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  1. #1
    opinionated SOB cycletourist's Avatar
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    Trek 520 vs Bruce Gordon BLT

    Trek 520 vs Bruce Gordon BLT

    Some comments in another thread led me to investigate these two bikes. Wow! what a difference.

    The Trek 520 was a great bike just a few years ago but is now just a poor imitation of a touring bike. The gearing is wrong (way too high) and some moron installed a threadless fork/headset - now the handlebar is WAY lower than the saddle. Would you want to ride this thing cross country? Not me!

    Fixing this bike would require changing the crankset, fork, stem, and headset.

    A crankset costs about $100, headset about $25. A real touring fork made for expeditions and loaded panniers will cost $300 (from Bruce Gordon - there are cheaper forks available but a properly built expedition fork won't be much cheaper than this). A chromoly stem for touring will cost $50 or more. By the time you are finished making all these improvements it will have been cheaper just to buy the Bruce Gordon BLT.

    Note the Trek520 photo below and compare it with the photos at http://www.bgcycles.com/ - you'll see what I mean.
    Last edited by cycletourist; 04-02-02 at 01:04 PM.

  2. #2
    A Heart Needs a Home Rich Clark's Avatar
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    I agree about the headset; that's new this year (or maybe last year). However, these bikes can always be ordered with the steerer tube uncut, and then you can achieve precise bar location before sawing the tube. (I ordered my Airborne that way, for precisely that reason.)

    And yes, many people order 520's and immediately replace the crankset with something like a 44-34-24 stock MTB crankset. Bike shops do this all the time on 520's, often for free (since a new 105 crankset is easy to move).

    The majority of production touring bikes have this same failing (Cannondale, Fuji, Bianchi, Novara, Litespeed...) -- other than Gordon, it's hard to find a road/touring bike that doesn't use a standard 52-42-30 road triple on the front).

    The truth is that most of these bikes are rarely used for loaded touring. People commute on them, or do credit-card touring or overnighters. A couple of small panniers, a rack trunk, maybe a handlebar bag. And without a full load, a 1:1 low gear ratio is probably enough to get most people over most hills.

    RichC

  3. #3
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    Cycletourist
    I had planned to buy a 520 this year. I hear your comments, but what I am to make of the great reviews the 520 gets in roadbike review.com? Older models? Bias? I don't want to buy this and be disappointed.

    And yes I was going to change the crankset, that seems to be a universal complaint. What the issue with the threadless headset? (a reply in newbie rather than teknish would be appreciated).

  4. #4
    A Heart Needs a Home Rich Clark's Avatar
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    Originally posted by sammer
    What the issue with the threadless headset? (a reply in newbie rather than teknish would be appreciated).
    With a threadless headset the stem is bolted to the top of the steerer tube, which is part of the fork. That makes raising the handlebars problematic, and it's too common for the bars to be set too low for comfort on contemporary road bikes. Some adjustment is possible by swapping in a stem with a steeper angle of rise, but often not enough.

    On a new bike, you can avoid this problem by not cutting the steerer until after the bike has been fit. Since most 520's have to be special-ordered anyway, this isn't as big a problem as it might seem. But once the steerer's been cut, large changes in bar height can require replacing the entire fork.

    Threaded headsets use traditional quill stems. These allow a certain amount of height adjustment, and are easily replaced with taller stems if needed.

    Personally, I wouldn't let this issue stop me from buying a 520, but it would probably stop me from buying one already assembled and cut. What would stop me are the bar-end shifters. I just don't like 'em.

    RichC
    Last edited by Rich Clark; 06-06-02 at 02:43 PM.

  5. #5
    opinionated SOB cycletourist's Avatar
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    Roadbikereview.com is written from a racer's point of view - so they probably are biased. But just to be sure I'll go read the review.

    This may be a moot discussion- At the recent interbike show in LasVegas, Trek didn't even bother to display a 520. My local Trek dealer told me today that Trek may discontinue this bike.

    In any case it doesn't matter. If you go with the Bruce Gordon BLT you'll get a great bike for about the same price, built by a guy who loves touring.
    Last edited by cycletourist; 04-02-02 at 08:19 PM.

  6. #6
    A Heart Needs a Home Rich Clark's Avatar
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    Originally posted by cycletourist
    This may be a moot discussion- At the recent interbike show in LasVegas, Trek didn't even bother to display a 520. My local Trek dealer told me today that Trek may discontinue this bike.
    And yet last year they sold every one they made, and had a stack of unfilled orders that had to be deferred until the 2002's went into production.

    Some Trek dealers would like the 520 to disappear because they take more dealer time to sell and prepare. It wouldn't surprise me when such a dealer might try to make a self-fulfilling prophecy about the model being discontinued.

    Trek dealers generally seem to be high-volume dealers. I've never seen a 520 in stock at any one that I've visited. If the dealers refuse to try to sell them, only the existing tiny market will buy them on special order... and if smaller specialty makers like Gordon go after that market aggressively, Trek could well drop out.

    I certainly agree that there are better choices in today's market.

    RichC

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    Well guys I have just been to the BG site. Your price comments have me puzzled. BLT without racks is $1500, 520 with a rear rack is $1000. In CDN thats $1500 v $2300. Even with the crankset swap I am still at least $700 to the good.

    And when you compare the specs in the chart at the BG site, the 520 is very close for less. And Rich is right, I will not do that much fully loaded touring. For those who do, the BLT probably is the way to go.

    Thanks for your help.

  8. #8
    A Heart Needs a Home Rich Clark's Avatar
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    Originally posted by sammer
    Well guys I have just been to the BG site. Your price comments have me puzzled. BLT without racks is $1500, 520 with a rear rack is $1000. In CDN thats $1500 v $2300. Even with the crankset swap I am still at least $700 to the good.
    Well, the BG is a more robust bike. I think Cyclotourist was trying to estimate what it would cost to make a 520 be like a Gordon. While I agree that if you want a Gordon you should buy a Gordon, and not try to upgrade a 520, I don't really agree that the 520 is a bad bike. Just a somewhat lesser one.

    As noted above, I don't think the headset is necessarily an issue if you're ordering the bike anyway. I really don't see anything wrong with the 520's chromoly fork, either. I personally would downcheck both bikes for the bar-end shifters, which I dislike. The convenience of STI is too big a benefit to pass up, IMO, especially on a bike mostly being ridden inside the bounds of civilization. It's true that STI levers are not really field-serviceable, but if I were heading for the boonies I'd just take along a downtube shifter as a spare part for emergencies.

    The 520's rack is a piece of crap, though, and shouldn't be factored in.

    Gordon's wheels are undoubtedly superior out of the box, being hand-built by expert wheelbuilders, but a good bike shop should tension, stress-relieve, and true the Trek's wheels during assembly (not that all should do), and if done right I think they'd be as good as the Gordon wheels.

    RichC

  9. #9
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    My LBS actually has a 520 on the showroom floor. They do move a lot of Trek bikes, though. They order Trek 1000s 40 at a time.

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    In my case I hate the posture of the A-head type stem, but they are alot easier to adjust in the field.

    I also have issue with BG only being to use his rack system, they're very nice, just not for me.

    I may be disqualified because I think I spent as much on my BB and wheelset as my 520. Oh well, mine's really comfortable.

  11. #11
    A Heart Needs a Home Rich Clark's Avatar
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    Originally posted by --walt--
    In my case I hate the posture of the A-head type stem,
    I'm not sure I understand what you mean.

    RichC

  12. #12
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    Dia-compe invented the direct connect stem system and the marketed brand name was "Aheadset" so sometimes it's used as coverering that style of headset stem combinations. Most sit only about 20 mm higher than the steerer tube of the fork, although there are adapters and steeper angle stems, they tend to sit too low for old fat guys like me.

    If I missed the point of your question, let me know and I'll provide as much detail as you like.

  13. #13
    A Heart Needs a Home Rich Clark's Avatar
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    If all you meant was that most newer bikes have their steerer tubes cut too low, I understood you. That's why I made the point several times above that a new bike with a threadless headset (what you mean when you say "Aheadset") should be ordered with the steerer tube uncut, so that the bike can be fitted before cutting the tube.

    It looks weird, but it's perfectly OK to clamp the stem to an uncut steerer and ride around with it that way until you know how high you want it.

    And as you note, most manufacturers make their stems with a range of rise angles and lengths, so it's not that hard to get the bar exactly where you want it. Some stems (like the Ritchey Pro) are intended to be flippable.

    My bike, for example, has a 110mm-extension stem with a 107 degree rise. There are 50mm or spacers between the headset and the stem. This brings the tops of the bars to within an inch of the saddle height (and my seatpost is extended quite a bit).

    Yes, this requires some thought and planning, and the assistance of a bike shop that's focused on getting bikes to fit properly. But the problem is not inherent in threadless headsets; it's a product of the way road bikes are being marketed.

    RichC

  14. #14
    mousse de chocolat Moose's Avatar
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    I don't fully understand the beef about the crankset size. The rear cog set goes up to a larger size than regular roadies. I would expect that should be fair compensation. Wouldn't the larger crankwheel help you take advantage of tailwinds and slight downhills? I feel I could climb walls with the granny gear on my C'dale tourer. However I've never been through the mountains on a loaded tour so I guess I shouldn't talk.
    I feel more like I do now than when I first got here.

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    The gear sizes for regular roadies are designed for athletic cyclists riding at an athletic pace. Professional riders use pretty much the same range of gears.
    People who are not athletes , or dont want to ride all out the whole time need lower gears, and road triples (like the Shimano 105 triple) are about right for these people without luggage in steep terrain.
    If you are dragging a full camping load all day up mountains, steep hills and dirt tracks, and you dont want to work at an athletic pace, you need much lower gears. Most tourists these days would recomend a 24" gear as the lowest. You have to sacrifice some of the range at the top end, but these riders dont feel the need to pedal hard downhill. Hills are for rolling down.

    I have a road triple on my touring bike. I have used the 50/13 once, with a strong gale behind me. I changed the 30 for a 26 to cope with steep hills, but the system doesnt work smoothly, so I need to change the crankset to a smaller geared one.

    Often big mountains dont have such steep gradient. In the UK, we have many short hills which are far steeper than any alpine pass.

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    Also, Ahead did not invent the threadless steerer. This design is decades old, and like clipless pedals , was reinvented for the modern cyclist.

  17. #17
    Donating member Richard D's Avatar
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    Originally posted by MichaelW

    Often big mountains dont have such steep gradient. In the UK, we have many short hills which are far steeper than any alpine pass.
    Phew! It's not just my lousy climbing ability...

    Richard
    Currently riding an MTB with a split personality - commuting, touring, riding for the sake of riding, on or off road :)

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    I had mentioned in a prvious post here that I had emailed Trek regarding the constant complaint/observation that the Trek 520 gearing is too tall for some riders in some situations. After waiting patiently for 3 weeks, I emailed them again to ask when to expect a reply.

    Surprise, they have lost the first email. I have asked again for their comments on the gearing reports. And yes I will post their reply here, assuming it ever arrives.

    On a related note, I got the impression from another reader here that even if the stock granny gear on the 520 is OK for some, the tallest gear is simply too tall for 99% of the riders and rides? He mentioned he had only used his once with a galeforce tailwind. If this is so, it would make more sense, IMO, for Trek to build the 520 with the lower-geared crankset.

    Cheers

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    Today TREK replied to me:

    "We are slightly limited in the specs we chose in regards to gearing, on what is available from Shimano. The Deore crank does work well for some people but the top gear is a little low. This is just a judgement call on our part as to what our dealer are asking for. I will note your comments. Regarding the rack. This we have not heard. There are certainly stiffer heavier racks out there but ours has served us well on this bike. For what most riders use it for."

    IMO, the comment about the top end being too low does not make much sense when talking about a touring bke actually being used for touring.

    If I buy the TREK 520, I will swap out the crankset.

    Heys its finally warm here today. Bike show on at the Convention Centre but no makers, only LBS booths.

    Cheers
    TREK 520 Touring

  20. #20
    A Heart Needs a Home Rich Clark's Avatar
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    Originally posted by sammer

    IMO, the comment about the top end being too low does not make much sense when talking about a touring bke actually being used for touring.
    I agree with you. Yet I also see their point, because the very characteristics that make a good touring bike also make a good all-rounder, a good commuter, a good day-tripper... a good bike for anyone who wants to balance comfort, speed, and load-carrying capacity. I suspect a lot of 520's are sold to people who never use them for unsupported loaded touring, but for whom it is nevertheless a very appropriate bike.

    (Those folks would probably complain more about the bar-end shifters than about the gearing being too high.)

    Thanks for pursuing your question and sharing the response.

    RichC

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    Originally posted by sammer
    ...On a related note, I got the impression from another reader here that even if the stock granny gear on the 520 is OK for some, the tallest gear is simply too tall for 99% of the riders and rides? He mentioned he had only used his once with a galeforce tailwind. If this is so, it would make more sense, IMO, for Trek to build the 520 with the lower-geared crankset.Cheers
    Too high gearing. I've dealt with that on my past four bike purchases. The dealer said I was crazy when I asked them to put a 39/48 ring pair on an Ultegra equipped road bike (in late '80's). This was simply the lowest you could gear the Ultegra crankset.

    I also put together the lowest geared cogset I could, with carefully selected 13-26 cogs. This is old-timey now, but my "14 speed" has 10 truly discreet ratios, with a very nice shift pattern and nice steps between ratios. The range is 40" to 99". This served me well on several lightly loaded tours, including two weeks camping. That was when I was 24 though. I climbed some major hills, including the 16 mile, 6000' vertical into Sequoia National Park.

    Flash foreward to 2000, when I went to buy a MTB to use for touring. This "24 speed" bike actually was set up with only 13 significantly different usable ratios. Low gear was greater than 1:1 at 28". All of the middle ring ratios were duplicates of useable ratios from the small or large ring. I swapped the rings and cogset to get a 21"-112" range with nice, small steps in the lower 2/3 of the ratios. I do like the "downhill with tailwind" 112" gear but it's not really needed. My top three ratios are big steps: 85", 98", 112" (I think).

    Sorry about all the geek talk. In my opinion lower low gears are always a good thing, even if you seldom use them. High gears above 100" seldom contribute much unless you're trying to keep up with club riders in a paceline.

    Jim

  22. #22
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    Time for action, waether is finally improving. Will order my 520 this week and assuming I can swing the time off, will proceed to Edmonton next week for final fitting and pickup.

    Will have shop swap in a Deore LX 44/34/22 crankset and a suspension seatpost. Few other pieces to make it complete, then hopefully a 3 or 4 day shakedown cruise to check things out. Not sure about the saddle. My Body Geometry on my MTB/commuter seems OK but I am not convinced after 1 1/2 years that it is what I want for long rides.

    Short comment about the threadless headset. Shop guy says steerer tube comes uncut and Trek provides enough spacers that the bar and seat will be level more or less. Its not an issue as far as he is concerned.
    TREK 520 Touring

  23. #23
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    Hey JimQ that is very interesting, and maybe a little infuriating too. There is a corresponding article in an older Adventure Cycling mag about the benefits of a gearing design they used to make called "half-step" which sounds pretty much like what you have been doing. If you would like to read it I can copy and email it to you.
    TREK 520 Touring

  24. #24
    A Heart Needs a Home Rich Clark's Avatar
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    Originally posted by sammer
    Short comment about the threadless headset. Shop guy says steerer tube comes uncut and Trek provides enough spacers that the bar and seat will be level more or less. Its not an issue as far as he is concerned.
    DON'T let him do this until you're there. Temporarily fit the stem to the uncut steerer and do the rest of the fit. Get the saddle height and fore/aft position dialed in; swap stems until you have the proper extension, then measure the bar position in relation to the top of the head tube. Now you can look various stems to see whether it would be better to get that bar position via more rise/less extension or vice/versa, or some compromise.

    Only after the fit is done and the stem selected should the steerer tube be cut.

    I've known riders who've left the steerer uncut for sever days while dialing in their fit. Looks stupid, and it would be a particularly bad time to fall forward onto the bars, but a mistake cutting the steerer can't be undone.

    If you err, err on the side of "too high."

    Good luck, and enjoy your new ride!

    RichC

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    Did the deed and have new 520 in hand. Fit is great. Upgraded to M424 pedals and Rockshox seatpost. Shoprat convinced me to upgrade to XT 12-34 cassette and leave the crankset as is. Did some test rides on a couple of tough gradients and was no problem, though a longer ride may prove different.
    TREK 520 Touring

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