How the Madone Gen 8 was designed, tested, and brought to life

The new do-it-all road bike is the results of a years-long effort using Trek's unique resources

Here’s a secret about Trek’s brand new Madone Gen 8. While the bike was designed for all racers — whether they love long, vicious climbs or laying down enough watts to bust a power meter — there was one person, above all, who engineers wanted to please: Mads Pedersen.

The Lidl-Trek rider deserves this distinction for good reason. The first is the most obvious: He’s a damn good bike racer. Pedersen has won a World Championship, multiple classics, at least one stage of all three Grand Tours, and the points jersey at the Vuelta a España. He is an influential leader within the team. If Mads likes something, people listen.

But in addition to his athletic gifts, he’s also a shrewd ride tester. Anyone who has listened to his post-race interviews knows that he doesn’t mince words. He’s honest and outspoken, but also fair. And he’s as meticulous and in-tune with his equipment as perhaps any bike rider in the world. His feedback has become a barometer by which not just Trek bikes are judged, but products like helmets, too.

Mads Pedersen won the first ever WorldTour race on the Madone Gen 8 when he took Stage 1 of the Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this month. | Photo by Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

“His honesty is believable,” says Scott Daubert, who oversees equipment for Trek’s racing programs. “He’s never asking for something that he doesn’t need. And he’s thoughtful about what he’s asking for. If we’ve got something we want to produce for consumers, and he picks it, then we know we’re all on the same page.”

Last October, on a team visit to Trek headquarters in Waterloo, Wisc., Trek’s road bike engineers took the decorated Dane out for one of the final road tests for the new Madone. After two years of simulations, prototypes, and testing, they had honed the shape of the bike and needed to make one last decision on its carbon laminate. Pedersen had already started his offseason. He had been off his bike for several days after a trip to China. He was worried at the time that he wouldn’t be able to give the bike a fair evaluation, especially while riding on rural, sub-WorldTour quality Wisconsin roads.

Tony Gallopin testing an early version of the Madone Gen 8 at December team camp in 2022.

Trek design engineer Adam Bird handed Pedersen the first of two laminate options — specifically, the option that he secretly hoped Pedersen would prefer. Bird and a cadre of internal ride testers all agreed that it was the best version of the bike, but they had another version ready with a different carbon layup just in case.

“We’re nervous because, of course, he didn’t know what was what. We just gave him two bikes,” Bird says. “He didn’t know that one of them was the bike we wanted him to like. So there was the potential that he picks the other one, or he doesn’t like either of them. We’d make it work, but it’d mean a lot more work, and it would affect the production. 

“But after he rode the first one, he loved it, and we were like, ‘Yes, we got it.'”

Prototype frames ready to go for Circle, Square, Triangle testing among Trek's internal riders.

If that sounds like Trek’s engineers slayed their final boss a little easily … well, yes, maybe they did. But that’s because they had been preparing for the moment for a very long time. Pedersen’s ride test was one of the very last steps of a long, slow, iterative process. The goal from the jump was to make “the ultimate race bike,” merging two road racing platforms — the ultra-light Émonda and the ultra-fast Madone — into one do-it-all speed machine. Making two great bikes better, at the same time, is exactly as agonizingly hard as it sounds. 

Research and development on the new Madone technically started in Summer of 2021. Trek, at the time, was planning on introducing an Émonda Gen 4 to be released in 2023, but in the course of development, engineers realized that they could significantly improve the bike’s pure speed. Rather than try to make an even lighter Émonda that offered little in terms of aerodynamic improvements, they pursued the Holy Grail: A bike that had the best of weight and aero benefits. 

Adam Bird on site at road team camp in December, 2022.

Trek’s road engineers restarted development towards this goal in late 2021 by cutting alloy frames to put into wind tunnel testing to refine the Madone Gen 7’s already best-in-class design. Once they settled on the shape of the frame, they made a tool that could create carbon prototype frames for ride testing. 

The next step was assembling an elite A-Team of ride testers from within Trek HQ. The Bicycle Company has a lot of fast riders within its walls who are eager to lend their legs towards the pursuit of science. The core group was refined down to Trek store design manager Justin Marshall, road bikes and Project One director Jordan Roessingh, former road product manager Max Ackermann, and Daubert, who in addition to his duties in the Trek Race Shop also won a U.S. national cyclocross title last December. Those riders are not only fast, they are well known for their equipment acumen and ability to detect and vocalize subtle differences in ride quality from minor changes. 

Scott Daubert putting the Madone Gen 8 through the paces.

“Trek wanted a lighter Madone. So then it kind of made sense to go, ‘OK, let’s really focus on making an aerodynamic bike lighter,'” Daubert says. “There were no holds barred.” 

That detectability group did their first ride test in November of 2022 in California. There, they did Round 1 of “Circle, Square, Triangle.” In order to avoid even an ounce of unconscious bias seeping into rider feedback, engineers didn’t label the bikes “A, B, C” or “1, 2, 3.” Riders would ride Circle and Square back-to-back, then say which they liked better. Then they’d repeat the process with Square vs. Triangle, and Triangle vs. Circle, and hope that a clear winner emerged from the group. 

Keeping bike setups consistent across tests was paramount to the process. Every time riders swapped bikes, they made sure they were using the exact same wheels and tires, and that bike fits were perfectly aligned, from saddle heights to stem lengths. Bird recalls Roessingh feeling hesitant to give feedback after one ride test because the brake lever throw — the distance between the brake lever and the grip — had been different from one bike to the other.

Early IsoFlow.

Trek’s engineers are an empirically-minded species, but bike design isn’t an exact science.

“Sometimes you contradict yourself. You might not like a bike one time, but like it another time, or vice versa,” Daubert says. “It’s really frustrating if you’re trying to hone your detecting skills, but that’s the way we do it.”

The bike first went in front of Lidl-Trek riders in December of 2022 at team camp in Spain. Otto Vergaerde and former road captain Tony Gallopin took out the prototype bike (at that point, it had no name — Madone, Émonda, or otherwise) and did their own Circle, Square, Triangle testing. Their feedback largely aligned with the internal group’s, which was an important breakthrough: It meant that the test riders in Waterloo were dialed in to what the largely Europe-based pros felt they needed to win.

The bike being worked on during a camp test ride.

The internal group did a series of ride tests at Wildcat State Park in the ensuing months, roughly two hours away from Trek headquarters. Wisconsin may not have any climbs rivaling the Alps or the Pyrenees, but Wildcat’s easily repeatable switchbacks did the job. There, the riders continued the Circle, Square, Triangle process, largely testing new laminates and subtle tweaks to the frame. 

The engineers’ biggest headache wasn’t necessarily making an already fast bike lighter. The Madone Gen 7 gave the Gen 8 team a solid foundation to apply weight-saving techniques that it had developed. The early prototypes received overwhelmingly positive feedback in both climbing and sprinting, suggesting that Trek had achieved its ultimate goal. But there was still one aspect in which the older platforms reigned supreme. 

Otto Vergaerde pushing the pace.

“Throughout the whole day, all the feedback was super positive,” Bird says. “And at the end of the day they compared it to the Madone Gen 7, and I remember Max [Ackermann] telling me, ‘I thought this descent was just super technical and I wasn’t pushing the bike hard enough, but then I rode the Gen 7, and that thing felt like it was on rails.'”

According to Bird, there was no eureka moment to fix the Madone Gen 8’s descending capabilities. Instead, his team began an arduous process of increasing and decreasing stiffness in certain areas of the bike, testing those changes, and gradually reshaping the ride feel to a point where it seemed like the bike could truly do everything well.

“I think from the first couple of test rides, we did not have a good enough product. We kept comparing it to the Madone Gen 7 and the new bike couldn’t measure up,” Daubert says. “And then there was a day when we finally were like, ‘OK, now we got it. Now we’ve improved on the old bike.'”

The internal ride crew taking a break in California.

The internal group did their final test ride in August, 2023, in North Carolina, where a longtime road rider on a competitor’s bike joined the group and sung the Madone’s praises. The same two versions of the bike that Pedersen rode in October went to December team camp in Spain where other top Lidl-Trek riders like Elisa Longo Borghini, Giulio Ciccone, and Jasper Stuyven confirmed exactly what Pedersen and everyone else had experienced.

Longo Borghini had so much faith in Trek’s process, she didn’t bother trying the second version.

“I was like, ‘Well, we want to give you options.’ And she was like, ‘Do I have to? I like this one.'” Bird says. “The riders were sitting on the Madone Gen 8, and they were like, ‘We love the way this descends.’ Over a year ago, we were like, ‘How are we going to figure this out?’ And now we’ve got something excellent.”

In all, Bird estimates that between 30-40 different prototypes were made for the Madone Gen 8, which includes models that were made solely for wind tunnel testing, and roughly 25 carbon laminates, eight of which made it to road testing.

The finished product.

That time, effort, and endless Circle, Square, Triangle testing resulted in a bike that is truly special, with near universal acclaim from Trek’s most demanding customers: The pros whose livelihoods depend on world class equipment. In the end, they had just one outstanding complaint about the bike after the design was finalized and sent to mass production in early 2024. 

“They wanted to ride it earlier,” Daubert says. “They actually asked to race it at Roubaix and Flanders this year. That would have been a few months ahead of when Trek was able to provide enough bikes. But they were calling Trek to say, ‘Hey, we want to ride this now, can you change your launch?'”