Factory Tour: Trek Bicycle Company’s Waterloo Headquarters, Part 1
Our visit to FrostBike this year meant braving the Northern snow covered roads from here to Minneapolis, but it also meant that we had time for brief pit stop in Waterloo to check out what was going on at Trek’s headquarters. It dawned on us that we have never done a true “factory visit” with Trek and it just so happened that the timing worked out perfectly, and we were treated to one of the most comprehensive tours I’ve ever been a part of. As the central nervous system of Trek’s operations, the Waterloo, WI HQ was bustling with activity throughout.
Take a walk through Trek’s halls with us after the break.
Trek’s current campus (first image) resides just on the outskirts of Waterloo, across the street from Briess’ Waterloo Malthouse (if you’re a homebrewer, or really into beer, the delicious malt smells will drive you crazy). However, Trek’s roots spread out from the original red barn shown above where Dick Burke and Bevil Hogg first started making steel touring frames in 1976. In 1980, when Burke recognized the need for expansion to increase their manufacturing capacity, Trek broke ground on their new facility where it currently resides. The original barn is still used by Trek, and an additional building was built adjacent to it to house machines, and other secret stuff that we couldn’t see.
Waterloo is also home to the Farm which houses the Trek owned and maintained Jim’s Trails – which have become Trek’s in house testing grounds so to speak. If you’ve attended Trek World, then you know how good some of the trails are, and they are constantly being improved. We were told they just recently added a new pump track jump line, unfortunately the snow kept us from experiencing it first hand.
As you walk into Trek’s HQ, their mantra is pretty clear, “We believe in Bikes.”
On the other side of the atrium there is a beautiful tribute to Trek’s co-founder and chairman, Dick Burke who sadly passed away in 2008. Dick’s story is told through his son and current head of Trek, John Burke in the moving book, One Last Great Thing.
Representative samples of various eras and styles of Trek’s bicycles greet you as you enter with some of Trek’s earliest steel touring bikes on display. It should probably go without saying, but Trek’s headquarters have had a Lance scrubbing, removing any reference to the Texan. Instead, the new design focuses on bikes in general and the amazing places they can take you, rather than one specific athlete.
Throughout Trek’s offices, group layout is used so that employees are stationed together to perform similar tasks. When you walk into Trek, the marketing/communications side is on the right, and the business/finance department is on the left, though they are reversed in the photo above. There were some clear differences in the layout and office furniture of the two groups – perhaps working with the whole left brain/right brain thing?
Even though the business/finance department has to deal with a sea of cubes, at least they had this sweet keggerator on their side. Sadly, it was empty save for a lone Modello tall boy.
Not too far away from the business group are the offices for Ascend – Trek’s Point of Sale system that many Trek retailers use to run their shops. Sure, it’s not the most glamorous part of Trek’s offices, but having the offices on site allows for easy collaboration between Trek’s other offices and Ascend, which in turn means better support for the dealers – like when your database computer catches on fire, and the Ascend team has to rebuild it from scratch (true story).
Believe it or not, Trek has not always had their own photography and video studio. Bringing everything on site made the logistics of developing creative for various uses quite a bit easier as you can imagine. Plus, there are oil paintings of Gary Fisher, which is always cool. Examples of past work lined the walls next to mannequins in storage.
Trek’s design studio certainly doesn’t look like the typical office setting as you enter. The idea was to create a welcoming space that projected the design aspects to be conveyed in the future bicycles.
Various artwork of Trek’s graphic designers graced the walls as you entered.
Paint, anyone? In an immense display of color, nearly every current shade of paint that Trek has at its disposal was displayed on actual bicycle tubes to help designers choose colors. Just to the right of the photo is the color viewing station that replicates most common spectrums of light so you can see exactly how the paint will look in daylight, fluorescent light, etc. The frames on the wall are various sizes so designers can figure out graphic placement and size on future bikes.
Much of the design room was off limits not only for us to show, but for us to even see. However, this beautiful bicycle design exercise wasn’t off limits. Labeled the 2013 MTB form concept, the design is supposed to be agile, tense, technical, and integrated. Clearly, this was never intended to be a rideable bike, but the striking design may signal future MTB design cues.
One thing you’ll notice if you visit Trek at any point, is that they seem to always be rearranging. Things change, and in order to improve efficiency or create new procedures, the building is reorganized. This part used to be the model bike shop that Trek used to educate retailers, but due to the new store in Madison taking its place, the space is being repurposed.
Like any great bike company, Trek’s cafe is not your typical cafeteria. Bright and airy with vintage Trek bikes and cycling jerseys adorning the walls, employees are treated to an awesome spread for lunch on a daily basis. Want to know what part of Wisconsin your burger came from today? Check the board. Utilizing as much local produce, meats, and cheese as possible, the food is first class – fresh made gourmet sushi, anyone? Interestingly, Trek uses a sort of “junk food tax” placed on the unhealthier options to help subsidize healthier choices like the colossal salad bar spread and keep costs down to eat healthy. Even so, nothing was expensive making it easy for employees to eat well on a daily basis. The cafe also has a library of various books available to any employee on a regular basis.
In order to keep employees healthy and happy, especially in the dead of winter, Trek has a full wellness center on site with a complete gym, aerobics studio, and nearly ever exercise contraption you could imagine. It’s no surprise that next to the stationary bikes in the gym were a set of rollers. Employees can sign up for fitness classes or take part in weight loss challenges that include nutritional coaching on how and what to eat to stay healthy.
In addition to looking out for their own employees, Trek also looks out for others with advocacy projects like the latest Project One Team MTN-Qhubeka project. MTN-Qhubeka is Africa’s first Pro Continental team that is part racing, part philanthropy thanks to their ties to Qhubeka, a South African based program that provides buffalo bikes to children in rural areas in exchange for community service – picking up trash, and the like. The children are able to get their own bikes in addition to bikes for their families with Qhubeka having already distributed over 40,000 bikes with a goal of 200,000 by 2020. In addition to being the bike sponsor for the team, Trek is now donating 200 dollars from every Madone, Domane, or Speed Concept purchased with the MTN-Qhubeka team Project One paint scheme. The money is more than enough for a Buffalo bike meaning those buying a MTN-Qhubeka team Project One bike will actually be buying two bikes, one for themselves and one for a child in Africa.
In addition to bikes and bikes everywhere, the hallways at Trek are no stranger to a little workplace humor.
Expecting more of the above? This is a sneak peek at what is in store for parts 2 and 3. As you may be able to tell, a visit to Trek is very difficult to portray in just one post. Make sure to check back as we get into what you really want to see – a first hand look at Trek’s in-house OCLV carbon manufacturing and race bike and prototype development!
Make sure to check out parts 2 and 3!