Readers of this blog know that last summer my bike was destroyed in an unfortunate crash during our state championship road race. The fact that I had nothing to do with said crash didn’t make me, or my checkbook, feel better. The good news? I walked away totally unscathed and it gave me the impetus to write what was supposed to be a sarcastic eulogy, but one that others took quite seriously. It also gave me an excuse to plunk down on a new bike.
After obsessing way too much over what should replace my old steed, I decided to go with Trek’s 2010 Madone 6.5 / 6.9. The other two bikes on the short list were a Pinarello Prince and a Look 595, in case you’re interested. In the end I ordered the 6.5 since I already had a set of deep section Aeolus 6.5s, although the rear one needs to be rebuilt. The only difference between the 6.5 and 6.9 are the wheels.
I actually started writing this entry last fall, and at the time I hadn't found a single Madone review. Still haven't found anything in depth, and I’ve had a ton of questions about the new bike, so thought this might be interesting for others.
For what it’s worth, I have more than a little experience riding many different bikes. I’m not going to list every bike I’ve owned or have been given, but trust me when I say it’s a long list that includes bikes made from steel, aluminum, carbon and titanium. I write this only because when it comes to reviews perspective is important. I’ve had bikes so whippy and flexible they were a bit frightening (a steel Gitane from the late-80s), bikes stiff in all the wrong places (a Cannondale from way back when), custom bikes (a very cool but garish “jungle green” Landshark) and more.
Anyway, Two Wheel Transit, my local bike shop, knows me well and saved unpacking and building the bike for me. The Madone arrived in a less-than-standard and impressively stout clamshell style box. The bike was strapped in with nylon webbing, and a series of foam tubes that covered just about every part of the frame.
My wife can back me up when I say I was indecisive about what color the bike would be. Trek’s online Project One program is fun to play with, but there are too many options to pick from. Ultimately I chose the “team” paint with white, a clearcoat over the black carbon and pink. I know, I know, it’s pink, but I like it and it’s my bike, OK? I dig the colors and Trek’s painters did an outstanding job. The style I picked requires a ton of masking and the quality control is excellent. Masks are crisp and I can’t find anywhere there’s overspray. There’s a pretty deep looking clearcoat which looks very, very cool.
As an aside, as soon as I got home with the bike my wife exclaimed, “it’s Pinky Tuscadero.” Like it or not, the bike has a new nickname. Plus, I figure if the bike is Pinky Tuscadero I can consider myself The Fonz. Just kidding. I’m not in the biz of giving myself nicknames.
Other first impressions? It’s light. As soon as we had the wheels and stem on the bike Tomas at the shop threw the bike up on the scale. 14.1 pounds without pedals. For a bone-stock bike that’s pretty amazing in my book. My last bike was more like 17 – 18 pounds with race wheels.
So what’s next? The build.
Most normal people would have the shop finish off the assembly job that Trek started. Me? I evidently don’t have enough going on in my life with raising a 4 year old daughter, running a business, a fantastically dusty house remodel, etc.
Seriously though, I cut my chops in the pro bike racing world as a race mechanic. Thankfully I moved into team management pretty quickly, but I spent a lot of years working in shops and on bikes. I was interested in seeing how the bike went together and learning the ins and outs of Trek’s new design. So, I pulled out all of the cables and took most of the parts off the bike to start almost from scratch.
Here are some highlights about what I found:
- The new Madone has internal everything. All the cables run through the frame. This creates a very clean look, but I’ll be brutally honest in saying that I was expecting the worst. Remember when I said I was a race mechanic? I HATED internal cables. I still get night sweats thinking about building a series of Hooker Elites for the Shaklee team the night before Redlands. Total nightmare…But threading the cables through the Trek was almost perfect. The brake and rear derailleur are a snap. The rear brake requires fishing the cable out of a small hole in the top tube(insert pic), but is easily accomplished with an old spoke or even a thin screwdriver. No problems there. And the rear mech cable pops right out of its guide. In fact I’m really impressed with how smooth the line is into the final loop of housing for the rear derailleur. Very slick. (insert pic)
- Now let’s talk about the front derailleur cable. If you’ve ever bought furniture from Ikea you’ve probably learned the hard way that it’s better to read the instructions first. Well, I didn’t read Trek’s manual before stripping the parts and paid the price. That’s what you get for too much hubris about being a good mechanic. A special tool is required to guide the front derailleur cable out of the frame. I didn’t have this tool, and after two frustrating hours of trying to fish the cable (and reminiscing about building the Hookers) I called it a night and decided to drop the bike off at Two Wheel the next morning. Bummer. Thankfully Dave at the shop had better luck than I did and fixed my little f-up. Note: Trek makes a special guide that can be used, but it's not included with the bike.
- This is interesting…Another thing I noticed was how the derailleur cables are run. The front derailleur inserts into the downtube on the right side of the frame. This is opposite from what’s usual. My guess is that this creates a cleaner line from the housing coming off of the bars. In fact we used to set up small riders’ bikes (typically women) this way. The smaller bikes created tighter bends for the cable/housing and weird friction/poor shifting would result. Anyway, think about the smoothest line between the housing coming off of your bars, and heading to the relevant derailleur. So far I haven't noticed that it creates extra friction or wears out the cables, and given that I haven't changed cables in months I think a problem would have shown up already...
- When I replace the cables in the future I think I’ll run a piece of housing over the old cable before pulling the old cable out. This acts as a chase to run a new cable through, after which I can just pull off the “guide” housing.
- Overall though, the internal cable system is very slick, and should be helpful for ensuring smooth shifts and braking, especially because the lines are so clean.
• The rest of the build was straightforward. The only other hiccup came when Dave noticed the derailleur hanger was out just a bit and aligned it for me. This is yet another reason to work with a good shop. I’ve rarely seen a frame come from a factory—ANY factory—absolutely perfect. You need an experienced mechanic to check things. Do yourself a favor. When you’re ordering a multi-thousand dollar bike, make sure you have someone that knows what they’re doing check the alignment and facing.
• The headtube and bottom brackets on the bike are massive. Lots has already been written about the Madone’s design, but at 90mm wide I’ve never seen such a robust bottom bracket. I was contrasting it with Rider 2’s Cervelo R3-SL and it’s pretty amazing to see the difference. Impressive.
The headtube is equally stout. 1.5” lower with 1.25” up top. Building things up I was excited to find out how this translated on the road.
• New wheels: Bontrager redesigned its wheels for 2010. I love the Aeolus 6.5s I’ve been racing on for the past year. They’re stiff in the right places, relatively light and give the best ride quality of any deep section wheel I’ve been on. They also have a wide rim that I’ve found helps improves the handling of the tires. I’ve glued on enough tubulars in my life to know that I’m done with that fun, and prefer to ride clinchers now.
Back to the new wheels there are some pretty big design changes. First of all, Bontrager finally got rid of its paired spoke design. Paired spokes, originally licensed from Rolf and also used (sort of) on some Campy wheels, are a great idea in principle. It creates a very stiff wheel, allows for extremely high spoke tension and requires fewer spokes, making the wheel lighter. The downside? When a paired spoke wheel fails, in has a tendency to fail catastrophically. Bang. Your ride is done and hopefully your teeth are intact.
The new wheels use a more traditional lacing pattern: Radial up front and a combo of 2x and radial in the rear. The hubs still look great. My Aeolus wheels have hubs made by DT (I think). Not sure if this is still the case but the quality appears good and they seem like a smart design. Hubs are one of the things on some wheels I have issue with. Rider 2 is rolling on some Hed Bastogne wheels this year with mixed feelings. They’re a light wheel with tiny hub flanges. The problem? At 6’ 1” and 165 he’s a powerful rider, but every time we go up on a steep climb I can hear his rims flexing and hitting his brakes. My guess is the hub has a lot to do with this and it isn’t a good thing.
How fly are the spokes? White looks very, very cool. I’m not sure how easy they’ll be to keep clean (they won’t), but in the mean time it’s a pretty slick look, especially with the rest of the bike.
Bontrager looks to have updated the rim this year as well, specing a scandium rim instead of straight aluminium. And thank you, thank you Bontrager for using external nipples. It will be nice to be able to true the wheel with a standard spoke wrench and without stripping the tire and rim tape. Total claimed weight for the pair under 1,500 grams. Impressive.
• DuoTrap. This is pretty slick. Trek build wireless integration into the non-drive chainstay. This acts as an internal pick-up for a speedometer and cadence, so you can toss your ugly and paint-scratching pick-ups in the garbage can. It works with any Ant+ wireless computer, which is pretty much everyone except Polar. What a surprise! Polar doesn’t play nicely with others! (did you notice the sarcasm?) I've been using mine with a Garmin Edge 500, and it couldn't be a simpler setup.
• Trek now has a replaceable dropout. It looks stout and being able to replace this easily is a good idea. Why? Well, here’s a picture of one of the things that happened to my last frame.