Trek

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Trek Bicycle Corporation is a bicycle and cycling product manufacturer and distributor under brand names Trek, Electra Bicycle Company, Bontrager, and Diamant Bikes. The company has previously manufactured bikes under the Gary Fisher, LeMond Racing Cycles, Klein, and Villiger Bikes brand names.

With its headquarters in Waterloo, Wisconsin, Trek bicycles are marketed through 1,700 independently owned bicycle shops across North America, subsidiaries in Europe, Asia, South Africa, as well as distributors in 90 countries worldwide. Most Trek bicycles are manufactured outside the U.S. in countries including the Netherlands, Germany, Taiwan, and China.

In December, 1975, Dick Burke and Bevil Hogg established Trek Bicycle as a wholly owned subsidiary of Roth Corporation, a Milwaukee-based appliance distributor. In early 1976, with a payroll of five, Trek started manufacturing steel touring frames in Waterloo, Wisconsin, taking aim at the mid to high-end market dominated by Japanese and Italian made models. Trek built nearly 900 custom hand-brazed framesets that first year, each selling for just under $200. Later that same year Trek Bicycle was incorporated. In 1977, Penn Cycle in Richfield, Minnesota became the first Trek retailer in the world. Within three years, Trek sales approached $2,000,000.

Hampered without additional manufacturing capacity, Trek sales plateaued in the late 1970s. In just a few years Trek had outgrown its original ‘red barn’ manufacturing facility—a former carpet warehouse. Recognizing the need for expansion, in 1980 Trek broke ground on a new 26,000 sq ft corporate headquarters on the outskirts of Waterloo. Company co-founder Dick Burke would later recall that ‘it wasn’t until we built the new factory that we became a business.’ With more factory space available, Trek expanded its manufacturing to include complete bikes. In 1981, Trek entered the steel road racing bike market, introducing the ‘Pro’ line, including the 750 and 950 models, and in 1983, Trek built its first mountain bike, the 850. In 1984, Trek ventured into the aftermarket parts and accessories business, launching its Trek Components Group (TCG) department.

In 1985, borrowing technology from the aerospace industry, (and bike companies such as Alan and Vitus), Trek introduced its first bonded aluminum bike frame, the 2000. The introduction of bonded aluminum to Trek’s production line proved very problematic for a company that had built itself on hand-brazed steel frames. Manufacturing ground to a halt as Trek worked to figure out how to build bonded frames in a production environment. A year later, Trek followed up the success of the 2000 with a 3-tube carbon composite model, the 2500. Thus began Trek’s foray into carbon fiber. That same year, to keep up with rapidly growing sales, Trek added another 75,000 sq ft of manufacturing space to its Waterloo headquarters. In 1988, Trek introduced ‘Trek Wear,’ marking the company’s entry into the cycling apparel business. A year later, Trek expanded into foreign markets, opening subsidiary offices in the UK and in Germany. That same year, Trek introduced its Jazz brand of bicycles, a collection of entry-level and kids’ bikes designed by Trek but manufactured in Taiwan. Jazz bicycles were discontinued in 1993.

1989 was a pivotal year for Trek, marking the year that the company unveiled its first molded carbon fiber frame, the Trek 5000. The 5000 frameset (monocoque carbon frame plus bonded aluminum fork) had an advertised weight of 3.3 lb (1.5 kg). Designed by Trek but built by Brent Trimble, an outside manufacturer, the 5000 suffered enough quality problems that it was discontinued after just one year. But the lessons learned from the 5000 would prove to be instrumental in driving Trek to develop its own carbon manufacturing capabilities in the coming years.

In 1990, Trek developed a new category of bicycle that combined the comfort features of a mountain bike with the quick ride of a road bike: MultiTracks, Trek’s first line of hybrid bikes, were born. That same year, Trek also introduced its first line of kids’ bikes. In 1991, Trek opened its first company-owned retail store in nearby Madison, Wisconsin. In addition to showcasing a full line of Trek products, the Trek Store served as a hands-on sales training center for employees from Trek’s headquarters who lacked retail experience. The store also provided an outlet for Trek to test merchandising and marketing ideas before expanding them to its network of independent bicycle retailers.

In the early 1990s, Trek’s director of technology, Bob Read, attended an aerospace industry trade show in Salt Lake City, Utah, eventually meeting up with a closed mold tooling company called Radius Engineering. That visit convinced Read that Trek’s future success depended on building frames from carbon fiber, a material he envisioned could be used to make light, strong frames. Having lived through the troubled introduction of the 5000, Trek invested heavily in in-house carbon fiber manufacturing capabilities. In 1992, Trek unveiled its first home-grown, full-carbon framed bicycles, the 5500 and 5200, featuring OCLV Carbon frames. OCLV stands for ‘Optimum Compaction, Low Void’ and refers to Trek’s proprietary process for creating carbon structures that exceed aerospace standards. Weighing only 2.44 lbs., the 5500 frame was the world’s lightest production road frame. To make room for its new OCLV manufacturing facility, Trek expanded its Waterloo headquarters again to a total of 140,000 sq ft. 1992 marked another first for Trek: its first full suspension mountain bike, the 9000-series, which featured Trek’s T3C (travel is three times compression) suspension system.

In 1993, Trek introduced its first OCLV Carbon mountain bike frames, the 9800 and the 9900, which at 2.84 lb. was the world’s lightest production mountain bike frame. In 1993, Trek also acquired Gary Fisher Mountain Bikes, named after Gary Fisher, one of the inventors of the mountain bike and one of the most popular names in off-road cycling. Fisher had founded Gary Fisher Mountain Bikes in 1983 and sold his company in 1991 to Taiwan’s Anlen company, remaining on as President. In 1992, Howie Cohen, who had previously imported Nishiki, Azuki and Kuwahara bicycles, assisted Gary Fisher with his brand — 18 months later brokering the acquisition of Fisher by Trek (in 1993).

In 1994, Trek entered the growing home fitness arena, introducing Trek Fitness Exercycles. In 1996, Trek discontinued the Exercycle line, spinning off its fitness division into an independently-owned company, renamed Vision Fitness.

In 1995, Trek introduced its full suspension Y bike, a departure from traditional bike design. The Y bike sold well, and won an ‘Outstanding Design and Engineering Award’ from ‘Popular Mechanics’ magazine. Also in 1995, Trek made a number of business moves in order to diversify its product offering and gain market share, acquiring Klein Bicycles, a Chehalis, WA, manufacturer of premium aluminum-framed bicycles, as well as Bontrager Cycles, a Santa Cruz, CA-based manufacturer of bicycle components and hand-built steel frames. Trek also signed a long-term licensing agreement with Greg LeMond, the 3-time Tour de France champion and the first American to win the Tour—to design, build, and distribute LeMond Racing Cycles. 1995 was also the year Trek opened a state-of-the-art assembly facility in Whitewater, Wisconsin, leaving the Waterloo location free to focus solely on frame production.

In 1997, Trek helped sign former world road race champion Lance Armstrong to the Trek-sponsored United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team. Armstrong won his first Tour de France in 1999 aboard a Trek 5500, becoming the first American to win the Tour on an American team riding an American made bicycle. Armstrong went on to win a record-setting seven-consecutive Tours de France, all of them aboard Trek bicycles aside from a few early time trial stages that he rode aboard a Litespeed bike, painted and badged as a Trek. In 2012, all of Armstrong’s Tour victories were rescinded after Armstrong was found to have violated anti-doping regulations.

In 1998, Trek established its Advanced Concepts Group (ACG), a collection of engineers and technicians dedicated to technologies development. The leading edge of Trek’s design and engineering efforts, ACG is perhaps best known for a number of products introduced and used by Lance Armstrong during his historic Tour de France wins, including the original Trek Madone (2003)—named for the Col de la Madone, a 12K climb that starts in the French town of Menton and used by Armstrong to test his fitness—and TTX time trial bike. That same year, Trek opened its first European manufacturing facility, a frame and wheel assembly plant in Carlow, Ireland. The Carlow facility stayed open until late 2004, at which time Trek transferred its European production to a manufacturing facility in Hartmannsdorf, Germany.

Responding to the unique needs of female cyclists, in 2000 Trek introduced Women’s Specific Design (WSD) bicycle and accessories. WSD products are designed to fit female riders, and feature sizing and proportions appropriate for women. In October 2001, Trek introduced a custom bike program named Project One, which gave customers the opportunity to customize their Trek bike by selecting the bike’s paint scheme and component mix.

Hoping to expand into a new market segment, Trek introduced Trek Travel in December 2002, a provider of luxury cycling vacations in Europe and North America. Trek Travel operated as a wholly owned subsidiary of Trek Bicycle until January 2007, when Trek spun off its interests in the company. Despite the split, Trek and Trek Travel enjoy a close working relationship.

In 2003, Trek acquired Villiger, a Swiss bicycle company, and Diamant, the oldest bicycle company in Germany. The acquisition gave Trek a foothold in the active-leisure bicycle market, an important segment in Europe. As part of the acquisition, Trek took over ownership of the Villiger-Diamant production facility in Hartmannsdorf, Germany. Trek’s global expansion continued in 2005, when Trek expanded into the Chinese market by opening two stores in Beijing and signing deals with 20 Chinese distributors.

For the third time in its history, in 2005 Trek again expanded its worldwide headquarters in Waterloo, adding another 43,000 sq ft to house its burgeoning engineering, R&D, and marketing departments. As part of the expansion, Trek included an atrium exhibit to display a number of historically significant bikes from Trek’s family of brands, including one of the first mountain bikes ever built by Gary Fisher, and seven bikes used by Lance during his historic Tour de France run (one from each year, 1999–2005).

Bontrager is a Trek subsidiary that produces helmets, tires, wheels, handlebars, stems, seatposts, saddles, electronics, cycling shoes, water bottles, and other cycling clothing and accessories.

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