It would help to have a phd in small print to select a bike from the Trek Alpha series. The same frame geometry runs across both the Alpha 2 series and the Madone range, with performance and price dictated by their materials and componentry. I spent hours poring over catalogues and scrolling through websites to establish price, quality and weight comparisons before settling on a bike to buy, but the principal details are:
- The Madone boasts a carbon frame, while the Alpha 2 is aluminium.
- Models in both ranges share the same drivetrains and wheels.
In price terms, though, the Alpha 2.0 range offers considerable bangs for bucks around the critical £1,000 bracket - the threshold for bike to work scheme loans.
The Alpha 2 Series all employ Trek's 6000-series aluminum alloy, codenamed Alpha Black. In engineering speak this means it has been hydroformed or mechanically formed to optimise the tube shape and butting profile. In the vast Trek empire, Alpha Black is the mid-range aluminium, sandwiched between the top level Alpha Red (used on mountain bikes) and lower Alpha White (used in the Alpha 1 Series of road bikes).
The geometry of the bike is identical to the Madone pro-racing range, ridden by a certain L. Armstrong, and seems designed to help long days in the saddle pass by in a comfortable blur. It's not the hands down, bum-in-the-air position of the Boardman bikes, but nor is it the touring or commuting posture of Trek's Pilot and Portland ranges. Available in a wide range of sizes (50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64 cm) there's a very good chance you'll find a frame that not only fits comfortably, but will maintain that comfort for hours of riding. My first ride on this bike was a 110-mile audax, and I finished the day without aches or pains (although sadly not muscle stiffness).
Allied with carbon forks as standard, the Alpha 2 soaks up a good degree of road vibration while retaining impressive stiffness for hill climbs and sprints. I've been amazed at how it cushions the bumps of the road without hinting that an ounce of my pedalling effort is being wasted. Beware though, that if you pump the tubes to over 120psi the Alpha 2.3 can shake your bones with the best of them.
This is where the closest attention to detail is required in choosing a bike from the Alpha 2 series. The 2.1 uses Shimano 105 shifts, front and rear derailleurs and cassette, but the crank is Shimano R. The 2.3 boasts a clean sweep of the Shimano 105, a slick and reliable package, while an upgrade to the 2.5 brings Shimano Ultegra to all but the cassette.
The 2.3 tested here is available in both compact and triple (50/39/30) ring formats (expect to pay about £25 more for the triple). The compact ratio of 50/34 has proved ideal through the flatlands of East Anglia and the rolling hills of the East Midlands, although I'd have preferred a higher gear for pedalling on long descents. When the contours go the other way, gears 18 to 20 have coped without flinching at anything the Peak District could throw at it during a week's hill climb training, allowing for adequate cadence when the going got really tough. What's more, the Shimaon 105s shift rapidly, even when you're turning the cranks slowly, although if you're planning mountain challenges the triple rings would be advisable.
There's a mixed bag with the Alpha 2 series components. The brakes are all Shimano, and range from the Tiagra on the 2.1 to 105 on the 2.3 and Ultegra on the 2.5. On the 2.3 model tested the brakes are sharp and trustworthy, gripping in the wet and offering good feel when negotiating stop-start commuter traffic. Going down steep hills i've found it difficult to find a good balance between the brakes biting a bit too hard and freefall, preventing a smooth, controlled descent.
The saddle appears to be Bontrager's answer to a cycling vasectomy, and neither myself nor two colleagues who have also bought Trek Alpha bikes have a good word to say about it. At least it sits on a carbon post on the Alpha 2.3.
The wheels are Bontrager Race, which appear on bikes as elevated in the Trek range as the Madone 4.7, a bike that retails for twice the price of the Alpha 2.3. As a proprietary brand it's difficult to establish how the Bontragers would compare to rival Mavics, for instance, but at 1.9kgs for the pair they hit the scales heavier than the Mavic Ksyrium Elite or Shimano Ultegra. After 2,000-plus miles though they've kept their shape almost flawlessly.
Having splashed my own cash on the Alpha 2.3 four months ago, I'm happy with my purchase. In retrospect I wish I had opted for the triple rings (especially with the Tour de France etape on the horizon), and I keep meaning to switch the saddle for a less tortuous seat. I've also switched the easily punctured Bontrager Race Lite tyres for a set of Continental Gators.
But the core elements of the Trek remain compelling. The frame allows for an extremely comfortable ride, thanks both to its geometry and the carbon forks, yet it's stiff enough for brisk progress and nimble for dextrous manouevring in town. Overall, it's definitely a bike to shortlist for bikes in this priceband.
At a glance
|Verdict||A compelling road bike with first class aluminium frame and good components at a competitive price|