Evolution of the Trek Madone: Part one - the early years

Trek Madone - 2003 to 2007

Trek is one of the most recognisable bike brands in the world and the Madone has been one of the most successful race bikes of the last two decades. In this two-part series, we'll explore the history and evolution of the bike that has brought Trek so much success over the years.

Throughout history racing cyclists have become synonymous with bike brands: Fausto Coppi raced a Bianchi during his post-war racing career, Eddy Merckx and Colnago during his Molteni rein, Miguel Indurain dominated on a Pinarello (the last cyclist to win the Tour on a steel bike), and disgraced Tour winner Lance Armstrong gave Trek an incredible period of dominance with the Madone.

It's impossible to separate Armstrong and Trek when talking about the early history of the Madone. Here was a partnership that brought seven straight Tour de France victories (since wiped from official records) and rocketed Trek into the spotlight, helping it to become a global player in the road bike market. It also saw a transition from Italian dominance at the world's biggest stage race to one of US conquest.

Love or loathe him, it was Lance's push for better bikes and the obvious marketing opportunity of a multiple Tour de France winner that challenged the Trek engineers to develop the Madone platform. The bike evolved rapidly in a short period of time, and the history of the Madone is one that covers some of the most significant developments for the racing bicycle.

Perhaps Trek's biggest contribution to the cycling world is OCLV (Optimum Compaction, Low Void). Trek was an early adopter of carbon fibre and is construction process was first introduced on a road frame in 1992. Trek was and still is an innovative company, and subsequent years would see Trek embrace the rapidly changing technologies that transformed road bikes during the later part of the 20th century, from 1in quill stems and 9-speed Dura-Ace to the press fit bottom brackets and tapered head tubes that are commonplace today.

Armstrong's first Tour victory came aboard Trek's 5000-series race bike, the Madone's predecessor and the first model to be given the carbon fibre treatment. The Madone name wasn't actually introduced until 2003 and has since gone on to evolve massively in the 14 years since it was first launched. The very first Madone was noticeable only for the shift from a number to naming convention, the underlying technology had changed little. Armstrong would race the new Madone during his last two years before his 'first' retirement.

The Madone took its name from the Col de la Madone in France, a 13km climb with a 6.7% average gradient, steepening to 8% in places, going from sea level up to 925m at its summit. It's a climb that has never been used in a race but it has been made famous by the Armstrong association, who used it as a key test of fitness. In the years since it has become a popular training climb for pro cyclists based in the south of France. Bespoke Cycling rode it recently and you can read Barry Scott's account of the climb here. Amstrong's fastest time was 30.47 but Chris Froome has gone faster since, reportedly in a time of 30-09. We've no idea how fast Barry got up it…

The Madone underwent many changes during its formative years, with Armstrong first winning the Tour de France with it in 2004. While it got lighter and gained a few key developments, it still retained the same visual language, including the forward sloping top tube that typified race bikes before the turn of the century.

For 2008, however, it was out with the old and in with the new. Trek scrapped the old bike completely and introduced its most radical redesign ever, centering around an adoption of the compact frame design that had been pioneered by Giant with its TCR.

Trek Madone - 2008 to 2011

It was a thoroughly modern race bike, nothing like what went before it. As well as the sloping top tube and compact geometry that made a bike fit easier, this new Madone ushered in a host of new features: a 90mm wide press-fit bottom bracket, an integrated seatmast and tapered head tube. Trek made the most of the extra space of the wider bottom bracket shell and upsized the down tube to a full 74mm and asymmetric chainstays of bigger proportions. Stiffness was the name of the game. Weight was also a focus; bearings pressed directly into the frame with bearing faces moulded from carbon fibre, shedding vital grammes.

Also new and still a defining feature on modern Trek road bikes was the semi-integrated seatmast. A short seatpost capped a stubby seat tube extension, helping to lower weight and increase stiffness without the inherent drawbacks of fully integrated seatposts that were popular at the time, still allowing a range of height adjustment. These changes signalled a huge increase in frame stiffness and drop in weight, some 250g compared to the previous Madone and helped transform the Madone for a new generation of bike racing and an increasingly high-tech sport. And it proved its worth, winning that year's Tour de France at the hands of Alberto Contador.

During subsequent years the Madone would evolve with small advancements in the carbon fibre layup, gaining stiffness and dropping weight. The range expanded with more accessible price points added. Trek would also launch its Project One in 2008, allowing customers to customise top level Madones with a wide choice of paint schemes available, as well as picking the components you want.

Trek Madone - Project One

Then in 2010, it was time to go back to the drawing board. A new Madone was introduced. It wasn't as pivotal an update as its predecessor but still introduced some key developments. Trek reshaped the frame to find even more stiffness and lower the weight thanks to an evolution of the company's OCLV carbon fibre manufacturing process, with frame weight dropping to 890g and stiffness increasing, both made possible thanks to a Step Joint construction process that minimised tube overlap. Add a new lighter E2 fork and internal cable routing and you had the most advanced Madone to date. The SSL version would lop more weight off, down to 815g for a 56cm.

In a move aimed at pleasing both professional and amateur cyclists alike, the Madone was offered with different fits. The most aggressive was Pro Fit, so-called because it was used by the sponsored racers and Performance Fit with a 30mm taller head tube and shorter stem intended to appeal to consumers that wanted a dialled back fit. And for the first time, there was a women's specific design (WSD for short). The fit programme would expand and be renamed over the years, with H1, H2 and H3 replacing the Pro Fit, Performance Fit and WSD Fit options.

By now the Trek Madone was a regular fixture on the professional peloton with the US company continuing its involvement with the World Tour. No longer was Armstrong's success the main reason for buying a Madone. It was packed with the latest carbon technology, was light and stiff, and a large range catered for all budgets. It had truly become a race bike for the masses.

In part two of the Madone history, the embrace of aerodynamics leads to the next phase in the Madone's development.