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Bike Test – Trek Pilot 5.2


Before you go any further, answer the following questions, yes or no…

• I want to ride the Etape or similar big events?
• My riding is more Audax than race?
• But I might do a couple of races this year?
• I’d like a bike I can ride all year round?
• and I can only afford one bike to ‘do it all’ on

If the answer to all of these statements is yes then you’ve come to the right bike test so read on… Trek’s Pilot range is geared specifically to riders who want the quality and specification of a high-end bike but the practicality and flexibility of a winter trainer or Audax bike thrown in. According to the Trek website, the Pilot, ‘brings together our Tour-proven geometry and a more natural, upright riding position. It’s a ride so fast, light and forgiving, every mile leaves you wanting more’. The question is can it be done successfully? This Pilot is the range topping 5.2, there are three others available and a WSD (Women’s Specific Design) 5.2 for the same price. Although men can swing a leg over an OCLV Pilot for as little as £1700 (5.0). For £1400 there is also the 2.1 Aluminium frame with a carbon rear end and a healthy specification. Fair to say then that Trek are well behind the Pilot scheme.

The OCLV project has been around for over 10 years, 13 to be exact. There have been mountain bike versions and road versions that have won World championships and (obviously) Tour de France titles. It’s perhaps second to Reynolds 531 as the Tour’s most winningest frame material, perhaps not, but it certainly seems like it. The first thing you need to know about the OCLV frame is its impressive strength to weight ratio. Now there are several versions of the OCLV material and this frame uses the 120 that was first introduced in 2001, many OCLV officianados would say it was one of the best frames too.

OK so it costs flumpence in materials to make a carbon fibre frame, but the technology and development costs are huge (not to mention the marketing). The tooling for 6 sizes can’t be cheap either. One of the reasons why Lance rides a Trek Madone identical to the one you ride (if only you had £6k!), is that it comes out of the same mould and he seems pretty happy with it. But let’s remember that Lance is a perfect physical specimen and most pro cyclists can manage a 10 cm drop (saddle to bar) because they practice yoga and do all their stretches… OK it looks dead snazzy to have a pro-look bike but it’s no good if you can’t touch your toes. So the Pilot design philosophy is better suited to us lesser mortals.

“I’ve been riding custom bikes throughout my career and Trek is the best, I still can’t believe I ride a stock production bike.” says Lance. Fair enough.

OCLV stands for Optimum Compaction, Low Void. “Optimum Compaction” is the precise way in which Trek compresses carbon fibers into an optimum blend of carbon fiber and thermoset epoxy (essentially an advanced glue) matrix. “Low Void” represents the aerospace standard of minimizing spaces within the laminate structure to a level of 1% or less. This is the same process used for the construction of fighter aircraft wings.

Geometry on the Pilot range is the big difference. The first road OCLV to be compact with an upright front end. This 54cm (50cm centre to top) has a 54.2cm effective top tube so it’s not super short either, but it’s better than the gap between sizes in the standard OCLV frame. The Madone comes in a 54 (centre to top) and a 56 (centre to top) these have 54.6 and 56.2 top tubes respectively. This means I have to have a 54 and a flipped stem to get the bars high enough or a 56 with a shorter stem which compromises the steering. Why? Well I usually ride a 54cm top tube and 54 seat tube (centre to centre) and this means a slight compromise in saddle position and bar height. Confusing huh?

Basically the Pilot’s compact approach means that the bars are certainly higher and the frame is smaller which adds equal levels of comfort and rigidity.

A longer back end will provide a little more give, but it also allows for mudguard clearance too, good for UK weather and those early season reliability trials. There is a threaded boss low down on the seat tube so you can bolt in a full mudguard very neatly which is useful and the dropouts have threaded bosses so you could fit a rack.

High mounted gear adjusters mean you could fit down tube levers if you really had to and the standard head tube wins bonus points as you could fit a Chris King Aheadset (just like Lance and Co. do) which is a much better option than an integrated system.

Front end
Bontrager parts are all over the Trek, Klein, Gary Fisher and Lemond ranges and it’s not hard to see why. The latest Bonty forks on the Madone and the SL frames are super light and very well finished.

The fork on the Pilot however doesn’t match the frame perfectly, I found the ride a little too aggressive from the oversize crown and blades. It needs to be a little less porky just to match the OCLVs excellent floaty ride. Having said that it does allow for a full guard and a fat tyre and tracks perfectly so it’s not all bad.

If Bonty have got it wrong in the forks (and the bars – see contact points) they have certainly got it right on the wheels. The Race Lite wheelset is a step ahead of similar priced wheelsets. In fact all the Bontrager Race wheels look excellent for this season. Better rim technology, DT swiss hubs, DT spokes with impossibly tight spoke tension makes for highly responsive wheels. They are strong too.

These Bontrager Race X Lite AC tyres have a distinct Michelin feel to them and in 25c are super comfortable. Not quite as grippy in the wet and they don’t cope too well with wet Spring weathered roads as they’ve cut up a bit after only a couple of weeks riding. A set of Northern European tyres (Michelin or Continental) may be better, the beauty of this bike is that you could fit a 32c Continental Top Touring for serious weight carrying or winter commuting. Very practical.

Unlike several complete wheelsets, ride-wise these Bonty’s live up to their extensive hype. Compare them to the Specialized Roubaix’s wheels and they are on a different planet. However, a pair of handbuilts might edge the Pilot further down the practical tourist and long Audax route and would probably outlast the lightweight Bontys.

Out on the road – The Ride
You feel immediately at home on the Pilot. The obvious comparison would be with the Specialized Roubaix, a bike we like very much. Both bikes allow you time to steer and the position is so user friendly and adaptable.

The OCLV 120 frame dampens the ride, which is a good thing if you are racking up Audax miles on it. In a similar way to the Roubaix Trek’s frame is more rigid when cranking out of the saddle. This is a good thing and is certainly influenced by Bonty’s excellent Race Lite wheels.

The Bonty fork has a direct feel to it and certainly made you feel in charge of where the bike is going. Although it’s a little too stiff for this type of bike the is a certain race-ready ride that you couldn’t get from a pair of deep clearance steel forks, so perhaps this compromise makes some sense.

On the race circuit the Pilot handles corners and climbs like it’s Tour-ready big brothers that the Discovery team ride. Crits and road races pass by in comfort and speed, with the over sized carbon bottom bracket area of the frame allowing such a powerful platform to launch yourself down the road. It’s hard to remember that this bike is built for comfort first.

It’s a bit of a swings and roundabouts thing when comparing the two bikes (this is not a cop-out). The cheaper Specialized would win for most on looks alone but they are a match in function though the Pilot has more to offer as an all rounder… And the Trek spec is far better.

Contact points

The Bontrager seatpost is one of the best carbon posts we’ve used, adjustment is accurate and best of all the clamp is secured with one simple 5mm Allen bolt. The Bontrager flat top bars, however, are a problem. On the drops you can’t sprint without catching your wrists on the top part and hold the section further back and forget being able to reach the controls. The top section (as the name suggests) does offer a nice cruising position but it’s little conciliation. These ‘Ergo’ bars are many things, but sadly ergonomic is not one of them. There is a feature here in itself and we are putting the shapes through the testing mill… watch this space.

The saddle was comfy enough but I’m not sure I could manage a 200km Audax on it. I think in the future there will be more choice for contact points on complete bike purchases, this is another reason why a custom specifiction is preferred by many experienced riders. You must have your position and your saddle spot-on for long distance riding.

The latest Ultegra groupset takes 10 speed to new levels and allows Shimano fans a cheaper than Dura-Ace option. It’s perhaps their best group for a while too as it looks understated and works perfectly. We’ve put it on a couple of bikes and it works really well, the bottom bracket and crank are so easy to install (as long as you have the faces of the BB shell properly faced) and the gears are super slick. I’m a self confessed Campagnolo fan but I have found myself turning Japanese of late… Previous Shimano STI users will love the new 10 speed and some Campagnolo users will be tempted too.

A few personal criticisms are merely brake lever action and power, but there is a marked improvement here. The deep drop Shimano brakes are a non-Ultegra addition but do allow for mudguards and a 28c tyre. They actually work better than the compact 105 set up we had on the Specialized Roubaix a month or two back too.

I don’t like indexed front mechs much as they can be a pain to set up properly and make feathering the position for chainline changes and chain rub nigh-on impossible. On a triple crank the problem is just amplified. New Ultegra is far better than previous Shimano groups, but I wish they’d drop it as it can be infuriating.

This bike is at home in any company. OK it might blush a little in a road race bunch if its triple chainset gets noticed, but its styling and look is very ‘race track’ orientated and for that it gets top marks. Value is not the top issue but it has to be said there are a few areas of the specification that could be better (bars, stem, saddle) however the main issues are spot-on. The frame, Ultegra group and wheels are all well worth the money and did I say I liked the seatpost?

But let’s be straight, £2k is a lot to spend on this type of bike. There are many custom builders who could do you a similar package with a few added extra details for a little less. But if your riding is a little more aggressive the Pilot is a very adequate race bike too and this cannot always be said of a winter training bike or custom Audaxer.

So it’s a versatile bike and as a winter trainer/Audax bike it’s a lot better than most too. The added appeal of the Trek OCLV ride will be popular with Etapists and racers who prefer their position a bit more on the comfortable side. And this bike is a lot more suited to the ‘average’ rider than previous OCLV designs have been. Sure is comfortable too.
But who will buy it? well if you’ve got this far into the test, probably you.


Comfy ride. A fast and versatile bike with OCLV appeal

Handlebars are badly thought out and a rather cheap looking saddle

Frame sizes: 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 63cm
Size tested: 54 cm
Frame tubing: OCLV 120 Carbon w/OCLV VC Carbon seat stays
Fork: Bontrager Satellite Plus
Headset: Slimstack, sealed
Crankarms: Shimano Ultegra Hollowtech triple
Chainrings: 53/39/30
B/B: Shimano Ultegra
Pedals: N/A
Chain: Shimano 10 speed
Freewheel: Shimano Ultegra 12-25, 10 speed
F/D: Shimano Ultegra T
R/D: Shimano Ultegra long cage
Shifters: Shimano Ultegra STI
Handlebar: Bontrager Race Flat Top, 26.0
Stem: Bontrager Race, 26.0
Tape: Bontrager Cork
Brakes: Shimano long reach w/STI levers
Wheels: Bontrager Race Lite
Tyres: Bontrager Race X Lite AC, 700x25c
Contact: Trek UK 01908 282626

Useful and informative OCLV Article

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