Four Years & Five Grand: Trek Madone Face-Off

How does a dream bike compare to a great deal? These two Trek Madones have similarly slippery aero profiles. However, braking, drivetrain, and frame tech are quite different. 

Dream vs. Deal Trek Madone

Written by
Bruce Lin

Published on

Posted in
Bikes

Everyone wishes they could ride a "dream bike," but what if you could track down a deal that's just as capable for way less? Today, we're comparing two Trek Madones that are separated by four years of product development and a $5,000 price difference.

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The dream bike: 

Trek Madone SLR 9 Disc Project One

[product-block handle="2019-trek-madone-slr-l"/] 

For the dreamers, we have this 2020 Madone SLR 9 Disc Project One. The Madone received a major update in 2019, improving on many of the 2016 features. With the latest and greatest components, custom paint, and a $9,299.99 price tag, this bike will satisfy riders with expensive taste and plenty of money to burn.

The deal bike:

Trek Madone 9 Series

[product-block handle="nc_2017-trek-madone-9-series-l"/]

If you’re interested in getting the most bang for your buck, this 2016 Trek Madone 9 Series fits the bill. At $4,348.99, it’s less than half the price of the dream Madone. It's still flossed out with SRAM eTap wireless shifting and carbon wheels.

So is the 2020 Madone worth the extra $4,951? Let’s dive in and find out! 

2020 Trek Madone SLR 9 Disc vs. 2016 Trek Madone 9 Series 

Bike

2020 Madone SLR 9 Disc

2016 Madone 9 Series

Price

$9,299.99

$4,348.99

Frame Material

OCLV 700 Carbon

OCLV 700 Carbon

Drivetrain

SRAM RED eTap AXS

SRAM RED eTap

Wheels

Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 

Zipp 302

Brakes

Hydraulic Disc

Rim 

IsoSpeed 

Adjustable w/ damper

Non-adjustable

Weight

17 lbs 14 oz

16 lbs 13 oz

Frame

Both Madone frames feature Trek’s high-grade OCLV 700 carbon. Until the arrival of OCLV 800 in 2021, OCLV 700 was Trek’s lightest and strongest carbon, reserved for top-of-the-line models. The most obvious difference between the two bikes is the paint. The 2020 Madone is a Project One bike, meaning the color is custom. The marbled red paint makes it a truly one-of-a-kind dream bike. The 2016 Madone, on the other hand, is simply flat black — maybe good if you prefer not to stand out. 

Drivetrain

SRAM AXS drivetrain
SRAM AXS offers a different approach to road bike gearing.

We have two high-end SRAM RED eTap wireless electronic drivetrains, but the 2020 Madone uses the latest 12-speed eTap AXS drivetrain with X-Range gearing (46/33t chainrings & 10-28t cassette). SRAM claims that X-Range provides better gear range with more one-tooth steps between gears. 

The older RED eTap on the 2016 Madone is 11-speed and uses traditional compact gearing (50/34t chainrings + 11-28t cassette). Notably, it comes with a Quarq power meter while the 2020 does not. Power meters aren’t cheap, so this will surely please racers and data geeks.  

[newsletter]

Wheels

Both bikes are ready for to ditch tubes with tubeless-ready carbon hoops. The 2016 Madone saves a bit of cash with Zipp’s budget-friendly 302 wheels. These forgo the ABLC dimpling used on Zipp’s higher-end Firecrest and NSW wheels, but Zipp claims they’re only two or three watts slower. The biggest difference is the use of thru-axles on the 2020 Madone. Thru-axles are stiffer, keep brake rotors centered, and are up to date with modern standards. For future-proofing, thru-axle disc wheels are the better option. 

Brakes

Trek Madone rim brakes with flappy things
Trek took a novel approach to the front rim brake on previous-generation Madone bikes.

Brakes are the biggest difference between our two bikes. The 2016 Madone uses old-school rim brakes in the form of aerodynamic, center-pull, direct-mount calipers. On the front, the brake cables are hidden behind a pair of “Vector Wings” in the head tube. These quirky little doors create a sleek aero silhouette but can open up and make space for the brake cables so the fork can turn.

The 2020 Madone’s hydraulic disc brakes offer more stopping power and modulation, at the cost of a bit more drag and an increase in frame weight of 14 grams. Plus, the brakes themselves weigh significantly more (the full build is a pound heavier!).

Disc brakes are the de facto choice for modern road bikes — even at the WorldTour level. However, if you live in flat terrain, desperately want to save grams, or just prefer mechanical simplicity, the 2016's rim brakes might be a perk.

IsoSpeed 

Trek IsoSpeed
Trek's IsoSpeed is so cleanly integrated on the 2020 Madone, you barely notice it.

In 2016, Trek redesigned the Madone to add IsoSpeed tech for comfort and compliance. Pioneered on the Domane endurance bike, IsoSpeed decouples the seat tube from the top tube so it can flex to absorb bumps and vibration without the weight penalty of suspension. This is great for long stints in the saddle, reducing rider fatigue. This 2016 model happens to be missing the cover over the IsoSpeed bolt. It’s mostly cosmetic, and these things can happen with a six year old bike.

The 2020 model features an improved IsoSpeed design. An adjustable slider under the top tube allows riders to tune the IsoSpeed. Moving the slider forward increases compliance for rougher surfaces while sliding it back increases stiffness for a more direct feel on smoother pavement. A damper has also been added inside the seat tube. It uses an elastomer to control how the seat tube rebounds after impacts, slowing it down to reduce bounciness. 

Geometry

Bike

2020 Madone SLR 9 Disc

2016 Madone 9 Series

Effective Top Tube

574mm

573mm

Head Tube

171mm

190mm

Stack

581mm

601mm

Reach

396mm

391mm


Despite being the same size (58cm), the stack and reach numbers for the two bikes are a bit different. For years, Trek offered two geometries: H2 for more stack and less reach; H1 for longer reach and low stack. This 2016 Madone uses H2 geometry. 

The 2020 Madone SLR instead uses Trek’s latest H1.5 geometry. As the name implies, it's almost exactly halfway between H1 and H2 geometry, providing a good compromise between comfort and aerodynamics to suit most riders. 

Other details

2016 Madone front end
The front end looks super clean on the 2016 Madone, but may lack the adjustability some riders want.

The 2016 Madone uses a one-piece integrated handlebar and stem. If you want a different bar width or stem length, you need to change the whole unit. That is not ideal for some, so the 2020 Madone switched to a two-piece bar and stem that’s as aerodynamic as the one-piece system, but offers a wide range of fit combinations. The 2020 Madone handlebar has back-swept tops (the older bar has straight tops), and you can also apply up to five degrees of bar roll. Both models route all cables through the bars and stem, so either way, changing the cockpit will be an adventure for home mechanics. 

It may be hard to see, but the seat post clamp on the 2020 bike has also been revised from an external clamp to an internal wedge. This provides a cleaner look and allows Trek to paint match the seatpost (all 2016-2018 Madones will have black seat posts).

Dream vs. Deal verdict

2020 Trek Madone

So which Madone would I choose? The 2020 Madone SLR 9 Disc Project One dream bike is superior to the 2016 Madone 9 Series deal bike in nearly every way. Even though the enormous Trek logo is a bit obnoxious, the custom red paint gives me all the right feels. I like that the RED AXS drivetrain will remain SRAM’s top-of-the-line offering for several years, and I can live without a power meter. The IsoSpeed updates are nice too, though after riding other IsoSpeed bikes like the Checkpoint, I kind of doubt I’ll need the adjustable slider. 

Disc brakes are the biggest selling point. Even though the 2016 Madone would give me lots of money leftover for upgrades (not that it needs any), you can’t turn a rim brake frame into a disc brake frame. Despite the extra pound the brakes add, I prefer disc brakes, and want to stay current, so they’re what tipped the scales in favor of the dream bike.    

Bruce’s pick: 

[product-block handle="2019-trek-madone-slr-l"/] 

The 2020 Madone dream bike is my winner. Can I actually afford it? Heck no. But it’s a dream bike, and I can definitely keep dreaming. If you don’t mind rim brakes, the 2016 Madone is an amazing value for the performance.

Let me know which bike you’d pick in the comments!

[button]Shop Trek Madones[/button] | [button]Shop All Road Bikes[/button]

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