probably find the overall ride quality to be just about right. Trek claims the new Madone is, at worst, as comfortable as the old version so for now, we'll have to leave that one be. Keep in mind that tire choice always plays a big role in comfort. Our bike came with 23mm rubber, but 25mm-wide tires would improve comfort immensely.

The new head tube has a more pointed profile than before: Front-end chassis stiffness is impressive

Bottom bracket stiffness under power was impossible to discern independently, but the front-end rigidity seems to get a boost from the bigger tube sections. The chassis is impressively resistant to twist when muscling out of the saddle and the bike was fantastically responsive to steering inputs. Mid-corner line corrections require but the slightest flick of the wrists, and there's little drama even when the pack of riders around you suddenly decide to veer off in different directions at a downhill intersection.

One question surrounds the braking performance with Bontrager's own calipers bolted front and rear to proprietary mounts: do they actually work? Yes, they do, although the lever feel isn't quite up to the level of the rest of the chassis in our opinion, nor is the finish quality of the brakes in general. The integrated calipers on our bike didn't feel as refined as a high-end setup from Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo. It's worth mentioning that RadioShack-Nissan-Trek team bikes with Shimano's direct-mount calipers felt much better.

The proprietary rear brake is mounted down below the chain stays. this section of housing needs to be cut to the perfect length (180mm, according to trek road bike brand manager scott daubert) in order to produce a good lever feel. our test bike's housing was unfortunately a little long: The proprietary brake mounted under the chain stays is one of the most visually striking aspects of the new Madone

Power and modulation were reassuringly solid, though, and the caliper pivots are reasonably slop-free. Given the disparity between the front and rear lever feel – the front was pretty good – it seems at first glance that the so-so response was due at least in part to setup. A quick inspection revealed several connections from end to end, a loose fit of the head tube-mounted quick-release lever and barrel adjuster, a slightly long lower section of housing, squishy carbon-specific brake pads, and so-so cable and housing quality.

We'll reserve final judgment on the new brakes' function until we can take the time to build up our own test chassis appropriately but for now, we'll just say they get the job done.

Lighter – sort of – and what about aerodynamics?

Our test bike was built around Trek's 6-Series Madone instead of the top-end 7-Series version, plus it was dressed in a standard paint job instead of the featherweight U5 Vapor Coat treatment. We're still waiting for comparable 7-Series vs. 6-Series figures from Trek but our estimates put our test frame at about 850-900g. That's genuinely lightweight territory, which makes the total 6.73kg (14.84lb, as tested, without pedals) figure with a Shimano Dura-Ace 7900 group, Bontrager Aeolus 3 D3 carbon clinchers, and a lightweight cockpit respectable but not awe-inspiring.

When questioned, Trek explained to BikeRadar that while the direct-mount brakes should be lighter than a standard setup, the current Bontrager calipers themselves aren't all that wispy (sorry, we weren't able to weigh a bare brake). In addition, some of the hardware is disappointingly crude and the mounting system also requires a trio of stout, threaded, mounting holes at each end plus a reinforced fork crown and chain stay sections to handle the extra torque.

As such, weight weenies might want to go with the Dura-Ace route or wait for other options before the design's full potential can be realized. In the meantime, the main benefits of the Bontrager version are the cleaner-looking seat stays, the sleekly integrated aesthetics, and the purported aerodynamic benefits.

Trek uses color-contrasting paint to highlight the lopped-off airfoil sections on the back of the tubes: Trek uses contrasting paint to call attention to the Kamm-tail tube shapes

Speaking of aerodynamics, we certainly couldn't detect any boost in speed as a result of the new Madone's wind tunnel-proven tube shapes. However, there's reason to believe some riders might not notice them much on the stopwatch, either, depending on the setup.

We asked one Trek representative if the Madone's aero figures were measured with or without bottles and cages, to which he replied that all of the data he'd seen was produced with a stock bike without cages. However, the Madone is a road bike – and road bikes have bottles and cages. So what then?

Trek said that larger frames with longer tubes would suffer less aero degradation but smaller bikes with more compact triangles would see much of the intended benefit disappear. In fairness, the same also applies for other supposedly aero bikes that aren't specifically designed with mounted bottles in mind so as always, take the claims with a grain of salt and consider how your personal setup might differ from what was placed in a wind tunnel.

Thankfully, the Madone still feels like a great bike overall – aero or not – and Trek has ticked all the critical chassis performance boxes. Our test sample is due to arrive in the BikeRadar office in a couple of weeks so we'll start long-term testing soon enough. For now, we mostly like what we see but we're looking forward to throwing the thing around on local terrain for a more thorough evaluation.

To be continued…

Frame 2013 Trek Madone 6-Series
Available sizes H1: 50, 52 (tested), 54, 56, 58, 60, 62cm; H2: 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64cm
Fork Trek Madone KVF full carbon
Headset Cane Creek Forty integrated 1 1/8-to-1 1/2"
Stem Bontrager Race X Lite
Handlebars Bontrager Race Lite VR
Tape/grips Bontrager cork
Front brake Bontrager Speed Limit
Rear brake Bontrager Speed Limit
Brake levers Shimano Dura-Ace STI Dual Control ST-7900
Front derailleur Shimano Dura-Ace FD-7900
Rear derailleur Shimano Dura-Ace RD-7900
Shift levers Shimano Dura-Ace STI Dual Control ST-7900
Cassette Shimano Dura-Ace CS-7900, 12-25T
Chain Shimano Dura-Ace CN-7900
Crankset Shimano Dura-Ace FC-7900, 170mm, 53/39T
Bottom bracket Trek BB90 integrated
Pedals n/a
Wheelset Bontrager Aeolus 3 D3 clincher
Front tire Bontrager R3, 700x23mm
Rear tire Bontrager R3, 700x23mm
Saddle Bontrager Affinity RXL Carbon
Seat post Bontrager Ride Tuned Carbon seatmast cap

Origin: Road Bikes & Gear

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