Bike test: Trek 520 touring bike
The oldest model in Trek’s line-up has had a makeover, gaining bigger clearances and bikepacking mounts, and swapping bar-end controls for brifters.
Not all of the changes are for the better. It’s great that you can fit 29er mountain bike tyres up to about 2.2in wide, but the switch from a steel fork to an aluminium one is strange. With the recommended 60-90psi in the 38mm Bontrager H1 front tyre, vibration from the UK’s ubiquitous chipseal is tangible. The problem is compounded by a steep seat angle that tips your weight forward onto the hands.
The fork uses a ThruSkew axle, which repurposes a QR as a skinny screw-through. It’s no stiffer but is more secure.
The frame has enough heel clearance for big panniers, and enough stiffness that they don’t wag the bike when heavily loaded. While the front rack is capacious and good quality too, I’d rather have had a pair of mudguards.
The new 520 is arguably better as a rough-stuffer than as an all-day mile-eater
Gear shifting is OK, and you can trim the front derailleur’s position a little to avoid chain rub. While lots of riders will welcome the smaller steps of a triple, I’d have chosen an Alpine double (e.g. 40-26). Doubles work better and need no trimming.
The wheels are well built with 36 spokes apiece. Those Bontrager Hard Case tyres feel durable but a bit lifeless. A switch to more supple rubber would pay dividends on road. Yet I’d fit 50-622 Schwalbe G-One Bite tyres instead: the new 520 is arguably better as a rough-stuffer than as an all-day mile-eater.
Like Surly’s Long Haul Trucker, Trek’s 520 is a sturdy tourer with sensible gearing that’ll take fatter tyres for dirt road or off-road adventures. This versatility adds value, though I’d want a longer lay-back seatpost to improve comfort.
Surly Disk Trucker £1,600
Versatile steel ‘monstercross’ bike reviewed in the April/May 2019 issue of Cycle. The 2020 model has 2×11 SRAM brifter gears not bar-cons.