Bontrager Part 3: A Look Inside Trek’s Project One

Remember when Elvis sang “If Every Day Was Like Christmas”? Perhaps you don’t, but when you talk to the people at Trek involved with Project One you get the distinct notion that they may well be Elvis fans. But mostly you get the sense that everyone working at Project One takes immense pride in knowing that each bike they produce is something that’s somehow unique and will be providing immense happiness to its customer.

 

Words/Images: James Startt

“You know, I have been working at Trek for 27 years and what I love most about working on the painting and finishing at Project One is that I know that someone is going to be in love with every bike that gets sent out here,” says Ken Strahota, one of the team’s master frame painters. “They are going to be in love with their bike when it arrives. It is going to be like Christmas morning. This is special to someone and that is just really satisfying to know you are part of that happiness.”

Project One came out of Trek’s desire to make its bikes increasingly unique to the customer. As one of the longtime titans of the industry, the company understands that certain aspects of bike manufacturing are inherently industrial. But they also understand a modern cyclist’s desire to make his or her own machine somehow personal. And the Project One program does just that.

At Project One, cyclists can custom order their chosen frameset and match it with their desired wheelset and groupset. But where things get really fun is when it comes to the custom painting and finishing that essentially allows every cyclist’s imagination to run wild.

Have a rough idea of a color or design you would like for your own bike? Project One offers a wealth of color and design schemes. And if you have your own artwork or color scheme, Trek can accommodate that too through its Project One Ultimate program. As Trek says: “The parameters of Project One Ultimate are simple: There aren’t any. If you can dream it, we can make it reality—even if that means developing a new paint specifically for your design. Project One Ultimate essentially says ‘yes’ to everything.”

For the customer, it really could not be easier. Simply go to the Project One page on Trek’s own site and order your dream bike. First choose the model, then chose from literally dozens of paint schemes and, in many cases, even chose a personalized decal text on the top tube. From there you can choose specific groupsets, handlebar designs, wheelsets, etcetera. In short, it is the ultimate Christmas catalogue experience for a 21st century cyclist.

Where things get tricky is within the Project One department at Trek, where the employees must get each individual order right, hundreds of time each week. “You have a unique product coming through each and every time,” says Mike Lodl, director of global Project One manufacturing. “Just bringing it all together each and every time so that the product comes together—paint scheme, wheelset, group—as ordered in the correct lead time is a big challenge. If a customer orders a bike with a 14-day lead time, well we want to make sure it arrives on time as ordered. We want to do that day-in-and-day-out and not disappoint you, because, well, if there is one thing that will ruin your Christmas morning it is having your gift come the day after Christmas. So we try to make every day Christmas for our customers.”

Unlike Strahota, who can count his time at Trek in decades, Lodl came to Trek less than three years ago. But it was an opportunity he could not pass up. “I came from General Electric,” he says. “I had a lot of experience in project improvement; and to be able to do that with bikes is just great! We live and die by that here. Here at Trek we are constantly changing the game. This whole plant is literally different than when I started here. We have moved everything. We have changed our processes. We have about 150 employees in P1 right now…we have been growing like crazy. It has just been double-digit growth for the last couple of years.”

Lodl says that one of the main reasons for such growth has been Trek’s ability to bring the lead times down, sometimes to within two weeks. And working with its UCI WorldTour team, Trek-Segafredo, certainly has helped hone the workers’ skills as they are constantly pushing to produce the highest-level bikes for the pro team under tight deadlines. And they were working with such deadlines when we visited the Project One department in Waterloo in early June, because certain members of the P1 team were focused on finishing a new line of special bike colors for the team’s 2018 Tour de France appearance.

But the fact that so many of the Project One bikes are custom ordered by individuals is equally inspiring. “It’s just never boring,” says Strahota. “Every bike is different and you are constantly challenged here.”

Strahota’s bikes have come to be particularly coveted by Project One owners. And they are distinguished with Strahota’s own unique signature that incorporates a deer, one of his favorite animals. It is a small detail, but one that embodies the personalization and attention to detail that every Project One bike has. And, oh yeah, the bikes make pretty great Christmas gifts too!