Trek Émonda SL5 vs SL6 (Comparison)

If you’re looking for a comparison of the Trek Émonda SL5 and the SL6, then you’ve come to the right place.

I’ve been researching these two awesome machines from Trek and have pulled together a number of resources which I hope will make choosing between them a little easier. First up, we have the full specification list for each bike – a head-to-head comparison so that you can easily cross-reference every component on the SL5 with its peer on the SL6. Next, I’ll highlight the major pros and cons of them and, finally, I’ve written up an in-depth review of the Émonda range, with a deep-dive on the SL5 and SL6.

If you think the choice comes down to a straight shoot-out between Shimano’s 105 and Ultegra systems, you wouldn’t be totally wrong. But that misses a number of critical differences which will undoubtedly have a bearing on your decision.

My conclusion though is that (1) I’d choose the Émonda SL6 over the SL5 and also that (2) both the bikes are fantastic, and you’ll be riding with a grin plastered on your face whichever one you go for.

Let’s take a look at the details, kicking off with the spec list rundown.

Component

Product

Current price

Frame

Ultralight 500 Series OCLV Carbon, tapered head tube, internal routing

Ultralight 500 Series OCLV Carbon, tapered head tube, internal routing

Fork

Emonda SL full carbon, tapered carbon steerer, internal brake routing

Emonda SL full carbon, tapered carbon steerer, internal brake routing

Frame fit

H1.5 Race

H1.5 Race

Front wheel

Bontrager Affinity Disc, Tubeless Ready, 21mm width

Bontrager Paradigm Disc, Tubeless Ready, 20mm width

Rear wheel

Bontrager Affinity Disc, Tubeless Ready, 21mm width, Shimano 11-spd freehub

Bontrager Paradigm Disc, Tubeless Ready, 20mm width, Shimano 11-spd freehub

Spokes

14g, stainless steel

n/a

Skewers

Bontrager Switch thru axle, removable lever

Bontrager Switch thru axle, removable lever

Tires

Bontrager R1 Hard-Case Lite, wire bead, 700x28c

Bontrager R2 Hard-Case Lite, aramid bead, 700x28c

Maximum Tire size

700x28c

700x28c

Shifter

Shimano 105 R7025, short-reach, 11 spd (47-52)

Shimano 105 R7020, 11 spd (54-62)

Shimano Ultegra R8025, short-reach, 11 spd (47-52)

Shimano Ultegra R8020, 11-spd (54-62)

Front derailleur

Shimano 105 R7000, braze-on

Shimano Ultegra R8000, braze-on

Rear derailleur

Shimano 105 R7000, short cage, 30T max cog

Shimano Ultegra R8000, short cage, 30T max cog

Crank

Shimano 105 R7000, 50/34 (compact), 165-175mm length

Shimano Ultegra R8000, 52/36, 165-175mm length

Bottom bracket

Praxis, T47 threaded, internal bearing

Praxis, T47 threaded, internal bearing

Cassette

Shimano 105 R7000, 11-30, 11 speed

Shimano Ultegra R8000, 11-30, 11 speed

Chain

Shimano 105 HG601, 11 speed

Shimano Ultegra HG701, 11-speed

Maximum Chainring size

1x: 50T; 2x: 53/39T

1x: 50T; 2x: 53/39T

Saddle

Bontrager P3 Verse Comp, steel rails, 155mm (47-52), 145 (54-62)

Bontrager Aeolus Comp, steel rails, 145mm width

Seatpost

Bontrager alloy seatmast cap, 10mm offset, short (47-54), tall (56-62)

Bontrager carbon seatmast cap, 20mm offset, short (47-54), tall (56-62)

Handlebar

Bontrager Comp VR-C, alloy, 31.8mm, 100mm reach, 124mm drop, 38-44cm width

Bontrager Elite VR-C, alloy, 31.8mm, 100mm reach, 124mm drop, 38-44cm width

Handlebar tape

Bontrager Supertack Perf tape

Bontrager Supertack Perf tape

Stem

Bontrager Elite, 31.8mm, 7 degree, 70-110mm length

Bontrager Elite, 31.8mm, 7 degree, 70-110mm length

Brake

Shimano 105 hydraulic disc, flat mount

Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc, flat mount

Brake rotor

Shimano SM-RT70, centerlock, 160mm

Shimano RT800, centerlock, 160mm

Bike weight

56: 20.18 lbs (9.15kg)

56: 18.18 lbs (8.25kg)

Weight limit

(total of bike, rider & cargo)

275 lbs (125 kg)

275 lbs (125 kg)

Customer reviews


Trek Émonda range overview

Launched in 2014, the Émonda was (and still is) the top-flight mountain climber in Trek’s road bike arsenal, thanks to their obsession with weight reduction and the super-stiff and responsive frame. But the new Émonda is no “one-trick pony” and will excel whatever the terrain. The move to H1.5 geometry and aero style tubing, combined with the internally-routed cabling, make this a fast bike whether you’re going up, down or flat out on the flats.

There are 7 models in the current Émonda line-up, plus a frame-only option if you’d prefer to build your own. The SL5 is the entry-level model in the range – though this is said with a grin and a glint in the eye as there’s not much that’s “entry-level” about this work of art. Top of the tree is the SL7 Disc eTap – carbon throughout (including the wheels) and with a full wireless electronic drivetrain. It’s expensive (over double what you’d pay for the SL5) but, if you’ve got the budget available, then you won’t regret spending it on the SL7 eTap. Although the rest of your riding buddies might.

Let’s take a more detailed look at the SL5 and SL6. We’ll see how they compare against each other. Highlight the pros and cons of each bike. See which has the best spec for the money and finally come to a conclusion about which is the bike to go for.


Trek Émonda SL5 Disc Review

Pros
Race-ready
Carbon frame and forks
Full Shimano 105 drivetrain
Shimano 105 hydraulic disc brakes
Very light (20.18 lbs)
More wallet-friendly than the SL6

Cons
No Ultegra components like the SL6 has
Heavier wire bead tires than the SL6’s aramid bead
2 lbs heavier than the SL6

There can’t be many “entry level” road bikes that are as droolworthy as the SL5 Disc. If you like to ride fast then the Émonda SL5 is an excellent starting point and, if you’ve got racing in mind, then this could be the bike that sees you to the podium.

Both the SL5 and SL6 have identical carbon frames, with the new aero styling that Trek has bestowed on the Émonda range. This, combined with the carbon forks, give a bike that is light, stiff and highly responsive. Trek says that the aero tube shapes, along with the internal cable routing, will play a measurable role when you’re traveling at speed. This was essentially ‘free speed’ that was just being left on the start line beforehand, so it’s fantastic to see these changes by the team at Trek.

Looking at the buyer reviews, we see a lot of happy and smiling faces. That’s testament to how enjoyable a bike SL5 is to ride. Lots of comments describe the speed and agility of this bike. I’ll mention the negative comments, but there are only a few. There’s concern over the stock saddle and stock wheels – both of which are easy to upgrade – and also the apparent ‘middle of the road components’.

Let’s take a look at those ‘middle of the road components’ because they’re the 800-pound bike tech in the corner of the bike shop. Shimano 105 vs Shimano Ultegra drivetrain – what’s the deal?

Look around on the bike forums and you’ll see plenty of opinions on these two systems. Well, here’s my take on them. First up, both are excellent. They perform great, when and where you need them to. That goes for both the drivetrain and the brakes. If you’re a mid-level club cyclist you’re unlikely to notice a difference in the performance between the two.

Where you will notice a difference between the 105 and the Ultegra is in the weight and the cost. The SL5 is around 2 lbs heavier and $800 cheaper than the SL6 and much of that is due to the upgrade from 105 to Ultegra.

Which brings us to the SL6.


Trek Émonda SL6 Disc Review

Pros
Race-ready
Carbon frame and forks
Full Shimano Ultegra drivetrain
Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc brakes
Super light (18.18 lbs!) – that’s only a few ounces less than the SL7 eTap

Cons
Around $800 more expensive than the SL5

I’ll start by saying that, of the two bikes, this is the one that I would choose every time.

Yes, it’s substantially more expensive than the SL5 Disc. No, I can’t feel a significant difference in performance between the Shimano 105 and Ultegra components (both feel fantastic). But, where I can feel a big difference is in the 2 lb weight reduction on the SL6 over the SL5.

Pick the bikes up, one in each hand, and you’ll be able to feel the 32-ounce difference. Get them out on the road and you’ll really start to notice the weight decrease. Those 2 lbs will convert to extra speed, seconds knocked off, and more PBs. On climbs, you’ll feel you’ve got a spring in your step. On the flat, you’ll feel like you’ve got your own personal tailwind following you.

Will you feel like a superhero on the SL6? It’s possible, but don’t start wearing your bright red underpants on the outside of your bib tights.

Because of that weight difference, the SL6 will feel like a big step up from the SL5.

And it’s not just me who thinks that. Customer reviews talk about the silky smooth feel of the SL6, the benefits of the aero styling, and the beautiful design. One even said that it, “forces you to ride fast”. No bad thing.

In fact, the only downsides were that the handlebars weren’t felt to be aero enough, and “haven’t found any so far”. Which all sounds perfectly fine to me.

There is much debate amongst road bikers as to the benefits or otherwise of disc brakes over rim brakes. The entire Émonda range now has disc brakes, with the SL6’s Ultegra brakes being, in a word, sweet. My view is this. There may be a slight overall weight increase for the disc brakes vs rim brakes / reinforced wheel rims setup. But, the benefit you get from those disc brakes when you hit a patch of slippery stuff and pull your brakes whilst taking a hairpin bend on a steep and fast descent…is best measurable in terms of the number of packs of band aids you’ll need to apply in sticking yourself back together again.

I know that disc brakes are “on-trend” right now. In five years time we might be told that we need to switch back to rim brakes. But, frankly, I’m keeping the discs so I can slow down and stop when and where I need to.


Conclusion – which one to go for?

I really like the Émonda range and I really, really like the SL5 and SL6. The SL5 is substantially cheaper than the SL6 and, with the Shimano 105 drivetrain and brakes, it’s a fantastic and great value bike that will climb fast and barrel along the flat.

But…

2 lbs is a lot of weight and that’s a deal-clincher for me. I can’t feel a performance difference between 105 and Ultegra, but I can really feel a difference of 2 lbs. The SL6 will get you up hills faster than the SL5 and will beat the SL5 on the flat. That, for me, is worth the price difference and it makes the SL6 my bike of choice from these two excellent machines.

The podium awaits.