2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro review (2023)

The new 2021 Trek Emonda sees a shift away from a purely climber-focussed bike to a more all-round package with the de-rigueur aero shaping to match.


We have two bikes in for review. My colleague, Warren, has the top-end 6.9kg Emonda SLR 9 model with all of the bells and whistles, and an outrageous £9,700 price tag.

I have been testing the Ultegra R8000-equipped 2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro.

The SL-level Emonda is based on Trek’s OCLV 500 carbon layup, which adds roughly 445g to an unpainted frameset in an unspecified size compared to the top-end model.

You do, however, get the exact same geometry and frame shape as the SLR-level Emonda, so the differences should largely boil down to weight alone.

More on the new Trek Emonda

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At £3,350 ($3,799 / €3,799 / AU$5,499), the SL6 Pro is by no means cheap, but represents fairly good value for money in the context of the wider market

For that cash, you get a full Ultegra R8020 groupset, a Bontrager Aelous Elite 35 carbon wheelset, a perfectly inoffensive alloy cockpit and a very plush Bontrager saddle. The bike weighs 8.13kg on the nose with no pedals.

Picking two comparable bikes, the Giant TCR Advanced Pro 2 Disc costs roughly the same (£3,499) for a broadly similar build, as does the Rose X-Lite 6 (~£3,450).

Seat tube length (mm)42.445.348.349.652.555.357.359.3
Seat tube angle (degrees)74.674.674.273.773.37372.872.5
Head tube length (mm)10011.
Head tube angle (degrees)
BB Drop (mm)
Chainstay length (cm)414141414141.141.141.2
Front-centre (cm)57.357.557.758.158.35959.960.7
Offset (cm)
Trail (cm)
Wheelbase (cm)97.297.497.798.198.399.2100.1101
Standover (cm)
Frame reach (cm)37.337.838.338.639.139.639.940.3
Frame stack (cm)50.752.153.354.156.358.160.162
Seat height max (tall cap, mm)65687173.576.578.580.582.5
Seat height min (tall cap, mm)59626567.570.572.574.576.5
Seat height max (short cap, mm)61.564.567.57073757779
Seat height min (short cap, mm)55.558.561.56467697173

Trek has significantly altered the geometry of the Emonda for 2021, and it is now only available in the brand’s middle-of-the-road H1.5 fit.

H1.5 sits pretty much in the middle of Trek’s super aggressive H1 geometry and its endurance-focussed H2 fit.

The resulting shape strikes a nice balance between real-world usability while allowing the sportier riders among us to get a low and fast setup should they so wish.

The stack for the new Emonda is on the lower end of the spectrum for a 56cm bike at 563mm. The reach is fairly average, at 391mm for a 56cm bike. The 56cm bike ships with a 100mm stem.

2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro review (1)

Jack Luke / Immediate Media

(Video) 2021 Trek Emonda SL Pro 6 road bike review: for the climb lovers

While the reach of the frameset is fairly average, when matched with the 42cm-wide Bontrager Elite VR-C bars, which have a hefty 100mm reach, the fit of the bike feels suitably long and low.

I really like the overall profile of these bars – there’s loads of room in the drops so you can actually spend some time down there comfortably without your hands getting smooshed up, and the extra reach offers additional useful hand positions.

Adding reach to the bars (rather than increasing the length of the stem) also means the tops stay a touch closer to you, giving a really comfortable position for seated climbing.

Felix Smith / Immediate Media

The ride of the bike is exceptionally stiff and incredibly fun in the way that a proper race bike can be.

It’s got that addictive ultra-efficient feel with a totally unyielding pedal response that is amazing on the climbs – you are giving up nothing to the frame when mashing yourself into a lactic oblivion.

I dare say the overall feel is almost a little old school, with a super stiff ride that’s reminiscent of early carbon bikes.

This will be polarising for some riders, but I personally really like it. It feels properly rapid and responsive, and going fast is never not fun.

Related reading

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  • Best road bikes: how to choose the right one for you
2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro review (3)

Jack Luke / Immediate Media

While perhaps divisive, this super stiff ride also goes some way to differentiate the bike from the others in Trek’s lineup.

The line between the Emonda and Madone – and to a certain degree, the Domane – is now fairly blurred with this new bike.

But by keeping it simple, with no ISOSpeed squashiness, a racy ride and a lighter overall package, the Emonda stands out in the range.

2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro review (4)
(Video) The New 2021 Emonda SL 6 (PRO) | Ride Impressions | Is the new Emonda too heavy?

Jack Luke / Immediate Media

That stiffness also translates into a really engaging and fun ride on the descents. The bike shrugs at irresponsibly heavy braking into corners, remaining accurate and giving – yes, I really am going to say it – a really feedback-rich ride. It’s a total hoot.

It’s no surprise that this stiffness results in a firm ride.

It’s not a rough ride, per se – the bike still provides that pleasingly damped feel that any quality carbon bike gives on imperfect surfaces, and the integrated seat mast brings a degree of rear end comfort.

2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro review (5)

Jack Luke / Immediate Media

However, on larger bumps, the front end can feel quite jarring. The alloy bars will contribute to this, but the stock 25mm tyres are the main culprit.

25mm wide tyres were considered progressive a few short years ago, but the majority of new road bikes these days ship with 28mm tyres (or even larger) and not without good reason.

Wider tyres have consistently been shown in testing to have lower rolling resistance than narrower tyres and, as they can be run at lower pressures, they also improve comfort. Being more comfortable means less fatigue, which means increased speed.

This is well-trodden ground, so to see 25mm tyres here is a little bit disappointing – other bikes in the Emonda range feature 28s, and I’ve always admired Trek for boldly speccing 32mm tyres on the Domane, so to see narrower rubber here feel like a bit of a cop-out.

Trek is clearly trying to pander to the hill climb kids with the tiny reduction in weight 25s will offer, but 28s would be better for the majority of riders in nearly all situations.

2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro review (6)

Jack Luke / Immediate Media

Keen to see how much of a difference wider tyres would actually make, I swapped the stock Bontrager R2 Hard-Case Lite tyres in favour of a pair of Panaracer Race D Evo tyres. These measure bang on 28mm when inflated to 70psi on the Bontrager Aeolus Elite 35 wheels.

Unsurprisingly, the wider tyres smoothed out the ride of the bike significantly without making the ride feel mushy – you can focus on getting the most out of the bike’s stiff frameset without having to worry so much about potholes or broken road surfaces. The larger tyres also improve grip on descents.

They also make very light gravel detours a more appealing possibility.

(Video) The New 2021 Emonda SL 6 (PRO) | Unboxing | Bike Build | Initial Impression | Actual weight

Gravel riding is absolutely one bazillion per cent not within the intended remit of this bike, but the larger volume tyres make short stretches along smooth unsealed rail trails or rough access roads a much less hateful experience.

On a similar theme, I was also a little disappointed to see the bike come set up with tubes.

The likes of Giant are now shipping complete bikes tubeless out of the box and, regardless of which side of the tubeless vs. tubed debate you sit on, including tubeless tech as stock adds value to a bike.

Given the new Aeolus 35 Elite wheels are tubeless-compatible, it’s disappointing that the included tyres aren’t at least tubeless-ready.

As mentioned, the bike has been doused in a liberal helping of aero sauce, and the new bike is claimed to sit between the outgoing Emonda and the Madone in terms of aero performance.

There’s no way I can quantify these claims, but the bike does feel fast on the flats. I suspect that has more to do with the fact the bike’s geometry means it’s possible to get into a properly long and low position, so I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you believe Trek’s claims – or whether you care.

2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro review (7)

Jack Luke / Immediate Media

Not that it has any bearing on performance, but the aero shaping has resulted in a bike that looks fast. I’m fond of the overall shape of the bike and I’m glad to not see dropped seat stays here. The lines are classic and the traditional cockpit doesn’t look out of place either.

Trek clearly doesn’t want you to forget you’re riding one of its bikes judging by the sheer size of the logo on the down tube. It is so over the top and a bit daft, but I kind of dig it – it’s like a postmodern statement, the David Byrne big suit of bicycle logos.

I also think the paint job looks really nice for what is, in the context of this model range, a ‘budget’ bike.

2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro review (8)

A surprising standout from the bike is the Bontrager Aeolus Comp saddle.

Every man and his dog has thrown his hat into the short nose and stubby saddle game, and I’ve tried a fair few now, but I think it’s a toss-up between this and the Pro Stealth Superlight for my all-time favourite.

Trust me when I say this is very high praise because I love the Pro Stealth. The Aeolus is squashy, comfortable and perfect for my peach. I can’t believe it has taken this long for saddles to get this good.

2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro review (9)
(Video) Hands on with the brand NEW 2021 Trek Emonda - Their fastest climbing bike ever

Jack Luke / Immediate Media

The bike is built around a full Shimano Ultegra R8020 groupset. It’s nigh-on impossible to level criticism at R8000, offering nearly all of the performance of Dura-Ace at a considerably lower price point.

The 52/36 crankset is paired with an 11-30 cassette. For a go-fast all-round climb-friendly bike, this is perfect.

However, it’s worth noting that the bike is equipped with a short cage mech, which officially limits the drivetrain to a 30t cassette. This means you would have to go for a smaller set of chainrings if you require lighter gearing.

Even so, the gearing has more than enough range to climb comfortably in the saddle on most climbs.

The SL6 Pro is the ‘cheapest’ bike in the new Emonda range to feature carbon wheels.

At 35mm deep, the Aeolus Elite 35 should, in theory, give a bit of aero advantage without sacrificing too much on the climbs in terms of weight.

A 35mm wheel is unlikely to present serious problems in crosswinds, and they feel perfectly well-mannered and stiff. The wheels are based on DT Swiss’ Ratchet EXP freehub, which are easy-enough to service with widely-available spares.

Again, I’m a bit miffed these aren’t set up tubeless out of the box. It would allow you to run lower pressures, improving comfort and grip, which is never a bad thing.

2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro conclusion

2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro review (10)

Jack Luke / Immediate Media

Make no mistake – the Emonda is an uncompromising race bike, and it’s all the better for it.

In a world of squashy do-it-all bikes, the Emonda’s wonderfully moreish super stiff ride stands out and I’ve really enjoyed my time testing it.

Speccing standard 25mm clincher tyres in 2020 is an odd move, and the weight for this particular build isn’t that competitive.

You also lose out on some (claimed) aero benefit with the standard cockpit versus the fancy new integrated Bontrager Aeolus RSL VR-C bar-stem combo. But, if you’re anything like me and enjoy endlessly tweaking your position and cockpit setup, this might not be such a bad thing.

Jumping up to the Emonda SL 7 (£4,850) would get you an Ultegra Di2 groupset, Bontrager Aeolus Pro 37 wheels and the integrated cockpit, but I’m not convinced the extra expense would be worth it.

A few small spec niggles aside, if you’re after a delightfully fun go-fast race bike, the 2021 Trek Emonda SL 6 Pro is very unlikely to leave you wanting.


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