Friday, July 11, 2008

Bike Review: Trek Madone

One of the more interesting bikes introduced over the last year for me was the new Madone series of bikes from Trek. Over the last 10 years I always kinda saw Trek road bikes as competent yet somewhat pedestrian looking compared to some other top of the line bikes. Lance's tour wins aboard them surely helped sell a lot of bikes but it was time for a change. I'm no expert reviewer of bikes but I thought I'd share my views from a recent 50+ mile evening I had aboard a new Trek Madone 5.1.

First off, it's my understanding that 5.1 has been discontinued by Trek and they will replace it with the slightly less expensive Taiwanese built Madone 4.7. Having said that, I believe the ride characteristics of this bike will very much follow every Madone whether it's made of OCLV White, Black or Red series carbon, especially the 5.2. The weight differences are not that significant in the frame and the geometries are similar, coming in Pro fit and Performance Fit. The Performance fit models have a 30mm taller head tube for added comfort. The 5.2 Madone is the one Alberto Contador and Levi rode in last year's Tour de France.

The Ride: My ride started out when my wife dropped me off at the bike shop to pick up the bike. The mechanic at the shop used my bike as a guide to set up the seat position, handlebars, reach and swapped pedals. It was waiting for me when I got there. He got close with everything except for the seat to handlebar drop. The longer headtube on the Madone did not allow for as much drop as there is on my current race bike.

Soon I was walking out the door and heading across the parking lot towards the road. I immediately noticed the slightly more upright position. My first thought wasn't oh crap this is going to catch a lot of wind, but more like,.. Hey this is comfortable! More on this later. Shifting through the Ultegra gearset was as smooth and precise as I thought it would be, with very little slop in both the braking and shifting motion. Typically good Shimano. In fact, it's oh so close to Dura-Ace I'm thinking the new Dura-Ace better be a BIG improvement or their gonna sell a lot of Ultegra SL based bikes.

After 5 minutes of weaving through traffic I finally made it to some good riding roads. I wanted to ride on one of my normal training routes so the memory I built up riding my current bike would be a good comparison. As soon as I got off Reisterstown Road and started uphill for the first time I immediately noticed one thing about this Madone. Every bit of energy you put into this bike wants to push you forward. Straight Forward! I guess I would attribute it's stout bottom bracket and head tube for it's almost total lack of lateral movement. Speaking of which, Trek has a few novel ideas in the bottom bracket, head tube and in the seat tube/seat post area. I won't get into that except to tell you to head to their website for more info if you wish there. Personally, I'm more interested in what you feel riding the thing.

I crested the hill and powered along some flats before coming to the next real test on this ride. High speed downhill corning. Here again is a place the Madone shines. This bike tracks completely predictably and inspires total confidence. Holding a line through a curve is a total no brainer. You think, it goes where you want it to go with an almost eerie smoothness. I believe it can help you descend faster because of this. At Lance's Madone intro press conference he mentioned something that I found amusing at the time but understood now. He said the bike feels like a motorcycle. That's NOT a bad thing in this case, and as a motorcycle rider myself, I know the feeling. Sweeping through corners on the Madone at 45mph downhill is fun!

OK, you're thinking Motorcycle? heavy. This bike is not heavy. In fact, I say if you traded in it's relatively heavy stock Bontrager wheels for some great lightweight climbing wheels it would be ideal for a rider like me who is more of a climber, rouleur wanna-be.

Soon I was out in horse country on deserted country roads. Turns, rollers, smooth roads, potholed roads, gravel and hills. The Madone ate up the miles in comfort. This bike is both faster "feeling" yet definitely more forgiving in bumps than my Alu/Carbon framed bike any day of the week. Oh, about that more upright position? With the Madone (performance fit), there's an easy solution, spend more time in the drops. You'll be comfy down there all day, and when you want even more comfort? Head for the brake hoods. If current fads dictate, I suppose most people will opt for the Pro Fit Madones. That's fine, but I think that's a shame since the comfort you have on this bike, just 30mm higher up front is impressive to say the least.

Looks: The new Trek Madone is a huge step up in the looks department over the old Madone. It looks faster and more modern all the way around. Having said that. It's still a step or two behind the exotics out there like the Pinarello Prince. I think it's not because of the frame or graphics. Both are extremely well done and modern, but in the choice of colors. If you noticed the Astana Treks and the Pink Madone Contador had at the Giro, it's obvious the frame and graphics are spot on. Looking through the stock color combos though, they are a bit conservative for this rider. I want something that looks MEAN!

Downsides? This bike is Not MEAN! (All Caps) I think a hardcore crit rider or the Tom Boonen types out there might want a more twitchy bike. To me, this bike is an all day road race or stage racing bike. That's not to say this bike couldn't do great in a sprinter's hands. I don't doubt it could, but over the last 10 years with Lance and now Alberto/Levi, you know Trek went more stage racer with the Madone. I think it's obvious in the way it rides and shows where Trek feels most comfortable making bikes.

At about 30 miles into my ride it started to rain so I began working my way back towards home, enjoying every minute of the ride and the Madone. I was thinking to myself, it'll be hard to return this bike tomorrow. I can't be sure if I'm faster on the Madone than I am on my current bike, but I will say this. After 50 miles I "feel" faster and definitely arrive home more fresh on the Madone.

If blistering acceleration, confidence inspiring high speed cornering, smooth ride and all day comfort is what you are looking for. Check out the Madone.


Charles said...

Thanks for the long review. I spent an hour yesterday test riding the Madone 4.7. I don't want to ride my current bike ever again. It's good to know that after more than an hour the Madone is still comfortable.

The 4.7 has the SRAM rival groupset. I'm definitely a fan.

Anonymous said...

I've got Rival on my current race bike. I don't think there's a better value in all of cycling!

Glad to hear you liked the review, and yeah. I really like the Madone. It's such a comfortable bike to ride.