Author Topic: Opinions on first budget touring bike  (Read 1818 times)

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Offline DoverFPV

Opinions on first budget touring bike
« on: April 22, 2020, 10:49:29 pm »
Newbie alert!

I'm planning to get into bicycle touring once the times allow and I am curious what peoples thoughts are early 2000's bikes. I'm planning to get a 2003 Trek 520 for 400$ which after doing a decent amount of research seems to be a pretty solid bike for commuting and touring. However after talking with a friend he thinks I should avoid it as bicycle standards have changed since then and parts may be hard to find. At this price point should I be concerned?

I appreciate any feedback!

Offline John Nettles

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2020, 11:20:26 pm »
I don't know what the part specs are on the bike but you should be OK.  Should you need to replace something like a derailleur, it may need to be upgraded a little.  A lot of the more "modern" stuff applies to racing bikes, i.e. electronic shifting.  However, for touring, a 520 should be fine.  I would also suggest you ask the bike mechanics subgroup over at BikeForums as they should be pretty knowledgeable about what, if any, issues you may run into.  I would say go for it though.

As a point of reference, I have bikes from every decade from the 60s to the teens (still looking for this decade).  I have not had an issue yet but at times I may have to look on eBay for an old part. 

Another option is to see if you can get an older Surly Long Haul Trucker. 

Tailwinds, John

Offline John Nelson

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #2 on: April 23, 2020, 12:16:47 am »
If in good shape and it fits you well, the 2003 Trek 520 is a fine touring bike. Its specs aren't that far off modern touring bikes. Parts for 9-speed bikes are readily available. In fact, the modern Trek 520s are still 9-speed. One difference is that many modern bikes have disk brakes, and the 2003 has rim brakes. But that's not a big deal, especially if the rims on the bike you're looking at aren't all concave. Another significant difference is that in 2003, Trek was still using a 52/42/30 crankset, whereas they have been using 48/36/26 since 2010. So you won't get as low of gearing. That's a bigger issue the older you are, the more gear you tour with, and how hilly your tour will be. Hint: all tours are hilly. If you find the 52/42/30 too high, you can swap it out.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2020, 09:00:56 am »
John Nettles is right; 9 speed parts are still available.  OK, maybe your local bike shop doesn't have them sitting on the shelf, but they're also unlikely to have spare Di2 derailers.  Today's 9 speed Sora is virtually the same as 2003 Tiagra.  Your shop can change out the crank for lower gears (after the part comes in next week), adjust the front derailer, and have you out the door within an hour.


Offline DaveB

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2020, 09:34:16 am »
If in good shape and it fits you well, the 2003 Trek 520 is a fine touring bike. Its specs aren't that far off modern touring bikes. Parts for 9-speed bikes are readily available. In fact, the modern Trek 520s are still 9-speed. One difference is that many modern bikes have disk brakes, and the 2003 has rim brakes. But that's not a big deal, especially if the rims on the bike you're looking at aren't all concave. Another significant difference is that in 2003, Trek was still using a 52/42/30 crankset, whereas they have been using 48/36/26 since 2010. So you won't get as low of gearing. That's a bigger issue the older you are, the more gear you tour with, and how hilly your tour will be. Hint: all tours are hilly. If you find the 52/42/30 too high, you can swap it out.
The 2003 520 has a 1-1/18" threadless steerer and headset so you are good in that regard as older 1" forks and headsets, particularly threaded headsets, are getting hard to find.

As to the gearing, it's likely the OEM crank has either 130/74 or 110/74 mm bolt circles.  If it is 130/74 you can go down to a 39T middle chainring and a 24T granny.  If it's 110/74 your choices are even wider as you can go down to a 34T middle and 24T granny so you have the potential of matching Treks current 520 gearing and still keep the original crank and bottom bracket.

That $400 price seems a bit high as the "Bicycle Bluebook" lists private party sales at around $200 so you might want to negotiate a bit unless the bike you are looking at is in pristine shape.

BE CERTAIN the frame is your correct size and fits you well. 
« Last Edit: April 24, 2020, 09:55:07 am by DaveB »

Offline DoverFPV

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2020, 10:39:34 am »
Thanks for the input everyone! The frame size is a 23in and I am 6’. From what I can tell, this should be the right size for me as a touring bike. It looks like roadbikes are sized a bit larger whereas touring bikes are sized down a bit for comfort. I plan to take whatever bike I get to the local shop to get fitted properly, but the frame size seems to be fine. Should I size up?

Offline dkoloko

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2020, 11:05:09 am »
Not to argue, but I have seen the opposite recommendation, larger frame for touring, smaller for performance riding. My bike shop says easier to make a slightly smaller frame fit than a bit larger one.

As to touring with an older bike, I crossed the country with a 30-year-old bike. I stopped in a bike shop for spare chain links. The young man asked, "Eight-speed or nine?". I said, "Five".

Offline John Nettles

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2020, 11:16:50 am »
The young man asked, "Eight-speed or nine?". I said, "Five".
Did the guy even know what you were talking about  :) ?

Offline driftlessregion

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2020, 02:02:51 pm »
Five speed: good thing IRC still makes a five speed freewheel.
1" headsets are in fact easily found: e.g., IRC, Richey, Velo Orange, Chris King. I just put one on my new Waterford Rando.

Offline DoverFPV

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2020, 05:06:48 pm »
Well I purchased the bike! I ended up taking it for 375. I've never owned a road bike that is actually my size and boy is it comfy. I appreciate all of the input from you guys. hardly any signs of wear and very well maintained from what I can see. He even swapped the chainrings and put in a new surly fork with a taller steer tube. very comfy ride! 

Offline staehpj1

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #10 on: April 24, 2020, 06:40:50 am »
Not to argue, but I have seen the opposite recommendation, larger frame for touring, smaller for performance riding. My bike shop says easier to make a slightly smaller frame fit than a bit larger one.
I agree with all of that.  My bikes are a bit of an exception since I personally tend to fit my touring bikes exactly like my performance bikes or as close as I can get.

Offline DaveB

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #11 on: April 24, 2020, 10:03:31 am »
1" headsets are in fact easily found: e.g., IRC, Richey, Velo Orange, Chris King. I just put one on my new Waterford Rando.
Oh yeah, 1" threaded headsets are easily found but 1" threadless headsets are less common.  A couple of years ago I converted a '96 Litespeed from 1" threaded to 1" threadless when I replaced the fork.  The only reasonably priced 1" threadless headset I could find was a Cane Creek 40.

As to frame size, performance/racing bikes are usually sized a bit small to make a low, aero riding position easier to achieve and to save a bit of weight.  Those aren't major considerations for a touring bike.

Offline staehpj1

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #12 on: April 24, 2020, 10:22:21 am »
As to frame size, performance/racing bikes are usually sized a bit small to make a low, aero riding position easier to achieve and to save a bit of weight.  Those aren't major considerations for a touring bike.
Probably the majority care less about weight and aero advantages on a touring bike, but there are a few of us who do and even a few who find a low more aero position more comfortable than a more upright one.  My rationale is that on tour, I am spending all day in the saddle for weeks or months at a time and am about as acclimated to the bike as I ever get, so the low position which is already pretty comfortable for me becomes even more so.  Also riding alone with days of head winds the benefits are real.  I'd advise folks to experiment and see what works best for them, maybe even trying to ease into a lower posture slowly over time just to see how it works for them.  Doing it all at once probably guarantees failure for most.

I agree that not all that many tourists feel that way and the majority set their bikes up with a more upright posture, but I am sure I am not completely alone either.  Maybe as I get older I will change my tune but I am coming up on my 69th birthday and haven't done so yet.

Offline DaveB

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #13 on: April 24, 2020, 10:44:19 am »
Probably the majority care less about weight and aero advantages on a touring bike, but there are a few of us who do and even a few who find a low more aero position more comfortable than a more upright one.  My rationale is that on tour, I am spending all day in the saddle for weeks or months at a time and am about as acclimated to the bike as I ever get, so the low position which is already pretty comfortable for me becomes even more so.  Also riding alone with days of head winds the benefits are real.  I'd advise folks to experiment and see what works best for them, maybe even trying to ease into a lower posture slowly over time just to see how it works for them.  Doing it all at once probably guarantees failure for most.

I agree that not all that many tourists feel that way and the majority set their bikes up with a more upright posture, but I am sure I am not completely alone either.  Maybe as I get older I will change my tune but I am coming up on my 69th birthday and haven't done so yet.
Well, you are a bit of an outlier among tourists in that you practice ultralight packing and performance is a real consideration.  For most riders not coming from a performance background an upright position is more comfortable and they pay the price on a windy day. 

Offline staehpj1

Re: Opinions on first budget touring bike
« Reply #14 on: April 24, 2020, 10:58:55 am »
Well, you are a bit of an outlier among tourists in that you practice ultralight packing and performance is a real consideration.  For most riders not coming from a performance background an upright position is more comfortable and they pay the price on a windy day. 
I agree completely.  I just don't think folks should dismiss the notion of using a little more aggressive posture out of hand.  They just might find that if they experiment and allow themselves to slowly acclimate to a little more aggressive posture that it might even be more comfortable.  Too upright means road shock goes right up the spine, so there just may be a comfort advantage for a bit less upright posture.  There is a continuum between bolt upright and the most aero position.  My suggestion is that folks be open to the notion that just maybe they might find joy somewhere else in the continuum if they experiment slowly in small increments.

In my case, even when I started out heavy touring, having found my performance bike very comfortable, I initially set my touring bike up pretty close to the same.  I experimented with the position and didn't find that I wanted to change from that much.