Trek Speed Concept 7 Series Project One – Review

We were excited when Trek rolled out their revised Speed Concept in mid-2013. They had taken a frame that had been performing at their pro-peloton level and added a list of new features that specifically benefited the triathlon market, yet left the ability to be UCI legal for those who wanted it. To say we were looking forward to getting our hands on one may have been an understatement.

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A few months later, we got our first good look at the Speed Concept. From that point on, we knew we were hooked. When we reached out to Trek for a test model, we were met a better answer than we’d expected. Rather than an off-the-shelf Speed Concept, how about a Project One? If you’re unfamiliar, Project One is Trek’s in-house customization department. We were going to customize the perfect Speed Concept just for AG, and then we’d take a few months to test it.

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So here we are nine months later ready to share the AG team’s experience with our Trek Speed Concept 7 Series Project One.

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The Speed Concept

The speed concept got a thorough redesign for the 2014 model year. And rather than “revolutionary,” we think a more apt description may be “evolutionary.” Trek completely rethought the accessories that are a necessity for triathletes. Trek claimed their new design represents a 99-second improvement over its old form in Ironman Hawaii, and 148 seconds in Ironman Arizona when ridden at a 20mph average. The new SC also embodies a true “dual personality.” While it can be UCI legal, the SC can also throw the rulebook into the fire and become a triathlete’s new best friend.

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To accomplish this, the Speed Concept features two configurations. First is a “standard” fork that is UCI compliant with a 3:1 aspect ratio. For the triathletes out there (and Trek recognizes that the majority of the SC buyers will fall in this camp), there is a UCI-illegal, high-aspect-ratio (6:1) fork specifically designed to achieve every last bit of aerodynamic gain possible. The base bar can likewise be substituted for either a UCI-legal bar or a deeper non-legal version.

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Underneath the bottom bracket you will find the newest trick up the SC’s sleeve – the Speed Fin. The Speed Fin is a triathlon-specific rear brake cover that integrates a fairing to both improve aerodynamics as well as stiffen the brake (a UCI-legal cover is available that does not include the fairing but still stiffens the brake). Trek claims that the Speed Fin saves an average of 10 grams of drag between 0 and 12.5 degrees of yaw.

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One of the most interesting changes to the Speed Concept was its new mono extensions. Rather than individual bars connected to the base bar, the new SC’s aerobars are one single piece and are available in S-bend, straight, ergo (skitip), and short ergo. The pads are then connected to the mono extension with two bolts. When we built our Speed Concept we were shocked at just how easy it was to build the bike. And when we had to refit the bike from one editor to another, adjusting the bars was extremely straight forward—a welcome change from having to use a level to make sure we had both bars perfectly in line.

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The original Speed Concept introduced Trek’s Draft Box to the world, but the redesign takes it to the next level. The Draft Box is a rear storage compartment that can be fitted to the rear of the seat tube. First thing to know is that the Draft Box is draft neutral. Therefore you can carry almost anything you’d need and suffer zero aero penalty. The new Draft box is larger than the original and fits securely. We never ejected it throughout all of our rides. It can also be easily removed for UCI-legal events. Oh, and speaking of carrying anything you need, our Draft Box was filled with a tire, two tubes, two CO2s, an inflator, and a multi-tool. Obviously the Speed Concept quickly became our ultimate Sherpa bike.

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Up front is the new Speed Box (bento box) and a BTA cage that mounts to the mono extensions. The BTA cage features an integrated computer mount, which mounts cleanly to the mono extensions via the extensions mounting holes.

Project One

When Trek asked us if we were interested in Project One, we couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. After all, every member of the AG team has spent many an hour spec’ing out their perfect Speed Concept, Madone and Domane since Project One was introduced. This was our chance to do it for real.

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The first choice we had to make was do we go with a 7 series or 9 series? With the 2014 update, both now have the integrated front end, so the only major difference is the type of carbon fiber used (500 Series OCLV vs 600 Series OCLV). Additionally, only the 9 series is available in UCI legal Time Trial form. For a few seconds, we briefly considered building a true TT bike. However we quickly realize that our goal should be to create our perfect triathlon weapon. So we ditched the 9 series and went to a 7 series, which (by our math) also saves about $800.

Next up is paint selection. If you know the AG team, you can imagine that this bike had to be lime green. Then we decided to add some blue and black accent colors to finish it off. You also have the option to add a custom signature, but since this is a test bike, we decided against it.

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Gruppo selection was a tough decision. Did we go with top-of-the line electronic with a Dura Ace 9070 Di2 with integrated SRM? Or maybe we would stick with mechanical and go SRAM Red 22. On the other end of the spectrum was Shimano 105. But who were we kidding, we knew what we would choose before we even started – Ultegra 6870. We have been fans of this group set since it was first introduced; the first real attempt by a manufacturer to bring an electronic group set to market at a semi-affordable price point (and considering you can now get a Felt B2 with Di2 for $3,699, we think they made an impact!)

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Component selection is where you choose your aero package, wheelset, tires, handlebar, bar tape, and saddle. Because we had chosen the 7 series, the only aero package option was the Full Aero Package: for triathlon racing. However, if we had gone with a 9 series, we could have chosen the UCI-Legal Aero Package. Wheelset selection runs from simple aluminum Race TLR clinchers to a full Aeolus 9 D3 Tubular race setup. We went back and forth and finally decided to go with a clincher-based race setup. Even though it wasn’t an option on the site, we were able to work with Trek to do an Aeolus 7/9 D3 clincher setup. We went with a 7/9 since it most closely resembled in size the Reynolds Aero 72/90 we tested in 2013, and we thought it would make a great comparison (more on that later). With the carbon wheels, you can choose sticker color (obviously we went blue) and tire selection. Since we are already such fans of the R4 Aero, we went with those.

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For the cockpit we got the triathlon (non-UCI legal) basebar with our selection of the triathlon Full Aero Package. We went back and forth on S-Bend mono extension versus ergo. Devon wanted S-Bend, Mike wanted ergo….Devon won. Of course we had three types of bar tape in 15 colors to choose from, but we went black gel. And finally, time for saddle selection. Honestly we expect most people building a custom Speed Concept to cheap out on the saddle since they already have their perfect saddle from a previous bike. But for us, we went with the Hilo RXL. We have previously tested the Hilo RXL Speed Dial and wanted to try out the original.

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Finally, the last step – accessories. The draft box is a must. Honestly, it’s one of our favorite features of the bike. The 9 series is equipped with it standard, but for the 7 series, it adds an extra $62.99 to the total price. We’re telling you now, it’s worth it! We also went with the top tube Speed Box. Our one regret is we didn’t choose to go with a DuoTrap sensor. Trek designs their frames to cleanly accommodate the DuoTrap speed\cadence sensor without any zip ties or tape. It was one of those small items we missed. If we did it all over again, we would include it.

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Wow. Even after all that, we haven’t even finished. Once the “fun stuff” has been decided on, it’s time for sizing. We had to choose frame size, chain ring size, crank length, cassette range, stem size and seat post size. For those purchasing a Project One, you won’t be doing this on your own. Trek will help you set up a consult with a local Trek dealer to get this right. Our advice is to take your time here and make sure it’s perfect. Hopefully the dealer will have some sort of fit bike where you can test out the configurations. You are building your perfect bike, so above all, make sure the fit is absolutely perfect.

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And then we were done. Now it was just a matter of waiting for our masterpiece to arrive. Because the Project Ones are built and painted to order, it does take longer than an off-the-shelf bike. Some say the waiting is the hardest part, and we would be inclined to agree. But then, finally, a box arrived and our perfect Speed Concept was delivered.

Our Thoughts

Nine months is a long time to have a bike. And truth be told, it was way longer than we originally intended. Let’s just say that 2014 wasn’t exactly kind to the AG team. Two thirds of our editorial staff broke at least one major bone last year, and that had a major impact on how quickly we were finishing reviews (our hopes are high that 2015 is a different story). So for 9 long months, we saw our lime green Speed Concept sitting in the garage at AG HQ. And for 9 months we felt guilty every time we saw it. The Speed Concept is clearly a bike that begs to be ridden, not sit in the garage.  The Speed Concept exudes speed – between the aero tube shapes, ultra clean wiring, and deep wheels, it looked like it was moving fast while it was just sitting still. But we may be getting ahead of ourselves.

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The unboxing of the Speed Concept was extremely straight forward. Trek had pre-cabled the bike, so for the most part, it was plug and play. The wiring is clean – honestly some of the cleanest we have ever seen. The only time you see it is where it exits the integrated stem for the junction box. Everything else is self-contained inside the stem, base bar, and mono extensions. We initially fit the bike for Devon. After all, he chose the mono extensions. So first ride was his. The cockpit is extremely adjustable. You can easily move the extensions forward or back, as well as adjust the pads relative to the extensions. For anyone who has ever tried to ensure that their bars are equally level, while having both the pads and bars set at the perfect distance, the mono extensions are a welcome change. Adjustments took half the time of other bikes we have worked with.

The seat post is a simple two-bolt design. There’s no hidden wedge that you can accidentally lose inside the frame (something we hate to admit that we’ve done on more than one occasion). All this adjustability made swapping to a second rider a breeze. When Mike wanted to ride the Trek we loosened a few bolts and were off. Overall, it was probably one of the fastest swaps we’ve done.

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The one tricky part of the initial setup was the brakes, specifically the front brakes. Trek has hidden the centerpull front brakes behind a cover on the front fork. And while this makes for an ultra-clean front end, it does create some slight challenges for adjusting the brakes. For anyone who has ever adjusted centerpull brakes, you know that they can be quite challenging. Luckily we never reached the point of wanting to pull our hair out, but let’s just say that the longest part of the setup process was definitely the brakes.

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Speaking of brakes, lets jump over to the wheels and braking performance. We had a great experience with the Aeolus 3 D3 clinchers when we tested them previously. So we expected the 7/9 combo on our Speed Concept to be much the same. From a ride perspective they were everything the 3s were, but faster. And in so many ways they reminded us of the Reynolds Aero 72/90 set we had previously reviewed. The D3 is a 27mm wide design with a depth of 70mm for the 7 and 90mm for the 9. They were incredibly fast on the flats, but never felt like a huge burden to get up the hills.

Red Solid Line - Aeolus 9 D3 (90mm) with Bontrager R4 Aero tire Red Dotted Line - Aeolus 9 (90mm) D3 with Bontrager R3 tire Black Solid Line - Brand Z (81 mm) with Bontrager R3 tire

Red Solid Line – Aeolus 9 D3 (90mm) with Bontrager R4 Aero tire
Red Dotted Line – Aeolus 9 (90mm) D3 with Bontrager R3 tire
Black Solid Line – Brand Z (81 mm) with Bontrager R3 tire

Our only knock on the wheels was braking performance, and honestly this may have had as much to do with the brakes on the Speed Concept as the wheels themselves. When we tested the Aeolus 3s we found “braking performance that, for run-of-the-mill cork pads, was quite good” when used on a road bike with standard Ultegra brakes. With the 7/9 on the Speed Concept, we found the overall braking performance to be behind what we had seen on other tri bikes \ carbon wheel combinations. That’s certainly not to say that the braking performance was bad (we put more than enough miles on the bike and never felt concerned), it’s just that other combinations are better. This just wouldn’t be the wheel\bike setup we would want to take screaming down some steep switchbacks at 80 km\h.

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Of course time-trial-type riding (riding hard in a deep aero position) is what this bike was built for and what it excelled at. It was extremely comfortable to hold for long miles. The ease of adjustability of the cockpit allowed us to dial in the perfect position (plus, since this was a Project One, it was truly fit to match us from the moment it popped out of the mold) and just enjoy the miles. The ride was never harsh or jarring either. Devon often said that riding the Speed Concept was the closest to riding on glass he was going to get.

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We also found the Speed Concept was quick to accelerate from a stop. With its huge bottom bracket area that really wasn’t a huge surprise. And while the bike was not light (especially when compared to Trek’s own Emonda), it never overtly felt heavy. Sure, we wouldn’t take this bike sprinting, but a rolling course would be no challenge for it.

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In many ways we found this to be the ultimate triathlete training bike. You could easily carry enough equipment for a century ride without any concern of needing refuel stops or someone to call for emergency SAG. With a BTA bottle up front, two bottles in the triangle and two on the rear, you were all set for hydration. In the Speed Box (bento box) we fit all the gels we could possibly need. And as we mentioned above, the Draft box was filled with a tire, 2 tubes, 2 CO2s, an inflator, and a multitool – more than plenty to get you through the ride. In fact, the Speed Concept became our go to Sherpa bike. When editors were doing race training and carrying minimal onboard equipment, another lagged behind on the Speed Concept carrying all the extra bottles and spare equipment they both could need.

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One thing we did want to note was in regard to the BTA mount and mono extensions. The mono extensions include mounting holes for a BTA cage for use with a standard bottle or Speedfil A2 this was a thing of beauty. We never saw a bottle eject or shift, and the integrated computer mount put our Edge 500 in our immediate line of sight. However, if you are looking to use other BTA solutions out there, your choices may be limited. Because the actual aerobars on the extensions are shorter than most, you are limited on what type of BTA setup you can use. To further clarify, there is less room than what you’d find on a more “standard” setup, which typically provides a fairly large amount of distance between the shifters and the basebar. We weren’t able to fit a Torhans Aero 30, Profile Design Aero HC or Nathan Sports AP Pro. You could conceivably fit an XLAB Torpedo by mounting the cage straight to the pursuits. But take our advice, if you have a strong preference for a specific BTA option, you may want to try to test fit it before you take the plunge here.

Wrapping Up

Nine months is a long time to get to know a bike, and certainly longer than most reviews we’ve completed up to this point. And of course we fully admit that most of that time was due to the prolonged stint of bad luck the team experienced last year. Despite that, we also cannot deny the fact that we simply didn’t want to give the Speed Concept back. Too often someone on the team would ask “Hey I am doing a 70-miler with race setup this weekend, can someone pace me on the SC?” And the only reason why Mike didn’t chose the SC for his A-race last fall was that he simply prefers a cockpit with ski tips. Otherwise there’s no doubt in our minds that the Speed Concept would have been his weapon of choice. And as we’ve said in the past—if we’d race it, we would certainly buy it.

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