Before I start the review, I’d hereby like to wish all members and ‘fans’ of Iron Project a Happy and Prosperous Year of the Horse! Another awesome year beckons. More races were confirmed, namely by WTC and the Challenge series. Notable ones will be the comeback of IM Langkawi and the new IM 70.3 Putrajaya KL. Challenge also added a new iron distance event for Taiwan and the half-iron distance for the Laguna Phuket Tri Festival. More reason for us to train! And to spend of course… *smirk*
A brief intro on the Speed Concept
First, a short intro about the Speed Concept(SC) 9 series. It appeared in 2009 and was tried and tested in the TdF on the same year. It was only till later that year when TREK officially launched it as a 2010 model. It was a bold design by TREK because the levels of integration and the radical aerofoil tube shape designs were unheard of. And it was one of the 1st few designs for a TT frame with triathlon in mind, as shown with their steep seat tube angle, and spec-ed with UCI specific base bars and seatposts as options. And the major draw is the sleek profile of the bike with all the hidden cables and the integrated ‘Draft Box’ and ‘Speed Box’ for storage. It was a totally fresh concept because no other bike manufacturer had pulled something off as good as TREK did. For years it had no equal, at least in terms of integration and wind tunnel performance of their ‘Kammtail’ tube shapes was only bettered by a few, even till the launch of its 2014 replacement.
However, as with all bikes with high levels of integration, living with it can be a pain. Especially for those who do not possess any form of mechanical skills or tools, trips to the shops are commonplace. And travelling with it becomes a chore. Dismantling, reassembly and minor adjustments can be very time consuming and especially so with the SC9. Most owners will definitely tell you the amount of bolts they need to remove and the difficulty in adjusting the rear brakes. There are a few other niggles as well and TREK were keen to iron out these problems with their new replacement.
How my love for it blossomed
All the buzz started last year July when Benjamin, our proverbial ‘poison’ king sent us a link of a video for the new 2014 SC9. And we being ones who likes to be exposed to ‘poison’, had a look at the video which is about 6-7mins long.
My eyes were peeled to the screen. If the video took any longer I would have wet myself. The bike had the word ‘WANT’ written all over it. It so happened that I was starting a search for a new frameset that can fit me better. I was still on my size S Shiv TT with 170mm cranks and had plans on moving on to shorter cranks, which means new fit points. And I found out the Shiv wouldn’t be able to provide the fit I required because being a TT frameset, the seat tube angle is on the slacker side. Furthermore with the fact that I have a short torso and long legs for my height, it’s time to find something that fits me for a more aero and aggressive position. And also, I’ve racked up plenty of miles on my Shiv and signs of heavy wear and tear were showing. But having said that, I’ve ridden bikes with more miles on them and the wear weren’t as bad as the Shiv. So a bit of quality issues there and another excuse for me to splash the cash! Also, I’m building a new bike from the ground up, on my own with Di2 and ZIPP Carbon Clinchers. It was to be a very exciting project.
Before the new SC9, I was deciding between the Cervelo P5-6 in size 51 and the BMC TM01 in Medium-short and was swaying towards the latter due to it’s price it had on offer by the local dealer and it also fits me better. I was ready to commit until I saw the video and that’s when I decided to go for the new SC. The new design’s geometry is almost the same as the previous one only for some slight differences for the stem options and the seat post offset. So I made a trip to T3 Bicycle Gears, the local dealer for TREK and did a basic fit using the 1st generation SC9, confirmed on a size M and placed a deposit for just the frameset. I’ve also decided to go Project One for my new SC9 so it’s time for some fun for me to choose a custom paint scheme for my frameset before T3 finalises the order for me.
I’ve always wanted a ‘greenish’ theme for my bike because it’s my fave colour. So here are some examples of what I came up with at first. After having a bit of time to play around with the colour charts, I found them a bit too green. So I went for a white or black base and trimmed it with green and red, which happens to be my next fave colour.
I later got my wife to choose which one she prefers. It’s good to get your spouse involved. Trust me if you want to stay long in this expensive sport of triathlon… And she went for the white one. Nice!
Next step was to send in a screenshot to T3 of the paint scheme and exactly what cockpit configurations I want along with the frameset. One thing that I didn’t do was to mention that I want the frameset to be Di2 ready, which would’ve made the assembly a bit easier. More on that later. The final order was placed on early October and the wait begins…
Time to get my hands dirty…
It was a long, near 90 days wait with my ZIPPs and Dura-ace Di2 collecting dust in my storeroom. And finally on 3rd Jan I got a call from T3. MY FRAMESET ARRIVED!!! And here’s some pics of the unboxing process…
I couldn’t wait to start assembling and up on workstand it goes! My frameset order comes with straight extensions, low-far stem, +/- 50mm offset seatpost and steel BB90 bearings. Why steel? My previous Shiv went through 3 sets of ceramic bearings. Though smooth with low friction but the wear and tear is high. Even regular maintenance won’t help in extending it’s lifespan. And since the gains are minimal, it’s better to go back to steel bearings. The frameset came with shift and brake cables with housings routed for easier assembly. The paintjob was immuculate and it made the extra moolah paid for Project One worth it. I was gazing and molesting the frameset in awe. Nevertheless, after 10 painstaking hours of working my fingers to the bone, the finished product!
It was a warm and fuzzy feeling. Till date it was my 1st fully brand new rig. My previous bikes were a mix of old and new throughout the years and I took extra extra care and precaution while assembling. I could’ve took a shorter time but I was loving the process of building it up myself. 1st, I want to know the frameset inside out and 2nd, it’s my 1st time using Di2, which is a good chance for me to learn about the mechanics and set-up of electronic groupsets. Bringing it to the mechanics saves time and effort, but since we travel a lot with our bikes, it’s always good to know everything about our own rigs that we are racing on.
Here’s a photo comparison of 2 PERFECT examples of the old and new SC(Haha). As you can see, there’s some minor tweaks to the tube shapes, especially the top tube, seat tube and BB area. The new SC’s got a beefier BB section and the top tube is smoothly integrated with the cockpit. As for the seat tube, it follows the trend of most current and new framesets from other brands with an angled cutout, and I’m quite sure it’s not just for aesthetic purposes because it has appeared on frames like the P5, P3 and Scott Plasma, just to name a few. The design probably possesses some kind of aerodynamic advantage I guess.
Kudos to the designers of the new SC because whatever drawbacks it had on the previous model, they’ve addressed it and made them even better. However, new stuff brings new problems as always because nothing can be perfect. But let’s touch on the good stuff first.
What to like…
The main highlight is the new cockpit. The amount of bolts required for the cockpit was greatly reduced due to the design of the one piece mono-extension and the mono stacker. It was a really clever design, especially for the extensions because there’s no need to make individual adjustments for each extension like with most cockpits. The tilt for the extensions is a simple 2 bolt job and the arm rest pad holders is just a single aluminium billet which can be dismantled easily for travel. Overall, the cockpit is a huge improvement. During my travel to Auckland for the IM 70.3, I only had to remove 5 bolts from the cockpit. And all these reduction of bolts and one piece designs gives a significant weight reduction. Here’s a pic of the bike unpacked in Auckland.
The rear brake was a peach to work on. It’s easy to assemble, easy to adjust and had plenty of clearance for the widest rims in the market, which happen to be ZIPPs. Gone were the days of grinding down pads and making adjustments so wide that the tension for the return spring is gone. This time they’ve simply copied the innards of the front brake mechanism and used it for the rear. All these resulted in an integrated rear brake that really works properly. The stopping power is good and there’s a even bit of modulation. My previous Shiv’s TRPs were a nightmare to work on and the braking power is almost non-existent. And this time the SC has a speed fin, which is a nice touch. Not only it gives a bit of wind cheating capability, it acts as a brake brace also.
Now let’s talk about the storage options. There’s a new ‘Speed box 2’ for the top tube and this time it’s designed to smoothly integrate with the top tube to give a more flowy appearance, the cover for the box are just thick rubber flaps for quick and hassle free access for your gels or bars.
There’s also a ‘Between the arms’ (BTA) bottle mount with a bottle cage that specifically fits onto the extensions for a clean look. No zip ties involves. The cage provided along with it also ables the rider to fit a bike computer. However I’ve found another way to fit my BTA cage on the extensions without the mount but having able to make it happen required some fettling, which I was able to do so with my ‘limited’ mechanical skills (ahem). Now, there’s one storage option which I think it’s an overkill. The rear trunk option.
One of the designers of the new SC9 proclaimed that the trunk actually provides a smoother airflow around the rider, which causes less drag. I for one do not buy into that idea because it really depends on the rider and his/her position on the bike. However, due to it’s size, it holds 2 bottles and plenty of extra space for tools and other stuff.
At time of writing, the above mentioned storage options are not available for purchase yet. The only storage option provided is the new and improved ‘Draft Box 2’, which comes along with the frameset. The previous Draft Box takes some effort to assemble and space is only enough for a spare tube and small tools. The new Draft Box is much roomier, easier to assemble and unclip. Not only it can hold 2 tubes, it can also hold a spare tubular and more tools.
The storage options is one of the reasons why I chose the SC. The designers were able to integrate them beautifully with the bike and not like some aftermarket solutions that don’t fit well with unsightly zip ties or velcro straps. I absolutely LOVE integration and the neatness of it. Call me an OCD but if I’m paying good money for a bike, it better be beautifully designed and well engineered. I’m not going to ruin it’s clean and cable free profile by strapping other contraptions on it that weren’t meant to be there. A big tick there for TREK.
Overall, it was an easy bike to live with and it was put to the test during my travel to IM 70.3 Auckland. The initial build took a bit more time than expected but dismantling and assembly for travel is a cinch. It fitted into my BIKE BOX ALAN with tons of space to spare. And things were made even simpler with my Dura-ace Di2 with minimal maintenance and tuning.
… And what to dislike
And now it’s time for the minor gripes about this new SC9 but most of them were encountered during assembly and I shall start with the cockpit again.
1st, it’s the mono stacker which the shift cable or Di2 wiring has to go through. So if one decides to change the stack height, the whole cockpit has to be dismantled. Though an easier job this time round but still a bit time consuming. But then again, if the fit measurements were done in the 1st place, this can be avoided totally.
Next, it’s the mono-extensions. Due to it’s one-piece design, those who prefer to have some inward tilt adjustments for their ergo or s-bends have to look elsewhere. I’m on straight extensions so it’s no issue for me. But looks like TREK is coming up with a module that allows aftermarket standard 22mm extensions, which is to be confirmed whether they’ll put them on shop shelves.
The stem cover for my current front-end configuration, the low-far stem option, is fully flushed with the top tube, which is beautiful in my opinion but a wretched piece of plastic to work on. It’s held on by 2 screws, one on each side at the head tube and it’s very hard to get it aligned with the bolt threads. Some modifications had to be made to make it fit and if not for that, it would’ve reduced the assembly time by 1 to 2 hours.
Earlier on I mentioned that I forgot to inform T3 to order the frameset as Di2 ready. So I was lacking some Di2 grommets and the seatpost bracket for the internal Di2 battery. Though it’s due to my own oversight, I still thought that they should’ve just have them included anyway. I say that because I purchased a new frameset before which is both mechanical and Di2 compatible and the manufacturer included parts in for Di2 assembly as a package. It’s just a few pieces of plastic and rubber so it’ll be nice if TREK packed them in along with my SC9.
The other flaws are; the seatpost clamp requires a bit more torque than stated to prevent slippage and the front brake cover doesn’t really line up perfectly with the fork but that takes a keen eye to spot.
How does it ride?
I won’t beat around the bush. This bike is fast and stable and yet changes direction like a fly. But likely contributed by the short wheelbase and a steeper fork rake. I thought that my previous Shiv TT had set a benchmark for quick handling TT/Tri bikes but the SC was able to match. Power transfer wise, I do feel that my previous Shiv had a stiffer bottom end. The SC felt stiff enough and its fitted with the Dura-ace 9000 crank, which is lauded for it super stiff chainrings but maybe the Shiv had the edge due to its BB30 construction. Having said that, the SC gives a smoother ride that’s probably due to the lower weave OCLV600 carbon whereas my Shiv usually gives a bone-jarring ride even running with lower tyre pressures.
The new SC was designed with performance in real world conditions in mind. Tests were made in certain IM bike courses and they concentrated in designing the frameset using the data of the conditions they recorded. The bike already has impressive performance in the wind tunnel and the designers further made sure the new bike can handle well in certain yaw angles that can be encountered in actual riding conditions. It handled the winds well during my race in Auckland though there were certain times where the winds were very strong, which can unsettle any bike no matter how slippery they can be. For those interested in numbers and charts showing drag curves and yaw figures, here’s the 2014 SC9 White Paper: TK13_SC_Whitepaper_final
There could be other factors that made my SC fast. Firstly, I’m currently on a full disc rear wheel, which is always good for straight line speed and I’m on short cranks now that’s somehow proven to provide better power production through lower pedal speed, and allowing a more aero position with the reduced hip angle while fully tucked. The IM 70.3 race can be considered as a test for my new bike and I was genuinely chuffed when I saw my bike split; 90km in 2.5 hours flat.
To summarise, the new SC9 has raised the bar yet again in terms of integration but at the same time, making it easier for the owners and mechanics alike to fettle with. The bike itself was a joy to ride and having it in my own preferred paint scheme adds icing to the cake but the wait for the arrival is long. The frameset is on the pricey side but you’re getting what you paid for. There are more expensive framesets out there and the quality does not even match the SC and it shows. I can definitely say that the new SC9 is one of the most desirable super tri-bikes out in the market now.
And good news for those who wants the look of the SC9 but on a budget, the SC7 is the answer. This time TREK made the 7 series exactly the same as the 9 series but with a lower carbon fibre weave. More good news is that the SC7 is also available for Project One customisation.
The SC9 has stamped its authority in the league of super triathlon bikes once more and it’ll be hard to beat. Hence I’m happy with the choice I made and I’m looking forward to having more good rides and races on it.
- Superb levels of integration
- Fast and stable ride with quick handling
- Project One option
- Great improvement on the brakes
- Wide range of fit
- MUCH easier to wrench and travel with
- Pricey and long wait for Project One
- Some minor flaws spotted during initial build
- Though beefier, the bottom end can be made stiffer
- Exclusion of Di2 ready parts