Trek Bicycle Corp. is about to make carbon fiber more affordable for recreational cyclists.
The company already has a proprietary line of carbon-fiber bicycles it makes in the United States under the OCLV brand name, including handmade bikes ridden by Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and his teammates.
But the company realized while many riders may lust after the low-weight and high-end designs of those bikes, they simply cannot afford to pay $4,000 for a midlevel bicycle in the OCLV line.
So, later this year, the company will introduce the Trek Carbon Technology line, taking advantage of production capabilities in Asia to make carbon-fiber bike frames at a lower cost point, said Michael Sagan, senior designer and technology principal for Trek's Advanced Concept Group. He was interviewed Aug. 26 at the Industrial Designers Society of America's annual meeting in Washington.
``We're not all racers, but we're really talking about the experience here,'' Sagan said. ``People want the experience of carbon fiber, but not all of the expense.''
Sagan declined to identify the Asian suppliers that will produce what he termed ``entry level'' carbon-fiber TCT bicycles.
The Waterloo, Wis.-based bicycle maker has been getting good exposure as Armstrong has pedaled its carbon-fiber frames to victory in the past seven years of the Tour de France. The work needed to keep up with Armstrong's demands also boosted its in-house design and technology standards.
Eight years ago, Trek had two designers. Now it has 18 and is increasing capabilities in creating its own proprietary carbon-fiber production process. With three-dimensional computer-modeling techniques, Trek can create a digital model of each bike and its requirements. It even has a digital version of Armstrong to use to develop the bicycles, Sagan said.
Trek's technology team has tweaked its hand-layup of up to eight layers of carbon fiber to provide the best rides for Armstrong and his Discovery Channel teammates, Sagan said. This year's bicycles also blended boron with carbon fiber to improve strength while decreasing weight.
Even a 100-gram reduction in weight can save a professional racer 10 seconds over a one-mile climb, he said.
``When we think about designing, we have to think about both comfort and about performance,'' he said. ``These guys not only have the tour, but they have another 100 days of racing through the year.''
In addition to design and engineering for the OCLV line, Trek does its own mold making and molding. Bicycles created for this year's races are then turned into production models available to the general public the next year, Sagan said.
``What we create for Lance becomes the production model down the road,'' he said.
Sagan noted Armstrong routinely tests the Advanced Concept Group's abilities. This spring, he asked it to come up with a new frame for time-trial races, and wanted the bike ready to go in less than five weeks.
The fastest the company had delivered a bicycle previously was seven months, Sagan said, but taking advantage of digital models, it was building molds and prototypes by the third week. In the fourth week it began building the frame and testing it.
``The frame was still warm coming out of the paint shop when he put it in the box and sent it to Europe,'' he said. ``This is why I don't sleep until after the tour.''