Trek 520 Touring Bike Review

Trek 520 Review



Pros​​​​

Brakes, frame, posture, racks   

Cons

Paintjob chips easily

Summary

The Trek 520 is one of the best touring bikes out there. It offers the ideal mix of comfort, flexibility, and durability for those who are into long-distance bike touring.

Our Rating

93/100

Manufacturer

Trek offers its customers only one touring bike option, the Trek 520.  The Wisconsin-based manufacturer has been producing the 520 since 1983 and each year, the bike is altered with a fresh outer design and paint color.

Although the components have had little variation in recent years, the 2019 incarnation has added more tourist-friendly features compared to its predecessor, the 2018 model. This ensures that you have the ideal biking experience when going out on an expedition.

The Trek 520 shows its more adventurous ambitions with its gearing, which has gone lower than before. This feature will prove significant when you are carrying a heavy load and you get to a long mountain pass. In such a situation, it would be nice to switch into a lower gear.  

trek 520 all loaded up

The bike’s front thru-axles ensure that you get the most out of the TRP Spyre brakes. These are among the top mechanical disc brakes in the market, offering an option that is easier to fix than hydraulics when you’ve been on a beaten track. Even though they need more effort through brake levers compared to hydraulic disk brakes, they still work in all kinds of weather conditions.

Another feature you’ll like is the 36-spoke Bontrager Affinity rims, which add to the 520’s sturdy build. The 38mm Bontrager Hard-case tires are well-suited for the tarmac and will offer a smooth ride on light gravel. It’s a good thing that the rims will accommodate wider rubber, enabling the flexibility to fit a more off-road flavored or gravel-specific tire.

There is a step up on the tire clearance from 700 x45c to 700 x50c. Whereas most manufacturers abide by international tire clearance standards- at least 4mm of space- Trek adds an extra 2mm so that you can potentially fit 54mm tires in the 520.

Tech Specs

FRAME SIZE: TIG-welded butted Chromoly in sizes 48, 51, 54, 57, and 60cm
BRAKE TYPE: TRP Spyre C2.0 mechanical discs
SHIFTER: Shimano Sora
RIMS: Bontrager Tubeless ready, 36h
TIRES: Bontrager H1 Hard-case Ultimate, 700x38mm (reflective sidewall)


The Trek 520 features five different sizes of frames that include 48, 51, 54, 57 and 60 cm to accommodate a wider range of body sizes. The bike maintains the usual Chromoly frame, with the break from tradition being an aluminum alloy fork as opposed to the previously used steel forks.  

However, a controversial feature on the 2019 model is the step down from the Shimano Deodre gears to Alivio. The grounds for this move, I believe, could be since Deore has currently moved on to 10-speed, there are no Shimano STI shifters that will pair with the 10-speed Deodre drivetrain parts.

Another new feature on the bike’s fork is the thru-skew secure skewer system. This has the dropout looping all the way around the skewer to make sure that the wheel won’t fall out without removing the skewer. It ensures that the quick release wheel is perfectly aligned in the fork, as is the case in a thru-axle system.

We also liked the 48/36/26t Alivio mountain bike chainset, which comes with a tiny 26t internal chainring instead of a Shimano 105 road bike 50/39/30. The manufacturer has used a saucer-sized 36t sprocket that delivers a low bottom gear. The 48×11 top gear is built for powering down hills while the Alivio rear derailleur and Sora gear lever pairing work nicely together.

​What We Like

Quite a lot...actually.

The Trek 520 is a functional touring bike with improved features that will serve you well on long-distance rides. 

What impressed us about this bike is that the gear ratios have been improved. While the majority of users of the old models chose to swap in a 11-36t cassette to attain a sub-20” climbing gear, this new model comes with one as standard.

The brakes have also been upgraded to TRP Spyre-C calipers. These cable-operated brakes utilize a special design that pulls the two brake pads simultaneously, providing a breaking performance close to hydraulic brakes system.

Another notable change on the 520 that we liked is the larger diameter downtube. This helps to boost the lateral frame stiffness, increasing the bike’s stability with both front and rear loads. It doesn’t get better than this when it comes to frame stiffness on a touring bike.

Generally, the 520 uses Shimano for most of its components. The advantage here is that these parts are relatively inexpensive and easy to replace. Not to mention the lifetime warranty provided by Trek that ensures you can get your bike checked by experts whenever it develops a malfunction.

If you are planning a long bike tour with a significant load, the 520 has the right geometry for a comfortable ride. The upright posture, chainstay length, and low center of gravity were meant for these kinds of circumstances.

Pros

  • Stable
  • Increased capacity
  • Comfortable on long rides
  • check-circle
    Customizable
  • check-circle
    Different Sizes

​What We Don’t Like

If there’s one thing about the 520 that is still wanting, I would say it's the paint job! What I noticed is that the metallic paint used on the bike peels off easier compared to any other bike I’ve owned in the past. An easily chipped paint job is not something you want on a touring bike given the prolonged exposure to elements involved.

The good thing is that despite the chipping of the paint, the metal underneath does not rust easily. The price may also be a bit costly for those who are on a budget.

Cons

  • A bit Pricy
  • Paintjob chips easily

Buying Advice

If you are looking to buy a classic touring bike, the Trek 520 is an investment worth making. Its durability, comfort, style, and combination of convenient features make it all the worthwhile.

I personally feel like it’s the perfect bike to set out on a long tour with, especially if you have a lot of supplies to bring along. The geometry and frame of the bicycle provide you with a smooth ride on a bumpy road and can still take on mild dirt trails when fully loaded.

Trek did a good job of fitting an already industry-tested bike model with features that make it even more touring-friendly in its latest offering. The Trek 520 is a bike you can take a chance on!   

Conclusion

The Trek 520 is a classic and functional touring bike that has stood the test of time. Trek has been supplying its customers with quality long-distance bikes for more than three decades.

The retail price might be expensive to some, but the parts are affordable when you want to replace them. If you want a practical bike that will ensure your comfort on a long expedition, consider acquiring the Trek 520.


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