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Mainstream bicycle companies aren’t always known for producing dramatically avant garde paint and graphics. These bikes are sold to the masses, after all, and in the interest of financial solvency, the aesthetics need to be catered to the middle of bell curve.
Few bicycle brands are bigger than Trek, and few companies have to satisfy as many divergent tastes as a result. But within the walls of its Waterloo, Wisconsin headquarters, there reside a number of talented designers eager to be let loose from their aesthetic restraints. These folks are obviously capable of pushing the envelope much, much further than they’re usually allowed to do.
So given the freedom, what would they design for themselves?
Well, as it turns out, those freedoms do come about on occasion, and the results are as visually striking as you’d expect. Here are a few I encountered during a recent visit to Trek HQ, and rest assured that these aren’t just showpieces; they actually get ridden regularly.
Jamie Banks-George’s Trek Crockett
Product graphic designer Jamie Banks-George has a background in printmaking and letterpress, neither of which would obviously transfer well to bicycle frames and components. But yet he figured out a way to literally do exactly that on a Trek Crockett aluminum cyclocross bike that he meant to race last year — that is, until he broke his collarbone the day before the season opener.
“I wanted to try and use a technique that I’d done before in printmaking where I’m taking a Xerox transfer and applying that so I can create custom graphics instead of just different masked paint schemes,” he explained. “We tested it out and it ended up working, so I did a few transfers with some alcohol markers that worked pretty well. I gathered up a bunch of personal items that I’ve collected — scraps, pieces of inspiration, design elements — and just combined them in an interesting way on the frame.”
Banks-George used a very different process for the graphics on the Bontrager carbon rims, however.
Bontrager currently uses a laser machining process to burn off the outer layer of resin on the sidewalls of rim-brake models for more consistent stopping performance. But during the development of that technology, it quickly became evident that the company could use the laser to etch graphics into the rims as well.
“We were doing the Laser Control Track, and we obviously had the capability of doing additional graphics, so we created a little artwork tab,” Banks-George said. “As we were developing, we started testing to see what we could do with graphics so we ended up having the full graphics laser etched on this rim, but part of the process of getting there was finding out what can we really do. I just created a file with some different test patterns, and this was a bunch of different layers we could put on top to see what could happen and what was possible with the machine.”
The end result presents a stark contrast with some of the ultra-expensive bespoke bikes we’ve previously showcased on Bikes of the Bunch. But it’s no less interesting, and there’s a lot to be said for a unique bike that’s reasonably priced and also gets regular use (and abuse).
“I actually use a pair of 650b wheels with 2.0” tires for this bike that I use to ride the trails with my kids [Editor’s note: they don’t officially fit]. I had to dish the rim over about 6mm, but it works well enough and gives a different look to it.”
Jason Bass’s Vans-inspired Trek Speed Concept townie
Bontrager footwear designer and developer Jason Bass moved to Wisconsin to work for Trek several years ago, but he’s never let go of his California lifestyle, or that characteristic laid-back attitude. He had also spent several years working at a triathlon-focused company, and so when the opportunity to do a one-off project bike presented itself, it was obvious to him where he was going to go with it.
“I had been [in California] for about fifteen years,” Bass said, “and I’ve been a footwear designer for about twenty years. The project came up to do one-off art bikes, and the first thing that came to mind was paying homage to California and to the authentic Vans checkerboard. I had also worked for a triathlon company for around four years, and I had started building these front ends for them while I was out in California, so it’s something I really wanted to do here.”
Trek originally designed the Speed Concept as an all-out affront to aerodynamic drag, but Bass was more drawn to its go-fast looks, and the fact that he was using that platform as the basis for a casual daily-driver townie offered up some appealing irony as well.
Instead of the usual integrated aero cockpit sits a set of comfy sweptback cruiser handlebars and an upright stem, there’s a front basket to hold the essentials, and a wide (and heavy) Brooks leather saddle mounted atop the aero-profile carbon fiber seatpost. The checkerboard pattern on the frame is obvious enough, but more subtle are the gum rubber tires and ODI lock-on grips that match the sole of Bass’s favorite Vans slip-on shoes, and the way he repurposed some red Vans shoelaces as decorative covers for the brake housing.
Out back, the drag-reducing storage box remains as-is — and empty, at least for now.
“My plan is to turn it into a rear light. I think it’d be pretty wild to have a light inside. There have been many opinions on what should be in there, many of which are not entirely legal.”
Mark Andrews’ pint-sized Trek Equinox TTX
Trek senior design engineer Mark Andrews once made an annual trip to Kona for the Ironman world championships. One of the long-standing traditions of the event is the “Parade of Nations,” where the triathletes, sponsors, and other participants gather to show their national pride.
Andrews not only decided to bring his family along one year for the work trip, but also created a one-off Trek Equinox TTX triathlon bike for his then five-year-old daughter to ride in the parade.
From a distance, the bike almost looks like any other Equinox TTX that was produced at the time, only it was built around kid-sized 20″ wheels instead of the 700c ones usually used. The aluminum tubes were mitered and welded as usual, but the tubes themselves were obviously cut much, much shorter to fit. The wheels themselves were built in collaboration with the late Steve Hed.
Andrews has a reputation within the halls of Trek of being a master fabricator, and there’s ample evidence of his handiwork here. The Bontrager cranks are cut short, for example, but have proper pedal threads added. And up front, there’s a custom stub added to the faceplate of the Bontrager stem to mount the Mavic Mektronic computer.
Wait, Mavic what?
Mavic’s groundbreaking (albeit flawed) Mektronic electronic transmission was already long-discontinued by the time Andrews set about this project, but as it turns out, he not only has a reputation for being a skilled fabricator, but also being a bit of a packrat. And for this project, he dug into his personal archives for a cherished piece of cycling componentry history.
In fairness, the Mektronic actually made sense for this application since his daughter’s small hands were better able to push buttons to shift instead of moving levers around. How much shifting she actually did is debatable, of course, and Andrews even admits that she obviously didn’t spend much (if any) time in a tuck racing down the road on this thing.
Sadly, the bike now exists solely as a bit of history at this point, but what a neat piece of history it is.