From May 2008 through to August 2008 my other half and I have competed in several sportives ranging from 50 miles to 80 miles.
Using our trusty mountain bikes we generally manage to average around 13.5 mph to 14.0 mph - although it is really hard work and exceptionally tiring. Whilst on these rides we were overtaken by other cyclists on proper drop handle barred racers at nearly twice our speed and without even breaking a sweat!
After struggling in the wind during the Suffolk Coast ride I decided it was time to purchase a racer.....
Looking for the first racer is a mind field. There are loads of different bikes for different budgets and everyone has their own opinion as to what is best. Being a complete novice I set what I thought was a reasonable budget of £300 - although I later discovered that this needed to be increased quite significantly to get anything that would last.
I spent hours researching, joining forums (I highly recommend Bike Radar) etc in order to find the ideal bike in my budget.
Whilst taking my trusty steed of a mountain bike to Pauls Cycles in Dereham I thought that I'd better have a quick look at the small selection of racers in the shop. It was there I saw it...... The Trek 1200 in black and red.
I knew the Trek name and knew that they were generally a good, quality brand. That was it though.
The price was £799 which was way over my budget, but because it was a 2006 model I could have something knocked off it. The bike was described as 'shop soiled' since it had fallen over and had a tiny scratch on the frame. If the bloke hadn't told me this I would never have noticed it despite looking over the bike thoroughly. This led to a further discount being applied.
To cut a long story short I ended up paying £450 for the bike (although we had to purchase a Giant SCR for my other half at the same time - although this was discounted too. However a significant saving was made and I love the fact that a lot of the road bike fraternity are so snobbish that they have to have a 'new' bike each year and the manufacturers change the models on an annual basis, even if it only means changing the colour scheme!!) and walking out of the shop with a big grin on my face.
Trek is an American company which was started in 1976 in a barn in Waterloo, Wisconsin.
By 1980 the company had outgrown it's original factory and moved to new premises. The owners decided to keep the company in its 'home town' of Waterloo.
In 1982 Trek started producing road racing bikes and the 750/050 series was born.
Trek became global in 1989 and the first overseas subsidiaries were formed in Great Britain and Germany.
By 2005 Trek had the largest dealer base with the bikes being available in 90 different countries. At that time Trek had 10 subsidiaries and over 70 distributors.
Arguably, it was the 'great' Lance Armstrong who raised the profile of the Trek brand within the road racing community. In 1997 Lance Armstrong was dropped from his European cycling team after being diagnosed with cancer. What a mistake that was....
Lance Armstrong joined forces with Trek and In 1999 became the first American on an American bike riding for the American team to win the Tour De France. Lance's popularity was so great that the bike developed for the American team, the OCLV carbon 5200, became the biggest selling road bike ever.
Trek 1200 Spec
The Trek 1200 is described as an entry level racer although it does have a few high spec components to it:
The frame is a Trek Alpha SL butted comfort aluminium frame. Whilst not the lightest frame around it is still noticeably lighter than that of my mountain bike, and being a recreational rider I would not notice the difference in weight to other entry level racers in its class.
Most of the bikes in the price range of the Trek 1200 have aluminium forks as standard.
The Trek comes with a carbon fork with alloy steerer which are usually associated with more expensive bikes. Again, whilst being a recreational rider I would not notice the difference between the carbon or aluminium it is nice to say "my bike has carbon forks".
The Trek comes with Shimano gears which is good because they are well known for their quality and reliability, as well as being easy to work on. In addition to this, I do not like the shifters on Campag gears.
The Trek has Tiagra gears and a 105 front and rear mech. Whilst these are not at the upper end of the Shimano gear range the are still a higher spec than most bikes in this class which have Shimano Sora all round.
The trek has Shimano Tiagra Sti gear shifters. This means that both the gear shifter are levers, as opposed to one being a lever (easily reachable wherever the hands are on the handlebars) and one being a small button on the hoods (difficut to reach when on the drop bars, if like me, you have small hands).
The Tiagra Sti gear shifters also allow the use of the Shimano flightdeck cycle computer which has the added advantage of showing cadence.
Most bikes in this class have lower spec Sora gear shifters (where one is a lever and the other a button).
The Trek has a Bontrager Select crankset with 53-39 chainrings. This means that it is a double chain ring instead of a triple.
A triple chain ring = more gears which (according to the forums) is better for beginners as the extra number of gears should mean that the rider should always be able to find a gear which s/he can easily spin (i.e rotate without getting too tired too quickly and build up lactic acid in the muscles).
After a few rides I now understand what this means. With my double I am on the largest cog but using the first 2 or 3 cogs on the rear. Being near the extremes (i.e the largest cog on the front or back and the smallest on the other) results in a tight chain which decreases the life of it.
If I had a triple I would be on the middle cog on the front and probably the 4th - 6th cog on the rear to achieve the same gear. There would be less stress on the chain and it would last longer.
Since I do not use my Trek every day to commute (like many cyclists on the Bike Radar forum) riding in the extremes will ot make that difference to me since I do not cover the mileage. I only way for me to get around this is to persevere and strengthen my legs so that I can spin the higher gears on the rear cog and the front ring.
The Trek has 32 spoked wheels with black anodised Alex rims. It is the wheels that ets this bike down, however, these cheap wheels are common on entry level race bikes.
Unless you're under 10 stone (unfortunately I'm a bit more of a porker than this!) the wheels tend to flex quite a bit if you put a bit of extra weight on them. I find this a problem when hill climbing - although living in Norfolk there aren't that many about which is a good thing!
I have also had the wheels flex when going over pot holes. I know that you should always avoid these on a racer and 9 times out of 10 I do, but there are the odd occasions when they are unavoidable.
Changing the wheels is not a difficult task and it is usually one of the first upgrades most cyclists make to their bike. I'm hoping that good old Santa will bring me some nice new wheels for Christmas.
The Trek comes with Bontrager Select 700x23c tyres as standard. Although I have had no problems with them yet (they haven't lost air or been prone to punctures) they have only seen nice, dry summer roads. Once the autumn/winter arrives and the road surface worsens I will have to see what happens.
Forum research/reading (I'm well and truly hooked on Bike Radar) confirms that these are not a popular tyre compare to Michelin, Continental etc but I am not going to change them until I need to, and since these are my first racer tyres I have nothing to compare them to.
One thing I would point out is the 23 cm width is very narrow and does lead to a harsher ride than 25 cm tyres. I can confirm this since my other half has 25 cm tyres on her Giant.
The Trek has Bontrager Sport handlebars. Like all racer bars these are dropped (i.e the ram horn shape).
After riding a mountain bike since I was a kid riding with dropped bars is quite strange at first. The bent forward and low riding position ("riding on the drops") does take some getting used to and it does hurt but after a couple of rides the pain goes and it does feel a lot more natural. I now find it more comfortable than the upright position when riding my mountain bike.
When riding on the drops I find it difficult to reach the brakes due to my small hands. This can be a bit unnerving especially when riding downhill where it is possible to reach quite high speeds (I'm a pure beginner and going down Norfolk hills (sorry... slopes) I reach just over 30 mph.
If back pain does set in when riding on the drops it is possible to ride on the hoods (the top part of the bar) and get the upright position back. Riding on the hoods is slower than on the drops - although it is still quicker than riding a mountain bike.
The stem is the metal tube between the frame and the handle bars. The Trek has a Bontrager Select stem as standard, and to be honest, I don't know if this is good or bad.
One thing I should point out is that the stem is quite short and leads to a very compact (almost "cramped") riding position and I'm only 5' 7" with quite a short upper half. This stem size would not be suitable for taller riders or those with a longer upper half although the stem is easily replaced.
The Trek comes with a Bontrager Race Luxe saddle. This is nothing special in the world of racers, although being razor thin it is actually quite comfortable (obviously not as nice as sitting on a mountain bike seat).
The Trek has a Bontrager Carbon seat post which is unusual for racing bikes in the entry level class. The carbon seat post is a weight saving measure only, so, being a recreational cyclist and not a time trailer means I don't really see the benefit, although carbon fibre is prettier than painted aluminium in my opinion.
All racing bikes tend to have clipless pedals. These pedals require specific cycling shoes with cleats on which attach themselves to the pedal via a locking system. The Trek has Wellgo Clipless road pedals which are about the size of a matchbox.
Being attached to the peddles is weird and takes a lot of getting used to, especially riding in town (where you are constantly start/stopping) or on small country roads where there are lots of junctions to stop at.
I changed the pedals straight away to those where they are clipless on one side and normal on the other. These are a lot larger than the Wellgo (they need to be since 'normal' pedals need to be big enough to get a large proportion of the foot on) so there is an effect in aerodynamics. As stated before, I am a recreational cyclist, and would not notice the difference. Besides I feel a lot more confident with my current pedals.
What's it like to ride?
Compared to my mountain bike (which although not a top spec model it is fairly high up there) the Trek 1200 is so easy on the road. It is possible to go further, faster and with less effort. A direct comparison between the two is not possible since the two types of bike are so disparate - like chalk and cheese.
The mountain bike can be likened to the original Land Rover (the ones which were designed for off road but could be used for on road as opposed to the new style which are designed for on road but can go off road) in that it is a "plodder". It'll go anywhere but not at speed and it takes a lot of juice (or effort) to get there.
The Trek can be likened to a sports car in that it is quick, nimble and you'd never take it off road.
The Trek is not as comfortable to ride as a mountain bike. The stiff frame and no suspension means that all vibrations are channelled along the handle bars. A good thing is the drop handle bars allows for several hand positions that can help to alleviate any arm/wrist/hand cramps.
Every pot hole, drain cover etc ridden over on the bike is exaggerated and this, combined, with the razor style saddle generally leads to a sore backside for the first few rides. I was walking like John Wayne for around two weeks! Padded shorts are an absolute must have.
I found that riding on the drop bars took a little getting used to and had stability problems at first. The trick here is to persevere it does get much easier very quickly and I now feel more confident on the drops on the racer than on the flat bars of the mountain bike.
The Trek is fast it is necessary to get used to the speed. Doing 15mph is effortless and speeds of 30mph + are easily achievable down hill (even the tiny hills of Norfolk!).
The first time I saw 30mph on the computer I nearly needed a new pair of pants! There I was doing the same speed as a moped in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt knowing that if I fell off I would be picking bits of gravel out of my backside for the next year (Yes.... I have crashed a motor cycle and had gravel rash and I was wearing fully protective clothing).
There are loads of upgrades available for this bike. The most common ones include:
1)Gearing (putting a higher spec on there such as Shimano 105 or ultegra)
2)Wheels (putting on lighter, and hence faster, wheels)
3)Tyres (putting on narrower, and hence faster, tyres)
There are many other 'cosmetic' changes including changing the stem, changing the saddle, changing the bars etc. etc.
The cost of upgrading varies greatly and depends what is changed. For example changing the gearing to Ultegra involves changing gear shifters/chain rings/front mech/rear mech/chain/cassette and is likely to cost around £400 (I didn't pay much more for the whole bike!).
Rather than changing the wheels (which isn't that expensive and can be transferred to other bikes) and the tyres (these will need to be changed at some point anyway) I can't see the point in any other upgrades since I am a recreational cyclist only. I, and probably 80% of other owners, would not see significant benefits in upgrades.
If a significant upgrade is required then it is cheaper to buy a new bike with the higher spec components already on it.
During the few months I have had my Trek I have had no problems with it whatsoever. I have covered just over 2,000 miles so it has had it's first service at the bike shop. I got this for free (since the first service is usually free from the bike retailer) although the next one is going to cost me £25 plus any parts that are going to be required.
My brief ownership has shown that racing bikes require a lot more looking after than mountain bikes. For example the tyres need to be at the correct pressure (around 110 psi) otherwise they bulge and rub on the brake pads. The chain needs to be lubricated regularly. Brakes wear out quicker (due to higher speeds) and tyres last around 1,800 miles (I have never had to replace a tyre on my mountain bike!).
Owning a racer will mean you need to be accustomed to bike maintenance. It is all part of the fun. If you are looking for something to ride, put in the garage, ride, put in the garage etc and never have to do anything to it, then the Trek 1200 - or any other racer for that matter, is not for you.
My Trek 1200 is a 2006 model so will be difficult to get hold of. I'm lucky in that being vertically challenged and requiring a small frame there was one in the bike shop. Mr 'average' will find it harder as popular sized frames will have long gone.
The Trek 1200 has been discontinued and replaced by a newer model (hence the stonking discount I got). This is not a problem since parts are readily available should anything go wrong.
Buying an older model bike is by far the best way forward, regardless of the marquee/brand. You get a higher spec price for a lot less money, and the snobbery factor in the road bike community means that many cyclists want the 'new' model and manufacturers exploit them by bringing out a new model each year (some of the changes are minimal and often only involve a change in colour scheme!).
Lance Armstrong has helped to raise the profile of the Trek and whilst some want the Trek (so that they can play at being Lance) others don't (they do not want to be seen to be wanting to be like Lance). Lance's involvement has meant that a premium can be charged for a Trek racer. When I got mine I didn't even know that Lance rode a Trek (shows how much I follow cycle racing!)
Trek are a great brand and the bikes are very good quality with high spec components. I have had no problems whatsoever and would highly recommend a Trek to anyone.