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  1. #1
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    First touring bike, Trek 520?

    I read the newbie's guide to touring thread, and while there are recommendations for the 520 in there, I am also finding threads on these forums through google saying the Trek is mediocre and requires too many adjustments off the bat. Some information I am finding on the Trek, is, also, outdated by several years and I'm not sure if maybe they have changed the build quality lately or whatever.

    The closest competitor I seem to be finding is the Surly LHT, however again I find people saying things such as the Trek parts are of higher quality.

    The price range I'd like to stay in is hopefully about $1000-$1200 just for the bike, I am fine with spending more on panniers etc.

    That said, is the Trek still my best shot? I am seeing it in the online store of my local Trek dealer for $1,239, and oddly enough I can't seem to find many places to buy new Trek 520s online in order to compare prices. Is this what I should expect? I saw on another bike review site that a reviewer purchased it for about $800, however I'm not sure what year this was in.

    I basically have a lot of these questions because I'm currently in a small town in the mountains and won't be back in San Diego to where I can physically go check out these places for a little while.

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    nun
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    The Trek 520 and the LHT are both fine bikes. The one issue the Trek has is poor factory
    gearing, but any LBS will be able to fix that by installing a 110/74 triple with something like
    46-36-24 rings. Don't think too much about the bike at the beginning, just get one that you like
    and ride. If you really get into this you'll probably end up tweaking your original bike
    and then buy one that's informed by a few trips and wisdom you gain.

    Welcome to the Club,,,.......

  3. #3
    Senior Member sykerocker's Avatar
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    Figure that it's going to be impossible to get yourself a perfect touring bike straight out of the shop - you're going to do lots of customization (personalization?) to it to get it to the point where it's going to be an excellent long distance ride.

    Follow the advice of others and find a frame that feels good to you. Some immediate changes (like gearing) are going to be obvious from the reports, and can be arranged before delivery. Other changes are going to come in time, as you get used to the bike.
    Syke

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    During this past winter I was searching for just the right new touring bike, looked at a LHT, Cannondale T2 and Trek 520. Would like to get all three, ride them for about 3 years; keep the one I liked best and take the other two back. Being that is a wacky smoke dream, a 520 came home with me a few weeks ago.
    I really thought I was going to like the LHT- but it felt a little clunky to ride, plus the fit wasn't just right.
    My wife has a Cannondale T2000, so when I tried the T2 I was biased in favor of it. It was ok, really wanted bar end shifters (just my choice). The 520 was not the bike I had in mind- but I liked it the best.
    The ride was a little sportier yet not unstable (hit 50+ km the other day- still stable). Liked the bar ends and V-brakes. Put Koolstop pads on the V-brakes- the bike stops well, better than the other models. So I've had the 520 just a few weeks, put a couple hundred km on it- unloaded. Still tweaking the saddle, handlebars & seat adjustment to get it just right. Trying to wear an objective hat here-
    all three bikes were just about the same. All really good choices, all needing some tweaking to get them optimal for each rider. I have NO buyer's remorse with the 520.

  5. #5
    Senior Member kamoke's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by virgilnilson View Post
    I read the newbie's guide to touring thread, and while there are recommendations for the 520 in there, I am also finding threads on these forums through google saying the Trek is mediocre and requires too many adjustments off the bat. Some information I am finding on the Trek, is, also, outdated by several years and I'm not sure if maybe they have changed the build quality lately or whatever.

    The closest competitor I seem to be finding is the Surly LHT, however again I find people saying things such as the Trek parts are of higher quality.

    The price range I'd like to stay in is hopefully about $1000-$1200 just for the bike, I am fine with spending more on panniers etc.

    That said, is the Trek still my best shot? I am seeing it in the online store of my local Trek dealer for $1,239, and oddly enough I can't seem to find many places to buy new Trek 520s online in order to compare prices. Is this what I should expect? I saw on another bike review site that a reviewer purchased it for about $800, however I'm not sure what year this was in.

    I basically have a lot of these questions because I'm currently in a small town in the mountains and won't be back in San Diego to where I can physically go check out these places for a little while.

    Thanks.
    In my opinion, a stock 520 will do the job just fine. If this is your first touring bike then maybe you won't quite know what works best for you anyway. After riding it for some time you might realize the gearing could be better, or a better saddle is in order.. Personally, I've not had any qualms with the trek 520 as is.

  6. #6
    bicycle tourer Johnrs2117's Avatar
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    I have both a Trek 520 and a Surly LHT. Both bikes are high quality and do the job that they were designed for. I built both bikes up from frames so I didn't have some of the downfalls of the complete bikes (on both models). Here is my opinion on both frames since I have ridden the trek for about 4 years and the Surly for 2.

    The trek is an excellent frames with a slightly upright riding position but down for winds. I put a 48/38/28 triple on it and it is perfect for long days in the saddle with medium loads. I don't use it for heavy self-contained touring since I have the Surly. The bike is great for pavement and well packed dirt roads. The 700c wheels make it efficient on pavement and hills. The width of a tire is limited to around 38 mm.

    The Surly LHT has a more upright position than the Trek. It is great for long days in the saddle and the bike will carry very heavy loads. I outfitted my Surly with a 44/34/24 (a 46 large ring is also an excellent choice) and I use the bike for pavement, dirt and gravel roads. It works better than the Trek. The smaller frame LHT come with 26 wheels which is great for countries outside the US and for getting wide tires. I run 26 x 40mm tires on my LHT. The LHT can even take knobby tires. (The 52 and larger frames use 700c wheels which will limit your tire width choices). The 26 wheels are a little less efficient than the 700c but I use my bike for rougher roads than the Trek.

    I short, I use my trek for centuries, long day rides, commuting, light to medium touring on good roads. I use my LHT for heavy touring, traveling to Europe, and any where I may experience dirt roads (like out west, Europe and Great Britain, and up North and Canada.

    If you want to look at more information and comparison of the two bikes go to

    http://www.bicycle-touring-guide.com...g-bicycle.html

    It may help you more. If you have any direct questions for me just contact me through this forum. I will be glad to answer any questions.

    Keep touring,
    John

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    I don't have a touring bike, I have a hybrid. It works, is comfortable and carries the weight that I want it to. Some people will tell you that a steel frame is the way to go, I don't really know if it is better. Just know that you can tour on anything, as long as you are comfortable it doesn't really matter what you use. Ask yourself where you plan to go, now and in the future. If you plan to go over seas then consider getting a bike that folds down. Surly makes one, that is a LHT that can fit into a package smaller then a bike box. Taking a bike box on a plane is a pain, and it cost money to bring a bike, and with the price of fuel, it can only be going up in the future. If you do plan some long tours, you will want to invest in good component (XT) which probably don't come with you bike (not for the $1200 range at least). Touring is a journey, so is building you bike.

  8. #8
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    Thanks for the replies, guys.

    I must say that John's post about the LHT hit home because I am planning to go touring in Europe (Venice -> Barcelona at first) come June, and so will most likely be dealing with heavy loads and iffy roads. I am also really liking the fact that it is coming in at a couple hundred dollars under the Trek.

    I will still need to see which bike feels better, of course.

    Any further comments would be appreciated, especially critical of the differences between the LHT and 520.

  9. #9
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by virgilnilson View Post
    I read the newbie's guide to touring thread, and while there are recommendations for the 520 in there, I am also finding threads on these forums through google saying the Trek is mediocre and requires too many adjustments off the bat. Some information I am finding on the Trek, is, also, outdated by several years and I'm not sure if maybe they have changed the build quality lately or whatever.

    The closest competitor I seem to be finding is the Surly LHT, however again I find people saying things such as the Trek parts are of higher quality.

    The price range I'd like to stay in is hopefully about $1000-$1200 just for the bike, I am fine with spending more on panniers etc.
    The 2008 Trek is better but not perfect. The gearing is lower than in the past but it still lacks the low gear that you want for touring. The Tiagra 50/39/30 stock gearing has too high a low for riding up long hills with a 50 lb load. You can put a 24 tooth inner on the bike but it should come stock with that kind of gearing to begin with...if Trek were doing their homework.

    Kudos to Trek for putting the proper brake levers with the V-brake rather than trying to do a Travelagent adapter. The rear rack is okay and will probably do the job but it's a little flimsy looking. A rack with rod stays is stiffer and sways less than one with flat stays.

    The LHT has the proper gearing right out of the box. Surly did a little more homework and got things right the first time so that you don't end up having to tweak stuff too much.

    Quote Originally Posted by virgilnilson View Post
    That said, is the Trek still my best shot? I am seeing it in the online store of my local Trek dealer for $1,239, and oddly enough I can't seem to find many places to buy new Trek 520s online in order to compare prices. Is this what I should expect? I saw on another bike review site that a reviewer purchased it for about $800, however I'm not sure what year this was in.

    I basically have a lot of these questions because I'm currently in a small town in the mountains and won't be back in San Diego to where I can physically go check out these places for a little while.

    Thanks.
    I don't think Trek allows on-line sales. You might see it at your local dealer in an on-line catalogue but I don't think they can sell it over the net. You may be able to work out some arrangement with the dealer but don't expect to find them on-line.

    The LHT can be purchased on-line at a few places...JensonUSA comes to mind. I usually council against buying a bicycle on-line for various reasons, but for you that may be your only option.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member BengeBoy's Avatar
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    Virgilnilson,

    I own a Trek 520 that I'm happy with, but I think I would have been equally happy with a LHT. I just couldn't find one in my size when I was ready to buy. (I couldn't find a stock 520 in my size to ride, either, but I got mine used over eBay).

    Just to repeat what many above have said -- any bike will require some tweaks over time. The LHT stock saddle is crap in my opinion, by so is the Trek's. The Trek gearing is too high, but the dealer ought to be willing to swap out to a proper gear range for a modest cost (or free).

    If my Trek were stolen today, I would probably go for the LHT just because it's a couple hundred dollars cheaper but frankly I'd check eBay or Craigslist and if I found a used version of either one I'd snap it up and go from there.

  11. #11
    bicycle tourer Johnrs2117's Avatar
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    Virgilnilson,

    With response to the difference between LHT and 520, the frame geometries are slightly different for the same size bikes. The top tube on the 520 is slightly longer than the top tube on the LHT, which gives you a more spread out to handle bars. The head tube on the LHT is definitely longer than the 520 which brings the handle bar in closer to the seat. Everything can be adjusted easily by changing out the stems.

    But I like the LHT for long touring since the top tube and longer head tube on the LHT gives me a more upright position for touring and sightseeing. However, I like the 520 more for long rides in wind since I can get lower naturally due to the lower top tube. I keep my handle bar on the 520 about even with my seat height (really about 1.2" lower) and about 1" higher than the seat for the LHT for a very upright position.

    Let me say that both bikes are excellent riding and are high quality. You can't go wrong on either one for the money. When I brought my LHT a few years ago, it wasn't that well known. However, the popularity has grown significantly due to the value/ride characteristics per cost. I have a friend that does as much touring as I have done and maybe a little more and he brought a LHT last year after test riding my bike. He loves his LHT too for heavy touring.

    By the way, I had my LHT fitted with a BTC (coupling to break down the bike) for traveling. The LHT is my traveling bike because of the BTC. If I had my 520 fitted with the BTC, I would use it for traveling also, but it would be too expensive to do both bikes though.

    John

  12. #12
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    Get a touring bike with a good frame because you can't tweak that. It should fit you and should have good geometry for carrying a load. Everything else is "tweakable." It would be nice to buy a bike that needs no tweaking, but most of us become so obsessive that we look for perfection in every component. I myself have bought many duplicate things, trying to see which was the best. I have several saddles, several stems, two front racks (both brand new), three mirrors, etc.

    I bought a Nashbar touring bike in 1992. I bought it because it was cheap and because it fit. I'm 6'4", and had previously dealt with a frame that was a little too small. The Nashbar fit great. However, the frame geometry was not right for loaded touring. Unloaded day rides were great, but when I loaded it up there was a tremendous amount of shimmy whenever I got going fast. Steep downhills were an adventure! It felt like the bike was going to shimmy itself to pieces! Loading my panniers more carefully helped, but I could never make the shimmy go away.

    A well-designed, well-constructed frame shouldn't allow this. I bought a LHT frame last fall and have built it up. It rides great, but I have yet to take it on its first loaded tour. I'm hoping it will feel as solid as advertised with no shimmy. I'll report back after the first tour.

  13. #13
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    i did my first tour on a 520 with 65 pounds of gear and water. I weigh close to 200.

    I did change out the gearing, putting on a mountain bike crank and changed the front rings (the low one is a 22). I replaced the 32 on the back with a 34 - the gearing was fine for crossing the rockes. I'm a spinner, and could maintain 80-90 going up mountains at about 3 mph. worked great.

    the bike worked great too. took a while to get used to bar end shifters, but they left room for a large jannd handlebar bag, so I'm keeping them on there. easier to shift from the drops with a big wobbly load going real slow. nice not to have to move the hands around much to shift.

    the frame on the 520 rides like a dream under load.
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  14. #14
    Senior Member tarwheel's Avatar
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    To me the big issue is fit. Choose the model that fits you better. In my case, I could never ride the Trek and don't see how many people could. The geometry is ridiculous -- very long top tube and very short head tube. But if you like to stretch out and can handle a good bit of drop from your saddle height to handlebar, the Trek is probably a bit lighter than the LHT.

  15. #15
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    I got a 520 in 1983 and rode it for 23 years before parts cost and availability convinced me to buy a new bike. I looked at the LHT and others, and found that the LHT was going to be quite a bit more expensive than the Trek with similar components attached. I compared the new Trek with my old one and decided like most people here that the gearing was too high. The bike was to come with a Shimano Deore LX rearend (for mtb) and a Shimano 105 crankset (road bike) and I told the shop when I ordered the bike that I wanted the Deore LX crankset. That was a no charge substitution and I've been very happy with the configuration.

    I've since bought a new saddle and tweaked the stem a lot to raise the handlebars to a comfortable level. Changing the stem was a no-charge item at this shop also.

    By the way, I haven't found any shops that carry touring bikes, so you will have to order whatever you decide on. Just make sure that if you don't like it you can return it without paying a fee. My local shop was very good about that.

    Good luck!

    John

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    i'm also looking at getting a touring bike. i wanted a custom from waterford or something but i've opted to get an "off the shelf" bike to save money. my options seem limited to the trek 520, surly long haul trucker, and jamis aurora based on stand over height alone. i have ZERO idea which direction to go in because i really won't know how the bike will feel until i have it in my hands, load it up, and sit in the saddle for hours on end.


  17. #17
    M_S
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    I was in a LBS the other day and noticed that the 520 they had on display had an Ultegra crank instead of the listed Tiagra, a pretty big upgrade. Anyone know why this might be? Maybe just the shop swapping it out? I thinkt hey were asking MSRP though.

  18. #18
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    I've been looking at the LHT and 520 since last year, when I realized that my hybrid wouldn't cut it for anything more than a day trip (it had a road geometry and would oscillate under load).

    To the americans out there, please don't laugh, the Canadian prices haven't been adjusted to reflect the parity with the US dollar. The prices are the actual price you need to pay to get one at various LBSs around Montreal. Sad but true.

    Price: 520: ~1400$; LHT: ~1200$. LHT wins.

    Frame: equivalent in my opinion - 520 has 5 sizes; LHT has 9.
    Fork: equivalent

    Wheels: Both 36 holes. 520: Deore LX hubs; LHT: Deore XT hubs. I don't know nothing about rims so I'll assume they're equivalent. Equivalent if 520's rims are better, or LHT wins.
    Tires: 700x32c Bontrager vs 700x35c Continental. Both good tires I guess, haven't tried any of them.

    Shifters: Both Dura-Ace bar-end. Tie.
    Front Derailler: Both Tiagra. Tie.
    Rear Derailler: 520: Deore LX; LHT: Deore XT. LHT wins.
    Gearing: 520: not low enough; LHT: fine by me. Tied because most LBS can change gearing without a fuss so it isn't really an issue.
    Crank: 520: Tiagra; LHT: Sugino; I prefer Tiagra. 520 wins.

    Saddle: Unless you upgrade to a proper leather saddle, you might as well sit directly on the seatpost.

    Brakes: I don't really know either. I think they might be equivalent. I may be wrong here.

    Rack: 520: light rack; LHT: no rack. I prefer paying a few bucks less and choosing my own rack. The one on the 520 is a bit weak IMO.
    Pedals: 520: Shimano PD-M520; LHT: none. Normally, I'd prefer no pedals, but since I used the ones I already have, which are incidentally PD-M520s, 520 wins.

    Handlebar, stems, seatpost: I don't know nothing about those items; They all look the same to me. Instead of inventing something stupid, I'll say they're equivalent on both bikes.

    So, in terms of equipment, I think the LHT might have a slight advantage, but if you factor in the price, the LHT has a definite advantage.

    Now, There's also other things to consider:

    I wasn't able to try the 520 but I did test-drive the LHT. Can't compare both, but the LHT felt good. But, who knows what the bike will feel like after 8 hours in on a gravel road... A short testdrive can point out serious caveats, but the decision is still somewhat a shot in the dark.

    The 520 has history. The LHT doesn't. Both have good reps.

    I'm not sure about this, but I think that the markup is less on the Surly. That would explain why many of the "official Surly dealers" don't even have a floor model. It might explain the better bang for the buck.

    So, after thinking it out, I decided to go with the LHT. Money was an issue and while I wouldn't have hesitated to buy a better bike for an extra 200$, I couldn't really go and spend 200$ more to have, in many instances, lesser components.

    And yes, this post is highly subjective. As I mentioned earlier, I did end up getting a LHT

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by jpmartineau View Post
    Brakes: I don't really know either. I think they might be equivalent. I may be wrong here.
    I don't know what I was thinking. 520 has V-Brakes. I like V-brakes, so 520 wins.

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    Quote Originally Posted by M_S View Post
    I was in a LBS the other day and noticed that the 520 they had on display had an Ultegra crank instead of the listed Tiagra, a pretty big upgrade. Anyone know why this might be? Maybe just the shop swapping it out? I thinkt hey were asking MSRP though.
    The one I purchased from a dedicated Trek dealer shop in Tucson, AZ was also equipped with an Ultegra crank, and for less than MSRP. I didn't question it, I had figured someone had ordered it and then pulled out on the deal, odd there is another one out there though, where was the shop?

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    I went ahead and ordered a LHT through my LBS yesterday, hopefully it doesn't suck. =]

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    Quote Originally Posted by nun View Post
    The one issue the Trek has is poor factory
    gearing,
    You might want to check out the Bruce Gordon touring bikes - I think they have the right gearing for Loaded Touring. Besides - I'm almost caught up so deliery time is running about 4 to 5 weeks.
    Regards,
    Bruce Gordon
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    I had a 520, but switched to a LHT.

    The 520 came with the wrong gearing for touring. This fact has been much discussed on these forums. The LBS swapped out the front of the drivetrain for an LX crank and chain rings. Otherwise, the parts on the 520 were a good set. The wheels performed very well for several years. The V-brakes are better, I think, than LHT's cantilevers.

    But... I had more than one 520 frame *break* under me. Yes. Once, the downtube cracked right above the bottom bracket. Another time the downtube cracked at the upper bottle-cage bosses. Both of these incidents happened in a space of about only two years after I bought the bike.

    I used the bike simply for utility cycling and touring. The bike endured no special abuse-- at least, no more than it should have been built to withstand. (I'm not especially heavy, though I would often use the bike to carry heavy loads.)

    The first time, I assumed I had just had the bad luck to have a poorly built frame.

    After the first time, I suspected something was just wrong with the 520 frames of that period (04-05, or thereabouts). So, I decided to go with an LHT, rather than pay to put components on yet another Trek frame. The Trek warranty replaced the frame for free, but I had to pay for the LBS labor in putting all the components on the new frame. There was even less reason to stay with Trek, then.

    To this day, I'm not sure exactly why these failures happened. The 520 does not have these problems ordinarily, as far as I can tell. Nevertheless, that more than one frame broke gives me pause about the 520.

    The LHT is heavier, but stiffer, frame. It has thicker tubing walls. The 520 had a bit of flex in the bottom bracket during stand-and-crank riding. The LHT is inflexible. In principle, this difference should predict nothing about frame strength in well-built bikes. Given my experience with the 520, I preferred the greater stiffness of the LHT.

    I've had no problems at all with the LHT, and have been very happy with it. I have the largest 26"-wheeled frame. I prefer that to the 700c wheels of the 520.

  24. #24
    Senior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by Merriwether View Post
    But... I had more than one 520 frame *break* under me. Yes. Once, the downtube cracked right above the bottom bracket. Another time the downtube cracked at the upper bottle-cage bosses. Both of these incidents happened in a space of about only two years after I bought the bike.
    Ever been struck by lightning???

  25. #25
    Senior Member Raffi's Avatar
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    LHT: Luggin'a Heavy Tube. I saw good reviews, hated the colors. I went to the LBS and picked up a real small one with 26" rims. It's got to be made with that steel they use for gas pipes. It's heavy!
    I bought the 520, so far... true love!
    If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space!

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