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.
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.
1992There 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
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
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
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.
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.
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?).
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
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. :-))
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