The Golden Wrench

A blog about bicycle repair and maintenance by the mechanics at Freewheel Bike.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Proprietary Stuff to Make You go Faaaaaast

Image swiped gratuitously from Trek's online catalog. 'Tis a fast-looking beast, is it not?

Ready to rumble. We've got a bunch of them: come check them out!

Recently I spent a few days setting up our fleet of Trek Speed Concept time trial and triathlon bikes. This was my first time handling some of this technology and I was highly impressed with much of the execution. They really are amazing pieces of machinery: the engineers over at Trek eschewed off-the-shelf componentry in favor of an integrated approach for brakes, internal cable routing, headset, etc. The result is a bunch of proprietary stuff that requires some re-learning and exploration.

You know, the kind of stuff that gives bike nerds the happy.

The rather inefficient seatpost clamping device. Proper torque is very important because there's only a small aluminum cam holding your seat at the correct height. Carbon assembly paste works wonders here.

One thing is for sure, no matter how far-out the design happens to be, it is going to work within the parameters of a few rudimentary mechanical principles. Maybe there are no bearings in the headset: the blasted thing still has to rotate, right? And it still takes some sort of preload, right? One can hope so. A cable goes into the brake, pulls on something, and the pads contact the rim: got it. So what if everything is hidden mysteriously inside a sinister-looking plastic shroud and the cable disappears into the down tube? It's just a brake. [Incidentally, it's very much like Charlie Cunningham's Roller Cam brake from 1986] So we can make it work, and if the manufacturer's info is good, we can make it work perfectly. And if it doesn't work perfectly, we can get the parts to make it work perfectly.

Quick headset adjusts just got a whole lot slower.

The headset sort of lives under that top cap. Sort of.

The rear brake is bringing back the Darth Vader look for 2011.

Here's the rear brake as the wind sees it.

The mechanic has to wave his fingers around near the razor-sharp teeth on that chainring when making quick brake pad adjustments.

Here's where things can get tricky: If Trek stops making the parts, what then?

Some fly-by-night companies release cutting-edge stuff, only to discover that cyclists break things and want them fixed, sometimes for free. More than one upstart business has been killed by warranty issues, often caused by skimping on R&D and real-world testing in favor of releasing the product quickly. Then stuff starts to break, or doesn't work right, or gets a bad reputation on internet forums (probably the last place you should go in search of wisdom and insight), or whatever, and the company folds up. Usually they retreat into the shadows and regroup, focusing on things like dentrifices, banjos, Arabesques, ice floes, briskets, arthropods, obelisks, flautas, decorative gourds, and sippy-cups. We wish them the best, of course, but we also wish that they would support their bicycle-related products with spare parts.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Trek won't do anything like that to anyone, but they have had their share of mercifully short-lived ideas. New technology is like that: sometimes it works in the real world, sometimes it doesn't.

Overall, most of the ideas on the Speed Concept bike make good sense. The rear brake is a robust unit, made out of real metal, and crazy easy to set up once you get through the force field of tiny bolts and plastic. The cable routing for the shifters and brakes only allows for about 90 degrees total (45 per side) of steering rotation, but I doubt too many people are going to bust out a trackstand at a stoplight on a Speed Concept.

I noticed right away that Trek called it "Speed Concept" rather than "Race-Day Mechanic's Dream Concept." These things are designed to go faaaaaast. Cables flapping in the wind, round handlebars, brakes out where you can adjust them--that stuff's not faaaaaast, it's pedestrian. The Speed Concept bikes are designed for a world where a tenth of a second is a long time, and the concessions they make in convenience are purposeful.
This is the "Lunchbox." It is not UCI legal (as Kevin discovered at the Tour of California), so if you want to bring a sandwich or some Fig Newtons during the prologue at the Giro this year, you'll have to tuck them in the front of your skinsuit.

Still, I'm glad I'm not a team mechanic having to fight against the clock with the infernal (oops! I mean internal) cable routing or last-second rear brake adjustments, but usually the pro teams bring a bunch of "just in case" bikes to any given event. For the regular human beings who will be buying these, make sure your brakes are set up the day before, and be careful not to kink a cable right before your event!