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Designing Lance Armstrong's Racing Bike

StudioTools and SolidWorks on AMD workstations help Trek Designers push limits of race bike design By John Virata

July 8, 2004-As five time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong attempts to make history with a sixth win in the most prestigious cycling race in the world, the designers and engineers at Trek Bicycles continue to work on next year's racing bikes. The company, which has been building the bikes that helped catapult Armstrong to the winner's podium for the last five years is one of the most enduring American success stories in the bicycling industry, and has relied consistently on new technology to bring its race winning designs to market.

For this year's Tour, Trek designers and engineers built three bike models and a Time Trial Bike that the U.S. Postal Service team took with them to France, all of which were designed on AMD Opteron-based workstations. Trek supplied a complete quiver of bikes for each of the nine riders on the team, all comprised of Madone 5.9s and Madone SL 5.9s. Trek also supplied Armstrong with the Madone SSL, a bike specifically designed for Lance, for the climbing stages of the tour, the stages that Armstrong has come to dominate over the last five years.

The Trek Madone SSL

The Madone SSL, like the Madone SL, is made of Trek's proprietary OCLV carbon fiber, but where it differs is with the use of 55GSM, super stealthy mojo that can be found on the satellites that get blasted into orbit. This super lightweight material brings the frame of the Madone SSL down to 950 grams, 100 grams less than the Madone SL frame, and 150 grams less than the Madone. And Armstrong, who won his first tour in 1999 with the help of a stock Trek road bike, is a stickler for detail, down to the last gram, when it comes to his racing bikes. What this translates to is the lightest, strongest bike in the hands of the most dominant and agile climber in recent Tour history, Lance Armstrong.

Michael Sagan, senior designer and technology principal in Trek's Advanced Concept Group
Michael Sagan, senior designer and technology principal in Trek's Advanced Concept Group, helps design the mojo that Armstrong demands from his bikes. Sagan, who has been with Trek for seven years decided to make a switch to a different CPU for his design workstations about three years ago. Sagan initially built himself a computer running an AMD Athlon CPU to help determine if he should switch to a platform that at the time was being touted as a reliable alternative to the other platforms on the market. "I was looking to getting a head start on things and wasn't quite happy with the machine on my desk, so I assembled my own machine and chose the AMD processor." Sagan noticed a significant speed improvement over his previous system, and more importantly, his new system was more reliable running his design applications of choice, Alias StudioTools and SolidWorks. Sagan and the Advanced Design Group needed all the advanced technologies they could get given their tight time schedule to produce the frame and dial in all the geometry.

Computer Models
Computer models are also used in the design of the bikes. Sagan says that the Advanced Concept Group uses a process called Finite Element Analysis and Optimization to better determine in the computer how a particular design tweak is going to perform, even before the frames are built. These computer models are used in part to determine what Sagan calls predictability, or how a specific frame geometry will perform under certain conditions, such as with a 15 mph head wind.

The results of the analysis helps the designers to optimize the frame for weight, stiffness, and strength when the frame building process begins. "Concept to final tuning is done in Studio Tools," says Sagan. "A lot of the tooling and analysis is done with SolidWorks. Since we do so much predictability and the molding process is very time consuming we build several molds to optimize the weight, stiffness, and strength to build a frame, because the equipment needed to be dialed in by May 1." Sagan notes that because digital assets are in play, revisiting issues that crop up during the research and development process are easier to rectify, especially when time is critical.

Design Timeline
The group began Phase 1 of frame design in September of last year, a mere two months after Armstrong won his fifth Tour de France. Phase 2 began in October/November, whereby the Advanced Concept Group saw Armstrong reject its Compact Geometry Concept Frame. This is where the digital design process really shines, as the designers and engineers were able to make modifications to its designs in accordance with Armstrong's recommendations. December brought the final digital design review, which saw changes of the rear frame go from an H-Stay design to A-Stay rear design.

The Prototype test plan conducted. December/January brings Phase 3, which encompassed final design considerations and the graphic design process. Phase 3 includes prototype tooling and creation, and drop out creation and testing. Phase 4 begins in March which encompasses design validation and carbon part testing, and the building of the frame and final frame testing. Phase 5 in April starts the pilot and process validation, final frame paint and graphics, and the building of the bike with all components, and test rides. Final delivery of the bike to Lance Armstrong was in May, of which he has two months to ride before the 2004 Tour de France begins. 

Digital Design Tools
All the bikes that the U.S. Postal Service team is currently using in the 2004 Tour de France were designed using StudioTools and SolidWorks on BOXX Technologies 3DBOXX 7100 dual AMD Opteron systems running 2GB RAM. Sagan says switching to the AMD system garnered his design team more performance and a ton of value. "The AMD systems run super flawlessly, and I haven't seen a bluescreen on the AMD systems. It works great and it is rock solid." While Sagan and Trek's Advanced Concept Group rely heavily on computer technology to design the best bikes that they can, all the bikes on the U.S. Postal Service team are still assembled the old fashioned way, by hand. And when these same race proven bikes hit the market some time in the fall, they will be hand built as well. The next few weeks will determine if Armstrong will rewrite the record books and become the first man to win six Tour de France titles, and Trek's team in the Advanced Technology Group, will be watching closely, in between designing next year's race bikes and playing soccer, of course.

John B. Virata is senior editor at Digital Media Net. His first road bike was a 12 speed, chromoly steel Trek 400 purchased for $300 in 1984. He has since upgraded to a 2002 4 speed aluminum Trek Clyde in black, complete with BMX-style handlebars and a bell. You can reach him at jvirata@digitalmedianet.com. As of this writing, Lance Armstrong captured the Yellow Jersey in the 2004 Tour de France.


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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at jvirata@digitalmedianet.com
Related Keywords:Lance Armstrong , Trek Madone SSL design, AMD workstations, digital design, Tour de France,


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