assuming the role of director of technology. “I never met anyone as well organized as Bob,” said Tim Issac. “He would take a problem and reduce it to the components that could be handled.”
Read sat through product meetings in Waterloo with a carbon fiber tennis racket and pronounced, “this is the future of bicycles.” He envisioned a full carbon Trek frame that would be the lightest and strongest the world had ever seen. Faced with the option of sourcing out the frames, or incurring the $1,000,000 development cost of a carbon lug molding process, Richard Burke opted for the latter. He knew direct control of the new technology would be vital to its success.
Read’s vision became a reality when Trek revealed the first OCLV (Optimum Compaction, Low Void) carbon fiber frame in 1992. “Optimum Compaction” is the precise way in which Trek compresses carbon fibers into an optimum blend of carbon fiber and thermoset epoxy matrix. “Low Void” represents the aerospace standard of minimizing voids within the laminate structure to a level of 1% or less. The result was the lightest road production frameset in the world, weighing in at a scant 2.44 lbs.
Two years later an automobile lost control on an icy Wisconsin road and took Read’s life. An essential part of Trek’s soul went with him that day. “Bob’s combination of intellect and dedication was unlike anything I had ever seen,” said Richard Burke. “He truly represented the honesty and integrity of this company. His passing left a void that we were incapable of filling for some time.”
The company pressed on with startling financial success over the next few years. Trek had ridden the wave of the mountain bike, and by 1996 mountain bikes accounted for 80% of the company’s product line. They invested heavily in research and design, employing the largest team of engineers in the business. The domestic dealer base had swelled to 1500. Thousands more around the world came on board through the seven subsidiaries and over 60 distributors. Overseas business had accrued to roughly a third of overall sales. Worldwide annual sales soared near the $350,000,000 range.
Trek had quietly become the world’s largest manufacturer of bicycles sold through specialty retail stores. But growth had hidden a lot of sins. By 1997, the bicycle market had flattened. John Burke stepped in an assumed the role of Trek President. “When the growth stops, it’s time to manage the company,” said John Burke.
Managing a mature company in a stagnant market forced management to reassess their identity. Were the guiding principles the same, had goals changed? “We took a long look at our mission statement and determined what was true ten to fifteen years ago, is still true today,” said John Burke. “We built this business by meeting the needs of our customer, the retailer, and that’s still our number one goal.”
Today, Trek places greater emphasis on lean manufacturing. In the spring of 1999, Trek hired Tim Callahan as VP of Operations. Callahan brought with him a strong track record of success and the Japanese-inspired Kaizen philosophy. “Kaizen is a simple approach to manufacturing,” explained Callahan. “It reduces working space and down time, and increases a natural flow of product.” ”Manufacturing has quickly become one of our assets,” affirmed John Burke. “But like many of the challenges this company has faced throughout its history, internal change is an uphill battle.”
Yet one of Trek’s biggest opportunities for growth lies outside of the factory walls. “Our greatest potential lies in the international market,” said John Burke. Cycling is engrained in the culture of many countries, especially in Europe where bicycles are used as a viable alternative form of transportation. This practical application translates into the sporting world where cycling is second only to soccer in fan base. Cycling’s biggest event, the Tour de France, is the third most-watched sporting event in the world behind the Super Bowl and the Olympics.