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  1. #1
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    Sorry. 520 vs. LHT

    I have just signed up here and and this questions has been raised 100's of times but I am new so I have to ask. I am down to the 520 and the Surly LHT as choices for my first touring bike. I have ridden both and still can't decide, I liked them both. I would be on a 57 Trek and a 54 Surly which would give me 26" tires. This is likely my biggest hangup now, whether or not 26's are as good as 700's. If you have any thoughts on this or any other aspect that may help me decide I would greatly appreciate it as I have been stuck in this debate for a few weeks now and I just want to get a bike at this point and get riding. Thanks.

  2. #2
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    If your dilema is limited to whether to get 26" or 700c, then you need to ask yourself the following:

    Will most of your riding be off paved roads?
    Will you be riding outside of the the US, Canada, and Europe?

    If yes to either, then get 26".

    You'll be able to pedal downhill faster, you'll have better pannier heel and toe clearance, and you'll have a smoother ride with 700c.

    I think most would agree that the LHT comes with better wheels - and tires too, for that matter For me that's enough for a decision. I've seen several cracked Bontrager rims on 520's and the Hard Cases are not as durable as they should be for touring.

    The LHT has a better rear derailleur, but to be fair the 520 has pedals, rack, and fenders. I'd keep the pedals and toss the rest.

  3. #3
    Crazyguyonabike
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    Are you sure that you fit both the 54cm LHT and the 57cm 520? I ask because I happen to have test ridden both those bikes in my own search for my next steed. I found that the LHT top tube is longer than the 520 for the same size. Since I seem to have a relatively short reach and longer legs, I find the 57cm 520 fits me perfectly, but the 54cm LHT was way too small in every respect. The guy at the bike shop watching me ride around the parking lot just said I looked huge on it, not right at all. I was hanging over the handlebars. So make sure you actually fit both - have you test ridden both of them? If so, then fair enough - I'm just commenting because they seemed like very different fits to me. The fit of the individual bike to the rider is far, far more important than the issue of 26" vs 700C wheels.

    On that subject - everything else being equal, a 26" wheel will be stronger than a 700C wheel, simply because of the physics of it - the smaller wheel will have shorter spokes, it just seems self evident to me at least. Most of the time, you would choose 26" wheels for expedition rides - i.e. where you might be going onto very rough roads in third world countries, and you need to be able to fit nice big fat tires. There are always big debates about whether 26" is any different from 700C on the road (arguments rage back and forth with lengthy discourses on tire width, angle of contact with the road, pressure, total rotational weight, and so on). That said, many people seem to find, at the end of the day, that for road touring, 700C works better - perhaps because there are simply more appropriate tires available for that (i.e. lighter, whatever), but others stoutly maintain that there is no difference at all, or even that they find 26" wheels faster (they may well be faster to accelerate, again because of the smaller diameter). I am not sure of the conclusions to this never-ending-debate, but I have it in my own head like this: Use 26" wheels for expedition touring (e.g. South America, Africa etc) if only because it'll be easier to get tires and spares in those places for 26" wheels. Nobody over there uses 700C, so you'd have to get spares FedExed out to you, which costs a pretty penny when it's "out of network". I would use 700C on a road tour in the USA or Europe - and if you might be going on some trails some of the time, just put a slightly beefier tire on there, like maybe one of the 40mm Schwalbe Marathon XRs and you'll be fine. But most of the time you can get by with a smaller tire - depends on your comfort level (bigger tires = more air = more comfort, and less likelihood of pinch flats).

    Any 700C 36 spoke wheel that has been correctly stress relieved (and doesn't have absolutely crap spokes and rim) will do fine on tour. The biggest problem people have is broken spokes. Stress relieving (a separate process from truing) evens out the tension on the spokes, and lessens the probability that some of the spokes will be way more or less stressed than the others, which would lead to early failure. Machine built wheels tend to be true, but not stress relieved, which is why people who go straight off on tour with their brand spanking new stock bikes find to their horror that their wheels start falling apart after a week or two. If you get a competent wheelbuilder to stress relieve even a machine built wheel, it'll probably make much more difference to the wheel strength than the difference between rims, hubs etc. I think people focus perhaps too much on the wrong aspects here. Truth is, any reasonably good rim, on reasonably good spokes and a reasonably good hub (e.g. Shimano LX or whatever - just not a no-name) will do just fine for years if it's stress relieved properly.

    If I were you, I'd look at what you want to use the bike for first of all (expedition vs road touring) and decide what it is you want out of it. I've been coming to the conclusion that while it would be possible to tour across America on a 26" bike, and equally possible to do Alaska to Argentina on a 700C road tourer, in fact it would be better to use horses for courses. One bike *can* do it all, but in my opinion it's really better with two bikes - 26" expedition tourer for the rough stuff (it can take the punishment and you can find spares for it), and the nice elegant, fast gazelle like 700C beastie for the road tours (it can go fast on the endless roads across the midwest, and you can find spares in the next town).

    Then, once you have decided on the style of bike, go for whatever one fits you best. That is much more important than the brand of the bike or anything else for that matter. If you buy a $7K bike that is too short or too long in the top tube, then you'll likely have a miserable time of it. Get a professional fitting to get some rough idea of what kind of top tube length you need (a lot of people focus on standover height, but in my experience the top tube is a much more crucial thing to get right these days, with the modern sloped top tubes you're likely to not have standover issues, so that can muddy the waters on different frames which are quite different in other respects like TT). Of course you can tour on the road with the 26" LHT, in fact if that bike fits you then go for it. And of course you can go just about anywhere with a 700C bike with strong tuned wheels, so get that if it fits.

    Just my $0.02, based on a lot of thinking along the same lines... get whatever fits.

    Neil

    p.s. It looks like the 54cm LHT has a 555mm EFF top tube, and the 57cm 520 has 558mm, so they are pretty similar in that regard:
    http://www.trekbikes.com/us/en/bikes/road/520/520/
    http://www.surlybikes.com/longhaul.html
    So the Surly might be good if you find it fits you, since it's a really flexible bike - you can certainly do all the road touring you want on it, and since it has 26" wheels and "Fatties Fit Fine" you can also treat it as an expedition tourer too. I wish I fit the 54cm LHT, I would have bought it if I could, but it just wasn't right for me. Try to test ride both bikes extensively, loaded up if the bike shop lets you do that (i.e. racks and panniers), one of them will speak to you.
    Last edited by NeilGunton; 07-31-09 at 11:17 PM. Reason: p.s.

  4. #4
    Senior Member robow's Avatar
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    Don't the Trek frames still come with a lifetime warranty, not sure about the LHT's? This may or may not matter to you. Oh, and the new Trek 520 has a lot nice paint job.

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    26" wheels are stronger with the same number of spokes. I don't know that a 32 spoke 26" wheel is as strong as a 700c. In the end components and build are the key.

    "Any 700C 36 spoke wheel that has been correctly stress relieved (and doesn't have absolutely crap spokes and rim) will do fine on tour."

    There isn't even an issue with 700C wheels and strength, for instance good hubs and spokes will last hundreds of thousands of miles, rims will wear under brake pressure if rim brakes are used. It is all in the components and build.

    It is true that 26" wheels make more sense out of the country, but my impression is that 700C tires are impossible enough to source in most of the country that the advantage for 26" wheels is critical here also. However, getting good touring tires is pretty much impossible everywhere, so I carry a spare, all the stuff about fed-exing parts sounds a whole lot more pleasant when you aren't actually living throught it. Tires do break, carry a spare.

    I am not sure I agree with Neil on the reasonably good rim proposition. The stress relief guru really seems to believe that too few rims exist today that will meet the requirements of building good quality wheels. That a lot of stupid fads like welds, ground walls, anodizing that propagates cracks, deep rims, short spoke counts, various wear features have been added, while the basics are being ignored. What stress relieving does is release the strain in the spoke bend that causes that part to fail through fatigue. Getting wheels up to proper tension is still a toughie with many rims.

    Current plan for me is a 26" wheel bike, just because I have had the tire problem with a 700c. After that I want to try a classic 27" build with even bigger wheels than the 700C. Don't think it really maters except to have fun with. Keep in mind 26" wheel size was designed in order to be the same as 700c (with fat tires installed), not because it was expected to be different.

    Oh also, comments assume that the 26" wheels are using road profile rims, not some hunky things for offroad use by King Kong.

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    if you like them both and you can't decide, what good are we? I'd break it down to what you're going to be doing 80% of the time with the bike. If it's primarily day riding with a trip or two during the year I'd go for the 520. If it's hauling groceries, cases of beer and touring, the LHT.

    I've got an LHT, it really is a bus. Busses are good.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclesafe View Post
    ... you'll have better pannier heel and toe clearance ... with 700c.
    Er... no. Better toe clearance with 26"; pannier clearance depends on length of chainstays and mounting of pannier and rack.

    Which to choose? Both seem good (I haven't test ridden a 520 though).
    The 520 is geared higher and will only take moderate-width tyres.
    The LHT has lower gears and will go pretty wide with tyres, especially in 26"

    What will you be doing?
    If you are on-road only, and using the bike for recreational/sport riding as well, go for the 520.
    I think the LHT is more versatile, but it probably is a bit slower and it is heavier than the 520.

  8. #8
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    You got to test ride both?! I wish I could test either one. My LBS will only order if you are planning a purchase.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cave View Post
    Er... no. Better toe clearance with 26"; pannier clearance depends on length of chainstays and mounting of pannier and rack.

    Which to choose? Both seem good (I haven't test ridden a 520 though).
    The 520 is geared higher and will only take moderate-width tyres.
    The LHT has lower gears and will go pretty wide with tyres, especially in 26"
    I was talking about toe clearance for front panniers, not the front wheel itself. Length of chainstays and mountings are obviously more important than wheel size, but the larger wheel would be slightly better if the pannier bottom were above the wheel axle. I concede, however, that this is not a very important point.

    I think a better case for 700c can be made that with the same rack front pannier bottoms are higher off the ground so there is less chance of dragging on sharp turns. This is only a factor if you modify rear panniers to work on the front (as I did with Arkel T-42's).

    The new 520 and the complete LHT have the same toothed chainrings.

  10. #10
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    No body has ever been able to convince me that there is a mechanical advantage to 700c tires over 26" tires. Wheel diameter is just one part of the gear development formula with the gear ratio being the other part (the two are products of one another, they are multiplied together). With a constant gear ratio the larger diameter wheel will get you slightly further per pedal stroke but that disappears when you shift gears (change the gear ratio). With a slightly higher gear ratio you can still travel the same distance per pedal stroke of a 700C tire. I am not 100% sure about this but I think it is a wash. The higher gear ratio will require a slightly larger torque but the smaller diameter wheel will require a slightly smaller torque.

  11. #11
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    I pretty much agree with everything Neil said. My personal opinion is that 26" wheels make a lot of sense for smaller frames - probably moreso than 700c. I say don't let this be the determining factor in which bike to buy. Buy the one that fits the best, feels the best, and makes you the happiest. They're both excellent tourers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gueuzeman View Post
    ... whether or not 26's are as good as 700's.
    I don't understand this dilemma.... For me, I'd put it: "Whether or not 700's are as good as 26's".

    Do a search on this board. People have preferences, but for touring 26" is as good or better than 700c. For racing or mtn biking there are advantages in choosing wheel size, but for touring -- where comfort and reliability are paramount -- those factors are insignificant.

    Frame size, toe clearance, available spare parts, off-road riding -- these are external factors that might influence your choice. Both 26" and 700c have crossed continents (and, to blow the "speed advantage" myth out of the water, I'd bet that it takes 90 days, plus or minus, for a TransAmerica on either size).

    If wheel size is the only hangup in your decision, just realize it's a non-issue and choose the bike you like best.

    -- Mark

  13. #13
    Crazyguyonabike
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    One more thing - the chainstay length on the 520 is 45cm, on the LHT it's 46cm. Not much difference, but the slightly longer chainstays on the LHT are a good thing if you have any issues with heel clearance with whatever rack/pannier setup you choose to use. I had a rude introduction to this issue on the very first day of one of my tours, where I had (foolishly, I know) not done any shakedown rides and just assumed that everything would work. Boy was I wrong! Almost immediately I found my heels hitting the bags, which necessitated moving the rear panniers back as far as they would go - and this is not good, since if it shifts that weight back behind the rear hub then that tends to destabilize the bike. Long chainstays are a good thing on a touring bike.

    Thinking about this some more, if I were you and the fit on both bikes was otherwise a wash, then I'd probably go with the LHT, because it has the longer stays, and more tire clearance (I think), and the 26" wheels is just very cool because it makes the bike that much more flexible. True, it's not really a mountain bike, but just being able to slap any 26" tire on there is a big plus - you can take this bike to South America or wherever without the fears about not being able to find 700C replacements. And, if you find a good set of lightweight slicks, then you can equally go across America on the road tour as well. Finally, there's the fact that the LHT usually comes with uncut steerer tube... they just seem to have put that little bit more thought into the setup than Trek has with the 520.

    That said, I'm not hating the 520. In fact I'm looking at one now (the 57cm) in my local bike shop for myself, simply because I need a touring bike (bad!) and this one seems to fit me. I've been planning on trying to learn how to build my own bikes with TIG, but that's going to have to wait until the finances get better. In the meantime, I think the 520 would do me fine. I have had the 56cm LHT, it was a beautiful bike but I sold it because I didn't like the toe overlap with the front wheel (that, and the reach just always seemed to be on the long side for me, even with the shortest stem). In any case, you're much less likely to get any of the toe overlap issues with the 26" wheels. Smaller frames make much more sense with 26", in my opinion, you just don't have to make the same geometry compromizes that you do to shoehorn 700C wheels in there. That said, the 57cm 520 doesn't seem to have toe overlap (so far - I think they only have 32mm tires on there, but I think the clearance is enough that even 36mm would be ok, and that's probably the biggest you can put on that bike anyway, especially if you have fenders).

    Neil
    Last edited by NeilGunton; 08-01-09 at 01:08 PM.

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    Thanks for all the replies and thoughts. I suppose i should have been a bit clearer in my question- I am at a draw between the two bikes and with everything else being equal to me between the two (or equal enough anyway) I can't decide between them so i am using the 26 vs. 700 debate as a potential decision maker. If there are other things that are more important than the tires that I am overlooking then please let me now about those (derailleurs, brakes, etc.). I am certain I will be happy with both of these but it's not every day I spend $1,000+ on a bike so I would like to make the best choice I can.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cave View Post
    The 520 is geared higher.
    The LHT has lower gears
    Obsolete information.

  16. #16
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    I for one vote for the 520... It's a damn nice looking bike.... LHT..... not so much


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  17. #17
    Senior Member 12bar's Avatar
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    Pick the one that fits you best and comes from the better shop. As for 700C vs 26" wheels I have 54cm LHT and have no problem riding with my local club a average speeds of 18 to 19 mph. If I plan to ride with the fast group I take my road bike or tri bike. I love all of my bikes but my LHT is the most fun to ride for me.
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    Quote Originally Posted by gueuzeman View Post
    Thanks for all the replies and thoughts. I suppose i should have been a bit clearer in my question- I am at a draw between the two bikes and with everything else being equal to me between the two (or equal enough anyway) I can't decide between them so i am using the 26 vs. 700 debate as a potential decision maker. If there are other things that are more important than the tires that I am overlooking then please let me now about those (derailleurs, brakes, etc.). I am certain I will be happy with both of these but it's not every day I spend $1,000+ on a bike so I would like to make the best choice I can.
    My impression is that as unladen bikes the 520 is more enjoyable as a road bike riding through turns and the LHT is more enjoyable as a load carrier with a better capability for carrying weight on the rear wheel.

    If both fit your needs you can't go wrong. That's why I mentioned use determining the choice, not tire size. I've got a custom 26" touring bike that is quicker handling and not as good a load carrier as the 700c LHT I've got. With light 26x 1.5" tires it makes a better urban assault bike with faster acceleration than the 56cmLHT with 700x35tires. I'd pick the LHT over the custom 26" for touring because it's better for carrying loads, their wheel sizes are somewhat irrelevant.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by 12bar View Post
    Pick the one that fits you best and comes from the better shop. As for 700C vs 26" wheels I have 54cm LHT and have no problem riding with my local club a average speeds of 18 to 19 mph. If I plan to ride with the fast group I take my road bike or tri bike. I love all of my bikes but my LHT is the most fun to ride for me.
    They let you do this? I can't imagine riding with a bunch of tri bikes near me.... No thanks.
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  20. #20
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    I have the 54cm LHT myself. I have not toured (yet) but plan on a trip a little later this year. The wheel debate is just that, a "debate". Their are pros and cons to each which a lot of members have spelled out already. I however do like LHT's ability to take some wider tires than the 520.

    Your ride should be based on fit, with a lot of other things coming secondary. If both bikes fit you then other things come into play. I do believe the LHT is a little heavier than the 520 unladened. I'm not sure what your shop is charging, but my LHT was about $300 cheaper than the 520. However to start off with, the new 520 comes with both rack and fenders. My understanding however is if you are doing more than light duty that rack will not stand up. I've also heard those fenders really aren't that great at preventing spray. When I made my purchase I based it on factors that were important to me (comfortability, speed, price, etc.,). I however was looking at a few bikes at the time and made notes about each.

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    For me the price difference is $100 between the 520 and LHT (520 is more). That makes price almost not a factor. I was lucky enough to ride both of them on the same day last week and I would say that the 520 spoke to me immediately whereas the LHT just simply felt ok. Then I rode the LHT again after the 520 (different shops) and was not disapointed ( I know that does not sound convincing but I was expecting to be let down after a real nice feel on the 520). I think that I want the LHT to win but would like to be certain that a couple of things are ok- such as whether cantilevers are not inferior to v-brakes as many shops like to tell me. That the Slickasuarus tires are not inferior to the Contis on the 520. I also think that the shop that built the LHT did some weird thing with the brake hoods so that they were way high up and you had almost no reach. It felt as if there was a bar and then the hood and no nice resting place in between. This coupled with that it seemed the bar was also rotated too far down so that the bar end shifters were a little far away. It was a strange set up and has messed with my decision ever since. I also can't seem to figure out if the xt/tiagra setup is better/worse than the Deore LX on the 520 and I have tried to research it. I am still sure that both will be great but man would I just like to get one and be done with it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by 12bar View Post
    Pick the one that fits you best and comes from the better shop. As for 700C vs 26" wheels I have 54cm LHT and have no problem riding with my local club a average speeds of 18 to 19 mph. If I plan to ride with the fast group I take my road bike or tri bike. I love all of my bikes but my LHT is the most fun to ride for me.
    I also have the 54cm LHT with 26" wheels and agree with the above. The performance of the 26" wheels is just not an issue.

    I think there are two issues you should consider to separate the two bikes:

    You will be spending many hours in the saddle on tour. Get the best fitting bike.

    If you are touring in USA rural or 3rd world settings then 26" rims and tires may be more readily available. Bear in mind that Schraeder valves (the bigger diameter ones) are more ubiquitous than presta so you might need to drill your rims for the larger size.

    Two weeks ago I passed a TransAm rider (78 days) on a Trek 520 going north on the Pacific Coast as he was finishing up in Astoria. I was going south on my LHT. We both had smiles on our faces. They are both superb touring bikes and you can't really go wrong with either one.

  23. #23
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    The decision would already be made for me: QBP can still get LHTs to the LBS, and Trek ran out of 520s a long time ago, though there may still be some in their warehouses. (This all per my LBS.) Any LBS saying they can order a 520 this late in the year?

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    Quote Originally Posted by gueuzeman View Post
    I think that I want the LHT to win but would like to be certain that a couple of things are ok- such as whether cantilevers are not inferior to v-brakes as many shops like to tell me. That the Slickasuarus tires are not inferior to the Contis on the 520. I also think that the shop that built the LHT did some weird thing with the brake hoods so that they were way high up and you had almost no reach. It felt as if there was a bar and then the hood and no nice resting place in between. This coupled with that it seemed the bar was also rotated too far down so that the bar end shifters were a little far away. It was a strange set up and has messed with my decision ever since. I also can't seem to figure out if the xt/tiagra setup is better/worse than the Deore LX on the 520 and I have tried to research it. I am still sure that both will be great but man would I just like to get one and be done with it.
    you'll change tires on both bikes, you'll adjust fit to your preferences on both bikes, you could put $1000 cranks and $500 brakes on either bike and it wouldn't matter one bit how it handled with or without load.

    How will the bike be used 80% of the time?

  25. #25
    Senior Member 12bar's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kyakdiver View Post
    They let you do this? I can't imagine riding with a bunch of tri bikes near me.... No thanks.
    In general I agree with how you might feel about riding with a bunch of tri bikes, but our group has one hard and fast rule. No matter what you are riding you can't use your aero bars in a pace line or if someone is next to or behind you.
    "It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for someone you love". Blazeman, Warrior Poet

    11 Giant Talon 1, 10 Masi 3VC, 08 Long Haul Trucker, 08 Felt Curbside, 99 Specialized Allez

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