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Ride Quality, Handling, Power Transfer
For the maiden voyage, I rode 2.5 hours the first ride with the Trek Madone 6.9 SSL + Lightweight Ventoux 240 wheelset.
I was elated by how good this bike is— there is a synergy to the Lightweight Ventoux 240 wheelset and the Madone 6.9 SSLX that I was quite unprepared for— I was blown away by the improvement in every aspect over my previous bike, so let’s explain that briefly.
When leaned-out, I’m 178 pounds and about 9% body fat, but my first ride let’s just say I’ve now safely away from the 200 pound mark, so the bike had a pretty heavy load to carry.
My previous bike (which I still have) is the Trek Madone 5.9 SSLX, the “Lance” bike with the boron-reinforced bottom bracket area. I rode the SSLX for about five years, mainly with ZIPP 303 tubular wheelset and the lighter weight Veloflex Record and Servizio Corse tires. Never had any complaints really, a hell of ride.
I was prepared for the new Madone 6.9 SSLX to show fairly modest and perhaps even subtle gains. Boy, was I wrong!
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With five years of experience on my older Trek Madone 5.9 SSLX, a new bike is pretty easy to compare. Here’s what I found on my first 2.5-hour ride, with mixed riding as follows:
- About 25 miles of slightly undulating relatively flat riding (Portola Valley to Highway 92 and back).
- Climb of Old La Honda road in Portola Valley, about 1300' ascent, 7% grade.
- Gradual climb up old Alpine Road in Portola Valley, 3-4% grade.
I immediately and excitedly sensed a profound sense of structural integrity to the Madone 6.9 SSL— the frame itself exudes a solidity that’s exquisitely reassuring. The Shimano 7900 cranks and chainrings do not flex even at 1000 watts of effort, and the Lightweight Ventoux 240 wheelset accelerates faster than government spending!
Hitting the first short hill, the ease with which the bike climbed was astonishing, but a surprise awaited as I topped out— the bike just seemed to jump forward all on its own, as if propelled by magic. That gave me a big grin as I knew that my empty piggy bank had all been worth it. Besides, I don’t need clothes or furniture anyway.
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Cruisin’ and comfort
For long distance cruising, I’m looking for comfort, because I have no interest in feeling battered at the 100 mile mark. I was delighted to find that the Madone 6.9 SSL frame is rigid where it counts, but still absorbs most road vibration— very comfortable.
The wheels exert a huge influence of course, and I found that the Lightweight Ventoux 240 wheels were just what I had hoped for: superb lateral and linear stability and excellent power transfer, yet still with some compliance (I found the Lightweight Standards too stiff to be comfortable).
Awesome. Compared to the older Trek Madone 5.9 SSLX + ZIPP 303 bike, the Madone 6.9 SSL seemed to have a built-in battery assist, something about the efficiency and power transfer. It definitely felt more efficient and quicker up the climbs, especially cranking around a short steep pitch.
The frame structural integrity and the Lightweight Ventoux 240 wheels made this the easiest descent of Old La Honda Road that I’ve ever done, and I’ve done it so many times I could almost do it blindfolded (did ten ascents one day, for example), so I have ample reference.
The difference was not subtle— the Madone 6.9 SSL just goes exactly where you want it to go, and no flex or slop. The feeling is one of elation, of freedom ripping down the hill with no fear of flex or surprises. Which ultimately means enhanced safety so long as one knows the limits, and also that morons can appear at any time on the wrong side of the road, in cars or on bikes.
Update December 9, 2011: as good as the Trek Madone 6.9 SSL is, the Look 695 SR easily outperforms it when descending, and it turns out that handling with the Trek really wasn’t as good as I thought— it was just a lot better than the previous Trek Madone 5.9 SSLX. The Look 695 SR has astonishing structural integrity while descending, showing that Madone 6.9 SSL front end is wimpy, and indeed responsible for missing my “line” at times: this turns out to be due to a very light handlebar; replacing it with the Shimano PRO handlebar helped a lot.
But the fact remains that the Look 695 SR offers not just a more solid and confidence inspiring feel, but it was just as comfortable for me. I can descend faster with less attention needed on the Look 695 SR. Were I to invest in one bike, it would definitely be the Look 695 SR.
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Shifting with Shimano DI2
See my my review of Shimano DI2. I’m never goin’ back to mechanical cables.
There is a curious feeling with the Madone 6.9 SSL when the grade eases— like a free kick from an electric motor— the bike just leaps forward almost on its own. This feeling most definitely is not present in the Madone 5.9 SSLX (my previous bike). It is thrilling and gratifying. And it means that those on lesser bikes are screwed, at least a little. It’s that good. Beat ’em with your wallet!
Power transfer from legs to wheels feels supremely efficient, and that is a key psychological boost whether fresh or fatigued, not to be underestimated in one’s enjoyment of a bike.