Test Lab: Trek Madone 5.2
It used to be that a road bike was a road bike. Each manufacturer had their model or models and you chose the one that best suited your riding and put up with the compromises. Now we have racing bikes, endurance bikes and aero bikes and we choose the one that best suits our riding style and again put up with the compromises. The Trek Madone 5.2 is the third aero road bike I have reviewed in a row now, and I dare say that the guys at Trek must not like the word ‘compromise’. Visually, you would be hard pressed to say that the Madone 5.2 looks like a traditional aero road bike. The tube shapes don’t fit the mould of what we think of as aero. The neatly integrated brakes would probably be the only indicator that the Madone was designed to cheat the wind. When I got it home I couldn’t wait to get it set up and go for a ride – something about it piqued my interest. The current Madone 5.2 is a complete new design for 2013, incorporating Trek’s Kammtail Virtual Foil (KVF) aero tube shape in every practical area of the frame. The result of this new technology is an aero road bike that doesn’t look like a typical aero road bike. Nor does it carry any of the adverse effects that aero tube shapes can pose, most notably in the ride quality of the bike and is also UCI complaint if that is important to you.
The KVF is a major change to the way we think about aero shapes. The normal aero tube with a long pointed tail has been truncated in the KVF. Testing has shown that even though the tail of the aero profile doesn’t exist, the air passing over the shortened shape still behaves as though the extended tail was there. This seemingly simple change has a number of huge benefits in frame design. Removing the tail of the aero tube shape allows the frame’s ride quality to be tuned to a greater degree, as the traditional airfoil shape is notoriously unforgiving. It also allows the tubes to be lighter due to reduced amounts of material required and allows the frame of the Madone to look traditional despite the fact that all the critical tubes are now aero optimised.
Now that would probably in itself be enough technology to warrant crowing about, however Trek haven’t rested there. Another point of interest for aero road bikes and an area only recently being looked at in detail, and with varying degrees of success, is the brakes. The position of the brakes, especially the front brake, has the potential to disrupt clean air and cause drag. Trek has employed Bontrager Speed Limit aero brakes, which thankfully work as well as the Ultegra brakes they replace. The front brake is shaped to fit neatly under the specially shaped head tube, and the rear is concealed under the chainstays just behind the bottom bracket. The under-mount rear brakes are notorious for being fiddly, but on the Trek it is easy to adjust and is also able to be released remotely in case of a tyre change thanks to a neat cam mechanism located at the cable entry on the head tube.
Apart from the high tech elements of the Madone, there are also some truly thoughtful touches that really impress me. There is an integrated chain catcher to protect the frame’s carbon finish from a dropped chain, an integrated space for the Trek Duo Trap speed and cadence sensor, and most importantly a braze on derailleur mount to eliminate the possibility of ham fisted mechanics crushing a delicate seat tube with a carelessly tightened clamp.
The rest of the Madone’s running gear is Shimano Ultegra, which really doesn’t need to be elaborated on, which is lucky since there is so much else to talk about on the 5.2. Suffice to say it just works, and works flawlessly, shift after shift after shift. The crank is a compact, as is becoming the norm these days on many bikes and the inclusion of an 11 tooth sprocket on the rear means there is still a decent spread of gears. The bars, stem and wheels are from Bontrager, a company wholly owned by Trek but retaining the name of its innovative founder Keith Bontrager. The bars and stem were perfectly functional, and kept the Madone’s spritely front end responsive and stiff but did seem a little rudimentary for such a high tech bike – a small quibble on such a nice package.
The slightly taller head tube, Trek’s ‘H2 fit’ makes the Madone a little friendlier for those less flexible or not wanting a pro fit. Alternately if you are a little more flexible it allows you to slam the stem for a pro look without the need for yoga classes. The seatpost is simple and easy to adjust and the Bontrager seat, while fine, was a bit too bulky for my liking. Saddles though, are a personal choice, so you may love the standard seat. The Bontrager wheels are a dual fit model meaning they can also accept tubeless tyres; however the standard Bontrager tyres felt as good as many of better known race tyres. They also have the added feature of the sidewall of the tyre mating seamlessly with the edge of the rim. With aero every little bit helps, and all this weighs in at only 7.3kg.
If the highest praise you can give an aero road bike is that it handles like a standard road bike, then the Madone fits this category. A blind test, while not advisable while on a bike, would leave you doubting you were on an aero frame. The moving of the rear brake to the undercarriage has left the seat stays free of bridges unlike previous Madone models, leaving them free to be designed for comfort alone. On smooth hot-mix, the Madone feels as solid and stiff as you could possibly want. The BB90 asymmetric bottom bracket shell affords plenty of area for the joining of the main elements and being the widest bottom bracket shell available ensures it is as stiff as you could want and if your legs are up to it, can take off and sprint with the best of them. Amazingly, this same frame which turns pedal revolutions into forward motion seemingly without losing a watt is able to soak up the harsh buzz of chip seal and the occasional thump of poorly maintained roads. The roads I generally ride are of a pretty decent standard and I don’t need to step up to a ‘cobble-style bike’, so the Madone was a perfect match for my requirements. The newly designed rear end combined with the ride-tuned seatpost, which is a no cut seatpost where the clamp arrangement slips over the mast, makes for a ride that rivals almost any high end road bike of almost any price. The aero sculpted head tube hides an asymmetric full carbon steerer which keeps the front end nice and rigid regardless of how hard you wrestle the bars during extreme efforts, a trait perhaps only coincidentally brought home by the fact that in every week’s racing on the Madone, I left the track with a little envelope with a few dollars in it. The combination of the slightly taller head tube and the sublime ride quality of the rear end belies the fact that this is an aero road bike, and makes it a pleasure to ride for short efforts or long hours in the saddle. For a company known for its constant improvement, Trek has taken a huge leap with the new Madone, one that will certainly take some work to top. I don’t envy the task ahead of their design team.
Summing Up: The Madone is a great looking bike with a new approach to aerodynamics. Every element seems to have been thoroughly researched through to completion with no single area seeming half finished, unresolved or simply settled upon. Job well done Trek.
Performance: Road bike performance and handling with aero slipperiness and a sensible fit. I’m not sure what more you could ask for, especially if you are after one bike to do everything. Long rides, races sprinting and all but the roughest roads are accommodated easily and excellently. Faultless, precise Ultegra components and aero brakes that rival the stopping power of some of the best in the business. Trek, in a first up attempt, have set the bar pretty high in the aero road bike stakes.
Value for money: This is a lot of bike and a lot of R&D for $3,800 with performance to rival bikes asking much more. The bars and stem while very capable seem a little low tech compared to the rest of the bike, but they only suffer in comparison. There may be cheaper Ultegra specced bikes around, but I’m not sure if there are many better.
Overall: This is a bike that I’m sure some manufacturers would be proud to call their ‘top of the line’, which certainly begs the question, if the 5 series is this good, just how good are the 6 and 7 series bikes? I can’t wait to find out. I expect we will see a lot of the 5 series Madones on the road in the near future.
Frame: Trek Madone 5.2 Carbon
Fork: Madone KVF full carbon
Headset: FSA Integrated
Stem: Bontrager Race X Lite
Handlebars: Bontrager Race Lite Aluminium
Saddle: Bontrager Affinity 3
Seat-post: Bontrager Ride Tuned Carbon
Shift Levers: Shimano Ultegra
Brakes: Bontrager Speed Limit Integrated
Front derailleur: Shimano Ultegra braze on
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra
Cassette: Shimano 105 11-28
Chain: Shimano 5701
Crank: Shimano Ultegra 50/34 Compact
Bottom Bracket: Trek BB90
Wheels: Bontrager Race (Tubeless Compatible)
Tyres Bontrager: R3
Bidon Cage: N/A