first ride on Trek’s 2013 Madone wasn’t the best to judge aero performance, but
with nary a flat road in sight in the Ardennes region of Belgium, it was a good
test for everything else. Despite a radical chassis redesign, the 6 Series is still
a classic Madone with snappy reflexes, brilliant handling and a suitably stout
backbone, but it could be a little lighter and many riders may never realize
the full aero benefits.

hello, old friend, something about you is… different

Our test ride unfortunately combined a
multitude of new variables so it was impossible to fully distinguish their
individual effects: redesigned frame, new Aeolus 3 D3 carbon clincher wheels, unfamiliar
Bontrager tires. Nevertheless, the combination was notably firm and taut – but
not overly so – and quite the departure from the ultra-smooth rear end of the
new Trek Domane.

Casual cyclists looking for a super
plush feel won’t find it here, but racers will probably find the overall ride
quality to be just about right. Trek claims the new Madone is, at worst, as
comfortable as the old version so for now, we’ll have to leave that one be.
Keep in mind that tire choice always plays a big role in comfort. Our bike came with
23mm rubber, but 25mm-wide tires would improve comfort immensely.

Front-end chassis stiffness is impressive

Bottom bracket stiffness under power
was impossible to discern independently, but the front-end rigidity seems to
get a boost from the bigger tube sections. The chassis is impressively
resistant to twist when muscling out of the saddle and the bike was fantastically
responsive to steering inputs. Mid-corner line corrections require but the
slightest flick of the wrists, and there’s little drama even when the pack of
riders around you suddenly decide to veer off in different directions at a
downhill intersection.

One question surrounds the braking
performance with Bontrager’s own calipers bolted front and rear to proprietary mounts:
do they actually work? Yes, they do, although the lever feel isn’t quite up to
the level of the rest of the chassis in our opinion, nor is the finish quality
of the brakes in general. The integrated calipers on our bike didn’t feel as
refined as a high-end setup from Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo. It’s worth
mentioning that RadioShack-Nissan-Trek team bikes with Shimano’s direct-mount
calipers felt much better.

The proprietary brake mounted under the chain stays is one of the most visually striking aspects of the new Madone

Power and modulation were reassuringly
solid, though, and the caliper pivots are reasonably slop-free. Given the
disparity between the front and rear lever feel – the front was pretty good –
it seems at first glance that the so-so response was due at least in part to
setup. A quick inspection revealed several connections from end to end, a loose
fit of the head tube-mounted quick-release lever and barrel adjuster, a slightly
long lower section of housing, squishy carbon-specific brake pads, and so-so
cable and housing quality.

We’ll reserve final judgment on the new
brakes’ function until we can take the time to build up our own test chassis
appropriately but for now, we’ll just say they get the job done.

– sort of – and what about aerodynamics?

Our test bike was built around Trek’s
6-Series Madone instead of the top-end 7-Series version, plus it was dressed in
a standard paint job instead of the featherweight U5 Vapor Coat treatment.
We’re still waiting for comparable 7-Series vs. 6-Series figures from Trek but our
estimates put our test frame at about 850-900g. That’s genuinely lightweight
territory, which makes the total 6.73kg (14.84lb, as tested, without pedals)
figure with a Shimano Dura-Ace 7900 group, Bontrager Aeolus 3 D3 carbon
clinchers, and a lightweight cockpit respectable but not awe-inspiring.

When questioned, Trek explained to BikeRadar that while the direct-mount
brakes should be lighter than a standard setup, the current Bontrager calipers themselves
aren’t all that wispy (sorry, we weren’t able to weigh a bare brake). In
addition, some of the hardware is disappointingly crude and the mounting system
also requires a trio of stout, threaded, mounting holes at each end plus a
reinforced fork crown and chain stay sections to handle the extra torque.

As such, weight weenies might want to
go with the Dura-Ace route or wait for other options before the design’s full
potential can be realized. In the meantime, the main benefits of the Bontrager
version are the cleaner-looking seat stays, the sleekly integrated aesthetics,
and the purported aerodynamic benefits.

Trek uses contrasting paint to call attention to the Kamm-tail tube shapes

Speaking of aerodynamics, we certainly
couldn’t detect any boost in speed as a result of the new Madone’s wind
tunnel-proven tube shapes. However, there’s reason to believe some riders might
not notice them much on the stopwatch, either, depending on the setup.

We asked one Trek representative if the
Madone’s aero figures were measured with or without bottles and cages, to which
he replied that all of the data he’d seen was produced with a stock bike without
cages. However, the Madone is a road bike – and road bikes have bottles and
cages. So what then?

Trek said that larger frames with
longer tubes would suffer less aero degradation but smaller bikes with more
compact triangles would see much of the intended benefit disappear. In fairness,
the same also applies for other supposedly aero bikes that aren’t specifically
designed with mounted bottles in mind so as always, take the claims with a
grain of salt and consider how your personal setup might differ from what was
placed in a wind tunnel.

Thankfully, the Madone still feels like
a great bike overall – aero or not – and Trek has ticked all the critical
chassis performance boxes. Our test sample is due to arrive in the BikeRadar office in a couple of weeks so
we’ll start long-term testing soon enough. For now, we mostly like what we see
but we’re looking forward to throwing the thing around on local terrain for a
more thorough evaluation.

To be continued…