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A tale of two tourers: Trek 520 vs Schwinn Le Tour

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A tale of two tourers: Trek 520 vs Schwinn Le Tour

Old 08-20-21, 02:03 PM
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denaffen
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A tale of two tourers: Trek 520 vs Schwinn Le Tour

So I find myself in an unusual situation: I have had two very similar US-made late-80s touring bikes enter my life this week. Both are from the mid-to-late 80s, more-or-less the same color of blue, pretty much the same size, and comparable materials and components. If you took the stickers off, the casual viewer couldn't tell them apart.

I've posted both of these elsewhere, but given their similarity I figured I better start a thread to chronicle the build up of them both and do a head-to-head comparison.

Up first, the Schwinn Le Tour.
This came to me nearly complete, missing a few minor bits. Given the deteriorated state of the decals it took a little while to figure out what that it's a mid-80s (probably 85, maybe 86) Le Tour, made at the short-lived Greenville MS plant out of genuine double-butted 4130 chrome moly.


Second up, a 1989 (possibly 88, but I think 89) Trek 520
Just got this one today. It's dirty and needs some refurbishing but complete and appears to have been cared for pretty well over its life. Single owner.



Let me know if there's anything you'd like me to directly compare between the two!
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Old 08-20-21, 02:30 PM
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Originally Posted by denaffen View Post
So I find myself in an unusual situation: I have had two very similar US-made late-80s touring bikes enter my life this week. Both are from the mid-to-late 80s, more-or-less the same color of blue, pretty much the same size, and comparable materials and components. If you took the stickers off, the casual viewer couldn't tell them apart.

I've posted both of these elsewhere, but given their similarity I figured I better start a thread to chronicle the build up of them both and do a head-to-head comparison.

Up first, the Schwinn Le Tour.
This came to me nearly complete, missing a few minor bits. Given the deteriorated state of the decals it took a little while to figure out what that it's a mid-80s (probably 85, maybe 86) Le Tour, made at the short-lived Greenville MS plant out of genuine double-butted 4130 chrome moly.


Second up, a 1989 (possibly 88, but I think 89) Trek 520
Just got this one today. It's dirty and needs some refurbishing but complete and appears to have been cared for pretty well over its life. Single owner.



Let me know if there's anything you'd like me to directly compare between the two!
The Le Tour is more of an entry level road bike with sport touring geometry as opposed to a full on touring bike like the 520. The Schwinn equivalent to the 520 would be the Voyageur.

Here's a 1988 Schwinn catalogue showing the Voyageur "The latest excercise in combining touring comfort and lightweight performance." https://waterfordbikes.com/SchwinnCa...0/1988_12.html

and the Le Tour "for the rider who seeks adventure and recreation in a lightweight sport bicycle-LeTour, Traveler and World Sport for 1988. These three sport bicycles combine comfortable frame geometry..." and "Experience the look and feel of performance sport bicycling." https://waterfordbikes.com/SchwinnCa...0/1988_13.html

You still have a cool project on your hands! Definitely report back your impressions on both.

Last edited by tricky; 08-20-21 at 02:35 PM.
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Old 08-20-21, 02:54 PM
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So- aside from the size difference- the 520 is a "better" bike- based solely on metallurgy. (of course, there is something to be said about a hi-ten fork on a tourer). The LeTour- despite its name, really wasn't much of a "tourer" by this time, compared to other touring bikes. It was geared kinda tall with no low end, with single pivot side pull brakes- that won't have as much stopping power. In addition to friction shifting, although it looks like the RD has been replaced at some point.

The 520 is a great bike, I'd guess this is a size smaller than the LeTour- but it looks to be the 1989 with the True Temper CrMo frame with CrMo fork. The front has a half step and a granny crank- that gives you a pretty wide sweep in gearing and manageable steps with a 28 granny ring. The brakes are better with MT62 cantis. As much as I love old Suntour stuff, when you get into this era of Shimano stuff- it's just "better." The Deore II stuff is pretty dominant.

If I had to pick- and they both fit me- I'd definitely choose the 520.
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Old 08-20-21, 03:18 PM
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This is too weird. I acquired a '79 Schwinn Super Le Tour this summer that I finally finished getting road worthy this week. A year ago I fixed up an '89 Trek 420 touring bike. Now I have both and was thinking just yesterday I should post a comparo here to see which one would be the better long-term keeper...
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Old 08-20-21, 03:31 PM
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The 520 has cantilever brakes and the Le Tour shown doesn't.. I just saw a Le Tour Luxe the other day with cantis as well, though it might be relatively rare. Perhaps the Le Tour Luxe with cantis might be more comparable to the 520?

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Old 08-20-21, 03:40 PM
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> The Le Tour is more of an entry level road bike with sport touring geometry as opposed to a full on touring bike like the 520.

For most years, absolutely true. But for the mid-80s Greenville-built ones it's a lot closer than you'd think. Even the rear stays only differ by 5mm, as I measure them. By 88 they were no longer built in Greenville (pretty sure), but had reverted to Japan, and the geometry differs from mine (again, pretty sure). And the LT has the same or better tire clearance than the 520.

> So- aside from the size difference - the 520 is a "better" bike- based solely on metallurgy.

As I measure them, the 520 is a 50, and the LT is a 52. So pretty close. Metallurgy is closer than you think. They're both double-butted chrome moly, albeit the stays on the LT aren't butted, and the fork, as you noted, appears to be HiTen. Still, weights are *very* close, especially given the larger size of the LT. The 520 has an edge, but not by a lot.

> It was geared kinda tall with no low end, with single pivot side pull brakes

The 520 definitely has wider gearing. No doubt. Brakes, IMO, are a mixed bag. The LT will probably be a lot easier to put 700Cs on.

I don't really doubt that the 520 is better but I do doubt that it's as much of a slam dunk as one would initially think given the general consensus on LeTours.
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Old 08-20-21, 03:41 PM
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Originally Posted by WGB View Post
The 520 has cantilever brakes and the Le Tour shown doesn't.. I just saw a Le Tour Luxe the other day with cantis as well, though it might be relatively rare. Perhaps the Le Tour Luxe with cantis might be more comparable to the 520?
Maybe-probably, but I don't have a Le Tour Luxe, I have these two. And they're even the same color, nearly the same size, and both made in the US.
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Old 08-20-21, 09:01 PM
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The Golden Boy good catch on the rear derailleur. Per the catalog the original was arx and I didnít catch it. The rd seems to fit to me. But I do have a spare arx in the parts bin.
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Old 08-20-21, 09:34 PM
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Depends on intended use, IMNSHO.

Full bags front & rear, long unsupported tour with lots of camping?
520. All day, every day.

Rambling day rides, with no more than a saddlebag / rack trunk and a handlebar bag?
Le Tour. That's a sport touring ride, and that's a sport touring bike.

Commuting?
Depends on distance, route, how much you have to carry, and whether you're going to be hitting the grocery store on the way home or doing an after-work road ride.

Of course, there is a correct answer... and that answer is "both." Full-dress touring bikes have always felt kinda slow boring to me when ridden unloaded. Sport touring bikes, as much as I love them, have some definite limits when it comes to loading... weight them down too much and they start complaining about it.

--Shannon

PS: Were 520s still 27" in 1989?
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Old 08-20-21, 10:24 PM
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[QUOTE=denaffen;22192848

For most years, absolutely true. But for the mid-80s Greenville-built ones it's a lot closer than you'd think. Even the rear stays only differ by 5mm, as I measure them. By 88 they were no longer built in Greenville (pretty sure), but had reverted to Japan, and the geometry differs from mine (again, pretty sure).[/QUOTE]

Iím pretty sure the 87-89 LeTours were Mississippi built - I donít recall seeing any Japanese bikes built with True Temper tubing.
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Old 08-20-21, 10:40 PM
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denaffen
I wasn't slamming what you have, everyone was pointing out the 520 as the better bike of these specific two. I'd just be interested in hearing someone who has experience with comparing a Le Tour with cantis to the 520. More of an even playing field comparison. I was intrigued by how similar your bikes are once you get last the names.
I've been watching the sales ads and located some nice tourers at reasonable prices but always looking for more input. To be fair, I'd never even heard of a Le Tour Luxe until a few days ago it has cantis...
.
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Old 08-20-21, 10:55 PM
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Originally Posted by WGB View Post
I'd never even heard of a Le Tour Luxe until a few days ago it has cantis...
Not every year. I sold Le Tour Luxes in the '80s and the early ones had centerpulls. Later ones ('86 and later?) had cantilevers.
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Old 08-20-21, 11:30 PM
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Originally Posted by rustystrings61 View Post
I’m pretty sure the 87-89 LeTours were Mississippi built - I don’t recall seeing any Japanese bikes built with True Temper tubing.
Shipping American-made steel tubing westward across the Pacific Ocean to Japan or Taiwan where it will be made into bicycles that will then be shipped eastward across the Pacific Ocean to America seems to me to be somewhat inefficient... It's kinda like sending your bicycle frames on WESTPAC.

But I'm not an economist, so I'm probably just too stupid to understand how the world should work according to Theory, to which reality must be made to conform.

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Old 08-21-21, 04:26 AM
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ShannonM earlier and later LeTours were built in Japan, but this one claims to be US built.
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Old 08-21-21, 08:04 AM
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What's the comparison on BB drop? I would think the Trek has more, but curious.
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Old 08-21-21, 08:17 AM
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A few years ago, I picked up a 58cm LeTour Luxe for my son to use around town as his vintage Zeus wasn't a suitable grocery getter/errand bike. It had cantilever brakes, a Blackburn rack and Columbus Tenax tre tubi frame. Catalogs show the 83-84 Luxe models with side pull or center pull brakes, 1985 was 1st year with Cantilevers. I have a Trek 520 and consider it a cut above, both in design, execution and finish.

The 2 year evolution from a sport tourer to a basic touring bike is my biggest criticism of the LeTour Luxe and there is still a problem with the dual lever shifter mounted on top of down tube vs the standard, brazed on, side mounts on the Trek. All components on my find were still present, but it was filthy dirty. But, upon first shift of rear DR, the whole assembly pulled loose from down tube. It had been glued on and after 30+ years, adhesive fails. Guess Schwinn's cost cutting move penciled out, but something to watch for as catalogs show the top mount from 83 on . I fixed it with a set of clamp on Simplex shifters from my junk drawer. (after review of pics, maybe a prior owner did the glue repair to fix a very poor original braze job on the mount?) The bike I found was only $110, so still good a good value. Don

Tenax Tre Tubi

Failed adhesive

1985 LeTour (Luxe as found)

After cleanup, rust removal, paint touchup, repair


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Old 08-21-21, 08:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Dylansbob View Post
What's the comparison on BB drop? I would think the Trek has more, but curious.
Is there any way to check without the LT being built up?
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Old 08-21-21, 10:50 AM
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I have an '84 Letour Luxe, that I use for touring simply because it has couplers. And it has couplers simply because it was the last bike I still had in the US when I ran out of storage options there. The Suntour Summetric shifters are very nice to use, IMO, especially when they don't snap off as a unit. Mine are coupled with a first gen Cyclone rd. This is a match made in heaven. And an unknown(at the monment)fd. I'd like to put a Suntour Spirt on it, but I don't know if they shift three rings. I guess there is one way to find out.
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Old 08-22-21, 06:41 AM
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Sprayed first coat on the LeTour yesterday. I like the color a lot.
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Old 08-22-21, 09:02 AM
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My intent was just what I said up front: I happen to find myself suddenly coming into both of these at once. Theyíre the same color ( or were) pretty much the same size, very similar geometry, both US made from double butted chrome moly. They are much, much more similar than they are different, aside from gearing. So was Schwinn punching above their weight with the Mississippi bikes? How much secret sauce did Trek pour in? Letís find out. I just thought it would be fun to compare the 800 pound gorilla with the punching-above-itís weight contender. Sheesh.
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Old 08-22-21, 09:15 AM
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Originally Posted by onyerleft View Post
But one of the brands of these two bikes went out of business (sure, they're still sold at department stores by some licensee), the other brand is an 800 lb gorilla in the bicycle retail world. What does that tell you about the relative merits of these two bikes?
Schwinnís demise due to poor marketing and business decisions and Trekís rise to power helped in large part by their sponsorship of a cheat stripped of 7 Tour titles are irrelevant in discussing the relative merits of these two bikes.
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Old 08-22-21, 09:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Dylansbob View Post
What's the comparison on BB drop? I would think the Trek has more, but curious.
Originally Posted by denaffen View Post
Is there any way to check without the LT being built up?
With the fork pointing straight ahead, run a string from the rear dropouts to the front fork ends, then measure the vertical distance from the string to the center of the bottom bracket shell.
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Old 08-22-21, 09:35 AM
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Originally Posted by ShannonM View Post
Shipping American-made steel tubing westward across the Pacific Ocean to Japan or Taiwan where it will be made into bicycles that will then be shipped eastward across the Pacific Ocean to America seems to me to be somewhat inefficient... It's kinda like sending your bicycle frames on WESTPAC.

But I'm not an economist, so I'm probably just too stupid to understand how the world should work according to Theory, to which reality must be made to conform.

--Shannon
That lines up with my thoughts on the matter as well - I went trawling and found this page from a 1986 Schwinn insert. The relevant passage is outlined in red. And according to the catalogs, 1986 is the first year of True Temper tubing in Schwinn LeTours.

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Old 08-22-21, 10:31 AM
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I've got another one of the Mississippi built Le Tours, a 1988. I keep playing around with different drivetrains. At one point I installed a triple and bar ends to make it more of a touring bike.


1988 Schwinn Le Tour
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Old 08-22-21, 10:44 AM
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Originally Posted by denaffen View Post
My intent was just what I said up front: I happen to find myself suddenly coming into both of these at once. Theyíre the same color ( or were) pretty much the same size, very similar geometry, both US made from double butted chrome moly. They are much, much more similar than they are different, aside from gearing. So was Schwinn punching above their weight with the Mississippi bikes? How much secret sauce did Trek pour in? Letís find out. I just thought it would be fun to compare the 800 pound gorilla with the punching-above-itís weight contender. Sheesh.
I like your idea- in terms of comparing 2 bikes you like... but I just don't think they're much of an "apples to apples" comparison- not even really an "oranges to tangerines" comparison. The hi-ten fork alone puts the LeTour in a different category- and the cantis in another. Throw in the components and it's just rungs down the ladder. That's not saying it's a poor bike- just that it was designed for a different purpose from less expensive materials, with less expensive components in a place with less expensive labor costs.

My understanding about the Greenville plant is that it was conceived to produce lower costs than Chicago and then Japan and even Taiwan, as opposed to creating higher manufacturing tolerances and increasing quality. The initial plan was to move to Kansas in the early/mid 70s, but then went to Greenville after the events of 1980.

The LeTour occupies a section of bikes that Trek had abandoned early on- but you'll read of the fondness people have for their 412s and 414s. I had an 84 Trek 420 that I really liked- it was a Mangaloy frame with Hi-Ten stays and fork; sport touring geometry with side pulls but with a triple crank. That would have be a much more apt comparison... Additionally, I also had an 84 World Sport which really just seems to have been something like a Giant made LeTour- CrMo main frame and Hi-Ten fork... maybe a little lower on the component end- but components are always swappable. The World Sport was a decent bike- I liked it.

Of course, the direct comparison to the 89 Trek 520 would be the 89 Voyageur (I don't remember if those were Greenville made then). I realize the impetus is having these 2 bikes fall into your hands- but it's kind of neat comparing Sandro's Voyageur comparison chart to the Vintage Trek catalogs. https://sandro.knot.org/wp-content/u...comparison.pdf. Schwinn had surprisingly steep angles on the Voyageur- the 2 Voyageurs I've had rode very differently from my Trek tourers. You get used to it after a couple of miles, but it's definitely a change up. I'd like to compare an 86 Schwinn Passage with an 85 Trek 620... I think that would be a cool comparison.

I've always loved swapping out components- whether up or down the hierarchy ladder and seeing if/how it rides or how it affects me. Along with the repaint and refresh of the LeTour, it might be fun throwing barcons and some XC derailleurs along with a triple onto there- make it effectively a 70s style tourer.

FWIW- I seem to recall the last bike that came off the Greenville line was a Voyageur and it went to a manager of the plant. His kid ended up taking the bike to school where it was promptly stolen.
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Commence to jiggliní huh?!?!

"But hey, always love to hear from opinionated amateurs." -says some guy to Mr. Marshall.
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