My 1985 Trek 520 Sport Touring Bike
During one of last summer's rides, my rear wheel bearing
disintegrated and I ended up walking seven miles home. For a
long time, I have heard an occassional "ping" noise originating from
somewhere on the bike. I never could identify the source
of this noise. When the bearing completely disintegrated, it
became clear. It turns out that that "ping" noise, is
the sound of ball bearings colliding within the races.
Turns out that if you don't have perfectly good races, the balls
will hang up slightly and crash into each other, resulting in a ping
noise. This noise sounds like someone plucking a tensioned
spoke, but it isn't. In order to rebuild the wheel, I
bought several helicomatic rear hubs on ebay. Though listed as
running smoothly, the first, used hubs that I bought had less than
perfect cones. I did find a NOS hub that was fine, and I used
it to rebuild the wheel with new DT spokes and I am back on the
road, with a practically new wheel. The interesting
thing is that the NOS hub had fewer, but larger balls in the
bearings than my original unit and also the used hubs that I
bought. Hopefully it will last a long time.
Replaced the replacement Shimano Deore II rear deraileur with a
600, just like the bike originally had. I found the Shimano
on ebay and got it at good price because it needed an overhaul and
bogey wheels. Fortunately there was no play in the mechanism,
so it was a good buy. After a few outings, I feel it
vastly better than the Deore II ever did. Adjustments are
simple, once the cable is clamped on, there are just two
one at each end of the freewheet to adjust.
Update: 7/6/2010 -
Follow my retro blog, where each week, I'll recall a small part of a
bicycling adventure I took some years ago: http://www.willegal.net/blog/?cat=11
After quite of
few years of very infrequent use,
I've recently spent some quality time on my old Trek 520. Much
my surprise, some internet browsing has revealed that this bike and
old lugged steel framed Treks of it's era have achieved a little bit
a semi-cult following. This is interesting to me, because at
time I purchased it, the 520 really wasn't anything special.
the time, serious road bike enthusiasts, often purchased far more
end Italian road bikes with very tight geometries. Touring was
small niche market and most shops only stocked one or two touring
at any time.
Now that things have changed, I'll share
what I know about this bike on this site. First I'll provide a
little background. This is the first and only quality bike
have ever owned. I lived in South Florida at the time I bought
this bike. I was planning on doing some loaded
touring, but knew that most of my riding would be training type
The bike I really wanted was a Trek 720 touring bike, but I
couldn't justify the extra cost and the idea of a sport bike seemed
meet my needs, a little better, than an full out touring bike.
test rode a few bikes and though I ended up with the Trek. I
that the bike I should have purchased was a Nishiki Cresta.
Nishiki Cresta rode very nicely during that test ride and was $100
cheaper. I think I
just didn't know enough about the Nishiki company to go that route.
Another thing that the Trek 520 had going for it, was a
For a couple of years after I bought the 520, I did quite a lot of
riding. As expected, most of the rides were training rides,
but I did a couple of tours. One was a van supported
and I also did a three week fully loaded tour in the Rockies.
Hard to believe, but I even raced that 520 a couple of times
in a beginner criterium.
The majority of my riding was on flat, but often windy roads of
Florida. During my peak cycling period, I was riding up to 160
miles a week. Typically 20 miles 3 mornings during the week,
miles on Saturday and 40 miles on Sunday. I rode a couple of
during this period, doing one in 5 hours and 10 minutes.
For training rides, the 520 was perfectly comfortable, but it
didn't have spectacular performance. Riding next to my
Cologno with Campy Super Record components put things in
proper perspective. This was not and is not, a race bike.
One thing I could do, that my friend couldn't do, was ride no
handed quite easily, though the bike
always has had a very slight tendency to pull a bit to the right.
sure if the frame is out of alignment or not, but it's always had
slightly annoying tendency. This
is not noticeable with your hands on the handlebar, but it's always
annoyed me, a bit, just the same. It would be
interesting to hear
other vintage trek owners to see if they've had the same issue.
Usually, I would remove the rear rack in order to give the 520
more sporty appearance. I found that I could climb quite well,
compared to my friends. I doubt that the bike had anything to
do with this, but who knows. Handling was always OK, but I
that handling improved dramatically the day I put some Continental
Super Sport tires on it. I've tried a number of different
this bike, but those particular tires transformed the handling of
bike to a surprising extent. I bought a close 6 speed range
gear set and SunTour Superbe Pro short cage deraileur, instead of
the 5 speed
touring style for training on the
flats of Florida.
I rode this bike in a couple of beginner criteriums, and it
quite well. In one race, the guy in front of me crashed when
tubular tire rolled off the rim in a corner. I slammed on the
brakes and ended up doing a header over the handlebars.
the only damage to me or the bike was a a tear on the rear of the
bike's seat covering. I'm sure a full up racing bike would
handled the corners a bit better, but I really didn't have any
serious issue except for the guy crashing right in front of me.
Overall, the 520 did it's
job quite well.
I went on two tours with this bike. One was a van supported
through several hundred miles of Northern Florida over a weeks
time. This was a pleasant experience, and the bike gave me no
problems whatsoever and performed well.
The second tour was a fully loaded, unsupported, 800 mile
the Northern Rockies. The picture at the start of this page, is of
at the Bikecentenial Headquarters on the first day of that trip.
certainly was a test of this bike's touring capabilities. The
tour had 12 participants with a variety of equipment. In my
estimation, the 520 stacked up quite well with the rest of them.
The trip took us from Missoula Montana to Jasper Alberta over
period of three weeks. Prior to this trip, I purchased parts
and built new wheels for the trip. For loaded touring, I felt
need to use slightly fatter 700Cx32 tires than the narrow tires that
came with the bike.
The Weinmann A-129 concave rims I purchased, seem to be the
perfect match for
a loaded tour bike. I bought front racks and panniers for
and back. For this sort of the tour, the 520
out to be a great bike. Loaded down, the ride over bumps
out considerably, sort of like a Cadillac with a soft suspension.
I wonder to this day what a 720 would be like, since it had a
reputation of being a very smooth loaded tourer. Several of
the tour had new Cannondale aluminum tour bikes. A couple
of those cyclist complained of back aches at one time or another.
were too stiff. Handing on the 520 was almost always great.
I might have experienced a slight bit of front wheel shimmy a
times on very fast mountain descents, but it was never enough to
trouble me. In fact, I can only vaguely remember this
shimmy. It certainly was not very significant or I would have
remembered this more clearly. With the relatively short (for a
touring bike) side stays, I had to arrange keep some weight in the
front panniers to balance the bike. I found this out during a
couple of cold rainy days, when I was wearing much of my clothing,
which I normally kept in the front panniers. During these
the front wheel got a bit light and I had to move some weight
from the rear panniers. You wouldn't want to do a loaded tour
this bike with rear panniers, alone. Also, the short side
meant there isn't a lot of extra clearance
between your foot and the panniers, but this didn't affect me very
much. I had two problems with this bike during this trip.
One was a flat front tire. My front tire had received a
small cut prior to leaving on the tour. I didn't bother to
it because it didn't give me any trouble on my training rides and I
had a folding spare, anyway. I
was riding over a gravel path when I finally got a hole in the
tube because of this small cut. The other problem was a
broken spokes, that I only noticed when I arrived back at
I had laced my own wheels and at the time, attributed these
spokes to my inexperience with wheel building. I've recently
learned that the
Maillard freewheel requires a little extra dish and could have
to the problem with broken spokes. The brakes were reliable,
required a lot of effort to work during long mountain
One other fellow on the trip had a slightly older Trek and his
broke near the head tube. I'm not sure if this was common with
that era's Trek's, but figured I'd mention it.
Later on, when my kids were little, I pulled a Rhode Gear Chariot
trailer, with my kids aboard. The Trek handled this job just
fine and I was glad to
have the granny gear available.
A little bit about the components on this bike.
Wheels: I destroyed the original 700c Rigida rims when I
the "no bikes" sign and rode
through the New River Tunnel in Fort Lauderdale, FL. I don't know
these days, but the drainage grates at the bottom of the "New River"
were not bicycle friendly and I was lucky to emerge unscathed,
the rims did not survive. I think the Rigida Rims were
decent, but not an especially fine item. For training,
them with nice Mavic rims, that appear to be a step up in quality.
I built up new wheels on the old hubs and the Mavic
I found that they were very easy to true. I liked and
like the 5 or 6 speed Maillard rear hub with
quick change capability. I bought a second Maillard freewheel
and hub when I built the Weinmann touring wheels. I could
exchange gear sets between wheels, though it did require a deraileur
adjustment. I recently found that the Maillard hubs
have issues with reliability and are considered a poor design, but
worked very well for me. Some consider the extra dish required
to build a wheel on these rims stressful on spokes. I have had
3 spokes on one wheel break after thousands of miles, but no other
problems. The original
front Normandy hub currently needs replacement, as the races
pitted and somewhere along the line, one of the seals self
and was lost. Who knows, maybe it was damaged in the New River
tunnel and I didn't notice back then.
Brakes: The Shimano 600 brakes are good, but require a strong
hand, especially when loaded down and headed down long descents.
On the plus
side, they aren't too powerful or grabby, so that you have fine
control, when needed. During the days when my Trek 520 was
rode one of those brand new mountain bikes, and almost flew over
the handlebars when I first applied the brakes. They were very
and powerful, compared to my 520's Shimano 600s.
Drive Chain: The half step plus granny gearing takes a little
to get used to. For the time, 15 speeds, was a lot of gears.
With the three chain rings and five rear gears, sometimes
is a bit of fiddling around to
find the right gear for a given situation. Compared to more
modern systems, there is very little overlap between the
regularly use 13 of the 15 gears. The only combinations that
used are the two small gears on the chainwheel with the granny
chainring. I have replaced the
original 32 tooth granny with a 26 tooth gear. I think Trek
it with the 32 chainring because the jump up from a 26 or 28 to 45
big one and that shift never goes smoothly. A few years ago, I
replaced the Shimano 600 rear deraileur with a newer Delore
This settup is not shifting all that smoothly when I go
cogs, but I don't think that it is any worse than the original
600. Other than
these changes, I am still running the original drive train, so it
couldn't be too bad of a combination. At one time, I also
biopace granny, but it is not something that I would recommend,
it hard to get into a good rhythm with this bizarre, almost square
chain wheel. For training on the flats of Florida, I bought a
closer ratio 6 speed freewheel, and it works well, but I'm not
currently using it. On the flats of Florida I rarely
used the granny gear. These days, as a
much older, heavier rider, in hilly Massachusetts, I do
a few hills where the
granny gear comes in handy. For loaded touring, it is
The shifters are on the downtube and with a half step system,
can easily reach both shifters with either hand. This makes
double shift that is often required, a one handed operation.
in mind that this is friction shift system, index shifters
were not yet available at the time when I purchased this bike.
Frame: Smooth ride when loaded touring and nice stable ride
rides and commuting. I never had trouble staying up with my
friends who had all out racing bikes. At times in the
past, I has thought that the top tube is a
bit on the long side, but at this point I don't believe that is the
case. I think if it were any shorter my knees would be too
to the handlebars, when I am on the drops. This bike was
with a quality Blackburn
attached via braze on's and had a single set of braze on's on the
fork for a
rack or fender. There is a pump peg on the head tube, so that
the pump is placed under the top tube. At times anoying
it is more easily knocked off than a pump placed along the seat
However it allows for the two sets of braze on's for water
bottles to be placed within easy reach of a rider. One is on
the down tube and the other on the seat tube.
Note in the picture at the top of this page how the other
have the second water bottle on the bottom of the down tube.
rear wheel dropouts have a screw adjustment for fine tuning
alignment of the rear wheel. I'm not sure where the problem
but the bike pulls very slightly to the right when riding no-handed.
When new, the paint job was spectacular. Now it has
bit of wear and tear on it.
Headset: At one point, my tinkering got me in trouble and I
ruined the factory Shimano 600 headset. I don't remember what
did, but it cost about $40 to install an exact replacement. I
haven't had any trouble since. One bad thing about this
is that it doesn't take normal wrenches. It takes a special
wrench made by Shimano.
Pedals: Eventually the bearings on the SR pedals gave out and
couldn't adjust an annoying click out of them. A friend gave
pair of the Campy Super Record pedals, when he upgraded to the new
fangled clip on pedals. Those Campy pedals have been a
great addition. I still use old style toe clips and straps.
I guess if it works, no need to change. All of these
I've fallen over only once or twice when forgetting to loosen the
straps for a stop. I can always ride in street shoes, in case
Handlebars, seat, misc: Sometimes, when I'm tired, I wish the
handlebars were a bit higher up. I haven't spend a lot of time
the drops, perhaps they are a bit too low. I've never felt a
to replace the San Marco seat, so it must be a decent item.
much else noteworthy to say about these topics.
All in all, I really like my Trek 520, but I still am surprised
how this class of bike could have attracted a following after all
years. Keep in mind, at the time, I purchased it, it was a mid
range sport touring machine, that had no real outstanding qualities
any sort. I'm surprised to see that Trek still makes a bike
called a 520 and not a 720 . Most folks that see my old 520,
old it is, kind of like what people would say if they saw you
around an old Ford Falcon.
Anyway, to this day, I can't find anything seriously wrong with my
and can't find any justification for supplementing or replacing it
anything, else. It sure would be nice to be riding the latest
composite road bike with shiny new decals and paint, but that 520
every job I ask of it with simple competence. It is hard to
a new $2000 road bike or even a new $1200 Trek 520 could do that
A little worn, but still kicking - this is how she looks these