Review: Trek Émonda SL 5 Disc 2022

+ Uses the same frame technologies as the Émonda SLR 
+ Descending ability
+ Full Shimano 105 R7020 groupset

– Climbing performance inferior to previous Emonda’s
– Toe overlap 
– Heavy wheels and harsh aluminium seat mast ripe for upgrading

  • £2,700 / €2,999 / $3,249.99

Trek’s Émonda was initially launched as its weight-weenie climbing bike in 2014, destined for attacking the epic Alpine climbs of the Tour de France. The second-generation took the platform in an even lighter direction while increasing tyre clearances and adding a disc-brake option, the latter frameset claimed to weigh in at a scant 665g. 

This new third-generation series seeks to combine its lightweight agenda with an aerodynamic edge to allow it to be more of an all-round race bike. As a result, the round lightweight tubes are no more and the Émonda takes noticeable design cues from its aero brother, the Madone. 

The frame weight has increased as Trek claims the top-series SLR platform comes in at a sub-700g frame weight unpainted with the derailleur hanger attached in an unspecified size. Rim brakes are also no more with the Émonda and it is yet another platform that has gone disc-only. 

The graphic on the down tube is the only giveaway this isn’t an SLR.

Here on test is the Émonda SL 5, the SL denoting the second-tier frame comprised of Trek’s OCLV 500 series carbon, rather than the OCLV 800 series used on the SLR. The SL is claimed to weigh in at 1,142g, again unpainted in an unspecified size. 

There are further changes to the Émonda platform than a simple aerodynamic tweak. 

Tyre clearances are officially reduced to 28mm from the 32mm allowed on the second-generation. However, I think Trek has been on the cautious side here as there is still plenty of room for wider rubber.

The Émonda is one of the only performance road bikes out there at the moment not to jump on the dropped seatstay bandwagon. Trek’s seat mast design remains, which is fastened on top of an integrated no-cut post, for better or worse. This locks you in terms of options in that you can’t upgrade to a conventional carbon seatpost but at least there is some adjustment and you don’t have to cut it down to size, compared to Giant’s ISP design for example. 

I’m testing a size 56cm for my 180cm height. 


The cables are routed underneath the stem before they are funneled through a proprietary stem spacer.

Like many modern performance road bikes, the Émonda integrates its cables. The SLR runs the cables on the underside of the handlebar before they are partially exposed as they are funnelled into an opening on a proprietary headset cover. Here, the cables run in front of the steerer tube and pass through the upper headset bearing before heading down the down tube to their respective locations. 

Trek uses a colour-matched ‘headset cover’ that completes the profile of the head tube. There is a plastic replaceable steering locking pin that is designed to prevent the bars from being oversteered and the handlebars hitting the top tube in the event of an impact. 

Trek offer some encouragement at the back of the cover.

You really want to avoid over-rotating the fork on this bike as Trek bizarrely don’t carry a full range of colour-matched headset covers (which tend to get damaged as part of the impact, from experience) and having them colour matched by a reputable paint shop is going to be significantly more expensive than the £50 the cover retails for.   

The crown of the fork also receives an aerodynamic update to sit flush with the underside of the head tube. 

The crown of the fork sits tightly with the head tube. You’ll want to avoid oversteering the bars to avoid any of the paint being taken off.

On the integration scale, the bike is on the easier end to work on in terms of routing cables as you don’t have to route them internally through the bar – instead, there are covers on the bars’ underside. 

That said, keep your headset bearings religiously greased as replacing them will result in undoing the brake hoses and performing a double-bleed. At the very worst, if you have not left some extra length on the hoses for the purposes of changing a headset change if you’re using a Shimano groupset, be prepared to replace the hoses.  

The SL, however, uses a conventional round Bontrager handlebar and stem but the integration arrangement with the proprietary spacers remains unchanged. It doesn’t look as neat as the SLR and the result is a serving of cable spaghetti at the front. 

The cables look a little unsightly when using a standard bar and stem.

Goodbye BB90, Hello T47 

Mechanics out there can rejoice as Trek has departed from its wanting proprietary BB90 bottom bracket standard to a threaded T47. 

In the plethora of press-fit standards that manufacturers have blessed the cycling industry with, BB90 was among one of my least favourite. The bearings pressed directly into the frame, which had a stepped profile to prevent you from using a different standard.  

Over time, the bearings could have a tendency to not fit as tightly and then, you’d have the dreaded creak. Trek brought out an oversized BB90 V2 bearing to counter this problem but it was only a stopgap until they started to fit loosely. Then, it’s either new frame time or have a reputable carbon frame repairer relay carbon in the bottom bracket shell to build it back up to accept a BB90 V1 bearing. 

I didn’t experience this issue on my Émonda in the 8,000km that it covered, although towards the end of my time with the bike, whenever I removed the chainset, the drive side bearing had a tendency to remove itself on the axle, signalling the potential start of a problem. That said, at that point, it was creak-free. 

The T47 is certainly a welcome update. 

Riding impressions

The Émonda was tested in hilly Northern Portugal.

I owned a first generation Émonda SL and adored its ride quality. With lighter (but financially sensible) upgrades to the wheels and finishing kit, I got the Shimano Ultegra 6800-equipped 56cm frame to 7.05kg including pedals. As one would expect, it climbed superlatively but what surprised me was how much of an all-rounder the bike was. 

Climbing bikes can have a tendency to underwhelm on the descents but this was not the case with the first-generation Émonda. It descended with plenty of confidence and precision and also offered a faster-than-expected ride on flatter terrain. 

Trek are certainly experimenting with a winning recipe here and the result is a surprisingly mixed bag. 

The handling on the Émonda SL is fast, responsive and on the twitchy side. It has a rather direct ride feel and it is far from a bump-taming ride. I didn’t mind the increased connection with the road as it gives the ride a more exciting feel and you have to put the work in. 

The bike transferred more feedback at the rear compared to the front and I think one of the first things to upgrade would be the seat mast topper, which is aluminium on the SL5. Higher models use one of a carbon variety and that’ll greatly increase compliance as it will soak up more of the vibrations. 

The aluminium seat mast isn’t as cosseting as a carbon offering.

On the climbs, the Émonda just doesn’t climb as well as its predecessors. The outgoing generations pranced up climbs with excitement and encouraged you to push harder. It’s just not the case here. Part of this quality is likely to do with heavy Bontrager TLR wheels that are specced and another upgrade here would be prudent to lighten rolling weight, which would make a substantial difference. 

Descending down the other side, at first I found the bike nervy. However, after the second ride I grew accustomed to its downhill manners and quite liked the quicker handling, which allows you to dive and pick your way through corners. 

Another thing I didn’t like about the bike was that it was possible for me to elicit toe overlap. This wasn’t the case on my previous Émonda that I owned which was also a 56cm size with the same 172.5mm crank length. 

There’s no mistaking it’s a Trek!

Aesthetically, I was unsure of the two-tone Blue Smoke / Metallic blue as the metallic is abruptly cut towards the top of the down tube and mid-length along the top tube. Both colours separately are stunning and I’d love to see a full frame with these options offered as single colours. However, the paint scheme grew on me over my time with the bike. 

The ‘Trek’ logo on the down tube is rather obnoxious in that it is so large and the end of the ‘K’ extends to the side of the head tube. There’s certainly no mistaking what brand of bike you are riding. 

Groupset performance

The 105 groupset is solid and dependable.

The Émonda SL5 is shod with a full Shimano 105 R7020 groupset. This was the first time I had ridden 105 in this generation and I was generally very impressed with it. 105 uses many of the same technologies as bigger brothers Ultegra and Dura-Ace but at an increased weight due to the use of more cost-effective materials. 

The shifts are nice and crisp, feeling a touch heavier than Ultegra or Dura-Ace in speed and as the lever body is aluminium, compared to the carbon levers on its more expensive siblings. The front derailleur is more finicky to set up with its Toggle-cam design but front shifts felt very light and fast. I’ve found the R9100 / R8000 series derailleurs to not be particularly durable over time as the cage seems to be more susceptible to developing play and I wonder if the 105 variant is more durable due to its metal construction.  

I’ve long been a critic of Shimano road disc brakes as I find them quite binary and the pad clearance is too tight, often resulting in rubbing of the disc rotor against the pads. Then, there is the lever bleed screw made of chocolate and the fragile ceramic pistons in the calliper. Both SRAM and Campagnolo brakes are far better modulated and the latter is less likely to experience pad rub as the backing plate of the pads is magnetic. 

No Freeza technology found here, which arguably is a good thing when it comes to disc rub.

However, I believe 105 offers a distinct advantage in braking over Ultegra and Dura-Ace in that the RT70 rotors are not equipped with the Freeza technology. Freeza technology is supposed to help the rotor cool down quicker and whilst it arguably does and looks far more of a fashion piece than 105’s RT70 rotor, I believe the RT70 to be a stronger rotor. The Ultegra and Dura-Ace rotor are quite easy to bend and I think exacerbate the issue of disc rub. 

The chainset uses a Hollowtech 2 design but unlike it’s more expensive siblings, the crank arms are solid-forged rather than a two pieces bonded design.

The bike was equipped with a 50/34 chainset and an 11-30 cassette, which is spot-on for the audience the Émonda is targeted at. The rear derailleur specced is a medium cage so you could change the cassette to an 11-32 and 11-34, if you so wished.  

Wheels and finishing kit 

The wheels, tyres and finishing kit are all supplied by Trek’s in-house brand, Bontrager. As mentioned, the TLR wheels are heavy but with a high 24 spoke count front and rear. The wheels would be ripe for one of the first upgrades you make to the bike but you might as well keep them as a Winter or training set. 

The Bontrager R1 Hard-Case Lite wire bead tyres rolled better than expected compared to other tyres from the brand I’ve ridden in the past. They’re more of a Summer tyre and I’d suggest once they wear out, upgrade for some faster-rolling rubber such as the Continental Grand Prix GP5000. 

The drop of the Bontrager handlebar is quite shallow.

The handlebars and stem are bog-standard aluminium affairs, with the stem compatible with Bontrager’s BlendR mount for lights, a computer or a GoPro. I’d prefer a 40cm bar compared to the 42cm specced as I find my arms splay out on the wider variety and I’d prefer a slighter deeper drop than the shallow one found here. The bars are adorned with Bontrager’s SuperTack Perf bar tape which is comfortable enough, if unremarkable. 

The saddle specified is Bontrager’s P3 Verse Comp. I didn’t get on with it using Assos’ Equipe RSR S9 Targa shorts on the first day of riding but got on better with it on days two and three using different shorts. But saddles are always a personal item, so it’s worth trying to see if you get on with it first before switching. 

Bottom line

While the Émonda improves the platform in some ways, it digresses in others.

Trek’s Émonda SL5 marks a solid entry point to the range and offers a quality frame with a race-oriented fit. It’s on the firmer side and its quick handling will particularly appeal to those who appreciate these qualities and it would make a good proposition for the aspiring racer. While the frame has undergone more of an aerodynamic makeover, I wish Trek had stuck to its initial guns and kept the frame as its lightweight, climbing-optimised bike. It simply doesn’t climb or descend in the composed fashion its predecessors did and it’s also got its quirks with the semi-integrated front end. 


2 thoughts on “Review: Trek Émonda SL 5 Disc 2022

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