Trek Madone brake surgery
Written by: Greg Kopecky
Added: Tue Feb 26 2013
At least for purposes of this article, I’m not concerned with the aero part. I want to bring out the wrenches and see how the brakes function. Are they difficult to install? How is the lever feel? Do they work with narrow and wide rims? How quickly can I swap out the brake pads?
The bike I’m working with is a new 2013 Trek Madone. Historically, I like the Madone. In fact, I owned one of the first-model-year Madones (which was originally an ‘aero’ version of the 5900). It had a round seatpost that plugged into a seat tube that looked like a shark fin. I built it up with Campagnolo Chorus 10-speed, the then-new Fizik Aliante, and silver Elite bottle cages that matched the frame. And of course – white bar tape.
As you could guess, the mounting points for this brake are different than a normal caliper. As a result, the fork is proprietary:
The clever folks at Trek thought of that:
While limit screws are normally found on front and rear derailleurs, this brake caliper uses them to adjust for different levers. Trek supplies this handy chart:
Now that we have the limit screws taken care of, let’s mount the front brake. There are two 4mm flat-head hex bolts; one for each of the two main arms. Note the small ‘nub’ that mates with a matching small hole on the fork – the brake uses this as a point of leverage.
Just where do I set up those pads? What about wide rims? The stock wheels with this bike are Bontrager’s updated Race X Lite model (which we reviewed in 2012 – linked at the bottom of this page). These wheels follow the trend of wider-is-better, and have 23mm rims (measured outside-to-outside at the braking surfaces).
Bontrager did the math for us to accommodate various rim widths. Each brake arm has two washers that may be moved to either side, to space the pads appropriately:
To set up the pad properly within the braking surface, I followed my normal procedure – loosen the pad bolt with one hand, squeeze the brake lever with the other hand, and tighten the bolt.
This isn’t a deal breaker – just makes it more difficult to properly set up the pads. In my book, Shimano sets the gold standard in this regard. On a Dura Ace, Ultegra, or 105 brake, the pads tend to stay very straight (making setup VERY fast and easy).
With the front brake installed, I wanted to take a look at how the quick release cam works. When closed, it is in-line with the rest of the brake. To open the quick release (to make the caliper open wider for wheel removal) – you pull the lever outward in to the wind:
Lucky for me, the rear brake cable was already routed through the frame. This is how the bike came pre-assembled from Trek.
Also take note – the rear caliper does NOT have a quick release cam on it, nor a barrel adjuster. How do you open up the brake arms to let your wheel out? Trek thought of that ahead of time, and made this very slick two-piece inline cable adjuster:
If you rotate the piece furthest to the right (in the above photo), you adjust cable tension. If you turn the next piece to the left – with the protrusion – this opens up the brake like a normal quick release. Whoever invented this little guy deserves the coveted “Employee of the Month” parking space… AND a casual Friday.
Also note that the rear brake caliper’s limit screws are in a different location than the front brake. They’re right behind the chainrings:
The rear cable anchor bolt is also unique. Seen in the photo below, you must slide the cable in to the slot. Then you tighten the 5mm bolt on top, which threads in to a hex nut underneath.
The fix? Loosen the cable anchor bolt, pull the cable from the caliper, remove the housing, and cut a slightly longer one:
I fiddled. I sat down for a minute of quiet time. Was the cable routed incorrectly through the down tube? Was it caught on one of the Di2 wires? That was all I could figure. In all of my years of working on internally-routed bikes, mystery shifting and dragging brakes usually mean a tangled mess inside the bike… and manually re-routing cables through.
So – I unbolted the cable anchor, pulled the housing, and removed the cable entirely from the bike. As I removed the cable from the brake lever, I found the culprit. It wasn’t routed poorly through the down tube at all. It was...
I installed a new cable, fished it through the down tube, re-installed both down tube cable stops, installed the rear housing, and buttoned up the cable anchor bolt.
The only issues I had with the brakes had nothing to do with the design itself, but rather the factory assembly of the bike. These issues will generally be solved by the dealer who assembles each bike, but it brings up an important point – what is their labor time worth? This job took me approximately one hour and forty-five minutes. With the same housing and cable problems on a standard caliper and external routing, I’d put it at twenty or thirty minutes tops. Do shops charge based on task or time?
More than one dealer of high-end triathlon bikes I’ve spoken with voiced real concern on this topic. Many of them are simply eating the cost of increased labor time, in hopes of retaining customers. A bike fit adjustment that takes ten minutes on an “easy” bike could take five or ten times as long on a fully integrated one. Need to cut that aerobar extension down by one centimeter? Well, we need to pull the cable and housing out, cut the bar, fish Di2 wires or new cables through the frame (and potentially remove cranksets, brakes, and batteries to do so), reinstall all of the sub-components, re-tape the bars, and so on. Can this shop double their bike fit rate because the customer bought a sleek bike? Probably not. But – can we blame the customer for buying the bike, when so many of the available choices in the market are this way? I don’t know what the right answer is, but I certainly empathize with the dealers that must figure this out.
At the end of the day, I think Trek has a nice brake here. The lever feel is good. I wouldn’t call it “Dura Ace good”, but it’s on-par or better-than other proprietary brakes. The real success story, in my opinion, is how much of an improvement these brakes are over the Speed Concept – in lever feel, strength, and ease-of-use. My hope is that these brakes (or something similar) find their way on to whatever the next generation of Speed Concept is.
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