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Hexcel composites and Trek combined to produce a carbon fibre prototype frame which carried Lance Armstrong to his record-breaking seventh Tour de France victory.
The seven-time winner rode around France on the first prototype of Trek’s Madone SSLx frame, which is due to be commercially available in 2006. For the 2005 Tour, Trek supplied Armstrong with two new bikes; the SSLX climbing bike and the TTX time trial machine. Trek claim that both bikes have “proven to be lighter, stiffer and faster than anything they have built before”.
The Trek Madone SSLx and time trial TTX bikes are made with Hexcel’s HexPly carbon prepreg, materials which have been utilized by Trek on all of the bicycles used by Lance Armstrong in each of his seven Tour de France victories.
Hexcel has worked in collaboration with Trek to develop one of the lightest and stiffest bikes in the Tour de France. Trek has progressively lowered the frame weight by reducing the weight of the individual prepreg plies -from 150gsm, to 120gsm, then 110gsm culminating in only 55gsm.
Hexcel has continually provided Trek with new products that reduce weight while pushing the performance edge. With Hexcel’s composite materials the SSLx bike weighs in at only 14.99 pounds (6.8 kg), the minimum allowable under international rules.
Trek has invested millions of dollars and 15 years in perfecting their patented OCLV carbon fibre technology process. If there are any air bubbles in the laminate, these create voids (air pockets within the structure) or weak spots. According to Trek, the approved aircraft industry spec for carbon laminate is under 2% voids. Trek OCLV frames average fewer than 1% voids.
Trek Carbon frames are constructed from individual tubes and lugs using the OCLV process and then joined together by a high-tech adhesive for each handcrafted frame.
For this years Tour de France, Trek took the SSL one step further by adding OCLV boron in the bottom bracket and shaving weight wherever possible on all non-carbon attachments. By adding the OCLV Boron composite, the frame was, according to Trek, 15% stiffer. The result is a frame which weighs less than 1 kilo, dubbed the Madone SSLx.
Trek suggest that Boron is much stronger than carbon under compressive loads, so a layer of boron is sandwiched between the carbon fibre layers to reduce the amount of carbon required and improve the properties.
David E Berges, Hexcel’s Chairman, CEO and President said, “Everyone at Hexcel congratulates Lance Armstrong on his tremendous 7th victory today. Our organization is excited to have been involved with and contributed to his historic winning streak in the world’s most challenging cycling event. The lightweight Hexcel materials developed for the Trek SSLx and TTX bicycles are another example of our Company’s efforts to make everything from aircraft to bicycles lighter, stronger, faster.”
Scott Daubert, Trek’s team manager said that “Right now, our aim is to be as light as possible, but still remain safe. The reason why this is important to us now is that this will become our flagship frame available to consumers next year. All the aluminium parts in a Trek [SSL] frame, we’ve addressed in some way,” he said, “bits and pieces where you have to attach something to the bike, where carbon fibre doesn’t machine that well. We’ve removed material that was in the past aesthetic, or we’ve removed material that we knew wasn’t of structural value.”
According to Trek, “ultimately, what separates a bike that claims to be the lightest from a bike that wins the Tour de France seven times is its stiffness to weight ratio and the ride quality that results. Trek’s performance road frame geometry is based on years of testing and evaluating with the best riders in the world, including current six-time TdF champion, Lance Armstrong. Each OCLV frame offers the ultimate balance of stiffness, comfort and handling.”
According to one source, the price is yet to be decided, but prices are expected to be more than the current Madone SSL flagship, which retails for US$6,995.
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