Evolution of the Trek Madone: Part Two - the aero development

Previously we looked at the early years of Trek's iconic Madone race bike, from its inception in 2003 up until 2010, and in part two we're going to look at the how it has evolved in the last seven years.

By 2010 the Madone was really starting to become a seriously lightweight race bike with some cutting-edge features that helped mark Trek out as an innovative company working hard to supply the best bikes it could for the race teams it supplied bikes to. By now Trek had gotten used to winning and it was intent on keeping up the development to ensure the Madone could cut it against its key rivals. Looking back at past Madones also provides an interesting reminder of how tech trends have been introduced and influenced bicycle design, and the story of the Madone is the story of keeping abreast of the rapidly changing developments, trends and tastes.

While lower weight and higher stiffness have been the focus of the Madones development, in 2012 the Madone came over all aerodynamic. Aero was the newest buzzword and the era of aerodynamics influencing road frames, components and clothing were upon us, no longer just confined to the time trial discipline where aero first made its impact.

The Trek Madone 7 marked a brand new top-level offering (previously the Madone only went to 6) and the big news was both a drop in frame weight, from 815g to 750g for a 56cm frame, and an aerodynamic design good for a 25 watt saving at 40kph compared to the previous Madone. That aero claim came courtesy of a frame designed with Kammtail Virtual Foil (KVF) shaped main tubes that satisfied the UCI's 3:1 ratio rule on tube dimensions. Along with slippery tube profiles, Trek also put the rear brake under the chainstays and introduced a new direct mount brake on the fork, which is now a lot more common on modern road bikes.

You can read a review of the Madone 7 by the guys at CyclingTips here

Having untapped the aero genie, in 2016 the Madone undertook its most radical update in its long history. With the launch of the Emonda a year earlier, a bike designed with the simple brief to be as light as possible - it weighed just 690g for a 56cm and a 4.6kg complete build was possible - the Madone was free to take on a simpler focus: aerodynamics.

The Madone 9 Series as it was introduced not only took aerodynamics to another level, resulting in the first proper dedicated aero bike from the US company but in borrowing the Domane endurance bikes Isospeed decoupler, it was also taking a stab at offering comfort at the same time. Early generation aero bikes were notoriously stiff and uncomfortable and this was clearly something Trek wanted to avoid. This was Trek's answer to the vexing question of what is the ultimate race bike.

Aero bikes have surged in popularity since Cervelo broke new ground with the Soloist in 2002, and popular now with professional racers as well as amateur racers and speed freaks. Trek created the new Madone by evolving the KVF tube profiles first developed on the previous Madone and taking the design to their logical conclusion, and the result is a striking aero looking machine with deep profiled tubes in all the key areas.

As striking as the full-on aero tubes were the utilisation of integration to further decrease drag. Trek developed its own unique centre-pull brake calipers with the front fitting seamlessly onto the fork and half of it hidden inside the head tube. Two small moving flaps on either side of the head tube - called Vector Wings - open when the handlebars are turned so as not to foul the cable pull. It's a visually neat trick and certainly a clever bit of product design. The rear brake meanwhile moved back to its original position on the seatstays, after a few years in which it was hidden underneath the chainstays, and the cable internally routed through the top tube. The brakes offered easy adjustment with spring tension screws to centre and easily removed brake blocks, and quick release tabs for wheel removal.

Speaking of internally routed cables, the other huge design change on the new Madone was the development of a new one-piece stem and handlebar that routed all the cables inside and channelled them into the frame via a specially designed steerer tube. This new handlebar was alone claimed to reduce front-end drag by up to 34 grams compared to the conventional Bontrager XXX Aero bar. And rather than having the Shimano Di2 junction box strapped to the underside of the stem as is all too common on road bikes, Trek tucked it away inside the downtube, whilst ensuring it's still easily accessible for making any gear adjustments. Trek even optimised the water bottle positions, putting the seat tube bottle as low as possible to reduce drag.

So the aero box firmly ticked, the next challenge was to provide suitable comfort. To finish strongly in a race is to conserve energy and the less beat up you are, especially if riding over rough roads, means you'll feel fresher for the final break, attack or sprint finish. Trek developed its unique Isospeed decoupler for the Domane with some success, with Fabian Cancellara involved in the development and favouring this bike for the riding in his last couple of years as a professional. What Isospeed does is decouples the seat tube from the main frame, allowing the seatpost to deflect when you hit a bump in the road, and its range of movement is controlled by the decoupler at the top of the seat tube. Trek had to modify it for the Madone to account for the aero aims of the frame, and the result is essentially a round tube within an aero outer tube.

Trek tuned it for the Madone so it doesn't offer as much deflection as the Domane and provides a firmer ride, but enough give when you need it - it's claimed to offer up to 21mm of vertical compliance, and of course rider weight is going to impact how much it works for you as it's non-adjustable. There are no moving parts, pivots or hardware to worry about, and it adds minimal weight.

The Madone is available in a range of builds and frameset options, including the Race Shop Limited which is basically the same bike the Trek-Segafredo pro team uses, down to the same H1 aggressive geometry and Dura-Ace Di2/Bontrager equipment.

That brings us right up to date with the Trek Madone. From its birth over a decade ago at the dawn of the carbon fibre era, the Madone has been through many changes in its time, and is still the US company's flagship race bike when performance and speed really matters. Where next for the Madone? More aero we would presume, and a disc brake version would be an obvious update whenever that is due.

So is the latest Trek Madone the ultimate race bike as the company claims it is? I've been testing one recently to try and answer that question, stay tuned for a review soon.