Review: 2016 Trek Madone 9
I like to think of myself as a much better cyclist than I actually am. In my mind’s eye, I am a strong, fast cyclist who can crush other cyclists on any terrain. The physical evidence does not back this up. At 6’-2” and north of 220 pounds I don’t have the classic cyclist’s physique. Even at my ideal weight, many hardcore cyclist would view me as an oafish Clydesdale. It is silly to put a rider like myself on the new 2016 Trek Madone. I even mentioned this to the rep at the Trek demo tent at RAGBRAI 2015. However, the fast, powerful cyclist in my head was thrilled to be heading out on the latest and greatest piece of cycling technology. All I had to do was fill out a waiver and turn over my 11 year old, well worn, ride and they sent me off with a brand new $6,000 Trek Madone. What a deal!! The new Madone has only been distributed to a few dealers. The Trek rep told me that these frames were fresh from ‘finishing’ in Wisconsin. RAGBRAI demo riders would be among the civilian, low-lifes to ride the latest and greatest piece of cycling technology. So am I worthy? What did I think of the New Trek Madone?
The 2016 Madone is attention grabbing. One look it is obvious that its form is the result of a lot of wind tunnel testing. All of the cables have been routed through the frame and bars, at considerable effort. Bontrager developed center pull aerodynamic brakes specific to the bike. The front brake is also shielded by an aerodynamic cover which pivots out of the way when the bars are turned. Hell even the bars are shaped like an airfoil.
The Madone has a look that either you love or you hate, but it certainly garners a lot of attention. My demo bike was the ‘entry level’ Madone with 600 carbon and Ultegra components. The upper level Madone comes with 700 carbon and Dura Ace Components. My Madone had a 58 cm frame and came equipped with the following components:
- Brakes: Bontrager Aerodynamic Center Pull
- Brake Levers/Shifters: Shimano Ultegra
- Crank/Chainring: Shimano Ultegra 50/34t
- Cassette: Shimano Ultegra 11 Speed 11-28t
- Front Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra
- Rear Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra
- Wheels: Bontrager Paradigm Elite TLR. 24 Bladed Spokes Rear, 18 radial laced spokes front
- Tires: 700×23 Bontrager R3 Hard Case Lite
- Seat: Bontrager Paradigm RL with hollow titanium rails.
- Bars: Proprietary Bontrager carbon.
I got the Madone for day two of RAGBRAI. The day’s ride would be taking me from Storm Lake to Fort Dodge. It was supposed to be a 68 mile day with only 1,300 feet of elevation gain. My experience with RAGBRAI tells me it was more likely 70-75 miles of riding. Days in the saddle are always longer than advertised on RAGBRAI. The first thing I noticed when I left town on the Madone was that the tires were nearly flat and the rear derailleur cable was touching one of the pulleys. I also noticed a slight squeal from the brakes under soft braking. It was clear that I was the first to ride this Madone. After a quick stop at a local bike shop, whose employees proceeded to ogle my ride, I was on my way.
We left town and headed east on flat roads, punctuated by the occasional short soft climb, but it felt as though most of the ride was either flat or downhill. This is where the Madone seemed to shine. I am a HEAVY rider. I am used to passing people on descents. On the Madone, I found myself passing recumbants and people who were still spinning. If I got into a deep tuck, it seemed as if you could actually feel the bike accelerate. Unfortunately, the Madone did not have a computer. I would have loved to record my average and maximum speeds for the day. However, I certainly felt faster riding the Madone.
At the breakfast stop, we were hit by a rain shower. Sensing that I might be able to get ahead of the storm, I cut my break short and left like a bat out of hell. No I can’t outrun the weather on the Madone. I just made myself a bit tired, but I did get to ride really fast for a while with another Madone rider. Since we are talking about wet conditions, it is a great time to talk about brakes. The Bontrager center pull brakes braking on aluminum rims were a delight. During braking you are met with a responsive bite that I like from a brake. It felt like I had plenty of power, but I never locked up the brakes. Power and control were excellent. In the wet, the brakes still performed well with the expected delay in performance while water is cleared from the braking surface. Once the water was cleared there was still plenty of control although with increased braking effort. There was no brake chatter in wet conditions.
Although there was only 1,300 feet of elevation gain on the day, I can tell you the Madone felt remarkably composed when climbing and for out of the saddle exertions. This is particularly surprising considering the Bontrager Elite TLR wheelsets low spoke count. I was a bit surprised that Trek specified Bontrager R3 Hard Case Lite tires, but they seemed to roll very well with excellent grip. As the day progressed it was apparent that I should have swapped out the saddle on my demo. The Bontrager Paradigm RL was not my friend and prevented me from giving an accurate impression of the Iso-Speed Decoupler. This flexible seat mast design is supposed to allow the seat to flex under use giving a more compliant ride. I can tell you it is a bit odd to look down and see the seat post moving under you. The other part of me that got sore/numb as the day progressed was my hands. The airfoil shaped bar really pushed you to ride on the hoods or in the drops. It was not uncomfortable, but was not my typical riding position. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that that I would have been better served riding a 60 cm frame. Despite these minor and fixable complaints, I rolled into Fort Dodge enjoying my time on the Madone.
- The Brakes: I am sure lots of compromises were made to create a center pull rim brake with an aerodynamic profile. It is amazing how well they work. To be honest I barely noticed them. When I needed them, they did their job and did it will with no drama.
- The Ride: Aero bikes have a reputation of riding harsh and even sacrificing rigidity for aerodynamic profile. The Madone is a stiff bike, but not overly harsh. Aside from minor seat and fit issues, I was comfortable all day on the bike.
- The Seat Post: True I did not really get much of an impression of the Iso-Speed Decoupler seat post. My ass decided the seat was the enemy about half way through the day. However, I was enamored with the seat adjustment. Loosen a couple Allen bolts and the seat effortlessly slides up and down to the desired position. No need to worry if it is straight, no apparent concern about crushing your seat post. Awesome!
- Speed: I don’t have the numbers, but if nothing else. This thing made me feel fast. Weeee!
- Components: Shimano Ultegra Shifters… What can I say? Shifting is quick, easy and precise. I love the feel of mechanical shifting. I want to hate the Shimano evil empire, but they offer the best shifters I have ridden.
- The color: This is the 800 lb gorilla in the room. Love it or hate it, Trek came up with an
original and innovative bike. So why dress it in the Bianchi Color? Come on Trek you just proved that you are better than that. There are many color optains available in the top of the line Madone, lets hope the same is true of all models.
- The wheels: I was impressed by the Bontrager Elite TLR Wheels. They are remarkably stiff and stable considering their low spoke count. However, they have no place on an aero bike. They look totally out of place. Any real racer will immediately upgrade to a deep dish wheel relegating the Elites to training wheel status.
- The Bars: I did not mind the shape of the airfoil bar, but I do think replacing bar tape will be a hassle. Is it too much to ask for some tape on the flat part of the bar?
- Turning: Trek has gone to great lengths to hide all the cables from the wind. For some reason, this means that the bars only turn to about 80 degrees. This will have little impact while riding, but I did notice this limitation when maneuvering the bike in crowded areas on rest stops.
- Geometry: I found the bike to be comfortable, but my legs kept brushing the top tube. I also found my lower leg would touch the chain stay when I was resting with one leg down. This may be solved with a larger frame? I know this is not really a complaint, more of an observation of something I have not experienced on other bikes.
- Brake covers: This complaint is mostly paranoia. I worry those nifty spring loaded, pivoting aerodynamic brake covers won’t be around for the long haul. How long until they break?
- Accessory Mounting: My Madone had no computer. Mounting one on those bars would be problematic. Trek has provided mounting points for a computer tail lights and other accessories. It seems likely you will be required to buy their proprietary hardware to do it.
- Image: What the hell is a middle-aged fat guy doing riding the most slippery aero bikes? I would be better served spending my money at Weight Watchers. They are all going to laugh at me!
- The price: My demo Madone was the lower level model. The rep told me that it retails at $6,000. Ouch!
I really enjoyed riding the Madone. It was designed to be a rideable aero bike and I think that the people at Trek met their goal. To get a true sense of the aerodynamic advantages of the bike, it would be best to ride a time trial with my regular bike and then with the Madone. Sadly I did not have time for that. I did not even have a computer. All I can tell you is that I felt faster on the Madone. I passed a lot more people than normal and hopping on a paceline seemed a lot easier on the Madone.
Some people may not like it, but I think it is a beautifully and functionally crafted bike that I cannot stop looking at. Even though I like the Madone, I still think I look silly on it. This bike seems best suited to racers. However, some days we all need a little inspiration to go for a ride. If having the sleekest most advanced speed machine inspires middle aged lumpy guys like me to ride more and ride faster. Then go out and get Madone, if you can afford it. Screw what everyone else thinks!