Why Is My Bike Called A “Trek?”

If you haven’t seen my road bike, kindly pause a moment to consider its photo on the right side of this blog.  When people ask me what kind of bike I have, I tell them it’s a Trek.  It’s official name is the 2011 Trek 2.1.

Lately, I’ve begun to wonder why.

At first glance, the bike certainly looks like something made by the Trek Corporation.  After all, the name is plastered all over the front fork, top tube, down tube, rear forks and just about anywhere else on the frame.  There is a handsome Trek logo on the front stem.  Clearly, Trek had a role in the making of this bike.

Hundreds of hours sitting on the bike with nothing better to do has given me ample opportunity to study it.  Upon further review (as the NFL referees are prone to say), things become less certain.  The fact is that the only place you can find the name Trek is on the frame.  That’s it.  Everything else on the bike is made by someone else.

The crank, pedals, and shifters are made by Shimano.  The brakes are made by Tektro with Bontrager levers.  The handlebar, handlebar tape, wheels, tires, seat, seat stem, and head stem are made by Bontrager.  When I am properly pedaling my bike, no part of my body is actually coming into contact with anything made by Trek.

Maybe I should call my bike The Bontrager.

Of course, most experienced cyclists will already know the reason for this apparent oddity: Shimano has darn near cornered the market on drivetrains and Bontrager Corporation was bought by Trek in the 90’s.  Thus, all of Bontrager’s parts appear on Trek bikes.  Still, one wonders why the Bontrager name survives and all those pieces (apart from the drivetrain and shifters) aren’t simply plastered with the Trek brand.

And here’s one last little sleight of hand for your consideration: Trek is headquartered in Waterloo, Wisconsin, and I always kinda thought that’s where my bike was made.  Not so.  Only the high-end frames are made at that location.  My frame (the Alpha) was made in China.

Sigh.

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23 thoughts on “Why Is My Bike Called A “Trek?”

    • I was going to tell everyone that before each ride, I tell myself to lay in a course for… (enter destination name here) then shout, “Engage!” as I hit the pedals. I was concerned that might be too personal, but you drew it out of me! 🙂

  1. I’m not sure but I think they kept the name Bontrager going for the MTB market. Keith Bontrager made great off road parts before he sold to Trek. Maybe it’s brand loyalty and associated Kudos?

    • I believe the Bontrager name stands for high quality and durable parts, which is why Trek prefers to keep it. Then again, it may have been part of the terms of the sale of the company. I couldn’t find anything to suggest either way.

  2. Very spiffy bike! My new flat-handlebar Trek 7.6fx was made in Taiwan. Still a lovely piece of kit though. My wheels are very like yours.

    The Bontrager rims and bits on my Orange mtb were hard-wearing and reliable so I kind of assumed these would be the same.

  3. ‘Tis the curse of the current age Steve. It’s almost impossible to find anything not made in China these days. My Marinoni VR2 is designed by the Quebec based company, just north of Montreal in fact, but the frame is made in Taiwan (at least my one was five years ago). Still, I consider it a Canadian built bike and I think I am ok with that!

    • It’s not easy for a country to rack up trillions of dollars in debt. Everything from soap dishes to bicycle frames must play their part!

  4. What a post. You’ve opened a can of worms here. Lovers of Karl Marx and Adam Smith will approach your questions from different directions but come to the same answer which you hint at in the post. (“high-end frames”) If you want things made by people who enjoy an unsustainable but high standard of living, you have to pay an seriously high price. If I live long enough to need a new bike, I am going to save up and buy a British made and built bike next time. I tried to last time but like you, I found that the name and the frame came from different places.

    • You may be about 70 years too late. There once was a time when Birmingham made bikes in huge quantities for the entire world. All that remains, it seems, is the Brooks saddle company. Still, I’m sure you can find a manufacturer who can give you “Old World” quality somewhere on that island of yours!

  5. I have the exact same bike that you have. After the first 20 miles, I got rid of the Bontrager seat and put on a Vader seat that I bought off eBay for 10 bucks. It’s been a great bike so far. My next scheduled upgrade will be rims and tires.

    • Almost everyone I’ve ever read or talked to says they don’t like the stock seats on their bikes, regardless of the make. I guess I’ve been lucky – I’ve had no issues with the saddles on either of my bikes. Spokes and tires are another story, however!

  6. Frame building is a very different process then component building, especially before the days of carbon fiber, there was no real need for a company to invest money into developing their own specialized parts when drivetrains were available from Campy and Shimano.

    Things are actually going the other way from your post, I once had a bike where every part was branded Shimano other then the frame, stem, handlebars and rims. More and more companies are producing their own parts, or specing competetors. Sometimes you only see Shimano/SRAM shifters and derailuers on a bike since the manufacturer will spec competetors parts everywhere else they can to save money.

    The current trend that is changing things a bit is System Integration, Canondale, Specialized, and Look all are heavy into this. proprietary parts that only work on their frames, special headsets, bottom brackets, forks. Like most special features you only find this on high end models.

    Something most people don’t realize, just because a part says, bontrager, or trek, or whatever, doesn’t mean that they actually had anything to do with the design or manufacture of the part. A majority of the names you see on stuff in cycling is completely meaningless, its all built and designed by the same people in China.

    • I guess the company would have you believe the most important part of the bike is the frame. Therefore, a bicycle company can content itself with frame building and outsource everything else. I’m not sure if this is preferable to System Integration or not. As a kid, I remember being PO’d when my Schwinn bike parts were not compatable with any other bike’s. Perhaps that was one of the earlier instances of System Integration!

  7. Steve,

    I’ve been following your blog for a while and have the same bike you do (in the same color… beautiful, isn’t it?). I think at the price point of the 2.1 all bikes are going to be made in China, have “Trek” or “Specialized” or “Cannondale” plastered all over it, and use in house parts with Shimano or SRAM components.

    However, in spite of the modesty of our bikes, I’ve found that once you get riding everything fades away, and my attention turns to focusing on getting the pedal stroke right, executing good shifts, pointing the wheel straight under power, and the gentle hum of rubber on tarmac. And the passing scenery. At that point, I couldn’t care less how many “Trek” stickers there are on my bike.

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