What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ-Tech: Trek’s All New 2008 Madone

There’s a lot of talk in tech circles right now about the completely redesigned Trek Madone. And no wonder why – aside from the big TREK graphics, this bike looks virtually nothing like its predecessors. And the differences go way beyond skin deep – so grab a coffee and prepare to be impressed… Here’s what PEZ thinks…

If one was to compare the unveiling of the new Trek Madone in Darwinian terms, I was expecting to attend the launch of the new Madone and witness some Evolution of an existing species; instead I was privy to the unveiling of an entirely new species that came about not through evolution, but through Intelligent Design. Now, don’t get me wrong… The folks at Trek have always been plenty smart but they threw away their existing rule book on this bike and started with a truly clean sheet of paper, and in my opinion invented a truly new species of bicycle.

– Reported by Paraic McGlynn of The Bicycle Ranch –

Two years ago Trek’s president, John Burke’s gave some pretty simple marching orders, Burke told his engineers to simply “Re-define the road bike”. As Burke tells the story the group of engineers was “sent to a conference room and we left them there”. They quickly came up with one overriding philosophy for the new Madone; this mantra was the genesis of all future design considerations. The new Madone would simply have “Zero constraints”, which is all well and good when marketing guys want a tag line for their next bike. The difference here is that Trek meant it. There are lots of throw away slogans in an industry filled with hype, but rarely is that hype backed up with genuine substance.

To set the scene for you, we are gathered in a beautiful auditorium awaiting the “unveiling” of the new Madone. This is a tough crowd; composed of various media representatives and an extremely successful group of Trek retailers. This is an elite gathering of successful individuals that are “pitched” on new stuff all the time and most have experienced every bike technology, both genuine innovation and fad, released for decades. Burke comes on stage in his characteristic style and starts the evening by introducing the engineers who duly whet our appetite with all the juicy technical details.

This is all setting the scene for someone to bring the new bike on stage. That someone is of course Lance Armstrong, who arrives, looking fit and tanned, carrying a stunning white Madone 6.9. Lance humorously brings the house down as he regales the group with tales of his new life experiences on Ventoux and his upcoming 10 year anniversary plaque from Trek.

Here is just one of the relaxed, good natured, humorous exchanges between John Burke and Lance. Burke and Lance are sitting on tall stools and Lance is being interviewed about how the new Madone rides.

LA: It’s light, it’s stiff, and the ride to me is different than the previous Madone.
JB: Yeah, how would you say it is different?

LA: Eh, it feels more solid, it feels like a heavy bike, solid, this is a bad analogy, it almost feels like a motorcycle [LA grinning at the reaction on JB’s face]
JB: Okay?
LA: But the lightness and stiffness of a racing bike, obviously it’s very light. I have enjoyed it, enjoyed it a lot. I have put a lot of miles on it.

JB: And where have you been riding it?
LA: I take it with me everywhere I go. So I ride, eh, obviously all over Austin and wherever I go in the United States. Last week we were in Europe and I rode the Mt. Ventoux on it.

JB: [tongue in cheek] Did you make it all the way to the top?
LA: I made it all the way.
[laughter from audience]

JB: Well that’s a big thing?
LA: Aaah, there were a lot of people there so I guess it is a big thing. There were hundreds of people, it was amazing….. and I was definitely the fastest [hand over mouth laughing and smiling]

JB: [congratulates Lance with pat on the back]
[laughter and clapping from audience]
LA: I finally won on the Ventoux!
[laughter from audience]

LA: [It was] a bunch of 300 pound Belgians I beat over the top.

So you get the idea. This was a well produced and refined introduction set against the very contemporary style of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Since Trek’s first OCLV carbon bike in 1992 there has never been a single jump in technology like this one. Over the two year development cycle there were 21 different prototypes and 34 different iterations of carbon lay ups to find the right combination of materials, shape, function, ride quality and lightness. You don’t do that much screwing with testing in San Diego, Colorado, Ireland, France, Spain and Italy if you are not suitably obsessed with making this bike the absolute best that it can be. This new Madone represents the distillation of more professional rider feedback and testing than anything preceding it but, beyond the one great looking bike that Lance rolled onto the stage, how did the technology impact the ride and the rider?

Let’s start looking at arguably the most significant Madone innovation which is the gargantuan bottom bracket and enhanced drive train, the technology behind it and ultimately how it impacts performance on the road…

Industry standard bottom bracket shells are 68mm wide and most component companies are now using an external bearing that sits outside that 68mm shell. If the Madone was going to be different, 68mm would overly limit the design options available to their Advanced Components Group (ACG).

In the spirit of Zero Constraints, the engineers decided that conventional bottom bracket design had no place on the new Madone. That is where the Trek’s new Precision Fit Sockets come in; the bottom bracket bearings sit directly into the “sockets” in the frame which are essentially integrated sealed bearing races built into the frame. The current standard outboard bottom bracket bearings are scrapped and the extra width is absorbed into the frame design itself. There is no need for Loctite or any other retaining method. The carbon technology is so sophisticated that testing indicates that the bearings will wear out with no adverse effects to the Precision Fit Sockets. The resulting new structure is 90mm wide with no impact on Q factor. The new format is compatible with two piece cranks from FSA, Bontrager, Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo.

So what are the additional benefits from the technology beyond the facts that there are now only four bottom bracket parts and there is a 40 gram weight saving? With the 32% increase in bottom bracket width there is a lot more scope to tune the ride of the bike because of the increased surface area for the intersecting tubes to interface with. The bottom bracket shell is the most influential intersection of tubes on a bike and the change in size has a huge effect on the bike’s ride characteristics.

Room for improvement? Done, as old fits easily inside new…

The extra real estate is put to great use and the first thing that will strike you about the new Madone is the solid, substantial appearance of the bike. However in an almost contradictory way the bike still looks svelte, aero and light. The 90mm bottom bracket is largely responsible for the 48% gain in bottom end stiffness at the down tub / BB. The chainstays are now individually shaped to enhance the torsional properties of the drive train which makes sense since the forces on the drive side are different to those on the non drive. The seat stays appear to share their design with the Lemond Tete de Course’s Min Max design but is more stylized with its own more rounded separate identity.

Innovation, however fascinating, is just window dressing and fluff if there is no discernable advantage to the rider. Retailers have been taught since the beginning of time to always focus on explaining a feature, immediately followed by stating its benefit to the consumer. It is tempting to wallow in all the technical stuff as it is a compelling story but it’s really all about the ride. I have always gone out of my way to ride bikes that I don’t sell but have admired, only to be all-too-frequently disappointed because the marketing hype is not backed up by performance and ride quality.

The overriding first impression that I got from riding the Madone was the apparent contradiction between the commandingly responsive bottom bracket and the ride quality. The Madone is a tale of two bikes in one, on the one hand Trek appears to have mastered the ultra responsive bottom bracket that laughs at your best efforts to challenge its stiffness but on the other hand the bike has great road manners and ride. The bike feels like one team of engineers that were stiffness freaks worked on the bottom end of the bike and the other team of were composed of ride quality artisans and vertical compliance freaks who worked on the top. According to Trek engineer Tyler Pilger, the Madone has 40% more vertical compliance than previous Madone. It’s fascinating to me how you can build better acceleration response and still deliver great vertical compliance.

The Madone’s vertical compliance is exceptional when compared to its peers (and we use the term “peer” loosely), even those that are specifically engineered to have a more comfortable ride. I was surprised to see the proof in charts that not only showed how the new Madone performed but also carefully documented the major competitors’ offerings. Granted these were Trek’s “charts”, but my butt-o-rometer matched the information more than I would have expected.

On the road the new Madone showed its unique new character. In the past I found the last Madone ride quality to be almost too smooth. If I were to compare the new Madone to its predecessor, the ride difference is akin to the difference in silk and velvet. Silk is almost completely smooth whereas velvet has texture. The 08 is very smooth, but it feels like it selects just the right frequency of vibes to get through to hands & hind quarters, blocking bad but allowing you to get a handle on grip and texture.

This is an all day PRO tour level bike with attitude, I spoke with Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team rider Levi Leipheimer about his new Madone and he was very excited that the new bike would debut at the Dauphine and would contest it’s first Tour De France in July.

The next most obvious characteristic of the Madone on the road was its lightness, not only in it’s actual “curb weight”, but in the sense of it having a lively and light ride. Out of the saddle the bike’s geometry makes it both balanced and sure footed. We rode the Madone 5.2 with the new Ultegra SL groupset. The “diet Ultegra” compact components in combination with the performance series Madone frame performed more like a $5000 bike than the $3199 price tag the Madone 5.2 carries. In the 6 or so hours that I rode the Madone I was completely oblivious to the fact it was just above the entry level Madone. If I had been blindfolded I would have bet a small fortune or an important body part that I was riding a flagship Madone.

Actual weights on bikes that start to mess with component integration is a little sketchy. You have bike companies doing to bikes what Speedplay does to pedals, to some degree shifting the weight around as much as shedding it. With that in mind, Treks published fuselage weight (Frame, Fork, Headset, Seat Post and clamp) is a bit less than Cervelo’s R3 and a bit more than Scott’s addict. If light’s the game, that’s beyond being in a big league ballpark…

The “Zero Constraints” philosophy once again became apparent on the front end of the bike where Trek faced two major design challenges. The first challenge was the unwavering Trek internal performance standards that kept Trek from producing an all-carbon fork in favor of the lightweight but fairly bullet proof carbon/aluminum technology that they have used for more than 10 years. The second challenge was that, in order to ensure that the front end was well mannered and light, the existing head tube shape and width would have limited design options, especially as the bottom bracket revisions had allowed so much freedom with top tube and down tube shape.

The two birds with one stone philosophy were executed beautifully with excellent performance bonuses. The challenge with an all carbon fork is not that it’s difficult to make an all carbon fork; there are dozens of choices already in the market that prove that point. The difficulty arises when you set out with a mindset to follow Burke’s original mantra of “Redefine the road bike”. Where stresses most considered in fork durability are the focus, carbon performs best when it is laid up in lines that are as straight as possible. With a 1-1/8” head tube the angle that is produced between the headset bottom cup and the fork crown is pretty severe, which means that many layers of carbon must be used to strengthen the area. This is illustrated below. We can see the conventional fork has multiple layers of extra carbon laid up inside the crown of the fork to reinforce the key stress areas.

The differences are plain to see between the old fork here, with the new fork below.

In order to be able to use less carbon, the angle as the fork transitions from the steer tube to the crown must be reduced; Trek selected a new 1.5” lower headset bearing to facilitate the internal structure of the new E3 fork. There is a special platform that sits on top of the fork crown which again enables a much more sophisticated fork design. This is Trek’s first foray into the all carbon fork arena, and when you look at the carbon cross section of the fork it is again apparent why Trek have adopted this approach. There is less material laid in a better, stronger, lighter configuration and there is no superfluous carbon needed to reinforce the area.

The new fork for 2008.

On the road the Madone has always been a famously stable bike which is mostly due its steering geometry. The new Madone shares that stability. Additionally, the 1.5 inch lower bearing has revolutionized the Madone’s handling since the larger bearing maintains the stability and also allows the Madone to change direction more quickly and delivers a sense of greater agility than its predecessor. The steering and front end handling is confidence inspiring and those who crave an agile bike will love the enhanced handling without any sacrifice in high speed stability. The Madone carved through the twists and turns on the Trek 100 course just outside Milwaukee, despite the rain and slippery roads.

If you are starting to think I suffered some “rain” damage and this is beginning to sound like I was fully brainwashed while at the Trek mother ship, I can understand how you could feel that way. Perhaps Trek does too as they are assembling the largest demo fleet ever planned (to my knowledge) to allow mass public brainwashing. Expect to see details of the hundred or so demo bikes that will be traveling the country looking for brand converts and born again Trek disciples alike.

There are three significant remaining new innovations or significant changes on the new Madone that are relevant to every potential buyer. The first is the changes to the overall geometry hierarchy of the new Madone line of bikes. There is no hierarchy! Every model available in a Pro version is matched by a Performance version with a 3cm taller head tube. There is no real visual cue to the difference unless you break out the tape measure. The performance versions look no different despite the more accommodating head tube lengths. The performance versions are spec’d with compact or triple drivetrains and the Madone with the Pro fit geometry is built up with either double or compact cranks. As a retailer, I wanted to lead with this innovation as I believe that a correct fitting bike is the most important factor in buying a bike. However, the plain truth is that “fit” is not a compelling lead in when there is so much visual and technological appeal to the Madone. There have been some minor tweaks to the geometry of certain sizes to ensure every size is logically bigger and fits an even larger section of the overall population. The other news for those who stretch skywards beyond 6’2” is that Trek has introduced a much needed 64cm Madone.

The folks at Trek are honest pragmatists when it comes to materials in each of the new frames, in the past we grew used to OCLV 150, 120, 110 and 55. The reality is that there were different carbon lay ups and frequently more than just one material type in each of the frames. The OCLV 55 was often reinforced with Boron to enhance stiffness. OCLV 55 Boron does not have a nice ring to it, so instead Trek will group frames into three categories, OCLV Red for the most sophisticated carbon lay ups and lightest predominantly high modulus materials, OCLV Black with similar sophisticated carbon lay ups and medium modulus materials and OCLV white with standard modulus materials. The OCLV Red, Black and White frames will all be handmade in the US. It will take a little getting used to, but it is definitely a simpler naming convention.

It is not a coincidence that I have left arguably the biggest influencer of aesthetic opinion on the new Madone till last.

Seat tube / seat post areas on most bikes have been simple and effective for a loooong time. But this being the bike industry, “innovation” hasn’t necessarily meant a step forward for a few companies.

In another design masterstroke Trek did all of the following with the new seat mast; reduced the frame weight, created a versatile adjustable system, avoided the need to cut the frame and enhanced ride quality. The new “ControlCore” which forms the heart of the frame extends out of the frame and in the process eliminated the high stress area where the seat post would normally insert into the frame, it also lightens the area significantly as there is no need to re-enforce the area for a seat post and clamping mechanism. There are six seat post options to accommodate all your fitting needs. There are three different offsets available 10mm forward, 5mm and 20mm rearward. These setback options are complimented by a standard and tall seat mast option to accommodate different seat height ranges.

With the new Madone, Trek has taken to heart the combined sentiments of aggressive amateur riders, retailers and the professional athlete, as ell as the simple enthusiast. In doing so, they’ve developed not just a hell of a performance bike, but a multi level, multi fit performance platform.

Two frame styles to suite a broader range of fit requirements, a large range of build kits to suite a broad range of performance and cost requirements and all benefit from design advances that will have the heads of several manufacturers taking a walk down to their own design departments…

The New Madone range seems to have the bases covered from a comfort, performance, weight and price standpoint. And although the new look is absolutely not “good old Trek” it is absolutely compelling. After all, they even got Lance to ride a “girl’s bike” (as he calls sloping top tube bikes).

If you are in the market for a new ride this is a serious contender for a place in your stable.

Get more info at Trekbikes.com

• Long time Pez friend and head honcho at Scottsdale’s Arizona’s Bicycle Ranch, Paraic McGlynn, gets HUUUGE tanks (Irish for “thanks”) for helping us with this story. He was able to both look, listen, comprehend and write what was a whole crap pile of info over a congested few days at Trek’s HQ and we’re in a big debt to him! (again…)

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