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Old 02-03-08, 11:37 AM   #1
bicycleboy
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Surly LHT vs Trek 520

I am looking to get one of these touring bikes for my trip cross country this summer -- what do you all feel about these 2. I am relatively new to bike touring so I am not 'in the know' by any means when it comes to bike specifics. Thanks for any help/advice.
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Old 02-03-08, 11:53 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by bicycleboy View Post
I am looking to get one of these touring bikes for my trip cross country this summer -- what do you all feel about these 2. I am relatively new to bike touring so I am not 'in the know' by any means when it comes to bike specifics. Thanks for any help/advice.
If you are buy a complete bike, the LHT wins hands down on price. They go for around $1000 for what I consider the second best touring bike on the market. The 520 isn't my choice for first either If you want to build one, expect the price of the LHT to be about the same as the 520.

Comparing the geometries of the two bikes, the LHT has a better design for loaded touring and will cause less problems with pannier fit then the 520.

If you want, in my opinion, the best production touring bike out there, look at a Cannondale T2. About the same price as the 520 but more than the LHT complete but the component spec on the Cannondale is a bit better. I like the ride of the stiff aluminum Cannondale for a large guy like me, especially when loaded. Steel bikes I've tried for touring have been to whippy for my tastes. The fact that the frame is US made is a bonus as well.
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Old 02-03-08, 11:55 AM   #3
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here we go again... they are both good. i'd choose based on color no actually i mean fit.
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Old 02-03-08, 12:28 PM   #4
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Ah, make your choice based on your opinion of your local bike shop. Surly, Cannondale, Trek...all are quality bikes. What kind of support the local shop gives you is the deal maker. See about buying racks and panniers at the same time as the bike. Add up the total price. Many shops will work with you and get a soild set up for a reasonable price.

Good luck,

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Old 02-03-08, 12:55 PM   #5
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Ah, make your choice based on your opinion of your local bike shop. Surly, Cannondale, Trek...all are quality bikes. What kind of support the local shop gives you is the deal maker. See about buying racks and panniers at the same time as the bike. Add up the total price. Many shops will work with you and get a soild set up for a reasonable price.

Good luck,

tacomee
This is really good advice.

(I ride a LHT which I built up from the frame but it was about $1800 before I was done.)
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Old 02-03-08, 01:03 PM   #6
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LHT hands down.. it's mostly ready to go. Swap out the tires for something really rugged like a Schwalbe Marathon or something. The tire I'd like to have going cross country is their Marathon Supreme. Start a new thread if you want to talk about tires.
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Old 02-03-08, 02:06 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by bicycleboy View Post
I am looking to get one of these touring bikes for my trip cross country this summer -- what do you all feel about these 2. I am relatively new to bike touring so I am not 'in the know' by any means when it comes to bike specifics. Thanks for any help/advice.
One advantage to the LHT is that it is purchased through Quality Bicycle Parts. Probably 80-90% of the bike shops in the US also get parts through QBP. If you were on the road and had a bike related issue, such as a frame or fork problem due to a crash, you could go to just about any bike shop for assistance. You would not need to find a dealer for a specific brand. This could really help in a worst case situation.
I recently finished my LHT (See My New LHT Build thread for picture) and am having a really good time with it. Obviously I am going to be biased toward the LHT because we all like validation of our choices and like to think that we made the best choice. The 520 has a great track record as well so you really can't go wrong with either one. Buy the one that appeals to you more and don't obsess that you made the wrong choice. The differences between the two bikes are minimal at best.
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Old 02-03-08, 02:58 PM   #8
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here we go again... they are both good. i'd choose based on color no actually i mean fit.
+1

One nit is that the gearing on the stock 520 is a little high. Not that you can't get that fixed, I'm just sayin.

Another nit is that the 520 uses linear pull brakes while the LHT uses traditional cantis.

The 520 is black, the LHT comes in utility blue, and that puke green that, for some unfathomable (to me at least) reason is very popular. Now why can't Surly do the complete LHT in the cherry red?

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Old 02-03-08, 03:36 PM   #9
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The challenge with a Trek 520 is getting a bargain on one--most owners know exactly what they have, and price them accordingly. (I have a 1985 Trek 720 and love it. If you find one of those in decent shape, buy it.) I am now building up an LHT.
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Old 02-03-08, 03:47 PM   #10
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Both good bikes. I chose the LHT because of better gearing for touring on the stock bike, allowance for wider tires with fenders, and more of an option with stem/handlebar height (due to the fact that Surly ships them with uncut steer tubes). Price was an added bonus.
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Old 02-03-08, 08:34 PM   #11
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I'm constantly on the lookout for a 25" lugged Trek 520.
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Old 02-03-08, 10:17 PM   #12
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Obviously I am going to be biased toward the LHT because we all like validation of our choices and like to think that we made the best choice.
That is why the 520 is clearly the better choice!

I got my 520 on sale, it was the smallest size, had been sitting new in the store for 3 years, it was on sales, and I asked for an even deeper discount...... $650 out the door with free swap-out for rings & stem.
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Old 02-04-08, 05:30 AM   #13
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I'm constantly on the lookout for a 25" lugged Trek 520.
So are lots of Trek collectors like me, which is why it's difficult to get a "deal" on one.
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Old 02-11-08, 02:22 AM   #14
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i'm too lazy to go take another look to be sure, but i seem to recall that this years trek no longer has a braze-on for front panniers.
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Old 02-11-08, 08:12 AM   #15
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i'm too lazy to go take another look to be sure, but i seem to recall that this years trek no longer has a braze-on for front panniers.
The picture on their web site shows it.
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Old 02-11-08, 10:35 AM   #16
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here we go again... they are both good. i'd choose based on color no actually i mean fit.
Hard to beat that LHT red.
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Old 02-11-08, 11:06 AM   #17
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I was in the same situation a little over a year ago. I called about 20 bike shops in Michigan until I found a 2004 520 in stock for $699. I bought it the next week. Had I found a LHT on sale, I would've bought that instead.
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Old 02-11-08, 05:25 PM   #18
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among the bikes mentioned;
each model might have an attribute
with a potential edge over another model.
So the sum of everyone's collective advise-
find one that fits you, buy it & ride it.
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Old 02-11-08, 06:01 PM   #19
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I went on a TransAm trip last summer with a friend of mine. She was on a stock LHT, I was on a new 520. After seeing how both bikes handled the trip, I would happily trade my 520 for an LHT. Here's some pros and cons I found with the stock bikes:

LHT - Stock tires were terrible... soft, slow rolling, and prone to flats. The wheels were much sturdier (partly due to their 26" size), required less attention than my wheels did, and seemed to have a harder, better wearing braking surface. The hubs are a notch higher too.

The brakes were weaker than the 520, but the hood were much more comfortable. The actual on the road difference in braking power between the two isn't much.

It has a 1 1/8" threadless steerer and headset, which I think is a good thing.

Plenty of tire clearance with fenders. Rubbing will not be an issue.

Much, much better gearing and cranks. The cranks are square tapered, which I think is an advantage for a touring bike.

520 - Weak wheels. After the tour mine were pretty much shot. The seals on the front hub weren't that great (I think it was a fluke, not a testament to LX quality), and the rims were just bad. There are cracks around several eyelets and much more rim wear than the LHT wheels. I only weigh 140lbs, with a totally loaded bike I was around 240lbs total weight at the absolute heaviest. My rims shouldn't show that kind of wear.

I liked the v-style brakes, but wouldn't make it a deciding factor. They were very strong, but the hoods weren't too comfy. There are better v-brake road levers out there this year, which might make v-brakes a real option for touring.

The biggest shot against it is the 1" threadless headset. Really Trek, what were you thinking? The joke is they built a bunch of frames in '85 and just paint them a different color every year.

Pretty tight fender clearance in the back, at least compared to the LHT. Even some 32c tires might rub if things aren't set up right. I did manage to put 35c Invert Hardcase tires under Planet Bike fenders without any rubbing tho.

The gearing is notoriously high. Mine came with an Ultegra octalink triple, which I kept. I was well aware of the high gearing, but in all honesty, I left the gearing to see if i could make it cross country without pushing the bike. I did, but with a fully loaded bike weighing as much as 70% of my body weight, the Ozarks in Missouri hurt. A mountain bike spread on a square taper bb would be better.

In all both bikes made it across the country with only flat tires, eight flats on the stock LHT tires, two on the stock 520 tires, and one on replacement tires (yay Continentals and Schwalbes). The LHT wore a little better, mostly in the wheels. Her LHT still looks pretty new and my 520 is pretty haggered. With the XT components, stronger wheels, and lower price tag, I think it's a better buy.
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Old 02-12-08, 07:08 AM   #20
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PhatTyre...thanks for the review! What was the total riding weight for friend's LHT?
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Old 02-12-08, 07:44 AM   #21
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520 - Weak wheels. After the tour mine were pretty much shot. The seals on the front hub weren't that great (I think it was a fluke, not a testament to LX quality), and the rims were just bad. There are cracks around several eyelets and much more rim wear than the LHT wheels. I only weigh 140lbs, with a totally loaded bike I was around 240lbs total weight at the absolute heaviest. My rims shouldn't show that kind of wear.
I had the wheels on my 520 stress relieved and tensioned by a local guy after I bought it. I've done this whenever I purchase new, factory wheels. Probably always a good idea with a new bike. The 520 has about 8,000 miles now, including a cyclocross season. If I wash them, they still look new. I agree with the comment about the tight fenders. Definitely took some adjusting to fit Planet Bike fenders on with the stock tires.

Why do the smaller LHT frames come with 26" wheels? Is this to keep fit issues at bay? I remember this being another factor in choosing the 520, besides finding it in stock and on sale.
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Old 02-12-08, 08:30 AM   #22
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I find it hard to believe your 'new' 520 had a 1 inch threadless steerer, mine is '07 and it's 1 1/8 and so is the new '08 model...

As for fender clearance, no problem for me, even with 38mm Marathon Plus tyres. In fact I had no rim problems on tour either! So I seem to have had a vastly different experience than you!
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Old 02-12-08, 11:15 PM   #23
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Both good bikes. I chose the LHT because of better gearing for touring on the stock bike, allowance for wider tires with fenders, and more of an option with stem/handlebar height (due to the fact that Surly ships them with uncut steer tubes). Price was an added bonus.
I'm trying to understand this 'better gearing' comment, which I've read from other writers as well. Understand that my perspective is from riding a 1978 bike that came with a 5-speed cassette, upgraded to a 6-speed in 1993 and ridden thousands of miles (mostly with no or light loads). I toured down the Pacific Coast fully loaded on this bike. It's got 52-42 chainrings and 14-16-18-22-26-30 in the back with 27 x 1.25 tires and 165mm cranks. According to Sheldon Brown's Bicycle Gear Calculator the lowest gear is 37.8 gear inches (GI) and the high is 100.3. Most hills around here I can get up in the next lowest gear, 43.6 GI, with no load. Admittedly my cadence drops way down. I've even climbed Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island on it (it was hard).

I ran the calculator for some touring bikes I'm considering:

Trek 520: 50-39-30 with 11-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-32: High 122.7 GI, Low 25.3 GI
Bianchi Volpe: 48-38-28 with 11-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-32: High 117.8 GI, Low 23.6 GI
REI Randonee: 48-36-26 with 11-12-14-16-18-21-24-28-32: High 117.8 GI, Low 21.9 GI
Surly LHT: 46-36-26 with 11-13-15-17-20-23-26-30-34: High 112.9 GI, Low 20.6 GI

The LHT with 26" wheels comes out even lower at 18.7 GI.

All of these have a significantly lower gear than I've ever ridden, and the high is also higher. The core question: Is it worth fretting about the differences in the gearing on these four bikes? I'm planning a fully-loaded tour with the North Cascades Highway (WA 20) across Washington as the first leg (Adventure Cycling Northern Tier route?).

I'm fortunate to have LBS access to all of these bikes (but not in the same store). There are also some steep hills in Bellingham I could try them on. My gut says that any of them would be a decent choice, pricing is similar, and it really comes down to how it feels and handles when riding. Any one would be a big step up from my old faithful.
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Old 02-13-08, 10:57 AM   #24
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The core question: Is it worth fretting about the differences in the gearing on these four bikes?
Hi Mark,

My definitive answer to this question is "yes" and "no."

No, because changing the gearing is not that expensive. I bought my Trek 520 lightly used and immediately swapped out the crankset because I'm a fan of low gearing. I bought a new crank for $99 on eBay, sold my old one for $75, and paid a mechanic $30 to swap them for me. So I would never let gearing get in the way of buying the right bike because it's just not that hard, time-consuming or expensive to switch.

Yes, I would change the gearing. Mind you, I am -- and always have been -- a fan of super-low gearing. You mentioned you made it "up" Mt. Constitution, but it was "hard." I never had a problem getting "up" anything but I don't like climbing hills to be hard...especially when it's windy, I'm tired, I'm loaded down, I'm feeling lazy, I have a cold, etc. When I'm on my bike, I'm the boss, and my gears work for me, not the other way around. So the crank on my Trek is 44-32-22. I ride lots of hills here in Seattle, too (and I live at the bottom of a big hill), and I use my granny gear almost every day, though rarely do I use the very lowest gear..but nice to know it's there.

The other advantage of changing the crank is that I find that the whole gear range is just more comfortable to me when I am loaded. With the stock Trek crank, I was not really using the top of the range that much (look at a gearing calculator to see how fast you'd be going to "spin out" in your high gears on the stock gear -- do you need to tour at that speed?) -- but once I lowered the gearing I find I am riding all over all 3 chain rings on almost every ride. On almost any flat I'm in my big gears; the middle chain ring is for small slopes; and I pull out the granny gear when I need to flatten a big climb.

Not only do I stand a better chance of finding the right gear in any condition, I am also wearing out my chainrings more evenly (not just using the middle one).

As for your choices -- I looked at exactly the same 4 bikes you are looking at. I rejected the Volpe because the chainstay is a bit shorter than the other three; I have big feet and I was worried about heel strike.

I was willing to buy any of the other 3 bikes (and I budgeted to make minor parts swaps on any of the 3), but I bought the Trek 'cause I found a good deal on a used one. If I had to buy a new bike right now in this price range I'd get the Surly LHT complete, but as I said a deal on any of them is worth doing.

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Old 02-13-08, 11:09 AM   #25
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I find it hard to believe your 'new' 520 had a 1 inch threadless steerer, mine is '07 and it's 1 1/8 and so is the new '08 model...

As for fender clearance, no problem for me, even with 38mm Marathon Plus tyres. In fact I had no rim problems on tour either! So I seem to have had a vastly different experience than you!
I have a 94 model 520 purchased some years ago. I was recently suprised to find that I could not fit my G-Berthoud stainless fenders to the bike if using my 32 Marathon Supreme Plus tires, which are my long distance touring tires. With 28mm Conti 4 Season's (daily tires) they fit. With he 32mm Marathons I never could get enough clearance to miss the rear tire.

Of course, the GB fenders are pretty inflexible. With the Alum-Plastic SGS fenders or Planet Bike fenders you can probably arch it enough to fit.

The fender issue may be a clincher for me. I was planning to upgrade to 9 speed and having the bike repainted under Trek's program. Now I may just sell it and get another bike.
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