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August 09, 2007

My Visit to Trek: Two Guys in a Barn

The Discovery Channel Team dominated this year’s Tour de France with three riders in the top ten (Contador-1st; Leipheimer-3rd; Yaroslav Popovych-8th) and first place in the team classification. The team used Trek bikes called Madone. Honestly, the most bike riding that I do is to a park less than a mile from my house, but I recently visited Trek. It was a most facscinating place, so join me on this photographic tour.

Trek was formed in 1975, amidst an energy crisis that aided a resurgence of the bicycle market. The vision of the company arose out of a meeting between Richard Burke, a former accountant, and Bevel Hogg, the owner of a Midwestern chain of bicycle stores.

“Schwinn dominated the specialty retail market at the time, which is where most bikes were sold,” said Burke. “But the mid-to-high end business was going to Japanese-made bicycles. We saw an opportunity to sell an American-made product in that category.” Burke convinced Roth Corporation to fund the venture with $100,000 in seed money, and Hogg provided the insight into the bicycle industry.

The duo chose to headquarter their new business in rural Waterloo, Wisconsin halfway between Burke’s suburban Milwaukee home and Hogg’s home in Madison. A humble, 7000-sq. foot barn, formerly a carpet warehouse, served as the launching pad for the company. The symbolism of the original red barn is reflected in the Trek shield logo in place today.

After a hot debate, a name was selected one evening in a bar just outside of Waterloo. Hogg suggested Kestrel, and Burke Intrepid. They settled on Trek, a word derived from Hogg’s native South Africa that was memorable and would later have global appeal. In 1976, Trek Bicycles was incorporated.

Lance Armstrong History Wall 1999-2005 in the atrium. One bike represents each year of the seven Tour de France victories. Each bike was used by Lance for a portion of each year’s race. The Tour was founded as a publicity event for the newspaper L’Auto (predecessor to the present l’Équipe). The “yellow” jersey color was because the L’Auto was printed on yellow paper.

Lance Armstrong’s 1999 stock OCLV 5200. When Lance joined the US Postal Service Cycling Team in 1997, this was the “stock” bike he was provided. This was a bit of a surprise to Lance, as pro riders were typically given a custom crafted bicycle. He ended up pleased with this machine. In fact he said “It is hard to believe this is a stock bike.”

Fact: This bike was pulled directly off of the assembly line, so it very well could have ended up in a bike shop in your home town. Instead, Lance piloted it to his first ever Tour de France victory.

Since then bikes have designed and developed specifically for Lance. Notably the 2000 Trek Time Trial machine. This was the first ever Trek custom bike for Lance. The bike was created for one event, and Trek only planned to produce four frames. It replaced another manufacturer’s titanium time trial bike that Lance used in 1999 that was painted with Trek logos and colors. After the 2000 Tour, the Trek Time Trial machine was in such demand, the frameset was made available to anyone at retail for $5000.

Lance’s 5900 Super Light used in 2000 on the Hautacam stage. This was Trek’s first use of OCLV 110 gsm carbon fiber frame material. Lighter and stiffer carbon fiber produces a more efficient racing machine. Since 1999, Trek has found ways to remove around a pound from the overall weight of the bikes each year. Considering the frame comprises only 20% of the total bike weight, this is an big achievement for Trek Development team.

With any type of professional racing, there are strict rules in place for the equipment. Bicycles used in pro racing cannot weigh less than 14.9 pounds. Over the years, Trek’s bike designs have become so light, that weight has been added at the start of race to satisfy the judges.

Lance’s 2001 Team Time Trial machine. Part of his”Tour de France Defense System.” This is the same frame design as the 2000 Time Trial machine. Aerodynamics are the major feature of this bicycle, with airplane wing shaped cross sections. Virtual and physical wind tunnel testing were used to design and develop this machine. The design saved twenty five seconds in a fifty kilometer race.

Lance’s 2003 5900 Super SL. This was one of at least five different bicycles used to defend the yellow jersey. Circumstances forced Lance to abandon the Madone and choose this prototype 5900SL. This was the first use of 110 gsm OCLV material. During Stage 15, Lance was temporarily delayed en route to the summit of Luz Ardiden when a spectator’s bag caught the handle bars. This sent Lance on to the ground in front of Iban Mayo, who crashed directly into Lance’s bike.

Lance’s 2003 5900: broken drive side chain stay through the “N” in the Shimano logo. After the chaos of the crash, Lance remounted his bike and continued on to win one of the most difficult climbs of the race. Unknown to anyone at that point, the impact was severe enough to crack the drive side chain stay. However, the Trek OCLV frame still was able to withstand the grueling punishment of the day. After the tour, Lance was delivered a new frame in keeping with Trek’s lifetime warranty.

Lance’s 2004 Madone SL (Plata Negra) affectionately nicknamed “Plata Negra” (Black Silver) by team mechanic Juanito Lujan. The Madone series of bike debuted in 2003 as a ground up rewrite of the dominant Trek 5000 series of bicycles. The 2003 Madone was designed and developed to blend the aerodynamics of the Time Trial machine with the super light weight of the 5900.

A blend of OCLV 55 gsm material and boron make this the lightest and stiffest Trek to date. The only other application for 55 gsm carbon fiber was in satellites orbiting the earth. The Madone series has undergone another blank sheet redesign for 2008 modelyear. It is currently the daily driver for the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team.

Lance’s 2005 TTx Time Trial Machine As other projects were being completed for Lance’s attempt at an unprecedented 7th Tour de France victory, a special request came into Trek’s Advanced Concept Group: What can be done with the Time Trial machine?

Could it be faster? Lighter? Stiffer? Could it be ready in time for the 2005 tour? Lance wanted to make a statement about winning in the time trial event. In only four weeks, the Advanced Concept Group designed and developed the TTx. The machine that would help Lance claim victory in the 2005 Tour.

Cables on the TTx are internally routed to add to the aerodynamic system. The rear brake cable exit port was symmetrically designed, with the intention that a rearward facing television camera could be mounted inside the frame. This could have provided Discovery Channel with very compelling content, especially during the Team Time Trial event. The idea was shelved due to existing high definition cameras being too heavy and the time crunch to simply deliver the bike before the Tour.

Greg LeMond’s racing bike from one of his three Tour victories during the 1980s. He was the first American to ever win the Tour de France. Today Trek designs, manufactures and distributes bicycles for the LeMond brand. Greg was arguably the first of the “technologists” of the 1980s. He experimented in the wind tunnel and with radical frames of his own design.

This the Trek product development area. Underneath one roof sits a collection of designers, engineers, strategists, and other bicycle industry wizards. They tackle over 150 projects annually—from trikes to Tour winners!

This is the “commuter garage” for employee bikes. There is a two-bike per employee limit.

Within the Bike Garage, there is a bike wash so employees can keep the equipment clean and ready to go. There is a 160-acre private “testing grounds” across the street from HQ. In addition to Moab or Whistler, this is where “Off-Road” bicycles go for testing. There is quite a bit of testing done at lunch. It can take up to two hours or more sometimes. After all, testing is important.

Bike tune ups are free for Trek employees!

Out in the factory raw OCLV bikes ready for paint. OCLV is Trek’s proprietary and patented carbon fiber construction method. This method yields some of the lightest frames in the world—weighing less that a one liter bottle of water! All Trek OCLV branded product is hand made in Waterloo, WI USA.

Let’s hope there is no tornado between 10 and 10:30 (or anyone in the shower).

This area is where all aluminum processes are completed. In the background is the age oven, used to “age” aluminum frames. This process returns the frame to T6 hardness after the welding process “softens” the material. It is instrumental in providing the desired ride quality of an aluminum bicycle.

This the OCLV carbon fiber finishing area. After each OCLV frame is hand built, they receive meticulous individual care. These finishing stations are where workers prepare the frames prior to being painted.

I am holding a 2008 TTx Equinox frame prior to it going into the paint shop. It’s not that I’m strong—the frame weighs “nothing.” This frame may be the one that Discovery Channel Pro cyclist George Hincappie used in the time trial for the Tour de France.

This is the paint line. Note the “track” close to the ceiling. Like the automotive industry, a conveyor system is used. Each frame is individually painted by a highly trained frame artist.

“Project One” is Trek’s online custom paint offering. By using the Project One configurator at the Trek website and working with a local dealer, a customer can specify a bicycle to their exact paint scheme. There are over one million combinations of colors and schemes. Right down to having your own name on the frame!

These frames are ready and waiting after painting. These are frames ready to be packaged and sent to the assembly plant.

Packed and ready to move on to the assembly plant. The bikes are built to a 80-90% complete state and from there shipped to over 5,000 world wide Trek Dealers.

On the truck and on to the assembly plant. Trek sells over 1,000,000 bikes annually across a world wide distribution network.

Trek staff heads out for the evening commute. Employees make good use of the commuter program. Each day someone rides, walks, skates or car pools to work, that employee receives credit for Trek products or cash for the cafeteria. This is an incentive to keep in the latest gear and promote general wellness. Between the commute to and from work and the “Lunch Time Ride” my friend at Trek used to average 50+ miles a day during the summers.

Michael Sagan was my host at Trek. On his last day at Trek, Lance Armstrong came by for the launch of the 2008 Madone. This picture shows Michael and Lance riding together (Michael is in blue; Lance in white to the left of Michael). Michael asked Lance what he thought of the new bike, and Lance said, “It’s awesome! I don’t know how you could do any better. I love it.”

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Comments

lance armstrong: doped
floyd landis: doped
contador: not yet proven (though he shouldn´t have even been allowed to start, because he was on that Dr Fuentes list)
leipheimer: With team gerolsteiner, about average - team discovery: An absolute performance explosion. - Must be the weather, or the nice people; certainly no substance introduced into his body. (As if)

A pity that a good name and decent engineering get marred by such unsportsmanship.

Matt

No problems riding the 5500 OCLV here. Great post Guy - I loved the photos!

Nice post/report...thanks for sharing the tour!

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