by Martin Hendess

What’s the lightest, toughest thing ever to fly down a mountainside?

If you’re pro downhill racer Aaron Gwin, the answer is the Carbon Session 9.9 bike from Trek Bicycle Corp., which was designed using Dell Precision workstations powered by NVIDIA Quadro pro graphics technology.

Downhill mountain racing bikes need to be as light and sturdy as possible to withstand the heavy demands riders put on them. In developing its Carbon Series 9.9 bike, Trek needed to find the ideal weight-to-stress ratio so the bike wouldn’t crack under pressure, and they needed to do it quickly.

Simulating bike frame stress points on a
Quadro-powered Dell workstation

“We wanted to be able to get to as many design iterations as we could and not get bogged down,” said Michael Hammond, a senior industrial designer who leads the design team for Trek’s Mountain Bike division. “The great thing is that everything works with Quadro.”

Using carbon fiber allowed Trek to achieve many of its goals. However, carbon fiber bikes are much more complicated to design and build than bikes built with traditional aluminum materials. Trek needed to translate the geometry of the aluminum frame into the lighter but notoriously more fragile and costly carbon fiber material, balancing speed and durability into a downhill racer’s dream bike.

With Quadro-powered Dell workstations, the Wisconsin-based bike manufacturer created the lightest downhill mountain bike ever made – in half the time as normally required. The bike’s frame tickles the scales at a reported 7.2lbs, with a suggested retail price of $8929.99.

The Trek team went from first sketch to physical prototype in only four months, after testing and simulating about 20 concepts. Before using NVIDIA Quadro GPUs, it took twice as long to get to the prototype stage, and Trek could only test a handful of concepts. The graphics processing power of the Quadro cards allowed the team to render 3D simulations quickly, so any defects in the design process could be fixed immediately and costly rework could be avoided.

“Faster iterations in simulation meant we were able to design the bike more cost-effectively and get to tool prototype much faster,” said Hammond. “On top of it all, the bike has to look good, from its structure and styling to every detail of its functionality.”

How did the bike look to pro racer Gwin? He rode the Carbon Session 9.9 to win the overall World Cup Championship in 2011.

“I think the Carbon Session 9.9 is a step ahead of any other bike that’s out there, which is just a big advantage confidence-wise when you get to a race knowing you have the best bike to ride,” said Gwin.