Before you go any further, answer the following questions, yes or no…
• I want to ride the Etape or similar big events?
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bad: Handlebars are badly thought out and a rather cheap looking saddle
Useful and informative OCLV Article