Trek 520 Touring Bicycle Review | PedalChef

Key Takeaways

  • The Trek 520 is the only touring bike Trek offers
  • The 520 has been the stable touring bike for decades
  • The 520 may be in danger of being phased out due to decreased demand.

Trek has been making excellent bicycles for years, and their workhorse has been around forever. How good is the Trek 520, and is it worth buying?

The Trek 520 is a touring bicycle that Trek Bicycle has produced since 1983. The Chromoly steel bike has stood the test of time and has been the go-to bike for years for cross-country rides. It is one of the most popular bicycles that Trek has ever made, enjoying brisk sales and a solid following.

In the bicycling community, newcomers often try to promote the latest aerodynamics or advancements as the most revolutionary thing ever introduced. But in a world of constant tweaking, there's something to be said for staying the course. When Trek introduced the 520, the company knew there was a market for enthusiasts interested in more than just recreational cycling. Trek fashioned the 520 Touring bikes in 1983 to be exercised in adventure and exploration. The bike has a solid frame, can handle added gear and weight and gobbles up pavement like there is no tomorrow. Over the years, the 520 Touring bikes have captured the hearts of the bicycling enthusiasts, and Trek has had enough sense not to mess with a good thing.



What Makes the Touring 520 So Special?

For years, Trek has offered the 520 as the ultimate touring bike. It is the only touring bike that Trek offers. What exactly makes the Trek 520 so unique and loved by so many?

The Trek 520 Was Built Very Well

There is a reason that Trek has put so much confidence in the 520, and a lot of it has to do with the way it was built. Even though Trek’s headquarters is located in Waterloo, Wisc., the actual build is performed overseas. The Giant Bike Company makes many Trek units in the far East. (Giant makes bicycles for several companies). The good thing about this consistency is just that. When you make the same bike for years, your workers have an excellent opportunity to get very good at what they are doing.

The Chromoly frame is designed to be lighter and stronger than average steel composites. This alloy makes the metal ideal for bicycling frames where weight reduction directly affects speed, and the need for durability is equally essential (multiple uses and strains).

The Trek 520 frame features five different sizes of frames that run from 48 to 60 cm to accommodate different-sized riders’ bodies. Since not every bike rider is the same size or shape, the various sizes are a welcome option for many who have trouble finding a bicycle that fits them correctly. The touring bike has a weight capacity of 275 lbs, which includes equipment and a rider.

The Trek 520 frame can handle rear and front racks, making it ideal for long-distance trips. In addition, the frame has distinct features, such as water bottle or pump mounts. Owners can modify the bike with fenders to keep the mud from slinging up, especially when riding on wet pavement. Many cross-country riders have welcomed the small touches because these add-ons made their rides easier to manage.

In early models of the 520, the fork was also a steel Chromoly, but with recent renditions, the company has shifted to an aluminum alloy. While steel forks can often be too stiff, leading to cracking and disintegration, the aluminum alloy fork allows for more flexibility while handling the abuse from different road surfaces. The design of the ThruScrew allows owners to remove the front tire without unpacking all the gear they were carrying upfront.

The tire is Bontrager Hard-case Ultimate, 700x38c, with the option of growing into a pair of 29 x 2.00-inch tires. The wide tire gives the rider better comfort and can handle the punishment of uneven road surfaces. Since cross-country riders are traveling on the edges of challenging highway roads, the added width is welcome. The company has also included a reflective sidewall to keep cyclists safe.

The 9spd Shimano drivetrain is versatile, and when coupled with Shimano derailleurs (Shimano Alivio M4000 on the rear), the shifting is smooth and easy. While most early renditions of this bike used Shimano Deodre for several years, the company moved to a Shimano Alivio (which some reviews felt was a step down). However, Shimano continues to surprise, and the Alivio is probably one of the best intermediate group sets on the market. Shimano continues to be the big boss of components for cycling, so their parts are easy to secure. Coupled with the lifetime guarantee, the bike can be quickly repaired should something go wrong.

Most of the other components of the bike (handlebars, seat, and the like) are supplied by Bontrager, which Trek owns. Once again, the company can contain costs using its in-house maker of parts.

For 2023, Trek is offering two distinct colors, Diablo Red and Anthracite (think charcoal), but over the years, there have been complaints about the paint job needing to be able to hold up. The great thing is that the metal below the paint won’t rust or corrode. Most riders can live with a bike that looks like it's been on a few adventures, so this is not a deal-breaker.

The Trek Performed Very Well

The 520 has consistently scored very high in reviews over the years. The ride is exceptional for a heavier bike, but that weight lends itself to stiffness and stability, particularly for the long hauler. (I had an uncle who rode his Trek across the country several times in the eighties, with only a few minor tire changes).

The bike could be more agile, although the added weight can make the handling chunky. Still, the 520 seems to gobble up pavement and isn’t intimidated by inclines or steep descents. The bike has wider tires, which lend themselves to excellent grip on a slick pavement or even gravel roads. The steel frame absorbs most shocks and bumps without translating them to the upper torso of the ride. Overall, there is a lot to love about this bike. Most owners of Trek 520s prefer the older models because their performance is so exceptional. Regardless, the rider will have a lot of confidence in this bike and, even after years of ownership, still be singing its praises.

The Trek 520 Was Reasonably Priced

Even though the current $1895 is pushing the limits of what most families would pay for a bike. At the introduction in 1983, the 520 cost a mere $400, which was exceptional. Since then, the bike has increased in price each year.

The Trek 520 Has Been Around for a Long Time

As mentioned before, Trek has been producing the 520 for almost forty years. During that time, it has seen its share of improvements here and there, but for all intents and purposes, the bike is still a great touring bike. The fact that this is the only touring bike Trek makes, coupled with the continued demand across multiple generations, makes this bicycle deserving of hall of fame status.

The Trek 520 has a Difficult Future Ahead.

During the early years of Trek 520, it is essential to remember that there was a massive surge in the pastime of bike riding. American superstars like Greg Lemond and Lance Armstrong captured the public's psyche and spurred more and more people to take up the sport, both recreationally and professionally. (It didn’t hurt that both Tour de France winners wore Trek jerseys). In addition, programs like 1 world 2 wheels (Trek’s pet project to get more people into the cycling world) helped foster an extensive biking culture. Their willingness to support bike clubs and sponsor longer rides across the country helped keep them at the forefront of an eager public.

While Trek continues to support and sponsor pro-teams, it is clear that more people are turning away this past time. According to statistics, recreational riding by kids has fallen 49% since 1997. Undoubtedly, our world has raised a generation much more interested in playing video games from their couch rather than strapping on a helmet and exploring the world.

For those who are riding, most current riders are moving away from touring bikes and choosing to go electric. The 27 billion dollar industry is expected to double in the next five years, and due to the decrease in sales for regular bikes, it won’t be long before e-bike sales surpass standard bike unit outputs.

As a sign of things to come, the Trek website indicates that it cannot ship the Trek 520 due to a lack of production. Whether this is from the fact that the company is signaling the 520s demise, cutting back on production numbers, or has just sold out of their yearly allotment, remains to be seen. The website advises potential buyers to contact their local bike shops to see if the bike is available in their particular locales.

What We Liked and Hated About the Trek 520

As mentioned above, the Trek 520 has stood the test of time and has captured the hearts of cyclists everywhere over the years.


  • Been around for a long time
  • It has a solid Chromoly frame
  • Able to handle long trips and added gear


  • The Bike may be difficult to secure
  • The future of touring bikes is dwindling


  • See the manufacturer's website for more information on the 520 and its availability.
  • For Today’s Price, check out your local bike retailer.