2012 Superbike Shootout
Dec 24, 2011
article & images by Nick Salazar
(For my in-depth review of the Speed Concept, click here.)
Though it was first shown in 2009 at the Dauphine Libere under Alberto Contador, the Trek Speed Concept still feels very "new" going into 2012. In launching its next-gen superbike, Trek aimed to weave a tale of superlative aerodynamics, unprecedented integration, all the while maintaining a highly adjustable bike that would fit its riders. And the product did not fail to impress. The Speed Concept was, and still is, perhaps the most highly-integrated mass production triathlon bike ever built. The fork, front & rear brake, stem, and handlebar system are all integrated units, not found on any other bike. But to see the real standout features of this machine, you have to take a look at it first from the front, and then from the back.
Viewed from head on, the Speed Concept has the slimmest, cleanest frontal profile of any bike out there today. It takes the idea of an hourglass-shaped head tube to the extreme by using a bayonet-style fork with incredibly small bearings, and an integrated front brake. There's not a single cable in sight, even when you use Di2. The front brake, a center-pull design, mounts directly to two posts on the fork, and is covered by a front fairing that keeps the whole setup totally hidden. The rear setup is much the same, hidden beneath a fairing behind the bottom bracket. Yet despite this incredibly svelte appearance, the brakes function very well.
At the same time, integration comes at the cost of compatibility. If one of the proprietary parts on your Speed Concept fails, you'll likely have to mail-order its replacement from a Trek dealer, because no one else can get the part. These aren't things you'll find off the shelf at the local shop. It can be a challenge for the home mechanic to learn how to deal with the Speed Concept's unique cable routing, its proprietary brakes, and the integrated handlebar. The bike demands patience to set up, especially when adjusting the front end of the bike - for example, it takes a whopping 14 bolts to secure the extensions! However, summoning that patience (or snagging some of my custom clamps) bears the reward of the cleanest-looking bike currently made.
Turning the bike around reveals the other major concept (pun not intended) that Trek introduced with this bike: the Kammtail Virtual Foil (KVF) tube shape. Instead of using tube shapes that come to a point, Trek turned to the automobile industry for inspiration, where truncated airfoils have proven to be nearly as effective as their longer, uncut counterparts. The Speed Concept uses a down tube whose aspect ratio would be close to 5:1 if represented as a complete airfoil. But by cutting it down to meet the UCI's 3:1 ratio requirement, the KVF actually introduces several advantages. First, it makes for a stiffer tube, which in turn means a more responsive bike. But Trek found that the shape also provides a significant aerodynamic benefit at higher yaws. What happens in a crosswind is that the virtual foil (the airflow around the missing tail) actually bends in the direction of the wind. This phenomenon allowed the Speed Concept to record the lowest high-yaw drag numbers that Trek had ever seen.