What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ-Tests: The TREK MADONE 6.9

It’s been years in the making, and enjoyed a long life of race wins and dealer sales, but one of America’s biggest brands stepped back and did a full rethink on their most successful bike. PEZ gets personal with one of the most anticipated bikes for 2008 – the all new TREK Madone 6.9.

I was somewhat surprised, but very excited to see Trek launch a bike design that was so far from the tried and true designs that Lance powered to 7 Tour wins. The Lance-era Madones, (and pre-Lance) were packed with pretty advanced lay-up and ride-tuning features, but the look of the bike hadn’t changed much in 10 years, which I suspect was not the easiest sell in the ‘seeing is believing’ world of bike marketing.

The previous version Madones were based on technology that really started in the early 1990’s, and although they were refined several times over the years, those last Madone’s still didn’t accurately represent how far the TREK could go – or wanted to go – with their bike designs and manufacturing abilities.

Click the thumb at top for the BIG view.

Much of the pressure to create something new came from dealers who wanted new designs to sell, and with Lance retired, the Trek designers had a clean slate to create a new bike that was lighter and stiffer, and used some cool shapes to show off how far they could really go with carbon.

The new bike would continue to be a great all-rounder – stable, solid, predictable. The pro team riders wanted something they could race all day and know it would perform, and not beat them up. This basic geometry was good, it had been refined on previous models and riders loved it – so no need to change that.

But what about that frame design? Trek’s engineers have refined their carbon production to pretty much the highest level anywhere. They’ll even tell you no one knows more about carbon production than them… but not out of arrogance, it’s simply stated as a fact they truly believe. And the result a pretty solid proof that they’re not just talkin’ smack. Unlike some other top brands whose top line carbon bikes are built by outsourcing to carbon manufacturing experts – Trek do the Madones all in-house – from design through production.

Their carbon tech really is worthy of a story unto itself – so we’ll work on that for you carbon-tech weeners out there.

I’ve had a tester for a few weeks now, but it didn’t take long to fully appreciate how these new designs influence the ride. We looked at the real technical stuff on the new Madone’s back in the summer (read it here), but as with any bike that’s been redesigned from the ground up, a few points rate another mention.

Hey Good Lookin…
Let’s appreciate what we men are often known best for… looking. In a long ago career as an ad-man, I learned to ‘live’ with a product – essentially keep it in my office where you could see it all day long. It’s a great way to study the subject and come up with q’s for the manufacturer. So I set the bike up in the palatial offices of PEZ Worldwide HQ (much to the chagrin of Mrs. Pez), just so I could gaze at the Trek throughout the day.

• Trek has redesignated its carbon mixes from the old numbers system to a new color coded red, black, and white system. Each one is a different blend carbon mixes and layups, and represents different levels of weight and price.

The Madone 6.9 is made with their top-o-line Red blend, which incorporates the most ultra-high modulous carbon, resulting in a generally lighter and stiffer frame than their other carbon blends. And along with the tube shapes, the ride qualities of these frames are defined. Of course the similar ride qualities could be achieved using one of their different colored carbon levels, but overall weight and price would be different.

The lines of the bike are striking. The tubes is shaped so differently from its predecessors, and from many (most?) bikes on the market. Of course it still looks like a bike frame, but you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to spot the diffs.

• The tube shapes and frame design reminded me of a jet plane. The only hard edge I could see on the whole bike was atop the fork legs. The rest of the fame is all smooth surfaces that flow from one tube to the next. And although the frame is initially created in 5 separate parts, the final product is seamless, not at all appearing like a bunch of tubes joined together.

• The downtube is one of the biggest I’ve seen. So is the headtube and the bottom bracket. And let’s face it… we men just love things that are big. What’s even better is that on the Madone, they’re functional too.

It’s light. In spite of those swollen tubes, this bike is no porker – you can feel it when you pick it up. I hung it on the scale at Obsession Bikes (thanks for the build guys!) and it showed 14.9 pounds (sans pedals). Nice.

This sucker is clearly a contender for the ‘Big Bertha’ of BB’s, but in spite of the size, they’ve shed a few grams weight while increasing the overall bb stiffness. Essentially they eliminated the need for several of the metal parts of a traditional style external bearing bb by building the frame wider (now 90mm at bb) to allow for internal seating of new larger bearings.

Building the bb to 90mm width allows for bearings to be seated directly into cups molding into the frame, eliminating need for screw in bearing cups. The whole BB section could be described as ‘huge’, allowing for a fatter downtube, fatter seattube, and fatter stays that all enhance stiffness.

Bearings are now fitted directly into the precision frame cups molded precisely into the frame itself, eliminating the need for screw in bearing cups and thus reducing weight.

The head tube, downtube, bb, and chain stays all conspire to keep the whole thing super stable under pedaling forces, but the massive down tube – 65mm wide before it flares even wider to join with the bb – is the backbone here. I suspect it might have been even wider if there wasn’t that issue of needing a little foot clearance for pedaling.

The different widths of the chain stays are plain to see.

The chain stays are independently shaped to better counter the different forces that occur around the rear wheel while pedaling – this means compensating for the greater torque from the drive side, which can cause rear end frame flex, resulting in lost pedaling efficiency.

I asked Scott Daubert, Trek’s brand manager, that given today’s strong frame designs, is it really possible for riders to create the forces needed to flex the rear triangle through pedaling? He related a story from their pro team experience: some years ago, after team riders would warm up on the trainers, the mechanics noticed brake pad scuff marks on only the drive side of the rear wheels. This was a pretty good clue that things were flexing in the back end and led to independently shaped chain stays to optimize overall stiffness, clearance, weight, and ride quality. Readily noticeable here is the non-drive side width at the BB junction, and it stays wider until it transitions half way to the axle.

The chainstays are tall too – around 32mm where they meet the BB.

The Bontrager Race XXX Lite carbon fork with full carbon w/E2 steerer is all new as well – redesigned to work with the 1.5 inch lower crown bearing. The only hard edge on the frame appears just below the fork crown, and is purely cosmetic. Trek confirmed they could have designed a curved blade to accomplish the same ride qualities – if they wanted to – but they just liked the straight bade look better.

The diffs in the fork design are plain to see (if you have x-ray vision): the old version on the left is needs a lot more carbon to build in the strength required for smaller headset bearings. The wider 1.5” fork crown on the new model allows for a gentler sweep in the transitions from fork legs through to steerer tube, which requires less material, and combined with layup & molding process allows for more strength using less material.

The swooping lines and arched tubes show off some thoroughly modern design features.

Are You Just Happy To See Me?
It seems the days of scrawny little 1-1/8” head set bearings are a laughable thing of the past… not unlike my haircut from the ‘80’s… We’ve seen brands like LOOK build in a 1-1/4” bottom bearing, but TREK is one of the first to supersize everything with a 1-1/4” top bearing and 1-1/2” bottom bearing.

The bigger platform provides a more stable base to anchor the fork, creating a super solid front end and leaving said fork alone to really do its job of steering the bike and soaking up any road vibrations.

The larger diameter headtube also provides a bigger platform to anchor both the toptube and downtube – resulting in greater resistance to twisting, and more stability in the overall ride.

All models of the new Madone’s are available in a Pro version (favored by the teams) and a ‘performance’ version with 3cm taller headtubes. I’ve seen a few editors gripe about lack of handlebar height adjustability with the non-Pro frame, but my tester offered more than enough adjustment – I set my bars at the usual 6 cm (2.5 inches) below my saddle height, and I still needed a 1cm spacer between the stem and headset. And now I look more like a pro because I don’t have to run a big sack o’ spacers that a shorter headtube needs.

The top of the downtube is triangular shaped, which allows for the widest part to sit almost exactly at the lower bearing junction – offering max stability against sideways forces where the fork joins the frame. It’s also about 50mm wide – only slightly narrower than the base of the headtube. The peak of the triangle joins about midway up the headtube, helping secure against fore/ aft flexing forces. About half way to the BB, the downtube transitions to more of a flat, wider 65 mm oval shape, and then flares to 75mm where it meets the BB.

The seat stays show some nice shaping, designed with the purpose of enhancing ride quality by fighting lateral forces at the back, while allowing some compliance vertically to help smooth the ride. They also look pretty cool.

The integrated seatpost is also a new look in this trendy category. The seatpost itself extends a few inches above the top tube, built as part of the frame, and is ‘capped’ by a sleeve that fits over the post. A two bolt clamp anchors the post. Some folks will think the look is slightly out of place on a frame with such clean lines – as the clamp creates a bulge right in the middle of the post, but the system does more than allow for easy adjustment.

Like other bikes the post flexes to aid in ride comfort (tuned to Trek specs), but unlike traditional frames the flex forces are not concentrated at the clamp – which in non-integrated designs calls for extra frame material at the clamp area (and weight) to prevent cracking. Trek’s carbon layup allows for a dispersion of these forces over a larger area that extends through the back of the seatpost/ seatstay yoke, thereby eliminating a concentrated point where cracking of frames or seat posts often occurs.

The seatstay junction at the seatpost is pretty wide – 50mm where the two meet. But it’s much narrower in the vertical plain, designed to aid in lateral rigidity to keep the rear wheel from flexing sideways under pedaling forces, while still offering up enough vertical flex to be a ‘ride all day’ sorta bike. Note the red dot for Trek’s “Red” carbon blend.

As expected, the bike sports the best spec from past performers. Bontrager provides wheels, cranks (in this case their Compact 50/34 as requested by me), Race XXX Lite VR Carbon bars and stem, while shifters, brakes, and derailleurs are Shimano Dura-Ace – all very nice stuff.

I reviewed their XXX Lite carbon clinchers last year, and was all around impressed. They’re pretty light at around 1350grams for the set, they’re strong, and they feel great on the road. The white spokes were a cool touch too.

I also swapped in a set of Bontrager’s Aeolus 5.0 carbon clinchers to compare the ride (one of my favorite all round wheel sets). I found the XXXLite’s slightly stiffer, not surprising due to their higher spoke count. Regardless, the overall bike ride felt very close with both wheelsets.

I won’t be surprised to see the Race XXX Lite VR carbon bars become an aftermarket favorite. The 42cm version on my tester weighs in at a claimed 170grams – that’s light for bars, and the variable radius (VR) curve to the drop will appeal because it offers a comfortable grip across a lot of ‘in the drops’ positions. They’re also really stiff – and I noticed considerably less flex when sprinting than on some other hi-end carbon bars.

Cable routing on the frame is external, but simply because the pro team mechs wanted it that way – when you change as many cables as those guys, fiddling around with internal routing is not something you look forward to.

The saddle is Bontrager’s new version Race Xlite, which for my money is one of the best fitting saddles I’ve found.

True to Trek form, the geometry provides a great balance that suits a lot of riding – from anything the ProTour can dish up, to fast and tight crits, to 6-7 hour epic days in the high mountains (for guys like me… yah). The platform is stable – in a way that feels super solid on the road, while still providing a ride you can feel and love.

Sunny days in Vancouver are our best kept secret, and can make for some stunning views and amazing urban riding. That’s Mt. Baker in Washington off in the distance.

Climbing steep grades – in and out of saddle – there’s no discernable flex though the bottom end, top end… or anywhere-end. Even the Bontrager XXXLite carbon clinchers held steady and performed as expected with their customary ‘forgiving’ stiffness.

Descending at speed is confidence inspiring. The platform connects securely to the road – in both a straight line and through turns. It’s here too that the beefy front end really serves a purpose of isolating frame and rider from the bumps in the road, while the fork absorbs a certain amount of vibration and maintains the contact to maneuver the bike as you desire.

I asked our Tech Ed. Charles Manantan for his take on the ride, and never one to disappoint, he was not short on words:

“Sorry for “going Moto” but the best comparo I have is that the new Madone is to Trek a bit like what Honda’s Superbikes are to the sport bike crowd. There are motos that have a bit quicker steering, a few less pounds or a few more horses, but they’re not always put in a friendly chassis or tuned as smoothly as the CBR…

While I think there are maybe one or to others that could argue for the top of the food chain in composite technology, Trek’s new Madone geometry combines with a new layup and shaping in a pretty neat way. Sometimes light and stiff “feels” faster than it really is by simply being edgy and jittery. The Trek flexes a bit on larger bumps in a way the older Madone wishes it did, but the new bike still maintains its tracking really well.

A rider that feels more comfortable will be more relaxed and smoother (especially on higher speed cornering and descents) and is likely going to go faster. This new Madone is better than the old one in that more folks will find faster in an easier way.

While it goes when you pedal it and the drive line is great on jump efforts / acceleration and feels like the light package it is, it almost feels like a good solid “heavy” bike when it’s up to speed and going fast.

Some people might “gasp” and take that in the wrong way, but guys that know bikes can relate to how great some of their bedrock stable steel 18 pound steeds felt when hauling ass down a mountain. This one just forgets how light it is at speed, but remembers when you step on the gas…”

Trek has done their homework – several year’s worth here – to produce a bike that once again makes them an exciting brand. This bike is cool – it looks cool, it’s packed with cool ideas and technology, and it’s darn fun to ride.

This ain’t the bike for everyone (the price tag sees to that), but it’s a bike a lot of riders will love. There’s enough ‘ride refinement’ in the new Madone line to fit almost every type of rider and budget.

Boiled down, this is a bike that will suit many styles and many riders. Racers will love it, experienced riders will love, tech wankers will love it. But unlike bikes with a broad appeal that don’t do anything really well, this bike’s broad appeal is just the opposite – because it does so many things well.

It’s available in 7 sizes, from 50 – 62cm (2 cm increments), and each has size specific tube specs to account for different rider weights. Two smaller sizes – a 47 & 50, are also offered in the Women’s specific line with slightly different spec. The new Madone frame is offered in 14 different models of various carbon and spec levels, so there’s one for pretty much everyone.

MSRP: US$7,699.99

• See the Website: TrekBikes.com

Trek Bicycle Store of San Jose AN EVENING WITH BEN COATES
Contact: Bill Ruffner (408) 264-2453

Join us for an evening with Ben Coates, Trek’s team liaison to the Astana Professional Cycling Team, on February 20th at the Trek Bicycle Store of San Jose. Our interactive discussion will feature a behind-the-scenes look at the Tour de France, recent developments of the Astana team, and tales from the Pro Tour Circuit.

In addition, we will discuss product development at Trek, and how the latest technologies are being used to propel the Astana team to victory in 2008.

Ben Coates has worked for Trek since 2003. After graduating from The University of Colorado in Boulder, CO with a degree in Biology and Biochemistry, he worked for Trek as the head mechanic and equipment manager for the Subaru Gary Fisher Team. In 2006, he became an Aftermarket Product Manager and then in early 2007 the Discovery Team Liaison.

In 2008 his title changed to Trek Teams Liaison. His main responsibility is to deliver Trek and Bontrager products to Trek supported teams, namely the Astana Professional Cycling Team. He has worked at the Olympic Games, attended 15 World Cup events on 3 different continents, and has followed the Tour de France from start to finish.

WHEN: Wednesday, February 20th, 8:00 pm

WHERE: The Trek Bicycle Store of San Jose, 503 W. Capitol Expressway, San Jose, CA 95136 (408) 264-2453M

RSVP Required and accepted by phone. Space is VERY limited. Refreshments will be provided.

Contact: [email protected]

Note: If you have other experiences with gear, or something to add, drop us a line. We don’t claim to know everything (we just imply it at times). Give us a pat on the back if you like the reviews, or a slap in the head if you feel the need!

PezCycling News and the author ask that you contact the manufacturers before using any products we test here. Only the manufacturer can provide accurate and complete information on proper use and or installation of products as well as any conditional information or product limitations.

Send your comments to: [email protected]

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