Help Me Replace My 1981 Trek 620 Bicycle
September 15, 2014 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Please advise me on candidate bikes and/or other buying advice for replacing my Trek 620. (Details inside)

I currently ride a 1981 Trek 620 touring bicycle, and it needs replacement. I ride about 1200-1500 miles per year, a mix of suburban commuting and recreational road rides. I'm 6'2" and 190 lbs. I ride with a rear rack and a pannier, but I don't actually do any overnight touring. I ride with good cadence (70-90 rpm) but fairly slowly -- typically 12-14 mph on flat road. I rarely pedal above 20 mph. I'll typically ride for 4+ hours on a recreational ride, so I prefer a bike with an endurance geometry. I live and ride mostly in Northern Virginia, so much of my riding is flat or hilly, with occasional hard climbs. I ride medium profile tires (27x1.25) and am happy with that. I don't want to say that money is no object, but I don't need to squeeze out a bargain either. I don't have a preference for any particular drivetrain components.

Must-haves on a replacement bike are:

(1) Brake lever shifters. My vintage Trek has downtube shifters. I rode with brake lever shifters on a Backroads bike tour and loved them. I also have a Quick 4 that I ride while at a vacation home, and I love having thumb shifters on that bike. I want to be able to easily shift without moving my hand position, so that rules out bikes that only offer bar end shifters (e.g., Surly LHT, the current Trek 520). [Or convince me that I would be happy with bar end shifters.]

(2) Rear rack mounts. I always ride with enough "stuff" to like having a pannier, and I often find it helpful to be able to bungee stuff to the rack. So this rules out carbon fiber frames and bikes that don't have mounts. I have size 12-13 feet, so heel clearance is an issue.

I'm currently looking at candidate bikes such as the Cannondale Synapse 105, the Cannondale CAADX 105, the Trek Domane 2.3, and the Trek Crossrip Elite. Please advise me if there are other bikes I should be considering, and/or if there is something I'm overlooking. Am I better suited looking at endurance road bikes or cyclocross bikes?

I know about Bike Direct and I'm capable of assembling a bike. Something like the Fantom Cross PRO seems to fit my needs, but I'm leery of buying a bike without being able to test ride it. Any advice about that?

Thanks in advance for any and all help!
posted by srt19170 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I work in a shop, and customers order the Surly LHT and ask us to swap out the bar-end shifters for STI shifters all the time.

Personally I have no problem with bar ends. They're cheap and reliable, and it's no problem for me to move my hand, shift, and move it back. If you're used to downtube shifters now, bar-end will be a huge improvement.

Not that there's anything wrong with STI shifters either. You just get more bang for your buck with bar-end. Anything including or above SRAM Apex or Shimano Tiagra would be fine for you in my opinion. The only integrated shifters I don't like are anything by Microshift and Sora and below (I mean they work, yeah, a little and get at least Tiagra).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:42 PM on September 15, 2014

Any bike shop will make whatever upgrades you want to a stock frame, and many will buy the parts back from you.

Seconding that you might consider the bar ends given your needs though. I think STI is essential for safe city riding (at least for me), but I've found bar ends quite comfortable on touring rides, and they break less. If you're near DC, Bicycle Space should have a stock Surly that you could try. It would be worthwhile to visit either DC or Richmond anyway if possible if you don't have a shop locally -- I would not buy a bike I hadn't test ridden.
posted by susanvance at 1:29 PM on September 15, 2014

I ride a Surly LHT for commuting to work and the occasional long distance road ride. The stock build is an extremely comfortable bike, and the bar end shifters are definitely a big step up from downtube shifters.

Moving your hands from the hoods to the bar ends to shift feels a lot more natural (to me) than reaching down for downtube shifters. If you've never tried them, you might give them a try and see what you think.
posted by steinwald at 1:30 PM on September 15, 2014

Also, STI shifters have a lot of really small moving parts, and are pretty hard to repair when something goes wrong. And replacing an STI lever isn't cheap.
posted by steinwald at 1:33 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I vote for keeping your awesome classic bike and upgrading the components. That frame will last forever if treated well. Those new bikes you're pining for might not last more than 10 years. Put about $500-$600 into this and it will seem like a totally new bike, with a geometry that your body is already familiar with.
--Get some more ergonomic bars, different stem, and some STI or bar end shifters.
--Upgrade the wheels.
--Get a new sealed bottom bracket.
--A Brooks saddle might help your body more than a frame with better "endurance geometry"
--Spread the rear triangle so you can run an 8-9-10-speed cassette. (a fun project that can be done with a 2x4)
posted by oxisos at 1:38 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think you want a steel touring bike, btw (since you seem to want comfortable endurance, rather than speed), but if you haven't made up your mind on steel vs aluminum, you definitely need to do some test rides. If you want steel with stock STI, the Bianchi Volpe might be a good pick.
posted by susanvance at 1:49 PM on September 15, 2014

Does your current bike fit all of your needs (except for the down-tube shifters)? Could you just replace the outdated components? I ask because I also ride an older trek (1982 model 614) and I've gone back and forth about replacing it, but it fits me well and I'm used to it. I recently built new wheels for it and upgraded some things and it feels like a new bike. Then again, it is a pretty heavy and I probably don't know what I've been missing, having never been on a newer touring style bike. And seconding spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints, you could definitely get a LHT (or "Disc Trucker") and get integrated brakes/shifters.
posted by klausman at 2:24 PM on September 15, 2014

Keep your bike & update/upgrade the parts you are dissatisfied with! You have a well-regarded steel touring bike with lotsa class that you mostly like riding! Any $$ you could spend on a Surly or carbon bike would return double invested into your Trek.
posted by TDIpod at 2:49 PM on September 15, 2014

If you can't upgrade your current bike (a great idea if the frame is in good shape), here are a couple of possibilities to consider:

Jamis Aurora - a good touring bike, comparable to the LHT. You could get brifters as an upgrade.
Surly Straggler - like the Cross Check but the complete bike comes with brifters and disk brakes.
Raleigh Clubman Disc - another bike built for endurance riding, with brifters and disk brakes.

The only reason to consider cross bikes is if you imagine running even wider tires than a touring bike will take. But you'd want to replace the stock tires on a cross bike with new tires whose tread is smoother.

I find that bar end shifters are easy to use, and it's not a bad thing to move your hands. You would have to move them to shift anyway if you're riding on the tops, the ramps, or in the drops. But then I built my most recent bike with downtube shifters, to save weight and complexity (and to give them a try again; I hadn't used them since I was a kid in the late 70s/early 80s). I've discovered that I really like being able to shift both derailleurs with one hand.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:16 PM on September 15, 2014

Response by poster: First, thanks to everyone for the responses so far. I really appreciate it. There are a couple of new bikes to check out, and (for whatever reason) I hadn't considered that I could swap bar ends for integrated shifters if I bought something like a LHT. (The LHT frame geometry is almost exactly proportional to my 620, so that's appealing.)

As far as upgrading my existing bike, I did consider it. Obviously I love the bike, having ridden it for 30 years. But I discussed it with a bike mechanic at my LBS, and I can't simply swap to bar ends or integrated shifters. It would involve replacing all the components, rear wheel and cassette, and some modifications (possibly spreading the rear stays as oxisos suggests?) at a cost that would approach a new bike. (Assuming he knew what he was talking about.) I suppose I could cut down on that cost by sourcing and installing the components myself, but I'm not entirely confident of my ability to make that all come together and work flawlessly. (And actually the mechanic was pretty reluctant to say that he could make it work.)

My frame has also taken some damage over 30 years of riding and has started developing some rust. I contacted Trek earlier this year to see if they would repaint the frame, but they wouldn't. I don't know if there's any third party who could do it and replace the stickers, etc. There's also some annoyances like being stuck on 27" wheels.
posted by srt19170 at 4:43 PM on September 15, 2014

Mechanics at bike shops that sell new bikes are unlikely to recommend restoring your existing bike, because the profit margin is so much lower, and many mechanics don't know vintage bikes. But it can be a really fun process if you find the right mechanic. I hang around people who would love to get their hands on that kind of "modernizing" project.

Yes, a few components would need to change to get the shifting you want for this bike. BTW, you can almost certainly fit 700c wheels on your current frame--the difference at the brake pad is just 4mm. Sandblasting and powdercoating are also options for you. You're right that it would not be cheap. But it would be special!
posted by oxisos at 7:01 PM on September 15, 2014

Unless you're really tight on space, my recommendation would be to get a new bike and start the project of renovating the Trek 620. Every cyclist needs a spare bike in case one is damaged or otherwise temporarily unrideable (e.g. you discover a cut in a tire casing just before you head out on your morning commute).

If there's damage to the frame, find a local framebuilder who can tell you whether the damage is serious enough that it can't be repaired. If the rust is superficial, it can be sanded off and then the frame repainted or powder coated. If you want something quirky that will take wider tires, for comfort on gravel and bad paved roads, consider replacing the 27-inch wheels with 650B rather than 700C.

If you want brifters, you pretty much have to upgrade the whole drivetrain. It is possible to mix and match, within limits—many people are using 11-speed Campagnolo Ergopower brifters with 9-speed Shimano cassettes and Shimano derailleurs.

It would be relatively expensive to do the upgrade, since part of what makes new bikes relatively cheap is the substantial OEM discount on components that the major manufacturers get. But if you like tinkering, it would be a neat project, and you'd be giving your bike a new lease on life.

BTW, are you sure your bike is a 620 from 1981? The 1981 Trek brochures, available here, don't list a 620 model. It looks as if the 620 was sold only in 1983, 1984, and 1985.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:36 PM on September 15, 2014

Response by poster:
BTW, are you sure your bike is a 620 from 1981? The 1981 Trek brochures, available here, don't list a 620 model. It looks as if the 620 was sold only in 1983, 1984, and 1985.
Well, I'm not anymore. I bought it around September 1982 and (IIRC) was told it was the previous year's model. But it has the mast Trek logo and downtube shifters, so it seems like it has to be a 1983. ( It looks exactly like this bike.) Would bike shops have gotten 1983 models before the calendar year? If I get a chance, I'll find the serial number (it's under the plastic cable guide on the bottom of the shell, so kind of a pain to dig out) and try to place it more accurately.

BTW, the rust damage is very superficial at the moment. Just some light surface rust where some paint got scuffed away at some point this summer.

I kind of like the plan to get a new bike and then rehab this one, although I'm not sure Madame President will be in favor of me adding yet another project (and bike) to the garage.
posted by srt19170 at 9:26 PM on September 15, 2014

The responses from oxisos and brianogilvie, that's where it's at. Your current frame is pretty much better than anything else you can buy new. Your reported "cost that would approach a new bike" is a new bike that won't be anywhere near as good as your classy old Reynolds 531 frame with all-new components.

You're 6'2", huh? If you cannot convince your lady partner with the cute political nickname that you ought to have multiple bike projects going, then buy your personality-free LHT and sell your old frame to me! I will do basically everything described and relegate my crappy old Novara touring bike to be my backup.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 9:30 PM on September 15, 2014

Another vote for rehabbing the bike you have. These bikes have little value on the secondary market, which is hilarious because an equivalent new bike built with the same materials, and with the the same skill/care of assembly(In the US!) costs a totally hilarious amount of money. Like, thousands of dollars.

A bike isn't like a car, it's more like... a guitar. If you have a nice old model that's equivalent in brand/materials/construction to something that's very expensive new you're almost always ahead working with that rather than starting over with something new that's just equal to the cost of the work.

And i guess it's worth noting that i'm a guy who has owned old and new bikes, and traded his new-ish higher end bike for a bike like this. It's better in every damn way.

Another thing to consider is that you can keep a lot of the original components. You can mix and match. A cheap sora or tiagra front derailleur is fine. Similarly, you can just buy tiagra or 105 hubs even if you get a nicer real derailleur.

I've had ultegra and dura ace bits and bobs. You really old need like 105, and plenty of friends have done down-the-coast type rides multiple times and ride every day on stuff like tiagra. Find a shop that's willing to work with you if you source the parts, and start finding them on craigslist.

I also think it might be worth it to do a lot of the assembly yourself, and just take it to a shop for a "tune up". I did 100% of the work myself on my last several builds, but on the most recent one i ended up having a mechanic friend tune the rear derailleur because i could just not get that 100% on point every shift. It's downtube/barend though, and for what it's worth i found STI shifters infinitely easier to tune. Start at the "cable most relaxed" position, adjust til centered. Shift to the top, adjust a bit. Shift to the middle, adjust a bit. And generally, bobs your uncle.

I spent like $40 on a crank puller and bottom bracket wrench. The rest of the stuff should already be in your garage.

Buy a cheap say, 105 hub 700c wheelset on craigslist for $150 or something. You'll need long reach brakes for that, but plenty of companies make those and they're like $50(or less used). You might even be able to just jimmy it with the ones you have(i would know!).

If you are ABSOLUTELY COMMITTED to replacing the bike, you're shooting yourself in the dong to not go used. Buy something like a bianchi volpe, or a redline conquest(or conquest pro). You'll get everything you want for $400-700 depending on how kitted out it is. Or a 90s lemond with disk brakes. or...

I could fart out a lot of models, but really, i think you should just rehab this bike. I regret every bike like this i've gotten rid of, and my current bike was an attempt to get back to where i was in the first place rather than have some not-all-that-awesome even if it was presented as such new bike.
posted by emptythought at 9:58 PM on September 15, 2014

If you're in love with the idea of steel, I'd recommend trying the Bianchi Volpe and whatever its little brother is called. Both are nice steel bikes that are sold stock with integrated shifting. If you can find Norco bikes, I love the Norco Indie Drop and the bike they are replacing it with, the Search looks amazing. REI's Novara brand has a Reynolds steel bike called the Verita that is very good deal. If you like the Surly idea, but want to put integrated shifting on it, you should try All City bikes. Same parent company, but nicer spec bikes at better weights. Honestly, I think Surlys are bikes the internet loves because so many others on the internet love them. I find the heavy and unresponsive.

Though, I will say, my favorite bike of mine in this category is an older steel bike I upgraded the heck out of. Of course, now it's almost precious, so if it's raining, I ride a different bike.
posted by advicepig at 1:38 PM on September 16, 2014

Response by poster: FWIW, I looked up the serial number of my bike, and it's in the first batch of 25" 620 frames made and would have been on sale September or October of 1982.
posted by srt19170 at 3:47 PM on September 17, 2014

As one who rides a beloved classic lugged steel bike for her commute and a newer, lighter bike for other outings, I have to put in a vote for getting a new rig. Sure, the older bike has a lot going for it, but a new bike will feel so much fresher under your legs. Get a Surly or Bianchi Volpe, put STI shifters on it if need be, and have fun! At your mileage of 1200-1500 annually, you likely won't be busting a shifter (almost always the right one) for a few years. Just spring for Dura-Ace for maximum value and performance. (I am still on my first set of shifters on a bike that I got in 2007, and I have been putting in over 1500 miles a year.)
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:22 PM on September 17, 2014

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