Roberto Heras's climbing bike. Note the Selcof seatpost and the Mavic Ksyrium  SSC SL wheels.

Roberto Heras’s climbing bike. Note the Selcof seatpost and the Mavic Ksyrium SSC SL wheels.Photo: L. Zinn

There are four different colors of Treks you will see U.S. Postal racing on in the Tour. These are two different road bikes and two different time trial bikes. The two road frames you can buy, and there is no difference between them and models sold in bike shops.

Heras's climbing bike. Note the oversized 1-3/8' lower headset bearing,  with the 1-1/8' upper head cup. The u ...

Heras’s climbing bike. Note the oversized 1-3/8′ lower headset bearing, with the 1-1/8′ upper head cup. The u …Photo: L. Zinn

The two time trial frames are strictly team issue. This use of stock frames is unique at that level of racing. Almost all top riders have frames custom built especially for them, often by a manufacturer other than the one whose name is on the frame.

In fact, Trek claims that Lance Armstrong’s two Tour victories were the only ones ever on stock production frames. Armstrong always raced on custom frames throughout his professional career, and, on Motorola, he had custom Eddy Merckx bikes as well as custom Litespeeds painted like the Merckx team bikes. In fact, he won the world championship on one of these Litespeeds.

Victor Hugo Peña’s Superlight climbing bike. The only equipment difference on his bike from the other Postal …Photo: L. Zinn

Since joining U.S. Postal, Armstrong has been riding road races on stock Trek OCLV carbon frames. For a couple of years, his time trial bikes were still made by Litespeed, but now they are carbon frames built by Trek as well.

The look of a Trek OCLV is not something that can be mimicked by a custom builder without prohibitive expense, so anyone can see that those OCLV Treks are exactly what they say they are. The OCLV technology of bonding tubes into carbon lugs built in-house at Trek does not lend itself to making custom frames, because the expense of each lug mold is so high, and the lugs cannot be flexed vary the tube angles. There is little doubt that they are indeed stock.

Trek is able to offer Armstrong the lightness, stiffness and strength he is looking for, and the stock sizes fit him and the team satisfactorily. “I’ve been riding custom bikes throughout my career and Trek is the best,” the Texan said. “I still can’t believe I ride a stock production bike.” But Trek has worked with Armstrong and other USPS riders and mechanics to develop frames lighter than what Trek initially had to offer them.

Probably the frame you will see the team using the most is dark gray with a blue front end and fork. This is the same frame sold as the model 5500 when built up with Dura-Ace or the 5200 with Ultegra. The frame is built with carbon fiber fabric that weighs 120 grams per square meter, and the entire frame weighs 2.4 pounds. It has a 1-1/8-inch headset and an OCLV carbon fork with an aluminum steering tube. The entire fork is molded under high pressure in the same way as each OCLV lug is done. (OCLV is Trek’s acronym standing for Optional Compaction Low Void – indicating the material is tightly packed and has little air trapped into the structure.)

The frame that you will see Armstrong and his climbing lieutenants Tyler Hamilton, Roberto Heras and José Luis Rubiera using in the mountains is gray with a silver front end and fork, and the fork blades are straight. This frame is sold as the Trek 5900 Superlight at a cool $2,200 (or $4,500 team issue built up with Dura-Ace). Last year, Armstrong, Hamilton and Kevin Livingston used this frame in the mountains, and Trek claims that Hamilton’s was the lightest bike in the peloton. This year, Heras’s, being smaller (52cm), and coupled with parts like a Deda magnesium stem with a carbon fiber front plate, will be lighter and push right down to the UCI weight limitation.

The Superlight frame is built with a pricier carbon fabric that weighs in at 110 grams per square meter. Trek engineers claim that the Superlight is structurally just as strong as the 5500 frame, since it has the same amount of carbon in it, even though it is less dense. The frame has a claimed frame weight of 2.27 pounds, and the fork, with an aluminum steering tube, has a claimed weight of 345 grams. The headset has a 1-1/8-inch top bearing and a 1-3/8-inch bottom bearing, so the steering tube is conical. Savvy tech types will recognize this as a Klein design, and, indeed, Trek, which also owns Klein, has adopted some of Gary Klein’s ideas to make the bike lighter, yet at the same time adding stiffness with this oversized steering tube.

For the time trials, the Trek frames were built with input from aerodynamic guru John Cobb in the Texas A&M wind tunnel. Most of the team’s frames are white; while Armstrong’s latest is black. The frame passes UCI rules, yet it has a smooth shape which welded frames do not lend themselves as well to. It eliminates the seat post, a drag member, instead extending the air-foil-shaped seat tube all of the way up under the saddle. The saddle sits on a stack of shims under the rail clamp that adjust the seat height. A big bolt on top runs down into a nut bonded into the seat tube and holds the whole stack together, although Hamilton’s saddle tipped when he smacked a big bump in the prologue.

Letter to the editor

Editor’s note: VeloNews’s Lennard Zinn recently reviewed the array of wheels being used by the teams contesting the 2001 Tour de France. His article on Friday triggered at least on letter from a well-informed writer.

Dear VeloNews;

This past Friday on VeloNews’s Tour de France coverage, Lennard Zinn had a wrap up piece about carbon wheels at the Tour de France and said in part that there seemed to be no Rolf carbon wheels at the Tour this year.

Not known to him apparently is the fact that Ag2R has two Rolf 2002 Carbon wheel sets in their possession. Vincent Lavenu, the Director, requested the wheels for Wednesday’s mountain time trial — Stage 11 from Grenoble to Chamrousse. Those wheels arrived in France after the start of the Tour. These wheels weigh 470 & 640 grams front to rear and Michelin has prepared some special tubular tires for these rims/wheels and gave special dispensation to the team to allow them to use the tubulars. Normally the deal between Ag2R and Michelin requires the use of clinchers.

At 1110 grams for the set these are the lightest wheels in the TdF. For comparison, the newly introduced Carbon wheels from Shimano weigh 1540 grams for the set according to their brochure and the new Carbon wheels from Trek come in at 1290 grams for the set according to the Trek brochure. I’m told that Lavenu requested some carbon wheels from Trek but I do not know if he received any.

I have word that Robin Williams (Lances’ friend and MC at this years Lance Armstrong Foundation Banquet in Austin ) is in France to attend the mountain stages to watch Lance. Williams has a new ROARK Ti Bike with Ti SS Couplers and ROLF Carbon Wheels and it is just possible that these wheels will end up under Lance. I say this because Williams knows that there is nothing lighter available to Lance and he may just give the wheels to Lance and Lance is familiar with the ROLF Design and would NOT hesitate to ride them.

The Williams wheels have the stock DT-HuGI-ROLF Vector Pro hubs that are a lot heavier than the hubs on the wheels I sent to Lavenu at 255 grams to 215 grams. The ROLF Carbons use STOCK Dura-Ace brake pads and the brake surfaces are impregnated with a special fine abrasive material and are bead-blasted to expose the silica ceramic material after molding.

Brake performance is better than with alloy rims because a fine layer of rubber forms at the surface with first use and remains there permanently giving rubber on rubber contact. In wet condition there is no perceptible degradation of brake performance.

The spoking patter on these carbon wheels is the classic ROLF Vector Pro pattern at 14- and 16-spokes front to rear with DT New Aero spokes and this makes these wheel the lowest spoke count wheels at the TdF since Ag2R has switched to Bontrager wheels at 20- and 24-spokes front to rear. If you have trouble getting Lavenu to talk about these wheels, you might just post an observer with camera at the start gate on Wednesday morning.

Sincerely, Rolf Dietrich