Review: Speed Concept 9 Series

In May of 2010 Trek launched the Speed Concept, it’s answer in the Superbike arms race.  They claimed the bike was fast, sexy, and pretty much the coolest thing ever, they went so far as to publish a detailed white paper backing up all the claims, and their testing methodology.

The white paper is a good read, it describes in detail the concepts and physics that Trek applied in developing the Speed Concept, as well as some head-to-head comparisons against the other primary players on the market.

So before we dive into my thoughts on the bike after 12,000 some odd miles on it, in the interest of openness you should know a few things:

  • Prior to the Speed Concept 9 series, I rode a Cervelo Dual.
  • The primary reason I am riding a speed concept is that it was the object of my lust at the time I bought it.
  • The secondary reason I am riding a speed concept is due to my being sponsored by Emery’s Third Coast Triathlon, Cycling and Fitness.
  • If I wasn’t sponsored by Emery’s I would likely still be riding my old Cervelo Dual.

On to the review – first I’ll tell you what I think about the bike, and then I’ll give you a comparison of the bike in terms of “fastness” compared to my old ride.


Fit

The first thing you really need to know about the Speed Concept 9 series is that it can accommodate an incredible large range of fits.  When evaluating what size to get, I discovered that I could replicate my fit coordinates on 3 different size frames.  While I am certain other frames can offer similar flexibility, it will often require purchasing some expensive after-market stems or bar. The Speed Concept is able to offer this flexibility with standard parts that are standard equipment for the bike.  Now it’s true, that the stock models of the Speed Concept may not come with a stem or seatpost option that meets your fit needs out of the box, if you are willing to wait you can order a “stock” bike via Trek’s Project One program, outfitted with the stem, seatpost, etc that you want – for no to minimal additional cost.

Draft Box

The next item on the bike that I want to talk about is the Draft Box.  My impression is that there is a lot of mixed opinions out there on this, but I really like having it on my bike.  On training rides it frees up pocket space – I can fit a spare tube, CO2, inflator, a pair of levers, and a multi-tool in the box.  On race day, I’m able to fit a spare tubular, an inflator, CO2, razor, and a tire lever – depending on how efficient I am at packing it, sometimes I do need a strip of tape around the box to keep the lid secure.  While the Trek claims that the Draft Box is “neutral” in terms of drag – if you’re able to fit your race day spare kit in it, that seems to be better/faster (and more secure) than in a saddle bag or strapped to your saddle.

I can’t help but notice that a lot of the top pros (Lance, Lieto, etc), and some prominent Age Groupers (Adam Zucco) forego the draft box.  I have no idea if it’s because they aren’t carrying a spare, can’t fit the spare in, because the box is unfashionable, or if they know something I don’t in terms of drag.  Regardless of the reason – some folks seem to use it, others don’t.

A final note on the draft box – shortly after the release of the Speed Concept Trek redesigned the draft box to resolve an issue that the box would slip and run on the rear tire.  If you have a 1st Gen box, it is a simple warrenty replacement to get the 2nd Gen version.  I initially had the 1st Gen box, and while I initially didn’t have issues, after about 12 months the box was nearly useless it rubbed so bad.  I replaced it with the 2nd Gen version, and it now has an incredible amount of clearance.

Brakes

The brakes on the Speed Concept 9 are proprietary and fully integrated.  I haven’t found any issues with them in terms of stopping power.  The front brake provides for easy access to set screws to adjust the brakes for wheels of various widths. The rear brake does not have these same set screws, but it is an easy enough task to switch around the spacers on the rear brakes.

The brake levers on the 9.5 are simple metal levers, they are functional and get the job done, but can be a bit slippery, sharp, and uncomfortable on a ride where you are on the basebar a lot.

Two important notes on the brakes, Trek has recently released new brake levers that have the ability to trim the brakes at the levers!  HUGE!  It’s on my list to pick up a pair of these levers to try them out.  If/when you have to swap the cartridges out between aluminum wheels and carbon wheels – big PITA!!!  The brake cartridges have a tiny (TINY) allen screw to hold the cartridges in place.  After a bad experience of having these screws strip, and the resulting panic to cut the brake pad out of the cartridge with a race start looming, I decided to remove these screws and let the force of braking hold the pads in place.  It’s probably just as easy, and less risky to simply by a second set of brake cartridges and swap out the whole cartridge rather then only the pad.

Other Things You Should know

Onto some random thoughts opinions I’ve developed over the last 2 years about the Speed Concept.  The first of those is, I really had a strong personal distaste for the stock aerobars.  I know that some people love ski-bends, but after several years on a set of Profile Design T2+ Cobras (S-bend) – despite giving them an honest 5 months – I had to go back to the Profiles.

Re-cabling this bike is a breeze, even if you have to run new housing.  While it took me about 2 hours to do it the first time (and several beers) – the majority of that time was spent observing how things went together.  I can now do it in about 45 minutes, though several beers are still required!  As is the case with any “aero” basebar – the toughest part of the job is feeding the new housing through the basebar.  Everything else is simple!

The clearance on the driveside dropout is very tight on some trainers – and you can scratch some paint on the drop out if  your trainer doesn’t have small enough cone cups.  I know for certain that the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine – has this issue.  I rode it for probably a year like this, before I added a couple nylon washers to space the cup out, but I did not notice any issues on that frame as a result of the contact.

There is an awesome thread on Slowtwitch – the Owner’s Thread has a lot of great info on sizing, and pretty much any question you might have has been answered.  Best of all, Carl, a Trek employee frequents the thread and is an incredibly helpful resource.  Buried within that thread is a post which summarizes all of the open recalls on the Speed Concept (dependent upon build date).

Is it fast?

In the end, this is what it really boils down to.  When you want to go fast, all the stuff I’ve talked about to this point is fluff.  I mean let’s be honest, if you are anything like me – and chances are you are – you would ride an It, if you knew it would help you go minutes faster at your next A-race.

I had every intention of performing some controlled aero field testing back in 2010 before selling my Dual, but training, work and laziness got in the way and that never happened.  So to determine if it was a wise investment, I fired up WKO and started looking at power files.

In an effort to control the variables as much as I could, I ignored any power files from training rides – simply too much noise: stop signs, varied tires, varied clothes, a lack of memory on weather conditions etc.

Instead I focused on a few races at which I had a distinct recollection of my equipment choices, and fairly solid memory of weather conditions (because they tend to be very consistant, they were memorable, or I could look them up in an Almanac).

In the end I selected 3 races as the baseline:

> Ironman Wisconsin 2008
> “Typical” Conditions for Madison
> Decent Tires (Vittoria Corsa KS)
> 5:25 @ 215 watts via my SRM

> Ironman Wisconsin 2009
>”Calm” Conditions
> Faster Tires (Vittoria Corsa Crono)
> 5:21 @ 212 watts via SRM

> J-Hawk Latebird 2009
> “Typical” Conditions
> Fast Tires (Vittoria Corsa Crono)
> 34:12 @ 294 watts via SRM

I than compared this results from the same races, where I had the same equipment, position – just swapping out the Dual for the Speed Concept:

> Ironman Wisconsin 2010
>”Typical” Conditions
> Decent Tires (Vittoria Corsa EVO CX)
> 5:21 @ 206 watts via Powertap

> J-Hawk Latebird 2009
> “Typical” Conditions
> Decent Tires (Vittoria Corsa EVO CX)
> 33:37 @ 283 watts via Powertap

Via side-by-side testing, I’ve determined that my powertap reads approximately 3% lower than my SRM, so when you adjust the powertap watts upward you get the following “results”:

>Ironman Wisconsin: ~2.14 seconds per mile faster
>J-Hawk: ~2.55 seconds per mile faster

While 2.3 seconds per mile faster doesn’t seem like a lot, when you extend that out to an Ironman, we are talking a savings upwards of 4 minutes.  While this is less extreme than the claimed 8 minutes over the P3 that Trek claims – when you consider that my “experiment” doesn’t have a lot of controls in place, and is only quasi scientific at best – it is obvious that the Speed Concept is a fast bike.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, I think the Speed Concept is the best bike on the market, between the tiers of offerings (9 series, 7 series, 2 series), you can get a very fast bike no matter your price point.  I highly recommend the 9-series, and will be on it until I feel that something better comes along, which might be a while.  The P5 might be close, but let’s be honest they will be envyware until late 2012 or 2013 at best.

IMO – the best endorsement I can give this bike is the fact that, last fall when presented with the opportunity to ride a new bike – I choose to get another SpeedConcept.

Rolling along now

Hi again!

Now that the Triple T has come and gone, I can say that the 2012 triathlon (race) season is officially underway, and thus far it has been a grand success.  I managed to have a great weekend of racing at the TTT, doing it as a Solo for the first time since 2006.

The next race on the docket will either be Lake Mills or Elkhart Lake – I’m not positive which one I will do.  Lake Mills fits better in my preparation for IMCDA, but the prize money at Elkhart Lake is quite tempting – though the fact that I’ve floundered the last few times I’ve raced with prize money being on the line is in the back of my head.  So we shall see.

American Triple T 2012

2012 marked my 7th trip to Shawnee State Park in Portsmouth, Ohio for the American Triple-T.  After having done the last 5 iterations of this race as member of a team, I was back to the solo division this year.  Early on in the season planning, I established 3 goals for myself this season, one of which was to finish in the top 3 overall in the solo division.

My training and race performances as the year developed suggested that this was a definite possibility, and I felt I was prepared to go all-in for this event and race; willingly to risk a meltdown in order to achieve my goal.  Even with the added stress of bringing Ethan home and the training adjustments that required things were looking great until about 10 days out of the race when both Mary and Ethan came down with a pretty nasty cold.  I did my best to prevent catching it: lots of vitamin C, rest, hand washing, etc.  Unfortunately, despite my best efforts on Thursday (one week out), I started seeing the signs of myself getting sick: sneezing, runny nose, body aches.

Fast forward a week later to Friday morning as we are leaving for the race, and I have managed to weather the cold pretty well.  I’m feeling well enough that there will be no excuse making about my performance for the upcoming weekend.

Friday:

I’ve always played it pretty conservative on Friday night “ always harboring a fear of tweaking something for a œsilly race at the beginning of the long weekend.  This year, I had no intentions of holding back “ given that there were some mighty fast people at the race, and I didn’t know who was solo and who was a team  – gaining 5 seconds here, or only losing 5 seconds there might mean the difference between Mission: Accomplished, and 3rd loser.

I finished up the race a little disappointed in my run (~6:03), but happy with my bike “ which left my dry mouthed and with my second highest 3 minute power of the year “ significant for it being in the midst of a race, rather than a œtest effort “ and an overall time faster than any previous Friday evening race + a top 10 finish to boot!

Saturday AM;

Saturday morning was a frustrating race.  Each leg of the race has its own highlight to make the race memorable.  Somehow, I failed to digest the instructions for the swim course properly; as a result as I came into the beach at the half way point, I failed to keep a yellow buoy on my left, so when I got to shore I was told I need to go back out and around it.  Miffed at my own stupidity I zipped back out and around said buoy and onto the second lap.  In truth “ this probably made the course a legit 1500 meters for me, but caused me to swim an extra 100 meters relative to the rest of the field.

The remainder of the swim was uneventful, and I got out onto the bike course.  Immediately, I wasn’t happy with how things felt on my bike.   My saddle height left me feeling that I just couldn’t apply any gas to the pedals.  I tried several times to stomp the gas, but every time I upped the power output I just couldn’t sustain it “ despite not feeling that I was really at a limit “I just felt constrained and uncomfortable.  The only time I really felt comfy and strong was standing¦

Needless to say how I felt on the bike left me a little crabby as I started the run, which gave me a lot of motivation to run hard.  I ran my fastest time on the course by about 2 minutes “ which left me feeling pretty pleased.

After I downloaded everything and saw that my overall time was my best by several minutes and both the bike and run were quicker “ my crabbiness dissipated a bit.  Another top 10 finish didn’t hurt J

Saturday PM:

While I warmed up for the Bike-Swim-Run race, I made a few adjustments to my saddle position, and felt a bit better about that.  As a whole this race was pretty uneventful “ I managed to ride as fast solo as Matt and I had as a team previously “ which I found made the ride a fair bit harder.  The swim and run were pretty boring “ the run wasn’t the fastest thing ever “ I felt pretty horrible the first 3 miles “ but it was an exact tie for my best time for this race “ which had me able to draft with Mr. Amman.

Sunday:

While the main goal for the weekend was Top 3 Solo “ which I had no clue where I stood at this point, I had a secondary goal of running 1:3X for the half.  I figured that with how my run has been developing the past few months, it would be pretty disappointing to not run that fast, I even secretly hopeful for something as quick as 1:31 or 1:32.

The swim was rather uneventful “ after Saturday morning’s mishap “ I made sure to keep the buoy right.  I exited the water in 22:XX “ which meant that the swim was [unsurprisingly] short.  While I used to get *real* bent out of shape when the swim (or run) course is not the right length “ now I only get slightly annoyed “ because it isn’t overly difficult to dial the course in, and particularly on the swim since every meter helps me out!  That said “ everyone swims the same course “ so whatever.

I’ve always approached pacing for the half at the Triple T with the exact same targets I would for an Ironman “ perhaps a little higher, but not much.  After getting out of the park and onto Highway 125, I immediately pegged it to the target wattage “ and immediately noticed that despite raising my saddle yesterday, and that morning, it still felt incredibly low.  I briefly considered returning to transition and finding a multi-tool and making an adjustment, but I decided that the time cost was not worth it; plus I’ve been riding like this for months “ so whatever.

I spent the first part of the ride alone, until I was caught by Adam Zucco and Scott Iott around mile 8 at the top of the first climb.  From there I spent the remainder of the first loop alone “ aside from a bit of company from the team of Colin Riley and Adam Brown.

I pulled back into the park and swapped out my fluids (3 bottles, 9 gels mixed in) “ tracked down a multi-tool and jacked up my seat.  The extra 90 seconds I spent, was definitely worth it.  I felt stronger and more comfortable on the second half of the bike “ finding an extra 10 watts, and riding 2 minutes faster.  While the official split is probably pretty similar to what Matt and I rode last year “ it was easily 90 seconds faster “ given the stop “ so I was very happy as I pulled into T2 “ particularly since I felt pretty good.

I charged out of T2 “ eager to reach the first turn around and see where I stood, as I was headed into the turnaround I was pleasantly surprised to see myself in 7th place with Adam and Scott only a few hundred meters in front of me “ with a fast looking guy about the same behind me. I managed to close the gap by the half-way point, and was a bit surprised to see a half way split of 44:40, I was even more surprised to see the guy behind me closer than he was at the far turnaround “ he was running REALLY fast.  A couple miles later I hit a rough patch, and slowed a bit “ particularly on the uphills and was repassed by Scott and Adam, but was still holding œfast guy off.

I kept telling myself that if I could make it to mile 10 “ I would be able to ride the downhill in and things would get much better.  By the far turn-around œfast guy was breathing down my back “ and he passed me on the last hill of the run “ not much I could do.   My spirits were buoyed by the fact that I was slowly closing the gap back down to Scott and Adam.   I kept things moving and the wheels on as best I could, and with a distance I can’t remember left “ I repassed Adam and Scott “ and pressed on to the finish.

I stopped the watch with a 1:33:27 run split and a time of 4:51:20 “ not a bad time.  If you add a couple minutes for the swim “ a still respectable 4:54 or 4:55.

Overall “ I managed to bag 3rd overall in the solo division “ œfast guy Darryl Austin out raced me by 5 minutes in the half, but I banked enough time in the previous races to beat him out.

Another Gap

Well despite posting a month ago saying that I would be posting more soon, I didn’t keep to my promise very well!  However, it’s been an action packed month these last few weeks:

> I set a new PR for the half marathon at the beginning of April (1:19:24).  I’m quite pleased by that time.  Now that I’ve finally broken 1:20, it really puts the relative difficulty of that into perspective and makes me realize how much I was talking out of my ass here and here as well as a host of other places in the past (I’m sure).  I’ve come to realize just how fast running a 1:14 is – it’s truly frightening.  Let’s not even talk about the fact that the world record is well under an hour.

> After nearly 3 years since we started the process, we’ve finally brought Ethan home.  We’ve been home for 12 days, and I already can’t remember much of life without him, except that it was a lot easier to get both Mary’s and my workouts done!
> I opened the triathlon season a couple days ago with a great performance at the J-hawk Earlybird triathlon.

Between the adoption, J-hawk and the half marathon PR, I’m very much looking forward to the next few months of training, racing, and parenthood.

As I mentioned last time, I’ve got a lot of topics on the burner: Specific Prep, some product reviews (SpeedConcept 9 series vs. Cervel Dual, Zipp 808 FC, Carbon Wheel Brake pad comparison, shoes and some other fun stuff).  So bear with me and stay tuned!

J-Hawk Earlybird Triathlon 2012

I’ve opened the season with J-hawk four of the last five seasons, each year using it as a rough benchmark of my fitness.  After a long winter focused on my running and a recent PR at the half-marathon distance, I had high hopes for the race.  However, recent life events, caused me to wake up race morning just hoping I’d show up in Whitewater with everything needed to race and get to my start on time!

Swim:
5:49 (1st OA)

I can’t recall the exact time I seeded myself at when I entered the race, but it put me as the second swimming in my lane.  The first swimmer was a younger kid with the look of a decent swimmer, so I didn’t worry about catching him and having to pass him quickly, especially since my warm-up was non-existent.  7 seconds after the first swimmer started, off I went.  I swam easy and relaxed, building into it.  My primary goal for the swim was to exit the water even with, or ahead of Matt Behnke, who was swimming in the lane next to me and one swimmer ahead.  So coming out even, actually meant a 7 second lead for me!

I caught and passed Matt around the 250, and caught the lead swimmer in my lane just before the turn at 450.

Bike:
33:33 (1st OA)

The goal for the bike was simple – ride fast enough to get to extend the lead.  If Matt closed the gap on the bike, Plan B was to put in a *very* hard surge until the elastic snapped.  Fortunately, Plan A worked out just fine, and I pulled into T2 having added 17 seconds to the lead, which put me 30 seconds up at the start of the run.

Run (Cross Country):
19:03 – (2nd OA)

I had a bit of trouble getting my Saucony A5s on in transition – the insole of my right shoe folded up as I slipped my foot in.  The same thing happened last year with the Kinvara’s and the A4s – they just don’t seem to be designed for sockless running.  I didn’t spend much time messing with it and just took off; I figured that a 5k wasn’t enough to cause any serious blisters or chaffing.

I felt very strong and comfortable as I started out the run.  I strapped my garmin on, I didn’t plan to use it for pacing, but simply to capture the run split and look at the download after the fact.  A little after mile one I let myself check behind me to see where Matt was, and my stomach tightened when I saw him only a handful of yards behind me.

Initially, my thought was crap – he shut down 30 seconds in a mile to mile and a half – I’m in trouble.  After about 5 seconds of panic, I put my pokerface back on and did like Jens Voigt.

By the time I cleared the wooded section of the run (roughly mile 2), I had started to open the gap back up, and by the time mile 3 rolled around it was back to 30 seconds and the question of the day shifted to breaking the 1 hour mark and setting a course record.

Summary:
59:41 (1st OA)

I crossed the finish line in 59:41, my best time on the course by almost 2 minutes and breaking the course record by one minute, 16 seconds – set by Michael Boehmer back in 2008.

A thanks for the support to: Brent and Steve and the rest of the gang at Emery’s, the new bike is great and the 808 FC wheels are hands down the most badass wheels I’ve ever ridden; RACC pb Gear-Grinder, my wife Mary and the newest addition to the family Ethan!