I reckon, when Richard Burke and Bevil Hogg founded Trek Bicycles out of a barn in Waterloo, Wisconsin way back in ‘76, the dream was to keep it American-made. But, as with most things in the modern-age, including bikes, manufacturing has shifted to Asia. However, after more than 40 years in the game, Trek still holds onto its "Made in USA" history. Which I’m sure makes Mr. Trump happy!
So, what's Trek actually doing in ‘Merica? A trip to the company's headquarters in Wisconsin in June offered an inside look at how the company operates. Trek's U.S. operations have been headquartered in Waterloo since its founding. The tiny city is about 25 miles outside Madison. It’s a pleasant ride through lush farmland and old railway lines which are now bike paths, then the small-town pops outta’ nowhere. You know, one of those places you might miss if you were in a car and blinked. But, one of those places you’d venture to with a bike. As, the more remote the better, right?!
You're likely to meet cyclists at Trek Bicycles, which I think is a key factor, as the bike is still the fundamental part of the company’s culture. Heading to the main office, which was my second time, I was lucky enough to feel incredibly welcomed. This makes the long-haul from the land of the long white cloud to middle ‘Merica worth it. The people of the company really make up the heart of the brand.
Trek’s operations are in-house, and they employ more than 1000 staff in the small-town of Waterloo. On my visit, it was obvious there’s still a large manufacturing division within the Waterloo headquarters but, as I mentioned, they are doing the majority of the manufacturing offshore in Asia. Quality-control is kept on top of via the American HQ. Plus, they are developing, researching and manufacturing products for their other brands which fall under the Trek Bicycles umbrella, such as Bontrager. Check out the article on Bontrager founder, Keith Bontrager in the next volume.
But, it’s not only the research and development, it’s the people and the culture that really blew me away. Yes, I know this might sound as though I’m blowing smoke up their a**, but this isn’t paid-for content, and my thoughts are truly genuine. On arrival my WhatsApp was blowing up, with a contact I met last year, Alex Applegate of Bontrager, connecting me with Trek employees so I could get out to the Trek 100 (charity ride) the next day. I was given directions, instructions and rolled into a house in Midwest ‘Merica before 6am on a Saturday morning. I was less than 24 hours in Madison and had never met any of these people before. But, they welcomed me in like their own, brewed me a coffee, gave me a banana and off we went.
The employees were; April Beard of Bontrager, her partner Josh McKinney of Trek and Kyle Russ of Trek Engineering. We had a great ride and day out (with buffalo wings at the aid stations) and partied at the end of the Trek 100. At the end, Kyle let me into the HQ, we showered and got changed and I realised I didn’t have any spare shorts and thought I’d have to put my rather damp (and smelly) bibs back on. Kyle didn’t have any spare shorts but another Trek employee walked over, I asked to borrow some shorts and shoes, and he dug around his desk and chucked me some. What a great guy! And, it meant I could have a beer and hot dog in non-lycra. This sums up the hospitality of the staff.
The next day, I was super jet-lagged and slept till around midday. I went out for a late ride, and again, my WhatsApp blew up with Kyle asking me to join a group ride. I met some of the people I rode the Trek 100 with and then we ventured in an around the lush woods and lakes of Madison, roads and areas I wouldn’t have discovered by myself. Upon return, the crew invited me for a cookout (BBQ) and I was keen. However, I glanced at my phone and WhatsApp messages littered my screen. Turns out, I had three invites for a Sunday night in Madison. April said; “heck, you have more friends in Madison than some of us!” I went to the cookout and had a great night, filled with burgers, beers and cookies. This sums up the kind people of Madison, and of Trek.
A few days later, I kept pushing Alex Applegate for an adventure. We planned a micro-adventure from Trek, and the destination was Lake Mills. As he was working that day I rode from Madison to Waterloo. It was filled with tarmac, gravel roads and tons of wind. I rolled into the home of Trek and before long I was in the Bontrager quarters of the HQ, relaxing on the couch and checking out their impressive collection of memorabilia. Stickers and posters were plastered across the back of their desks and on the beer fridge tucked in amongst wheels, skewers, tyres and other components. This was not your typical cooperate office space, and the culture of cycling lives strong inside the HQ.
Once Alex finished up, we packed our overnight bikepacking bags and panniers and headed out from Waterloo to Lake Mills. The distance wasn’t far, but it was more about the experience rather than the distance. Turns out we got a little lost on the way there and ended up doing a few detours, all part of the adventure right?! We rolled into Lake Mills, a small quant village, hung our hammocks and camp was set up.
After that we needed a feed, so we pedaled the short distance to town and pitched up at a divvy pub, as the restaurant Alex wanted to take me to was closed. This was small town ‘Merica after all. The local ball game was on the screen, and the waitress flicked us the menu, which was a small and made up of burgers, hotdogs and fries. We had the special, which was fries and a half pound burger, washed down with a Pabst Blue Ribbon. This is an iconic American lager, and the company was established in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1844 so, it seemed apt to be sipping this local beer. We returned to our campsite, lit the open fire place and munched on some dessert: M&M’s and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, another ‘Merican delicacy!
The next morning, I unzipped the hammock cover to mist settling in around the Lake and a few mosquito bites. We packed up and headed back into Lake Mills for breakfast, which was filter coffee and pancakes. Fueled by the brekkie, we rode through the mist onto the gravel bike paths and ventured through the flat open plains back to Waterloo. This was daily life in Alex’s world and we chatted about more of these types of adventures he’d done.
To give you an inside look, here’s a few faces from behind the brand. I can’t pick out everyone as there’s only so many pages we can print, but this should give you an understanding of the ‘Merican company.
Alex Applegate of Bontrager
Job at Trek/Bontrager: Product Marketing Manager at Bontrager, I get to help tell the stories of all the incredible products we have and how they make cycling better and safer for the rider.
What gets you up in the morning? Our dog Rosy, ha! No I find it is easier to get up when you are genuinely excited about each day. And when I think of all of the truly memorable, amazing experiences I’ve been part of. They all had some element of discomfort or effort involved, and you just don’t get that staying in bed.
What does cycling mean to you? Freedom. Escape. Simplicity. Every morning on the bike path that borders our backyard, a woman rides by and cheerily greets our chickens with “good morning girls”. I can’t help but think how much better her morning is, on the bike, greeting the world, than if she was in a car, dealing with traffic. And that is cycling really, a better way to get around that lets you more fully experience life.
What does the future of cycling look like? The future is awesome. There are more trails and riding options than ever before, more bike lanes and better infrastructure. Bikes are getting better and more versatile. You can do more now on a bike now than ever before. Every kid knows that they love to ride their bike, and I think every adult deep down feels the same, we just need to remind them sometimes. So we need to be inclusive as cyclists and make sure there are no barriers for getting new and returning riders out there and riding. The more the merrier!
April Beard of Bontrager
Job at Trek/Bontrager: Bontrager Helmets and Footwear Product Director
What gets you up in the morning? I get to make product that can save someone’s life and make riding more fun for riders around the world, with co-workers, I call friends, that are as passionate as I am about our common goal!
What does cycling mean to you? Cycling makes the world a better place. It fights obesity, screen time and pollution. Cycling puts you in new and beautiful scenes every time you ride. It’s most fun with friends (and ice cream), and most importantly, it can always put a smile on your face! Cycling makes the world a better place!
What does the future of cycling look like? I think there is promise for the future of cycling. I believe that there will be a shift in priorities and an increase in funding for cycling infrastructure. This will make riding safer, which will increase all types of riding. It will be faster and easier to get around by bike and communities will thrive in this new way of life.
Tony Lemke of Trek
Job at Trek/Bontrager: Road Product Marketing Manager
What gets you up in the morning? A great dawn patrol ride as Matt Shriver calls it.
What does cycling mean to you? Cycling is a big part of my life. Although, for me, it’s also my job. I’m surrounded by it 24-7 and I work with some of the best people in the industry. Cycling also keeps me in check from the crazy world around.
What does the future of cycling look like? The future of cycling looks awesome! We are investing a ton into youth programs, advocacy groups, such as NICA, Places for Bikes, and People for Bikes.
Michael Meyer of Trek
Job at Trek/Bontrager: Director Product Marketing
What gets you up in the morning? There is nothing better than a great bike ride. Everybody who works at Trek is a cyclist and shares the same concerns all riders have. We will continue to develop products to make cyclists faster, safer, more comfortable and have more fun. We are pretty fortunate to have a job/career that is in the bike industry. We work with like-minded people for a very special company. Innovation and the drive to get more people on bikes is a very strong vision for everyone at Trek. It has a very strong family feel.
What does cycling mean to you? It is our life. We are ambassadors, enthusiasts and bike junkies. Ride bikes. Have fun. Feel good.
What does the future of cycling look like? The future is bright, just like a Flare R Taillight. We are doing many things at Trek to get more people on bikes and turn buyers into users and users into ambassadors. Working with People For Bikes and NICA Youth Mountain Bike Racing to get people off the couch, away from screens and outside enjoying all the things that riding a bike can offer. We’re working on other big initiatives like hosting the World Cup Cyclocross Race at Trek HQ and throwing a great party.
Words/Images: Liam Friary/Jeff Kennel
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