Fast Design, Fast Bike

9 Aug, 2005 By: Arnie Williams

ThinkID helps Trek quickly produce winning time-trial bicycle for Lance Armstrong and team

Lance Armstrong had ridden Trek TT time-trial bikes in four of his six Tour de France victories, heading into this year’s race in July on his way to a seventh victory. But Trek was still reviewing its designs and striving to give the Texas superstar and his Discovery Channel teammates every advantage during warm-up races in Europe this past spring.

Under speed-defying time constraints and competitive pressure the likes of which are no strangers to the design team at Trek, Michael Sagan and Trek industrial designers utilized thinkID technology from think3 to help design the TTx time-trial bikes that Armstrong and his teammates rode to victory in the first team time trial of the tour early last month. Like the victory itself, the design feat required speed and accuracy and real-life 3D — not a 2D kind of thing.

A New Approach

When Sagan and his team of engineers at the 29-year-old bicycle company first got their hands on thinkID, they had only one month to produce a new design for Armstrong and the Discovery Channel pro racing team. They faced a monumental challenge. According to Sagan, Trek’s senior designer and technology principal, understanding aerodynamics is paramount to designing the leanest and fastest racing bike in the world. Trek’s time-trail bike frames are made of a complex composite material called OCLV HC Honeycomb carbon. Modifying the frame design, even by millimeters, is a time-intensive activity. And it’s not the kind of thing you want to tackle with 2D technology, if you have the right alternative.

“We used thinkID to make changes to the frame, which took minutes, when it typically takes hours,” says Hans Eckholm, an industrial designer for Trek who worked on the TTx. “This was beneficial not only in the time it saved us in making changes, but also in the rapid team review process that was constantly occurring,” he says.

Sagan also praised thinkID’s ability to read legacy data from other CAD products used during design and production. Its strength in interoperability was one of the main reasons the Trek team chose thinkID, says Sagan. “To build a robust CAD model takes experience and time — to move or change an angle, you have to go back and forth between programs and designers to make the change. With thinkID, we were able to leverage 3D data and make changes without affecting design intent or production capability.”

Opening Up Possibilities

In his year at Trek, Eckholm has been involved in virtually every design project, including the Trek TTx. He applauds thinkID’s ability to get out of the way, explaining, “Any CAID tool is just that — a tool. What makes it a good tool is whether it improves your ability to get your design, as you envision it, downstream accurately and efficiently. Think3 opens up more possibilities to help us realize what we imagine.”

ThinkID is more free-form than traditional 3D design. It allows designers to assign targets, which can be points, curves or even a desired reflective light a designer wants to see on a shape. think3’s patented Global Shape Modeling technology then automatically translates the design intent into engineering models for analysis and manufacture, eliminating the math hurdle.

These capabilities, and the product’s relatively short learning curve, enabled the Trek team to put design improvements together in record time, a feat that led Armstrong and his teammates to that unprecedented seventh victory in the Tour de France.