It was pretty easy to scoff and snicker at this new technology back then, though not discounting the power of a pro racer to achieve belt destruction. After this awkward introduction to the Gates Carbon Drive System, COG had little interest in following its progression.
In August of 2008 COG took a visit out to Trek HQ in Waterloo WI. A watershed moment occurred at the end of our tour when one of their engineers brought out a ridiculously light bike from their test lab running the Gates Carbon Drive System. We were simply stunned. The experience of riding that test bike has stayed with us to this day. COG departed wanting to know more about the Gates Carbon Drive.
The Gates Carbon Drive system seems to be making its way onto some really interesting bikes. One of these bikes is Trek’s Carbon District. Right now it’s the only Carbon Drive, full carbon frame in production. Immediately upon discovering this bike, COG reached out to acquire one from Trek for a road test review and for use as a team bike during 2010’s Riverwest 24 hour bike race. Trek was receptive to this idea, but the Carbon District is an elusive and rare breed at Trek. There was only one available, sitting pretty in a photo studio somewhere in Pennsylvania.
The Trek District Carbon arrived at Trek HQ the day of the race. As luck would have it Breakaway Courier had a driver dispatched to Madison en route back to Milwaukee at exactly the same time I received the call to “Come and get it!” An hour later the Carbon District was in Breakaway’s dispatch office being severely ogled by the messenger staff.
The Carbon District is deserving of them all, sporting covert black on black graphics and sexy space-age curvatures. The bike is also dead silent when pedaling. Pure-Ninja-Power.
After the initial shock and awe subsided, I became very interested in the rear dropout design. It was not at all clear to any of us how to take the rear wheel off. I called up Trek and someone familiar with the bike walked me through it over the phone. The task seemed easy enough...loosen three bolts on each side of the wheel, loosen and pull out the wheel skewer, then go for the eccentric bolt on each side of the wheel and turn until the guide pins match up. Pull the dropouts apart slightly and voila, the rear wheel is off!
Slightly fearing the unknown, our team did not attempt to remove the wheel at this time. I kept the information in my head and blasted off to the race registration. Upon arriving I met the rest of the team and everyone gave the bike a quick run around the block. All systems go at this point. Captain Jake was the first rider up and after completing the first lap on the course, something became painfully obvious.
The stock gearing on the District Carbon is 55:22 using standard Gates front and rear pulleys. This works out to approximately 65.8 gear inches per pedal stroke. Jake came through the start/finish screaming: "It’s too light!!! I can’t keep up with them." Jake was referring to our competitors dropping into their big rings on the long flats and downhill sections. Okay, we’ll just have to spin it out. Climbing with the Carbon District was an altogether different experience though. The light weight and stiffness of the Madone frame almost gives off the illusion of being pulled uphill.
The real tragedy of the race came upon our first rear flat slightly after midnight. It was very clear to me in my disoriented full race mode state that we should have taken the wheel off earlier to practice and prepare for such a disaster. We had no idea what to do!
Thankfully our good friend and trusted wrench John Trusky came to the rescue. It only took us a mere 30 minutes to change a rear flat!!! That was the first time. The second, rear flat, came one lap later on the cusp of a torrential rain storm. Another 30 minutes with Trusky’s help and a fresh, 25c Conti tire swapped in for the stock 23c Bontrager and we were off again. From this point on the Carbon District was flawless and took us over 336 miles through the 24 hours of racing.
That was the tumultuous beginning of my love affair with Trek’s District Carbon and the Gates Carbon Drive technology. Coming from riding steel track bikes for the previous eight years, I’m all for simplicity. The carbon belt drive is simple, once set up properly. The District Carbon was designed specifically to accommodate the belt drive. Trek devoted countless hours engineering the rear eccentric dropout. Now that I’ve spent more time and hundreds more miles on this bike, I can truly appreciate the work that went into it. There is a slight learning curve to removing the rear wheel, but once mastered, will reveal the genius of the design.
As previously mentioned, the District Carbon comes standard with a 22 rear pulley. I highly recommend swapping it out with a 20 which provides a much more realistic ratio, given that the OCLV carbon frame was meant to go fast. Yes, the District Carbon is the first bike I’ve ridden which actually becomes more stable that faster you ride and quite noticeably upon steep descents.