Developing the new Trek Emonda: part 1
There’s a new Trek Emonda: actually, there are many. In a vast range of size options and – as of July 2017 – also with a disc brake model, the flagship lightweight road bike from the US brand was unveiled to media earlier this month in Wisconsin.
We will present a series of features on the bike after having visited the factory in Waterloo and riding the bike as a guest of Trek in the middle of June.
One of the great quandaries of the modern road bike review is: how can you articulate what the minor differences between one bike and another are like? When does a good bike really become better?
To be able to recognised the changes from one generation of Trek Emonda to the next, the rider needs to be absolutely familiar with the traits of the bike. And when there is a quest to improve something that already has a fabulous ride quality, the engineers are dealing with “splitting hairs”.
Seth Eckert from Trek is charged with translating rider feedback and turning that commentary into something tangible for the company to work with. How does a minor change to a carbon-fibre lay-up influence the ride quality? It is noticeable but to actually recognise it on the road, the ideal scenario will have the rider going from one bike to the next… only then can you discern the difference.
It might be minor amendments from one generation to the next but Trek takes it very seriously. And one of Eckert’s roles is to translate rider feedback and lab data to conjure a “better bike” from one season to the next.
We spoke at length with the “ride test coordinator/design engineer” to try and understand what is done to alter bikes from one generation to the next.
We’ll present this interview in a series of YouTube clips from an interview done at Trek’s headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin during the launch of the 2018 Emonda.
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The clip (above) is part one of an extended interview with Seth Eckert… Trek’s ‘Ride Test Coordinator’.
While the interview begins with a question about which pro riders are best able to articulate their thoughts about bike performance, it takes a little while before Eckert gets into the detail about what they learn from Trek’s sponsorship association. He does, however, explain that Belgian cyclocross legend Sven Nijs is able to discern minor changes to bikes.
Peter Stetina (above) was one of the Trek-Segafredo riders who provided feedback during the development of the new Emonda frame.
“There’s a lot of people – either internal testers or external testers that we’ve had – [who] are able to detect subtle differences…
“Using percentage as a great example: the average consumer can’t tell the difference between 10 percent, plus or minus, if we’re talking about BB stiffness, it’s the same to them,” said Eckert.
“There are some who are a little more refined who get down to that five percent, and then you’re starting to get into the manufacturing differences on variation.
“But Sven Nijs can tell the difference in vertical compliance in the seat mast on a Boone (cyclocross bike) within a five percent band, which on a ’cross bike – with low pressure [tyres] and varying terrain – he could tell the difference between the two.”
The creation – or even the modification of an existing bike – is not a simple process. The Emonda went through numerous iterations before Trek was happy to send it to full production. The new-series frames are all made in Asia but finished in the US facility in Waterloo, Wisconsin.
Our chat took place during a visit to the Waterloo facility this June as part of a media call by Trek. The aim of the visit to Wisconsin was to see some of the background work that goes into creating bikes, components, clothing and the many other items that are part of the vast catalogue of products.
What is clear is that great value is given to the various sponsorship associations Trek invests in; it is about much more than publicity alone and the teams and riders who are part of the larger Trek Family have a great deal of input into product development. But it’s also key for Eckert and his colleagues to consider the opinion of the everyday rider.
There are numerous methods behind the acquisition of test ride information, some based on opinion of riders – professionals and recreational alike – but reams of data collected over the years helps refine Trek’s product line.
We’ll present the interview in a series of YouTube clips and online posts, rather than just uploading the conversation in one hit (as has been done in the past with discussions in the ‘Talking Cycling’ episodes).
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During the opening stanza of the discussion, I explain my predicament as a cycling magazine editor in 2017: “After 20 years of testing bikes, I’m a little bit bored with trying to find the descriptive words when trying to put it into a test format in a magazine.
“It just sends me crazy,” I tell Eckert.
“I don’t want to just say, ‘It’s stiff, it’s nice, it rails through corners…’
“It’s a pain in the arse to describe a road bike.
“It’s not like a mountain bike where you’ve got different wheel sizes, different suspension systems… different things.
“[With] a road bike your feedback is about negligible, tiny little differences… so what sort of engineering response do you give to that [feedback from riders]?”
Eckert nods along and replies: “It’s a great question. And we’re still trying to figure that out.”
– By Rob Arnold