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.