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Which Trek bike is right for you?

By Bruce Lin

Published

The founders of Trek Bicycle believed there was special power in the name Trek. To them, it called forth the spirit of adventure and the promise of great things beyond the horizon. Their one goal was to prove an American brand was capable of producing high-end, high-performance bicycles capable of competing with the best European and Japanese bikes.

Over the last 40 years, the little company from Waterloo, Wisconsin grew into one of the biggest manufacturers in the world, making more than a million bikes per year. It has supported some of the world’s top racers on their path to glory and introduced innovative bike technologies that have had a huge impact on modern cycling.

Trek bike buying guide domaneTrek’s huge catalog includes everything from race-ready road bikes, to trail-shredding mountain bikes, to reliable cruisers for your daily commute. But how do you know which Trek bike is right for you?

This overview is your guide to all things Trek. It will cover Trek’s history, innovative technologies, model naming system, and its most popular road, gravel, and mountain bike models. (Time trial, triathlon, electric, urban, and sub-$1,000 bikes are omitted. Trek simply makes too many bikes to go over all of them!) Find out which riders fit with each bike model so you can better understand Trek’s line-up and make an informed decision when buying your next bike.

Contents

History

Trek bike history founders Dick Burke Bevil HoggBevil Hogg and Dick Burke with an early Trek.

Trek’s founders, Richard (Dick) Burke and Bevil Hogg, met by chance on a plane ride. A businessman always looking for new opportunities, Burke was convinced by Hogg to pursue his interest in bicycles. Together, they bought a bike store in Madison, Wisconsin named Stella Bicycle Shop and later opened a second location in Champaign, Illinois. Burke’s vision was to set up a nationwide chain of bicycle stores in college towns. Unfortunately, the shops failed and closed in the fall of 1975.

At the time, America wasn’t known for producing high-end bikes. Budget-friendly Schwinns were easily available, but if you wanted performance and refinement, European and Japanese brands were the only option. However, many of these top brands weren’t easily available in U.S. bike shops. Burke and Bevil decided that, instead of trying to sell budget bikes or imports through their shops, they needed to create their own brand to bring high-end bike manufacturing to the U.S.

Trek bike history barnThe original Trek barn.

Burke and Hogg established Trek Bicycle in December of 1975 with only five employees working in a red barn in Waterloo, Wisconsin. They started manufacturing custom, hand-brazed steel touring frames and built nearly 900 framesets in the first year, each selling for just under $200. Trek later introduced its first road racing bike in 1981 and its first mountain bike in 1983.

Early experiments in carbon led to the 2500 and 5000 carbon road bikes. Understanding that carbon was the future of bike frames, Trek invested heavily in its in-house carbon fiber manufacturing capabilities during the early ‘90s. Its first successful carbon monocoque road bikes, the 5500 and 5200, arrived in 1992. These bikes used OCLV Carbon which stands for "Optimum Compaction Low Void," referring to Trek's proprietary carbon manufacturing process that exceeds aerospace standards.

Trek factory racing Jolanda Neff segafredo Trek continues to support top men and women's teams in mountain and road. 

Cycling’s most famous (or infamous) rider, Lance Armstrong, won his first Tour de France in 1999 aboard a Trek 5500. Though later stripped of his victories, Armstrong went on to win a record-setting seven-consecutive Tours de France aboard the Trek 5500, 5900, and Madone. Trek is still a fixture in professional cycling, with factory road and mountain bike race teams, and some of the biggest names in cycling competing aboard its bikes.

Trek technology

Trek has a long history of innovation, and it has introduced several ground-breaking technologies to the sport. Here is a list of technology and features that are only found on Trek bikes.

IsoSpeed

IsoSpeed first appeared on the Trek Domane endurance road bike. The goal of IsoSpeed is to improve compliance and reduce vibration over rough surfaces while maintaining a bike’s stiffness, efficiency, and handling characteristics. It’s not a suspension system but a “decoupler” system with elastomers that allow for a small amount of movement between key junctions like the seat tube and top tube.

Rear IsoSpeed decouplers allow the seat tube to flex independently of the top tube and absorb bumps. The top tube is split so the seat tube can pass through it. The tubes don’t directly touch but are joined by a horizontal shaft and two sealed cartridge bearings. Between the tubes are two round elastomer inserts that absorb vibration. Because of its simplicity, it adds very little weight and requires little to no maintenance.

The newer (2016+) Domane and Boone cyclocross bikes also have a front IsoSpeed decoupler. A rocker cup is used on top of the headset and the steerer tube is joined to the rocker cup by a horizontal shaft and two sealed cartridge bearings. This allows the steerer tube to flex, improving compliance through the handlebars.

There is also a slider on high-end Domane SLR and Madone SL and SLR models to adjust the compliance of the rear IsoSpeed decoupler to suit conditions and rider preferences.

IsoSpeed technology is used on the Domane, Madone (2018+), Checkpoint, Boone, and Procaliber (2016+).

Active braking pivot (ABP) suspension

Trek abp active braking pivot mtb suspension designTrek’s patented Active Braking Pivot (ABP) suspension system is used on all of its full-suspension mountain bikes (with the exception of the Supercaliber). The intention of this design is to separate braking forces from suspension forces. On many suspension designs, applying the rear brake will limit the suspension’s ability to move or cause it to rise (often referred to as “brake jack”).

To address this, ABP places a rear suspension pivot around the rear axle. This allows the brake caliper to “float” independent of suspension motion, preventing suspension lock-up when the brake is applied. This is useful on technical descents because it helps the rider maintain traction while braking, improving their confidence and speed.

RE:aktiv and Thru Shaft shocks

Trek Re:aktiv thru shaft mtb shockIn 2014, Trek worked with Penske Racing to develop RE:aktiv valve technology for its rear shocks. In RE:aktiv shocks, a spring-loaded valve inside the shock body provides increased low-speed compression for more pedaling support. When the shock's shaft speed increases on rough terrain, the valve opens up to quickly absorb impacts before closing again. RE:aktiv shocks are designed to reduce the need for lockouts and compression adjustment on full-suspension mountain bikes when pedaling on smooth terrain or climbing.

In 2018, Trek added Thru Shaft to its RE:aktiv shocks. Most mountain bike shocks are designed around an internal floating piston, or IFP. When a shock absorbs a bump, a damper shaft moves through the shock and displaces oil. This displaced oil needs to go somewhere, so it pushes against the IFP, compressing a gas charge behind the IFP.

The Thru Shaft design eliminates the need for an IFP by allowing the damper shaft to exit out the bottom of the shock. The damper no longer needs to compress an IFP to create space for displaced oil. This makes the shock more responsive and reduces friction. RE:aktiv Thru Shaft shocks are currently found on the Fuel EX, Remedy, and Slash.

IsoStrut

Trek supercaliber isostrut suspension designIsoStrut is a minimalist, frame-integrated shock designed to provide the comfort and control of rear suspension while maintaining weight, stiffness, and efficiency similar to a hardtail. To save weight, instead of an ABP suspension pivot, there is flex built into the seatstays to provide a virtual pivot. In its current form, it is only found on the Supercaliber cross-country bike where it provides 60mm of suspension travel.

Knock Block and Straight Shot down tubes

Trek knock block mtb headsetMost mountain bike frames have a curve in the down tube where it joins the head tube to prevent interference with the fork crown. Trek’s Straight Shot down tubes, however, are straight from the headtube to the bottom bracket to increase frame stiffness and strength. This means the fork crown might hit the downtube if it spins around during a crash.

The Knock Block system prevents this with a chip in the top tube that interacts with a keyed stem, spacers, and headset top cover. The Knock Block stops the handlebars and fork from spinning, preventing the fork crown from striking the downtube. There's also a molded guard on the downtube as a redundant measure. As an added bonus, Knock Block also prevents brake and shift levers from scratching or damaging the top tube.

Knock Block can be found on all of Trek’s carbon mountain bike models and the aluminum versions of the Fuel EX, Remedy, and Slash.

Hidden storage

Trek domane hidden storage compartmentThe 2020 Trek Domane was the first model to feature Trek’s Hidden Storage compartment, a convenient hollow storage area in the down tube. The down tube bottle cage mount is attached to a removable hatch that’s accessed with a small lever. Attached to that cover is a holder for a multi-tool, and inside the down tube is a nylon tool roll for holding spare tubes and tools.

Hidden storage is found on the 2020+ Domane SL and SLR, the 2020+ Fuel EX, and 2021+ Slash.

Decoding Trek model names

Trek has a huge selection of bike models, and within every model, there is a wide range of builds to choose from. The hierarchy within models is described using letters and numbers that can be confusing to uninitiated buyers. Below is a guide to decoding Trek’s naming and numbering system.

Road and gravel bikes

Trek road bike carbon vs aluminum SLR vs. SL vs. ALR vs. ALRoad bike models use a series of letters and numbers (e.g. Trek Madone SLR 9) that indicate the frame material and component build. SLR and SL models are carbon fiber while ALR and AL models are aluminum.

The top-of-the-line SLR models use a higher grade 700-series OCLV carbon (improved 800-series carbon is used for the new 2021+ Madone and Emonda) which is lighter but more expensive than the 500-series OCLV carbon used for SL models.

ALR models use 300-series Alpha aluminum which is lighter but more expensive than the 200-series Alpha aluminum used on entry-level AL models.

The number used will range from 5 to 9, with 5 indicating entry-level builds and 9 indicating top-of-the-line builds. Higher numbered bikes cost more but are equipped with better components.

For example, an Emonda SLR 9 ($12,499) has a top-of-the-line 800-series OCLV carbon frame, SRAM Red eTap AXS drivetrain, and carbon wheels, stem, and handlebars. An Emonda ALR 5 ($2,099) has a more budget-friendly 300-series Alpha aluminum frame, Shimano 105 drivetrain, and alloy wheels, stem, and handlebars. In between are several Emonda models that offer different frame materials and component builds so riders can pick the bike that fits their needs and budget.

Mountain bikes

Trek Fuel ex trail mountain bikeTrek mountain bike models use a number (e.g. Trek Fuel EX 9.9) that indicate the frame material and component build. Models with a 5 through 8 use aluminum frames, with 5 indicating entry-level builds and 8 indicating top-of-the-line aluminum builds.

Models with a 9 use carbon frames. To differentiate build levels within carbon models, Trek uses a decimal system that ranges from 9.5 to 9.9, with 9.5 indicating entry-level builds and 9.9 indicating top-of-the-line builds.

Higher numbered bikes cost more but are equipped with better components.

For example, a Fuel EX 9.9 ($9,499) has a top-of-the-line OCLV carbon frame, SRAM XX1 Eagle AXS drivetrain, Fox Factory suspension, and carbon wheels, stem, and handlebars. A Fuel EX 5 ($2,399) has a more budget-friendly aluminum frame, Shimano Deore drivetrain, entry-level RockShox and X-Fusion suspension, and alloy wheels, stem, and handlebars. In between are several Fuel EX models that offer different frame materials and component builds so riders can pick the bike that fits their needs and budget.

WSD

WSD stands for Women's-Specific Design. WSD will usually be indicated after a bike’s model name (e.g. Trek Madone WSD). These bikes featured women’s-specific geometry and components. In recent years, Trek has slowly phased out its WSD line of bikes as data and market trends have shown that men and women can easily fit on the same bikes. WSD bikes are still available on the used market, and Trek does still offer a few entry-level women’s models, but in general, all Trek bikes are considered unisex.

H1 and H2 frame fit

You may encounter older Trek road bikes that are described as H1, H2, or H3 (e.g. Trek Madone H1). This refers to how the frame fits, or the geometry. H2 geometry is the “standard” geometry. It’s the most commonly available and it provides a balance between comfort and performance. H1 is a race-oriented geometry. It has a lower stack and longer reach for a more aggressive riding position. This is good for aerodynamics, but many recreational riders will find it uncomfortable. It’s generally only found on top-end Madone and Emonda models. Older Domane endurance bikes had H3 geometry, a more upright, comfort-focused geometry.

Recently, Trek has begun phasing out its different fit offerings. The 2021 Madone and Emonda are only available in what is called H1.5 Race fit. This new geometry has been developed with Trek’s pro cycling teams and should be the sweet spot between aerodynamics and comfort. The Domane is now referred to as having Endurance fit. Overall this simplifies the shopping process because riders won’t need to be concerned with which geometry they’re getting.

If shopping for older (pre-2020) Trek models, most will be H2 unless otherwise noted. Sellers will often point out H1 models because they are particularly desirable for racers.

Project One

Trek Project one custom paint madone road bikeTrek offers paint customization from the factory through its Project One program. Buyers ordering a new bike can select from a large library of colors and paint schemes to produce a one-of-a-kind bike. Project One bikes will have “Project One” listed with their model name, and also have it printed on the top tube. Depending on the paint scheme, it can increase a bike’s value.

Madone anagrams

Here’s a fun piece of Trek trivia. Trek’s flagship Madone road bike is named for the Col de la Madone, a legendary climb near the French Riviera that was a favorite training ground for Lance Armstrong. Trek gave its subsequent road bike models names that are anagrams of Madone (i.e. the letters are rearranged): Domane and Emonda.

Road bikes

Trek domane endurance road bike

Madone

Trek madone road bikeThe Madone is Trek’s flagship aero road racing bike. Of Trek’s current road offerings, it has the longest history and has undergone the most evolution. When introduced, the Madone was the successor to the 5900, a lightweight climbing bike meant to win road races and grand tours like the Tour de France. As aerodynamic efficiency has become increasingly important in modern road racing, the Madone has adapted to compete with bikes like the Specialized Venge, Giant Propel, and Cannondale SystemSix. The new generation of Madone features deep, aerodynamically shaped tubes that reduce drag as much as possible. Since 2018, it’s been equipped with an IsoSpeed decoupler in the rear to also make it more comfortable.

Who it’s for: Riders looking for maximum speed and aero gains on flat and rolling roads.

Emonda

Trek emonda road bikeThe Emonda is Trek’s lightweight road racing bike. Reducing weight was the main goal of the original Emonda and when it was released in 2014, it was billed as one of the lightest production frames available. It has been a favorite of climbers and road racers who prioritize low weight above all else and it’s a good choice for riders who live in hilly and mountainous regions. As the Emonda has matured, it’s received some aerodynamic tube shaping that has made it a more capable all-rounder for a wider range of riding. To maximize lightness and power transfer, the Emonda is the only Trek road bike without IsoSpeed.

Who it’s for: Riders looking for a lightweight bike for climbing, racing, and all-around road riding.

Domane

Trek domane road bikeThe Domane is Trek’s endurance road bike. It was famously ridden by classics legend Fabian Cancellara. Cancellara helped develop and refine Trek’s IsoSpeed technology, which increases compliance over bumps and absorbs vibration. He rode the Domane to multiple wins in the cobbled classics. Paired with more upright, endurance geometry, the Domane is perfect for riders looking to reduce fatigue on long rides and rough roads. The third generation of the Domane can also fit larger tires up to 38mm, making it a great option for riders in search of a more road-oriented all-road or gravel bike.

Who it’s for: Riders looking for more comfort for long rides, rough roads, and light gravel.

Gravel / cyclocross bikes

Trek Crockett gravel cyclocross bike

Checkpoint

Trek checkpoint gravel bikeThe Checkpoint is Trek’s gravel bike designed for rides that venture far away from paved roads. Relaxed geometry and clearance for wide 45mm gravel tires allow the Checkpoint to confidently tackle everything from rough and loose gravel and light singletrack. Rack and fender mounts make it versatile for bikepacking and commuting, and additional mounts on the top tube, seat tube, and both sides of the down tube allow riders to carry extra gear and water on the frame. Horizontal sliding rear dropouts also give riders the option to run the bike singlespeed or tune handling by adjusting chainstay length. Carbon Checkpoint models also use a rear IsoSpeed decoupler to improve comfort and compliance for long rides over rough terrain.

Who it’s for: Riders looking to tackle rough and loose gravel roads on their regular rides

Boone

Trek Boone cyclocross gravel bikeThe Boone is Trek’s race-ready carbon cyclocross bike. Cyclocross geometry lets it excel in demanding off-road conditions like mud, sand, and grass. Front and rear IsoSpeed improves traction and comfort during tough races. The Boone can serve as a great gravel bike for riders who enjoy the more agile feeling of cyclocross geometry.

Who it’s for: Cyclocross racers looking for maximum performance

Crockett

Trek Crockett cyclocross gravel bikeThe Crockett is Trek’s aluminum cyclocross bike. It shares geometry with the high-end Boone cyclocross bike and will perform similarly on mud, sand, and grass. To reduce cost, it uses an Alpha aluminum frame instead of a carbon frame with IsoSpeed. Like the Boone, the Crockett is capable enough for most gravel riding.

Who it’s for: Cyclocross racers looking for a budget-friendly race bike.

XC Mountain bikes

Trek Supercaliber XC mountain bike

Procaliber

Trek procaliber hardtail XC mountain bikeWheel Size: 29”
Suspension travel: 100mm front

The Procaliber is Trek’s carbon XC hardtail and its lightest mountain bike. It’s a pure cross-country race bike optimized for racers tackling fast courses who need maximum pedaling efficiency for climbing and acceleration. It features a rear IsoSpeed decoupler that provides extra compliance over rough roots and rocks.

Who it’s for: XC riders who want the lightest, most efficient bike, or who ride less-technical terrain.

X-Caliber

Trek X-caliber aluminum XC hardtail mountain bikeWheel Size: 29” (27.5” for S)
Suspension travel: 100mm front

The X-Caliber is Trek’s entry-level, aluminum XC hardtail. The lightweight aluminum frame provides lots of performance on fast courses without breaking the bank. It’s a great option for newer riders looking to get into XC racing.

Who it’s for: XC riders and racers looking for a budget hardtail.

Supercaliber

Trek Supercaliber full suspension XC mountain bikeWheel Size: 29”
Suspension travel: 100mm front / 60mm rear

The Supercaliber is Trek’s lightest, most efficient, full-suspension XC bike. During development, Trek kept the Supercaliber under wraps (they literally hid the rear suspension under fabric during races) while Trek’s factory race team tested it at World Cups. The Supercaliber uses a unique IsoStrut suspension system with a frame-integrated shock. This provides 60mm of suspension travel, just enough to take the edge off bumps and harsh impacts while keeping the weight, stiffness, and efficiency close to the Procaliber hardtail. The Supercaliber is designed to be the perfect compromise between a hardtail and a 100mm full-suspension bike.

Who it’s for: XC riders looking for the lightest, most efficient full-suspension race bike available.

Top Fuel

Trek Top Fuel XC Downcountry Trail mountain bikeWheel Size: 29”
Suspension travel: 120mm front / 115mm rear

The Top Fuel is Trek’s full-suspension marathon XC bike. The previous generation Top Fuel was a pure XC race bike with 100mm of travel front and rear but for 2020, the travel has been increased to make it more capable on descents. The Top Fuel could be considered Trek’s “downcountry” bike, a cross-country bike that’d is aimed more at downhill performance than maximizing efficiency. It will hold its own in fast XC races, but it’s versatile enough for trail riders who enjoy big rides on technical terrain.

Who it’s for: Marathon XC racers and riders looking for a “downcountry” bike.

Trail mountain bikes

Trek mountain bike aluminum vs. carbon 5 6 7 8 vs. 9.9

Roscoe

Trek Roscoe Aluminum 27.5 plus hardtail mountain bikeWheel Size: 27.5” plus
Suspension travel: 120mm front (100mm on XS)

The Roscoe is Trek’s basic aluminum trail hardtail. 27.5” plus tires give the Roscoe great traction and comfort. The robust aluminum frame and affordable component builds make it a great choice for newer riders building their confidence and skills on the trail.

Who it’s for: Trail riders looking for a fun, inexpensive, easy to maintain hardtail trail bike.

Fuel EX

Trek Fuel EX trail mountain bikeWheel Size: 29” (27.5” available for XS and S)
Suspension travel: 140mm front / 130mm rear

The Fuel EX is Trek’s all-rounder trail bike and it has been Trek’s most popular mountain bike model for years. The latest generation has been refined with more suspension travel and modernized geometry to make it equally capable uphill and downhill. It’s designed to suit the majority of riders and the widest range of terrain. If you’re looking for a quiver killer bike that will feel comfortable, capable, and efficient enough for all types of riding, the Fuel EX is a top choice.

Who it’s for: Trail riders looking for one bike to handle everything from XC to technical downhill trails.

Stache

Trek Stache 29+ hardtail mountain bikeWheel Size: 29” plus
Suspension travel: 120mm front

The Stache is Trek’s 29-plus hardtail and it is one of only a few bikes available with 29-plus wheels and tires. These extra-large wheels and tires enhance rollover, traction, and comfort, making the Stache surprisingly capable for a hardtail. It’s a favorite of bikepackers who need to carry large amounts of gear and desire extra comfort for backcountry riding and multi-day journeys.

The Stache has been discontinued for 2021.

Who it’s for: Trail riders and bikepackers looking for a hardtail that maximizes traction and comfort.

Full Stache

Trek Full Stache 29+ plus full suspension mountain bikeWheel Size: 29” plus
Suspension travel: 130mm front / 130mm rear

The Full Stache is Trek’s 29-plus full-suspension trail bike. It’s essentially a full suspension version of the Stache with an extra 10mm of suspension travel. Like the Stache, the extra-large 29-plus wheels and tires enhance rollover, traction, and comfort.

The Full Stache has been discontinued for 2021.

Who it’s for: Trail riders and bikepackers looking for a full-suspension bike that maximizes traction and comfort.

Farley

Trek Farley 27.5" fat bike mountain bikeWheel Size: 27.5” Fat
Suspension travel: 100mm front or Rigid

The Farley is Trek’s fat bike specializing in terrain like snow and sand which require the additional “float” and traction of 4-5” wide fat tires. The newest generation of Farley uses 27.5” diameter fat tires instead of traditional 26” fat tires. Trek is a believer that using a larger diameter tire offers better performance in all conditions.

Who it’s for: Riders riding snow and sand.

All-mountain / enduro mountain bikes

Trek Slash 29" enduro mountain bike

Remedy

Trek Remedy 27.5" trail enduro mountain bikeWheel Size: 27.5”
Suspension travel: 160mm front / 150mm rear

The Remedy is Trek’s playful 27.5” trail bike. Older Remedy models were available with 29” wheels, but with the latest generation, Trek has committed to making the Remedy its sole 27.5” full-suspension bike. An ample amount of suspension travel allows the Remedy to confidently tackle tough and steep downhill terrain while smaller 27.5” wheels make it feel easier to maneuver and throw around. It will suit riders who jump and jib their way down trails and who prioritize style and fun over all-out speed.

Who it’s for: Trail riders looking for a capable and playful bike.

Slash

Trek Slash 29" long travel enduro race bikeWheel Size: 29”
Suspension travel: 170mm front / 160mm rear

The Slash is Trek’s 29er enduro race bike. It provides the most suspension travel and slackest geometry short of Trek’s Session downhill bike. Available only with 29” wheels, its number one priority is smoothing out the gnarliest terrain and maximizing downhill speed. The Slash is used by Trek’s factory Enduro World Series race team and will suit riders looking for a competitive enduro race bike, or a bike that will enhance their confidence on steep and technical downhill trails.

Who it’s for: Enduro racers and riders looking for the most downhill capable bike that can still be pedaled uphill.

 

Trek, of course, makes a lot more bikes than those listed here. If you need a triathlon bike, a basic urban bike, or an e-bike, Trek has plenty of options in every price category that can satisfy your needs. Check out our Trek collection to see all the Trek bikes we offer.

What do you ride? Which Trek bike is your favorite? What questions do you have? Let us know in the comments!

All photos Courtesy of Trek Bicycle. 


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