October 15, 2015 – The 2016 Trek Madone made big news when it launched thanks to a sexy shape and some very unconventional thinking. Flappy doors called Vector Wings? An ISO Speed decoupler on an aero bike? Wasn’t that supposed to be for cobbles and ‘cross? For details on those questions check out our film, ‘Making Madone’ or our first ride report.
This is about building a Madone. Not the manufacturing, but the actual assembly from a bare frame in a box to a ready to ride, Dura-Ace Di2 shifting, race bike. That’s right, when we requested a test bike we asked for a bare frame so we could get the build experience. As much as we wanted to turn the pedals on a Trek Race Shop built Madone we had to know, just how tough would it be to route the cables through the bars? How tough would it be to get the new center pull Madone brakes dialed in and route Di2 through the down tube bracket and access panel? In short, had all the integration and technical advancement made the bike a bear to build, and potentially live with?
Now, no one would mistake us for pro tour mechanics, but we’ve built a bike or two and usually get a traditional build done in under an hour. The 2016 Madone took longer. A lot longer. We regretted our decision to build the bike from scratch when we got an email from the Trek crew. ‘You’ll need this,’ they said. ‘This’ was a 30 page PDF of instructions. The instructions covered simply the routing of the cables, attaching and setting up brakes, installing the down tube Control Center, the areo seat mast and how to travel with your bike. None of the 30pages was devoted to installing and setting up your drivetrain or bottom bracket.
With a quick mental reminder that we actually asked for this, we got started. Now, following instructions is not something we do well (we’ve broken just about every rule in the bike magazine manual, after all) but one look at the amount of small zip-lock bags and tiny parts, we realized we’d be following the directions closely. A huge note in Trek’s favor is the absolutely fantastic documentation. The directions are step by step, for both mechanical and Di2 shifting, the illustrations are clear and to the point. There was never a moment that we didn’t know what to do next or have a very clear idea of how to do it. They must have hired the IKEA guy.
Page four features an exploded view of the front end. Turn the page quickly. It is daunting to look at. Stare at it later, after you’ve successfully assembled the bike. Step one is to install the cable housing in the bar/stem combo. Setting up with Di2, we began by installing the brake housing. There are very specific lengths of cable to cut, no estimates allowed here. Measure twice, cut once. Using a guide cable the housing actually went in very smoothly with minimal fishing, but a strong LED and a nice hook tool is key. The cables make four turns by the time they emerge from specific holes in the stem. Again double check you have the right cable emerging from the right hole in the bottom of the stem. It’s critical when you go to run them through the steer tube. Re-fishing a cable you already fished is torture in any build.
Since we used Di2, we then fished the wires. This was torture, and the one spot where a note to perhaps fish Di2 wires prior to brake cables would be a welcome addition to the otherwise fantastic instructions. Getting even the guide cable to emerge at the lever port with the brake cable in place was not easy, then the force required to pull the Di2 wire through caused the tape holding the two together to come undone more than once. Yes, we cursed. A beer before 5:00pm may have been consumed.
Once the bar/stem combo was wired and cabled we turned to fishing the rear brake cable through the frame. A guide cable was fished through the top tube of the frame which was a simple affair compared to the bar/stem. We attached the levers to the bars and ran cable though them then mated the bars to the bike. The non-drive side bearing cap needs to be run on the cable as does a long foam sleeve at exactly 60mm from the stem. We know this because we forgot to do it and got to fish the cable twice. Sweet! It was actually quite simple and popped out easily both times, but yeah, we cursed again. The foam is to eliminate any rattle and does its job well.
So, now we are on page 12, the build is going well. But here’s where the build gets scary. We’ve threaded a few aero bars in our time and fished around in a TT frame or two, but we had never seen a bike that used a specially sculpted steer tube with a fluted compression ring to allow the cable and wires to drop down the head tube.
There is a beautiful little instruction at the top of this page that says ‘Support the handlebar on the workbench while you install the housings in the frame.’ The crew in Waterloo must have three hands because that is easier said then done, my friend, especially since the rest of the instructions show the bars floating magically in space while you install the fork and bar/stem combo in the frame. But actually, the scary start ends up being essentially as simple as installing a regular bar stem and fork, just ensure your cables are following the right path and it goes together in a moment with nice tight tolerances and confident solid interfaces. The stem and its two piece bearing cap nest together perfectly.
Cutting the steerer is the same as any other, just remember a 5mm spacer is built into the stem when you measure so the top cap can lie flush with the stem and the expander is a special wedge shape so don’t just drop it in willy-nilly. You can still run a traditional spacer above if you want fit flexibility but below the stem you’ll need to use the specially shaped spacers.
We’re on page 15 now and channeling Tony ‘F’n’ Stark building Ironman. The instructions are clear, the parts are fitting together well, and the fork is moving smoothly in the head tube. Now it’s front brake time. The new Madone brakes are center pull and the front brake cable drops out of the head tube. Measuring and marking your cable here accurately is critical to ensure the wedge that activates that brake arms is in the right place to get full range of brake pull, but that’s really the only tricky part. The centering bolts on the arms allow you to get perfectly symmetrical pad placement very easily.
Next up is installing the Vector Wing which takes a single bolt and the front brake cover which is just two bolts. Now step back and admire the beautifully integrated and functional front end. Don’t look for instructions on installing the rear brake, they aren’t there. Just follow the cable length instructions and repeat the steps for the front brake, minus the Vector Wing. Another note to Trek here, ‘Bravo’ on the internal cable path. We’ve seen bikes that need lube in the housing and skinny derailleur cable instead of brake cable to make all the twists and turns necessary and still operate smoothly. The Madone’s brakes were buttery smooth immediately.
Page 20 is up, the Control Center. We got to skip ahead to page 24, which covers Di2. If you’re building a mechanical set up, good luck to you. We will be of no help. You’ll need to know how to wire up Di2 because Trek does not cover that, but once you’ve fished those cables, which goes very easily thanks to the smooth interior finish of the frame, you’ll zip tie your battery to the Control Center and slot your junction box into the inner sleeve of the Control Center. It slots in with a satisfying click. Connect your wires, install the Control Center in the down tube and you’ll see the trim button exposed for easy access without opening the Control Center. You will need to open it to charge your battery, but it’s a simple click of a button.
All that’s left now is to install the chain keeper and the seat mast which are pretty self explanatory. The rest of the build follows standard Di2 set up and BB and crank set install procedures.
So, how long did it take? It was a solid three hours from naked frame to ready to ride status. Would the next build go faster, certainly. Do we envision it ever going as fast as a traditional build? Never. But we have spent almost as much time fishing cables in other aero bars and setting up some truly horrific TT bikes and those, thanks to lousy procedures and ill fitting parts, were much, much more frustrating. All in all, thanks to quality parts, thoughtful instructions and good design, the build itself was smooth and quite simple, it just involves quite a few more steps that will be new to any mechanic.
The new Madone also makes one thing very clear. With the front end of a bike making such an impact on aerodynamics, SRAM’s timing with wireless eTap could not be better. This three hour build would have been cut to under two without the need to fish Di2’s outdated wires.
The day after the build we put a long day on the bike at the Westlake Century with no issues whatsoever. How did it ride? You’ll have to wait for issue 48 of peloton to learn about that.