Strengths: Steel, traditional appearance, strong wheels, rack, well spec'd components.
Weaknesses: bottle boss on seat tube requires special cage to clear the derailer clamp. The seat is not very comfortable. steering tube too short for most riders who will use it for touring.
When it comes to a touring bike that is made of steel, and has a horrizontal top tube, the selection is quite slim unless you go to a custom manufacturer. I like steel because it is strong but not so rigid as aluminum. Titanium might be a consideration,but cost is an issue. The Trek 520 is just what I was looking for. Some talk about manufacturers deciding what you should ride and tend to put you on a bike that is too small for you. If you subscribe to the Rivendell philosophy and buy the largest bike you can ride, that will put the stem higher in relation to the seat and make it easier to get a proper (more upright) seating position. Trek should consider leaving the stearer tube uncut so that the buyer can make the bike more custom fit. I bought the 25 inch. due to the top tube being attached about 1 inch below the top of the seat tube, it's stand over height is only a half inch taller than my previous bike of 15 years. the shop I got it from swapped the stem for a 110/130 Dimension which makes my bars even with my seat. the fit is good. In additon to the Trek 520 I considered the Surly Long Haul Trucker and one of the Rivendell bikes. Price deterred me from the Rivendell. The Long Haul Trucker was very appealing to me, but I was able to purchase the Trek, 2 years old, but still un-used for $800. I have 400 miles on the bike since purchase and I do love it. changed the seat to a Performance Forte mens Contour. Not sure if it is what I will stick with, but it works well. changed the pedals to Shimano 324. added a trunk bag and small handle bar bag. I use the bike for recreational rides and short supported tours. considering this use, the tall gears are not so far an issue. A great bike that has the bugs all worked out in previous iterations.
Similar Products Used: first touring bike. other bikes. Mountain trek, Specialized Sirrus.
Bike Setup: Dimension 110/130degree stem. Shimano 324 pedals. Performance men's Contour seat. Topeak trunk bag. Cannondale small handle bar bag. Zeffle HPX frame pump.
a Recreational Rider
from Mesa, AZ
Date Reviewed: March 16, 2003
Strengths: good looks, value, ride
Weaknesses: My shimano LX top pull brakes are very weak, but newer models have v-brakes which are very powerful
Excellent bike. A great choice if you are in the market for a touring bike. It is strong, but can be quite fast. I've had mine for four years with no problems. For a while I did'nt have a mountain bike so I used the 520 off road. I'd only change the tires if you were to do it all the time! I rode in on RAGBRAI last year and that was what it was made for! The trek 520 and 5200 was about all I saw for that whole week, but for good reason!
from fort collins, co
Date Reviewed: October 28, 2002
Strengths: Great frame. Awesome ride. Very good for what it's made to do. A few modifications are needed though.
Weaknesses: Tires, saddle and rack. Like many other reviewers, these were the first things I switched out.
For tires, I went with the extremely reliable Continental Top Touring 700x32c. In the 4000 miles I've put on them (it's about time to change them), I haven't had ONE flat. No kidding.
Saddle--the stock saddle hurt my tail after about 25 miles. I switched to a Koobi Si (my third one--I swear by these saddles).
Rack--the stock Trek rack is way too flemsy. It's built to handle loads of about 20 pounds or less. I installed a Blackburn Expidition and even with 40-60 pounds, not a problem
I'm what you would call an EXTREME commuter. I bike around 5000-6000 miles/year while putting less than 1000 miles/year on my 18-year old car. I purchased this bike after putting nearly 20,000 miles on a steel-framed Trek 520 (heavily modified). I commute close to 200 miles/week, so I needed a bike that is comfortable, solid and VERY reliable. Early on, I decided on a touring-style bike. I wanted the benefits of a road bike, but wanted to be able to carry heavy loads and not worry about 'breaking' the frame/components with the type of mileage and stress I put on my bike (I should also mention that I'm about 230 pounds). There are not a lot of touring bikes left out there. There are several cheaper models (e.g.: Fuji, lower-end Bianchi) and many more in the high-dollar range (Bruce Gordon, Cannondale, Beckman, custom). After reading the reviews on this website, and test riding probably half-dozen models, I kept coming back to the Trek. I had owned three other Treks before and never had one problem with their framesets. So, early in 2002, I purchased a 2002 Trek 520. At the time I'm writing this, I've already put around 4000 miles on the bike. It has performed FLAWLESSLY. Again, keep in mind, I put a lot of stress on this frame. In addition to my weight, I usually pack anywhere from 15-40 pounds of gear on the bike. I also do grocery shopping with the bike and pack sometimes more than 40 pounds. The bike rocks. It seems like the more weight you put on the bike, the more comfortable and stable it becomes. It has exceeded my every expectation (with a few modifications--see below). Oh, I have used the bike once for its intended purpose. I did a 4-day, 250 mile trip over some of the mountains here in Colorado and once again, it performed flawlessly.
Great frame. Awesome ride. Very good for what it's made to do. A few modifications are needed though.
Similar Products Used: I test rode many other bikes and kept coming back to the Trek.
Bike Setup: Stock frame, 105 components
Blackburn expedition rear rack
Jandd grocery bag panniers
a Recreational Rider
from Seattle, WA
Date Reviewed: August 12, 2002
Strengths: comfy frame, quality drivetrain, great reliability.
Weaknesses: bar-cons... i'd prefer sti shifters. and it's a heavy bike, but that doesnt matter much if you're loading it down anyway. And the stock tyres arent too great either.
This bike is awesome for loaded touring. I just did London to Rome on it and it held up great! I never found the gearing too tall, even on 15% grades or in the alps. The bike never failed me in any way. The 105 and Deore (for the most part) drivetrain was high quality although the bar end shifters were kind of annoying. The frame was solid but still comfortable for the entire trip. Some people had the Cannondale T800, but that's mostly Tiagra components and I liked the Trek with 105 and a steel frame a whole lot better. A Cannondale T2000 is probably a nicer bike, but I wouldnt spend the extra money. I changed tyres to Continental Top Tourings after about 200 miles of training and found them to be much better than the IRC DuroTours, especially in the wet. The frame was stiff enough that i never really noticed any flex, although I can't compare it to any super-stiff racing bikes, so if that's what you're used to, your oppinion may differ. I changed my seat to a Selle Italia ProLink Genuine Gel before I took it home and that seat was absolutely awesome. I'd say this is the best loaded touring bike out there that i've ridden, especially for the money.
Similar Products Used: Cannondale T800 and T2000 (quick rides on both only... no long rides.)
Bike Setup: Stock except Selle Italia ProLink Genuine Gel Saddle and Continental Top Touring 2002 700 x 28c tyre
from Winnipeg MB Canada
Date Reviewed: June 26, 2002
Strengths: Price - from my research, best value in the marketplace. Drivetrain - excellent component group for the price.
Weaknesses: Seat - ouch! Rear rack - it appears relatively flimsy, some have seen it fail, others not. Gearing - stock is simply too tall for loaded touring on big grades. Threadless headset - I personally prefer a quill stem so that you can make adjustments on the fly.
The bike feels very solid and had been completely dependable after 3 months. The drivetrain is very smooth, general fit and finish are excellent. Based on earlier reviews I read here that consistently felt the gearing was too tall for loaded touring in alpine conditions, I swapped out the stock cassette for an XT 11-34 to improve the low end. Great ride, great handling. Price is in Canadian $.