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Trek’s custom treadmill

Trek’s custom treadmill

When there wasn’t a treadmill that could keep pace with their ideas, Trek Performance Research built their own

Trek engineering is all about fast-paced innovation, and we’re never short of new ideas.  So our innovation process hinges on our ability to test prototypes quickly to prove what works and what doesn’t.

Trek’s custom treadmill lets us do just that. This is the story of how it came to be.

In the past, there were basically two ways to test the performance of a prototype: lab testing and ride testing.

Lab testing gives you quick and consistent metrics. But it’s a simplified version of the real world.

Ride testing delivers fully realistic metrics. But it’s a slow and sometimes inconsistent process, due to rider and condition variability.

In 2014, we realised we could boost our ability to innovate quickly and accurately if we could combine the benefits of the two schools of testing.

We began exploring this idea by making moulds of the exact roads that had been key to our ride testing, including the famed pavé of the Spring Classics. For generations, these historic European cobbles have been the proving ground for riders and equipment alike. We set out to recreate them in Waterloo.

3 March 2014 | Moulding the Trouée d’Arenberg

We then began investigating ways to turn these moulds into a something that we could ride at Trek HQ.  The most obvious idea was to try stamping out a concrete test track.

laser scanning the cobbles mould

After exploring this idea with some success, we realised a concrete test track failed to fix many of the inconsistent aspects of ride testing, like rider speed, line choice, wind conditions and more.

So we got fancy. Using our metrology lab’s laser scanner, we created a highly detailed 3D computer model of these road textures.

A key benefit of these 3D models was our ability to define consistent line choices across the terrain, eliminating this huge source of run-to-run inconsistency in on-road testing.

Consistent ‘line choices’ across the cobbles.

A concept for adding a cobblestone profile to an existing lab machine.

The initial plan was to replicate these bump profiles on our test lab’s large drum testing machine. But after some deliberation, we decided that this still wasn’t realistic enough.

Woodway treadmills in Trek’s fitness centre

Then, during a lunchtime workout in the Trek fitness centre, inspiration struck. We had known that bike treadmills were being used in a few academic labs at the time, but we had dismissed the idea because a treadmill’s rubber belt could only accommodate small, simple bumps.

But our fitness centre’s Woodway treadmills were different. Instead of a rubber belt, the running surface was made of rigid slats connected like tank treads to create a solid running platform. This we could work with.

And coincidentally, Woodway headquarters is just 40 miles down the road from Waterloo. A few emails later, we found ourselves at the Woodway factory, talking to their engineers and even riding on their R&D treadmill.

Getting into the details at the Woodway Factory.

After a few more visits to test out our ideas for replicating real-world roads, we collaborated with Woodway engineers to create a customised, first-of-its-kind treadmill for bicycle testing.

Trek Road Engineer Alex Bedinghaus puts the new Madone through its paces. With speeds of 40 km/h and inclines of up to 35%, the harness is not an optional fashion accessory.

This treadmill can reach speeds up to 40 km/h (25 mph) and inclines of up to 35%, but the best part is that we can replicate terrain ranging from smooth roads to varying surfaces with up to 50+ mm (2+ inches) rocks and roots.

Installing a continuous surface texture made from laser scanning a gravel road.

While we will always do traditional lab tests and ride tests, the treadmill provides an additional opportunity for a highly controlled, fully realistic method for testing prototypes of our new ideas. And when combined with our high-speed camera, it gives us incredible new insights into cycling physics.

Testing the Madone with advanced motion-tracking of

The treadmill has become the centrepiece of the Trek Performance Research Center, where Trek engineers now drive innovation at an unprecedented pace.

Trek Madone

Madone is in a class of its own. It’s fast, light, smooth, and designed to give you every advantage in speed and handling, and that's exactly why it's known as the ultimate race bike.
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About the Author: Trek Performance Research

Trek may have been born in a barn, but it was raised on rocket science. Trek Performance Research is the driving R&D force behind developing the industry’s most innovative products.