Heart Drives Trek Bike Culture

Trek has heart! It shows in Trek bike culture, and it oozes from their people.

For years I’ve been hearing, “If you ever get a chance to go to Trek, take it, you’ll be blown away,” from friends at JAX, Shimano, and other industry insiders. The consensus was: a visit to Waterloo’s Trek Headquarters is a game changer experience, and one that should be on the bucket list for any cyclist.

So as my family of 5 has worked our way around the country this year via Airstream, I worked it into our road trip… here’s what I discovered.

Our Pilgrimage to Trek in Waterloo, Wisconson was a magical experience. We set aside two days. TREK invited us into their home, showing us the insides of the company’s heart and headquarters.  And even went to the effort to include our 3 girls 7, 9 and 10 years old.

You can’t quite appreciate what’s happening with the brand, and who Trek is, until you wrap your brain around WHERE Trek is: we passed 10-20 farms on our way to Waterloo, with no clues of where the 800+ Trek employees might live, in order to get to work on that Thursday morning.

Waterloo is just East of Madison, a small college town.  But Waterloo barely seems to make the map as a city;  rather it’s a rural farm area.  And the people you meet reflect just that, the unassuming salt-of-the-earth people of middle-America.

But AWESOME lives at TREK!

TREK has a huge heart. During my pilgrimage deep into farmland of Wisconson, I discovered the people and culture that makes the mega bike brand’s heart beat and why they continue lead the Best in Class categories in an ever moving industry.

July 13th I walked through the doors of Trek, my full family in tow, to visit “the Mothership”.

Yep. I did show up to TREK Headquarters carrying my Specialized gear bag, with S-Works XC shoes to meet, greet and ride with the TREK mountain bike marketing and development team.  You know what?  Not one of them quipped or poked at me for not being TREK branded as I would expect.

Bontrager Herman the Sheep

Herman the Sheep (Bontrager’s Mascot) met the kids at the door, and posed for a photo in front of the Project One Road Bike display sending them home with a swag bag of stickers, t shirts and cool memories of seeing the bikes made.

My hosts, invited me to meet their family as we discovered Trek…with most companies that would be to see their “WHAT’S”:

  • WHAT’S being done
  • WHAT’S the next trek bike technology just around the corner
  • WHAT’S better than everybody else.

Instead of the WHAT’S my host invited me to me the “WHO’S” of TREK.

  • WHO’S Developing the different bike categories
  • WHO’S The Mountain Bike Team
  • WHO’S dreaming up the Trek Bike Technology.  Designers and Engineers turning the team’s dreams into reality with 3D printing and CAD technology
  • WHO’S Painting the custom Project One bikes and laying up the in-house carbon products and ensuring the quality of the OCLV carbon frames (Trek’s proprietary Acronym. Definition. OCLV. Optimum Compaction Low Void used in all of Trek’s carbon fiber bikes).
  • WHO’S testing the final product’s quality to make sure the manufacturing meets the brand’s rigorous quality standards

The people behind the brand are why so much of the Mid West and East Coast have chosen TREK over the myriad of bike options. The Trek to others ratio often leading the BIG 4 bike manufacturers in race turnout and trail ratio. They live “Believe in Bike” at Trek.

The vibe? I got a low-key, contented connection from people, characteristic of the mid-west farmlands. Good, wholesome, life-loving people greeted us.

Walking the halls of Trek, people smiled, said hi. They stopped to meet me and were regularly introduced as “Jim from Paint” or “John from Quality.” Then my host would ask that Trek family member to share what they did, and how it contributed to the whole. You won’t find a nicer group of people traveling the country than the Trek tribe, they authentically love what they do and who they do it with. It’s almost audible in the halls, “I love my job”.

Quality and perfection are rooted in Trek’s values, and because of the “Believe in Bikes” heart of the company and the people, they continue to make already AWESOME even AWESOMER.

And who wouldn’t love their job…working with bikes? But Trek is a top-tier company to work for, and there’s plenty of insider company perks that enhance the experience.

WHAT I witnessed is Trek Bike Culture is WHAT’s keeping employees engaged and thriving here in Waterloo.  The employees are passionate bike life lovers, that love what they do and believe in their company.

Trek employees are the company! I noticed how each person I met could share the vision and direction of the brand they loved and represented.

Plus there’s just some really cool perks working at the two wheel maker’s home adding to Trek bike Culture:

  1. Food – The Café menu rotates throughout the week, with Chef Matt (not me!) putting his passion into the food and service, with daily options. (ours was fresh stir fry to order), and the café levies a little health tax to keep it fun with a premium price on “less than healthy” dessert choices). Plus I was struck by the perfect compliment to the menu, The Rider’s Friend trail mix bar.
  2. Ride Time is Expected…not just the usual 9-5 grind – Rides are expected and flexible ride time allowed during the work day. Employees will set out on local roads or the Trek owned farm trails just four farms down the road, solo and in groups.
  3. The Gear gets used by employees…as we suited up for our 2pm ride there was a 15 person pile up in the locker room and then hallway as we all headed for road rides or trail samplings down the road…if they’re using the gear the feedback and influence they have as they develop comes from a rider’s real-world, not a conceptual “production lab” of theorists and designers disengaged with the product.
  4. Pro athletes are employed by the company, and they use and offer feedback on product performance details and idiosyncrasies to the developers to aid in the process seeking increased performance.
  5. Stock options (in the 1 Billion Dollar privately held bike brand). Who doesn’t perform well when they want to raise the value of their own investment.

After spending time with the people, I also got a chance to see some of the new tech, and swing my leg over a new Fuel EX 9.8 29er with the new “through shaft” rear suspension shock. And man did it respond.  The suspension was ON! Small and big bumps. No hesitation, no delay and no recoil…when I was paying attention. Truth is, I often was just riding not thinking about the suspension, which is just the way it should be. Ride and let the bike tech do its job. The rear suspension response was so immediate I wasn’t distracted and thinking about it most of the ride. That’s what it’s supposed to do! So yes, and wow! There’s great tech coming down the pipe from Trek Land this year.

Trek’s onto something that’s at their core…keeping it simple –“Believe in Bike!”

Having ridden loads of bikes and been around the bike industry for the past 12 years, I would contend that there’s really a lot of good bikes out there; so rather than find the bad ones, it’s important to find the one that works.

That’s just what Mountain Bike Brand Manager, Travis Ott, has on his mind.  “We’re just trying to help the customer understand the bikes we offer and find what they need.”

As a fan of Trek and most of the other bike brands, I’m excited to hear their direction and see it in action. Focus on simple.  Helping a customer understand the products they had to choose from. The bike business needs a customer-centric approach over often ego driven initiatives. Smaller men and women fear of losing ground to the competition, not Trek.

Though Trek doesn’t have plans to upend the market by a new wheel size or a wickedly strange head tube angle, this year, they do continue to lead the revolution of refinement. Trek continues to be a leader in rider experience and technical refinement to improve the experience.

TREK bike technology:

Project One: allows buyers to customize to their heart’s content… paint, personalize, drivetrain and suspension components…it’s the equivalent of ordering up a custom build of the botiquey brands, with the monster engineering and quality control of Trek.

The Trek IsoSpeed decoupler on the Crosslink was an innovation in the hard tail Market that “IsoSpeed diminishes the fatiguing impacts of the road, allowing the rider to remain fresher longer.”

And just released in this year’s models

The new Suspension RE:aktiv with Thru Shaft.  Billed by Trek as “the shock that can keep up”. Trek has rejected the status quo to improve the immediate response, seamless transitions, and uninterrupted terrain tracking that riders have come to love about RE:aktiv.

Trek bike culture electricElectric Bikes are all the rage in the bike industry currently, and Trek has a mission to make Ebikes for everyone.

There’s an innovative industry leadership coming from TREK. But what’s unique about Trek that drives their passion for perfection is the Heart of the Company and their committed people. Woven into each bike model are a desire to connect with riders and help them understand the product that’s right for them.

  • Innovation- Sure, but that was some of what has been disenchanting to me was some of the past several iterations of TREK’s website. It used to be you look at a model and you get cross-sections of the part (not the experience it gives, or the ride quality it delivers). Now you’ll find all the tech you want, or just the basics, but they start with the experience the rider desires and break it down from there.
  • The Design…products are conceived and born here in Waterloo. Trek’s Waterloo facility is where designs originate, products get developed, and then come back for inspection and a good real world testing to verify tolerances are as expected.
  • The quality Lab- tests bikes at the US Waterloo Headquarters, and an identical test lab is testing at each of Trek’s factories world-wide.
    • Tolerance for varied tolerence gets no tolerance
    • If it’s not good enough for TREK it’s not good enough…period
    • ISO standards adhered to
    • It’s got to be better than good
  • Trek is a leader in Carbon. OCLV was developed by Trek, and they have become a Leader in Composite manufacturing. ( In this case the composite consists of two parts: a matrix and a reinforcement. In CFRP the reinforcement is carbon fiber, which provides the strength. The matrix is usually a polymer resin, such as epoxy, to bind the reinforcements together). Boeing and NASA have both sought Trek for consultation and process when it comes to Carbon Fiber Composite manufacturing. The same process used to make our 2 wheel toys.

I was impressed with Trek’s commitment to keep it simple. I admire, and at times fail to create simplicity in my own life and business. Trek’s keeping it simple, “Believe in Bikes.” And man do they.

Trek’s current mindset is in line with the core of the good ‘ole Mountain Bike Family mantra.

  1. Keep it simple!
  2. Improve and perfect what’s working; don’t go after 100’s of variations.
  3. Keep it in the family – One thing you’ll find about the bike brands you’ll love is they reproduce fellow lovers…
    • Passion for the product and lifestyle is presented to friends, and people we ride with.
    • Knowledge is shared.
    • They do it together.

When it comes down to it, Trek is family, and they invited me to join them.

And we we did what my family does. I walked in, we sat, had lunch and went for a ride! In my family that’s what we call “A good day”.

by Matt Wenger Race Director (and family traveler at Wenginit.com in case you need some sleepy night time reading)

       

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