History and Revisions of the
TREK OCLV Frameset

In 1992, TREK introduced the OCLV full-carbon frameset.  This was the first time TREK had a full-carbon design; earlier carbon frames either utilized carbon tubes and aluminum fittings (lugs if you will) or a very brief flirtation with a full-carbon frame that was manufactured elsewhere.

Two models were available that first year, the full Dura-Ace 5500, and the Ultegra-equipped 5200.  Identical frame & fork for each.  Initial sales for us were phenomenal- we had just one store at the time, and sold over 110 of them that first year!  It didn't do much for our relationship with Kestrel, but we found the TREK OCLVs to be lighter, stronger, and have the best warranty support we could possibly hope for. 

  • 1992 There were a couple problems with the earliest bikes, most notably a tendency for Shimano's then-new STI shifters to dump the chain off of the inside chainring up front, causing it to get jammed in between the chainring and the chainstay.  Trouble is, a carbon-fiber chainstay doesn't offer much resistance to a steel chain that's being forced into it, so there were a number of chainstays that eventually failed due to having holes chewed through them.  The fix was pretty simple, and came about four months into the first production run.  It was actually a two-part fix, each very simple and so obvious you wonder why nobody thought of them in the first place.

    First, someone at TREK designed an ingenious "chain keeper ring" that mounted between the bottom bracket and the frame.  If the chain were to come off the inside, this ring would prevent it from sliding into the crankset and jamming.  In fact, you can nearly always shift the chain back onto the chainring without getting off the bike!  Second, a simple adhesive stainless-steel plate was affixed to the part of the chainstay that would be attacked by the chain, in the unlikely event the new chain keeping ring didn't do its job.  (To TREKs credit, even though the issue of the chain coming off the inside during shifting wasn't their fault, they still treated chewed-through chainstays as a warranty situation on those earliest frames). Photo credits- the picture above is from my own bike; the drawing to the right is from the TREK owner's manual.
  • In 1997, they switched to the Icon Air Rail fork instead of the Icon Classic used previously.  This was a *major* improvement, as the "Classic" fork was a bit on the wimpy side and doesn't track as well under hard cornering or on bumpy roads.  In addition, I found the older fork to perhaps be just a bit smoother on small bumps, but nowhere near as nice a ride on bigger ones. My theory is that the original fork was so much more flexy than the frame that it tended to isolate itself, not allowing the frame to act with it.  Basically like what you'd have with a suspension mismatch on a car.
  • In late 1997/early 1998 they phased in a new, much improved bottom bracket shell.  The original shell wasn't bad, but because the internal aluminum sleeve ended flush with the carbon fiber surrounding it, it was possible to put a compressive load on the carbon when installing a bottom bracket, which, in some cases, caused a disbond between the aluminum shell and the surrounding carbon.  This didn't happen often, but we did see some frames that had to go back for replacement (under warranty) of the bottom bracket shell.

    The new bottom bracket shell (still in use today) has the aluminum internal sleeve going all the way out past the end of the carbon part of the frame and over the edge, so that there's no possible way to make contact or compressively load the frame when installing a bottom bracket.  It's also a bit beefier overall in the carbon part of the fitting, which has virtually eliminated the issue of an under-shifted chain chewing a hole through the chainstay (although that wasn't an issue anyway as long as the adhesive stainless steel chainstay plate was in place).  The beefier design is something some people find a noticeable improvement in climbing & sprinting.
  • In 2000, the fork switched to a 1" threadless design.  All other aspects remained unchanged (still a steel steer tube, same Icon Air Rail blades etc).
  • In 2001, the frame changed materials from OCLV 150 to OCLV 120 carbon fiber.  The number refers to the grams of carbon in one square meter of the sheet that the tubing's made of, if I understand it correctly.  So you'd think that the new frame might considerably lighter than the older one, but that's not the case, because the carbon fiber is only one component in the frame, the other being the epoxy resin that binds everything together.  Thus the actual weight difference between the two is very, very small (on the order of a couple of ounces).

    The frame also changed to a 1 1/8" fork column, allowing the use of aluminum instead of steel.  This dropped a small amount of weight and further improved lateral stiffness in the front end of the bike, as the front fittings were entirely redesigned and beefed up a bit.
  • 2001 also introduced a special new OCLV, the 5900, that was created specifically for Lance Armstrong.  The goal was to squeeze as much blood as possible out of a turnip.  But how do you take much weight out of an already incredibly-light frameset?  The answer came in two parts.  First, a new mainframe built of OCLV 110, lighter-yet than the OCLV 120 material that had become the standard for the 5200 & 5500.  Big deal, we pulled about an ounce out of the frame.  But wait, there's more.

    TREK pulled an incredible amount of weight out of the front end of the bike by borrowing Klein's remarkable Aeros carbon fork (with a few minor modifications) and substituting it for Icon Air Rail.  This fork also required some changes to the front end of the frame, since it uses a larger, cone-shaped aluminum steer column.  The result was a six-ounce weight drop (nearly half a pound!) from the world's most successful carbon-fiber bicycle.
  • No changes from 2001 through 2002 except for a slight increase in fork offset (rake) on the 5900 from 2002-on
  • For 2003, TREK changed from curved forks to "straight bladed" versions.  There is no difference in offset (rake) between the two types, just style points.  Handling is unchanged and, even though intuitively you'd think that a curved fork would be softer, there is no difference in comfort. 
  • For 2004, the 5200 remains unchanged, while the 5500 gets a new, lighter-weight Bontrager X-Lite fork.  The 2004 5900 has been redesigned with a conventional 1 1/8" headtube, allowing the use of various aftermarket forks as well as standard headsets (the US Postal Service equips theirs with Chris Kings).  The all-new Madone features a "stylized" frame design, with aero scoops behind the seat tube, a downtube with a funky shape at its lower end, and an interestingly-shaped top tube.  Basically, it's a more aero version of the OCLV, a bit stiffer laterally in the front end, and about 50 grams heavier than the new 5900.
  • In 2005, Trek introduce the first radical change in their high-end carbon bikes, the Madone series. These bikes broke with the past by having "shaped" top tubes, downtubes & seatubes, for greater aerodynamic efficiency. The method of construction was altered as well, with longer molded sections to allow for higher strength with the new shapes. Still full OCLV construction, still incredibly light & strong. The improvements resulted primarily in better climbing & descending capabilities.

    At the high end, Trek introduced the SSL Madone, using the latest in high-modulus carbon fiber (allowing less material for the same strength) and even special low-solids paints (did you know that paint can add a quarter pound of weight?).
  • In 2008, the world changed. Radically. Trek tossed out the traditional ideas concerning how the cranks and forks connect to the bike and came up with a frame that reduces weight, enhances strength, reduces serve times, delivers a smoother ride and pretty much changed people's expectations for what a top-line bike can do. Read all about it here! In addition to the changes to the crank & fork interfaces, the 5-series and 6-series bikes (both manufactured in Waterloo, WI) used a radical new seatmast system where instead of having a seatpost which slides down into the frame, you have a mast that slides over an extension on the seatube. This allowed them to have a far more-comfortable ride than other high-performance bikes, because the seatmast didn't rigidly reinforce the seat/frame interface. Instead it flexed over bumps, greatly improving comfort.


The Future?

Having Lance Armstrong on your team (even after his racing is over, he remains active with Trek and actually owns a part of the company) isn't just a great way to sell a lot of bikes...it's also a great incentive to make sure you're building the best bikes in the world, because you wouldn't want Lance to be on anything but the very best..  That means you will, too, since every bike Lance rides is a stock production model that you can buy off the shelf.  Betting on both Lance and TREK OCLV is a pretty sure thing.

Things certainly have changed haven't they? I'm not going to erase my comments above and pretend they never happened. The fact that he was doping, along with virtually everyone else, doesn't remove history. It certainly adds perspective, which I have detailed in my piece "My Journey With Lance." Thanks to Russell, a good customer of ours, for pointing out that my paragraph above doesn't exactly stand very well on its own anymore!

The timing is amazing; this morning I was thinking about the old Tubes song "White Punks on Dope" and thinking how it applied to virtually every single significant rider in the 2003 Tour de France. They're all there, especially on the Luz Ardiden stage where Lance went down hard (the handbag incident) and then stormed back up the hill to win the stage. Lance, Tyler, Millar, Jan, Mayo...

Trek has seen fit to completely dismantle everything having to do with Lance and moved on. They're still building great bikes. Only now it's for names like Fabian Cancellara and Chris Horner (who's getting just a tad bit on the ripe side to be counted on much longer. :-))

Last updated 05/13/13


Interesting stories 
Common questions 
Kid's stuff 
Tech Stuff 
Rides & Maps 

Directions & Hours We're Open
1451 El Camino Redwood City, CA 94063 (650) 366-7130
2310 Homestead (Foothill Crossing), Los Altos, CA 94024 (408) 735-8735

www.ChainReaction.com & www.ChainReactionBicycles.com

Email to Mike in Redwood City or Steve in Los Altos
Content, including text & images, may not be republished without permission
Web Author: Mike Jacoubowsky, Chain Reaction Bicycles
Not responsible for typos etc, but please let us know about them!

Chain Reaction sells bicycles & accessories from Trek, Gary Fisher, BikeFriday,Shimano, Pearl Izumi, Continental, Descente,
Sidi, Giro, Blackburn, Speedplay, Oakley, Saris, NiteRider, Bontrager, Torelli, Look, DeFeet, Rock N Roll, Hammer, Cytomax,
Powerbar, Fox, Clif Bar, CamelBak, Chris King, Profile Design, Craft, X-Lab and many more!