2019 Trek 520

The New 2019 Trek 520 Touring Bike

The Trek 520 is the longest running model in Trek’s history. It’s hard to believe that this USA-based company has been refining their dedicated touring bike for 36 years now! Today, we’ll be looking at the controversial changes to the frame, fork and components of the 2019 Trek 520 model.

The 2019 Trek 520 Touring Bike

2019 Trek 520

Ok, the most controversial change to the Trek 520 is the new aluminium fork. Really, a steel frame and aluminium fork?

Aluminium is a dirty word in the bike travel world, but the thing is – broken aluminium forks that are designed for the purpose of touring are about as rare as hen’s teeth. Almost all European touring bikes employ aluminium forks on their builds, and it follows that if this material was inherently unreliable or dangerous, manufacturers would’ve switched back to steel over a decade ago.

From the outset, it might seem strange that Trek chose an aluminium fork for the 520, especially when it causes concern for some. I can’t comment on the precise reason why Trek would have chosen aluminium over steel, but it seems logical to me that they’ve managed to achieve increased fork stiffness with a tidy weight reduction of 318 grams.

Is an aluminium fork less comfortable than a steel fork? Not in my experience. When you’re running tyres in the 38-50mm width range you experience lots of tyre deformation over bumps making any difference in vertical fork compliance unnoticeable. It is worth mentioning that some steel forks with a long rake can be optimised for vertical flex, but this style of fork wasn’t fitted to the outgoing 520 model.

2019 Trek 520

Moving on, a new feature of the fork is what Trek calls the thru-skew secure skewer system. The dropout loops all the way around the skewer, meaning that the wheel cannot fall out unless the skewer is removed. This is designed to keep the quick release wheel perfectly aligned in the fork, similar to a thru-axle system. The fork itself comes with eyelets to fit a cargo cage on either side, as well as eyelets behind the dropout for full fenders.

Included with the bike is a Bontrager front rack unique to the 520. The rack features an upper tray to fit a front basket or a porteur-style bag. Alternatively, you can use the tray to simply strap a drybag to the top. It’s great to see some eyelets on the rack to help mount a front dynamo light too.

2019 Trek 520

The Trek 520 now uses Shimano STI shifters rather than the tried-and-trusted barend shifters of the previous models. While this may seem like a bad decision for a round-the-world touring bike, STI shifters have become much more reliable in the past five years and many people who travel a bit closer to home certainly prefer the better access to the shift levers. You can always swap the levers out if you’d prefer to know your shifter will outlast the rest of the bike.

The bars on the 520 are a pretty typical road handlebar. It’d be nice to see a flared drop handlebar offered with this bike for two reasons: the flared drops provide a bit more steering leverage and the handlebar shape provides additional clearance for a bikepacking handlebar pack, should you decide to pack light.

2019 Trek 520

The gear ratios have improved on the 2019 Trek 520 which I’m really happy about. While many users of the old model opted to swap in a 11-36t cassette to achieve a sub-20″ climbing gear, the new model comes with one as standard.

Another moot point found in the forums about the 2019 model is the downgrade from Shimano Deore gearing to Alivio. The reason for this move is that Deore has now moved on to 10-speed, and unfortunately there are no Shimano STI shifters which will work with the new 10-speed Deore drivetrain parts.

The brakes have received an upgrade to TRP Spyre-C callipers, however. These cable-operated brakes use a unique design that pulls both brake pads in at the same time, providing near-hydraulic braking performance (most cable disc callipers pull just one pad).

2019 Trek 520

Tyre clearance has stepped up from 700x45c to 700x50c. While most companies abide by international standards for tyre clearance (at least 4mm of space on either side of the tyre), Trek adds another 2mm on top of that, so you can likely fit 54mm tyres (29×2.2″) in the 520. Another change to the 520 frame is the larger diameter downtube. This increases the lateral frame stiffness and therefore increases the stability with a front and rear load. As far as I’m concerned, you can never have enough frame stiffness on a touring bike!

2019 Trek 520

And finally, there’s been some discussion around the 125kg maximum total weight limit for this bike. If the bike weighs 13kg itself and you were to carry the maximum rack capacity of 38kg, that means that technically you’d have to be under 74kg as a rider to meet this requirement.

I’m not too sure why Trek have opted for this limit (it’s been like this for a while – something legal perhaps?), but it’s my experience that a frameset of this build type will comfortably handle more. The wheels, although spec’d with 36 spokes, are possibly the only area which may not stand the test of time under a 125kg+ load. Check out THIS resource for my rim recommendations for super heavy loaded touring (ie. tandem-strength rims).

In addition, most bigger manufacturers like Trek are typically a bit more generous with their warranties as they prefer to provide good after-sales service to keep their customers happy. Not always, but I do often hear this.

2019 Trek 520
The 2019 Trek 520 in Anthracite Grey.
2019 Trek 520
The 2019 Trek 520 in Diablo Red.

What do you think of the choice of two colours? I’m digging the simple retro graphics of this years model and think the Anthracite Grey would be a good theft-deterring colour option. At US $1679, the bike is a bit more expensive than previous years, but with the front rack, upgraded brakes and STI shifters it’s still competitive enough in this segment. Don’t like the build? You can also get the frameset for US $640 if you’d prefer to do build it your way.

You can find out more at Trek.

Want To Compare This Touring Bike With Dozens of Others?

Check out the Touring Bicycle Buyer’s Guide which compares touring bike steering, sizing, gear ratios, specification, pricing and more. The Bikepacking Bike Buyer’s Guide does the same thing, however, with a focus on lighter bikes and models with more off-road capability. Both of these guides are updated annually with the latest models at no extra cost!

Helpful Resources

All About Touring Bike Brakes
Frame Materials for Bicycle Touring
How to Select Touring Bike Gearing
Understand Bicycle Frame Geometry
What’s the Difference between Cyclocross and Touring Bikes?

Touring & Bikepacking Bike Overview

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