Having recently acquired a new road bike it’s time that I detailed what led me to the choice I made and what I think of the bike now that I’ve got some miles on it.
Anyone who has read any of my articles (on this site or others) will notice that I’m quite a fan of being as aerodynamic as possible, so surely my options would be confined to the aero road bikes? As it turns out – not necessarily.
I am primarily a Triathlete and to that end I have a very fast Time Trial bike. I road race at the local club for fun/training but don’t anticipate focussing solely on road racing in the near future. Nor am I likely to suddenly break into the ranks of the ITU drafting Tris. So having the fastest road bike would be more of an ego boost than a crucial advantage in the competitions I care about.
What I want from a road bike is a good all round performer for general riding. For me that means:
- Stiff enough that it’s not frustrating under power
- Well balanced steering geometry for confident handling
- Nice feel on the road (aka ‘comfort’)
- Not so heavy that it feels like a tank
Also, the major task ahead of my road bike this year is a cycling tour of Europe – which means that I want something pretty tough and reliable.
One of the first restrictions on my choice is that I need to ride on a Brand that I can supply to my clients. This isn’t a major hindrance as I make sure that I can supply the Brands that I believe in. Most people will have restrictions imposed by what’s available in their area or from their favourite store.
So my choices came down to the Cervelo S5 & R3, Cannondale SuperSix and Trek Madones.
I wanted to get a carbon bike this time as it’s been a long time since I had a carbon road bike so the Cannondale CAAD10 didn’t really get much of a look in. The Supersix was eliminated from competition early, despite the fact that I’ve had eight Cannondales over the years, as I wasn’t happy with the fit or the steering geometry.
The Trek 5-Series Madones are not an option as the integrated seat mast would mean that I’d have issues fitting a bike (in the size that I use) into a bike box for travelling. So the finale came down to a two up sprint between the S5 and Madone 4-Series.
The fit of the two bikes is very similar for me. The Trek has a slightly steeper head angle and longer chainstays which push the weight distribution forward, those factors along with the oversized fork crown promise sharper steering. Both bikes have wide format bottom brackets (BBright on the Cervelo and BB90 on the Trek) that allow asymmetric frame designs for greater stiffness.
The major factor in favour of the Cervelo S5 is the aerodynamics. The major disadvantage is price – it costs more as a frameset than the Madone 4-Series complete bikes.
So ultimately the Madone 4-Series won out as I don’t need the benefits the S5 offers and the price difference was hard to ignore, especially for a bike that will be suffering a fair amount of abuse.
After a quick chat to my friends at Evolution cycles a 60cm Trek Madone 4.5 was procured.
Why the Shimano 105 equipped 4.5 instead of the Shimano Ultegra equipped 4.7? I intended to swap the parts out for Campagnolo and my other preferred components so there was no benefit to the 4.7 for me as the frames are the same.
The stock parts on the bike are of good quality. Shimano 105 is well proven kit and the Bontrager parts show that Trek has put a lot of thought into the needs of their customers.
The only reason I changed out the parts is that I have built up my own preferences over the years and want to stick with what I know works.
Changing the parts also gave me an opportunity to strip the bike right down to the bare frame. Which allowed me to inspect the inside of the frame… and I have to say I was very impressed.
While my photography skills and equipment are perhaps a little lacking, hopefully the photos to the right give a reasonably clear view of how clean the inside of the frame is.
The view into the Bottom Bracket area was similarly pleasing, although it’s harder to appreciate this if you haven’t looked inside frames and seen a messy finish and bits of paper/plastic left behind.
A clean finish on the inside of a frame is a good thing because it indicates the level of care that has gone into the design and construction. It shows that the internal bladders (used in the moulding) have been precisely shaped to avoid wrinkles in the carbon and pools of excess resin. It’s not as big a deal as some brands have tried to make it but it’s definitely a positive feature.
One of the advantages of a frame with such oversized tubing is that it makes it easier for the manufacturer (in this case a factory in Taiwan that Trek contracts to build the lower end models) to pull the bladders out after the frame has been ‘cooked’ and avoid bits being left over.
The frame is constructed as a separate front triangle and then the rear stays are glued in (the joint is just behind the Bottom Bracket and visible internally). This differs from the high end USA made models which are moulded in more pieces and joined mid tube which allows very precise control of how the joints are formed.
The frame on its own weighs 1274g, which is on the face of it quite heavy. However, a typical paint job weighs over 200g. On this bike which is a large size and covered in white paint (which is the heaviest colour) it would be unsurprising if the paint weighed most of 300g. So the nude frame is likely around the 1kg mark, which is pretty respectable. Having your bike look pretty comes at a fairly high cost weight wise. I’ve weighed frames before and after painting that have gained 400g (which is probably why those pretty Colnagos and Pinarellos have a bad rep for weight as they’re painted at the same factory as the bikes I was weighing).
The fork weighed 400g cut to length which is very light for a fork with an alloy steerer. The reason for this is that the crown and legs have been moulded together so that only the steerer is alloy. The normal way of constructing forks to get the cost down is to have only carbon legs that are stuck to an alloy crown and this method usually gives forks of over 500g. The crown has a bevel moulded in which eliminates one of the headset parts while making the fork stronger.
The picture to the left is the underside of the Bottom Bracket – showing how the non-driveside has been pushed out. On the driveside there are important things like the cranks and chainrings that need space so only the bearing cup sticks out from the frame. Without naming names it disappoints me when I see brands that do this on both sides – basically just replacing the standard bearing cups with carbon moulded into the frame. The big advantage of any of the wide BB designs is that they allow the non-driveside chainstay to be made much larger which makes it much easier to build a stiff frame (no point having a huge downtube but spindly chainstays behind it) without having to use really expensive carbon.
This BB design is a big advantage of the Trek Madone 4.5 2012 vs the Trek Madone 4.5 2011. In fact the 2012 version has had a number of elements from the 5 and 6 series designs trickled down. One of the notable features of the Madone design when it first came out was that it was engineering to have 25mm of rear suspension. No pivots in sight but the carbon layup was such that the frame was similar to an MTB softail (no pivots but still a compression spring in the seat stays). The 4-series frame will not have the same precision of layup (it would cost the same as the 5-series if it did) but it’s reasonable to assume that the shared DNA would lead to the 4-series having a bit more vertical give than the average frame at its price level.
Building the frame back up was easy – no surprises. And this is what I ended up with:
As for actually riding the finished bike…
Most of my riding lately has been on my Steel Eddy Merckx. So the Madone 4.5 is considerably lighter despite the tubing being so much larger diameter.
Overall it has a very nice feel and lives up to all the expectations I had based on the design elements mentioned above.
The Madone steers very nicely – the solid front end is very good under braking when coming hot into bends and the tracking is very precise. The steering behaviour is quite lively, as would be expected from a 73.9 head tube angle, but never nervous – exactly what you want from a race bike.
Unfortunately the steep head angle means that my -17 degree stem is pointing down which isn’t all that pleasing aesthetically.
There is no sensation of flex under power – which is all that I need. The jury is out on whether frame flex actually makes a material difference to power transfer and I don’t obsess about stiffness measurements. I just want enough stiffness that the frame feels firm when I push hard on it and the Madone certainly lives up to that.
The ride quality is pleasantly smooth. At first I had to get over the feeling of having a rear puncture when riding rough roads as there was a lot less feedback than other bikes I’ve ridden.
The overall impression is of neutrality – nothing stands out as being wrong or unpredictable. I’ve had bikes with ‘personality’ and we didn’t always get along. This bike disappears and lets you get on with the job.
If I were to nit pick there are a couple of minor things I don’t like. One is that there were a couple of paint chips within the first three weeks. Not a functional fault though and not surprising given the standard of Waikato roads.
And the feel of the rear brake is very slightly spongy, I suspect because the placement of the rear brake cable stops allow the frame tubing to flex a little when the pressure comes on.
Which leads to my only real complaint about the bike – external cables on a carbon bike are an anachronism and I suspect they’ve only been used here to increase the differentiation between the 4-series and its higher level siblings.
To conclude: There are a lot of things I like about this bike and only some very minor, fussy aspects that I’m displeased with so overall I rate it very highly. Especially when the price (the stock version retails for NZ$3349) is taken into account.
All the expectations I had based on the design features have been met. I also wanted to try a lower-mid priced carbon bike to see what the standard was like. This bike compares extremely well to some rather pricey competitors that I’ve ridden – to the point that I’d struggle to justify a more expensive frame from a performance perspective (unless it was aero like the S5).
I’m not going to assign a star rating as I don’t think those have value. I’ll just finish by repeating that I’m very impressed by the quality, handling and feel of what Trek have produced and would recommend the Madone 4-Series to anyone (as long as it fits properly of course)