Field Trip :: Trek Suspension Facility
Jose Gonzalez is surprisingly personable for an engineer. His eyes probe the audience… are you with me? as he handily translates engineer speak into lay speak.
Jose is the Director of the Trek suspension testing facility in Santa Clarita, California. Today he is taking a break from engineering to lead a group of Trek sales rep Ian Miller’s VIP Trek retailers on a tour through the facility and the R + D process.
The facility opened in 2006 signaling Trek’s commitment to improve their suspension platform and gain credibility in the eyes of the mountain bike world. Trek’s road bikes have gone from good to great with the help of Lance Armstrong– now with a dedicated facility, the mountain bike line has the same ability to climb to the top.
Denizens are quick to point out Santa Clarita is an important cycling hotbed. Not only is Santa Clarita the host of the start of Stage 8 of the 2011 Amgen Tour of California, it is a bicycle friendly city boasting 50 miles of bike path. Santa Clarita, less than an hour north of Los Angeles, also boasts a High School mountain bike team, part of the SoCal League, which Gonzalez helps coach and support.
Trek chose Santa Clarita for its proximity to airports, the quality of life and the ease of driving to key
mountain bike locations such as Gooseberry Mesa and Santa Cruz, according to Gonzalez. While Waterloo, Wisconsin remains the optimal hadquarters location, Santa Clarita opens up possibilities for Trek not found in the Midwestern state, including the vast talent pool unwilling to leave Southern California, cycling media and key industry partners.
Led by Gonzalez, Greg Buhl and Eli Krahenbuhl work, design, test and develop Trek’s new suspension. Gonzalez, suspension veteran (formerly of Manitou), formed a partnership with Fox Racing Shocks in order to develop new and improved — and proprietary– platforms. With 4 patents in queue, the team has been busy building and riding, deciphering input and machining their way into Trek history.
The lesson of the day was focused on the dual chamber DRCV (Dual Rate Control Valve) rear shock. In the quest for the perfect shock: one that climbs and descends flawlessly, the engineers believe they have been successful. Graph after graph illustrates how the DRCV is superior to other rear shocks and suspension systems. The engineers believe that the shock is not the only important factor in the ultimate ride– but also the geometry of the bike, the tires, wheels and so on. Pooling all factors together including the proprietary rear shock design, the engineers can create a superior product- while other manufacturers designs may be hamstrung by purchasing stock shocks and designing around those stock rear shocks.
The DRCV has two air chambers which only exchange air at 50% of load. So, when your shock is 50% compressed, the “Boost Valve” plunger will open the second air chamber. What this tech speak means is the rider will feel only a smooth stroke as the shock engages– rather than the shock becoming harder to compress or easier to compress at the end of the travel. Most riders, even beginners would notice this riding through across a patch of baby heads where most bikes can’t respond soon enough to the harsh bumps. This is one example of one of the many benefits of this shock. We’ll dive into this subject more as we test the product in the field.
In order to test, develop and perfect suspension, the team uses a number of high tech instruments. The Shock Clock is fascinating. It’s an Ultrasonic Acoustic Wave-Guide Transducer. A device is attached to the rear end of the bike which operates with the suspension. The device contains a plunger which displaces air, causing various sound waves that are recorded and played back in the form of a graph on a laptop. Among the data from this device are the percentage of total suspension used, the rate of suspension (how quickly the shock compresses and expands) and so on. Using this information, the engineers can ride the same piece of trail over and over while changing other variables to come to their conclusions.
Indoors,the engineers call on the Roehrig Dyno machine. Trek is one of only a few bicycle related companies to own such a machine– a fact that makes the Trek engineers proud. The Dyno is de rigeur for the auto and motorcylce industries– where suspension tuning is a life or death situation. At Trek, the Dyno is used to test damping and other elements of suspension tuning. Outdoor combined with indoor testing and research all in one place gives the engineers tight control over the process, thus the end result that the consumer takes home.
The End Result
What does it all mean? We’re going to have to save the more technical conversation for another day. But suffice it to say that Trek is taking suspension development seriously, and to a new level. The end result is a bike that climbs well, descends incredibly well, absorbs all bumps– from small to large with ease– doesn’t bottom out too easily, doesn’t bounce back harshly and delivers the smoothest fastest ride.
What About Women?
A brief conversation with Jose at the end of the day shed some light on what is happening in the women’s line. One thing Jose clearly understands is the discrepancy between bike weight as a percentage of body weight and the effect of the female’s center of gravity. I am anxious to test the new Trek women’s bikes and see if they truly are different and better.
Rainy Day Blues
The rain in Southern California falls mainly when you want to ride. The original itinerary for the day was to end the presentations with a ride. It sounds great, the graphs look great. I’ve seen a million of these types of graphs, however, and all that matters is the ride. It was not to be today as the cold rain continued to plague the sodden State, leaving us all excited and no where to go.
For even the most experienced and interested journalist, there is a point at which the eyes glaze over not only signifying information overload, but sugar deprivation. Did I understand that statement? When I ask myself that question, I answer “no”, and I am unable to construct a question to clear things up– it’s over. Thus it is time to eat pizza and eventually head home– without riding.