Trek 820 Review – Is This Bike Worth Buying?

The Trek 820 is almost certainly the least expensive “name brand” mountain bike you can buy. With an SRP of $439 (check the Trek site for the latest MSRP ) it hardly seems possible that this bike comes from the same manufacturer that produces some of the most respected – and expensive – mountain bikes on the market. It does, though, and that makes a difference. Trek is a large company that makes lots of bikes. That means they make lots of frames and they order lots of components from some of the biggest names in the industry. That gives them pricing leverage that they pass on to the customer. It would be almost impossible for a smaller or less well-connected company to produce a similar bike at the same price.

You’re also getting the expertise of some of the industry’s top bike designers and builders, and that shows in the design of the frame, the component selection, and the overall value.

The Trek 820 is a basic bike that steps away from many of the trends that define modern mountain bikes. The bike features 26” wheels, not the 27.5” or 29” versions that dominate the industry today. The brakes are old-school rim brakes. The drivetrain has 3 gears in front and 7 in back, and the front fork offers only 3” of travel. Clearly this is not a race ride or a big hit machine, but how does it stack up for its intended purpose: around-town riding and introductory trail rides?

Let’s take a look..

Quick Overview: What I Think of the Trek 820

For older riders (like me) who took up mountain biking back in the 90s, the Trek 820 has a “blast from the past” feel to it. Back in those days we all rode bikes with rim brakes, short-travel forks, 26” wheels, and steep angles. We had a ton of fun and rode some steep, rough trails. We didn’t feel limited by those bikes, because there wasn’t anything else. We didn’t know they were supposed to limit us, so they didn’t.

That doesn’t mean that the Trek 820 is an ideal ride for steep, rugged trails. If you can get a modern full suspension slack-angled trail slayer you’ll have a much better tool for that job. But if you don’t happen to have a few thousand dollars ready to pour into a bicycle, you can buy a Trek 820 and have a great around-town ride that can do more on the trail than a lot of riders realize. Those modern trail bikes are great, but don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t ride trails without one.

In short: if I could choose any bike I wanted, I wouldn’t choose a Trek 820. If I had to choose a bike that cost under $450, I probably would choose a Trek 820. It may not be the best bike you can get, but it’s probably the best you can get for $439.99

What You Get

Let’s look at the key components of the Trek 820.

The Trek 820 frame is made of steel. That means three things. It’s heavy, it’s strong, and it’s inexpensive. Because it’s a Trek, it also has a sleek design, impeccable welds, and high-quality finish and paint. The 820 will never be a light bike, but you will not break the frame and you won’t get tired of looking at it. 

The 820 carries a simple coil spring suspension fork from SR Suntour, a leading Japanese manufacturer of low to mid-end suspension. Travel is 75mm (3 inches), very short by today’s standards but enough to suck up the impact of rough roads, curb drops, and small root-and-rock trail chatter. It won’t hold up to big hits, but that’s not what it’s meant to do. It’s sturdy and durable and should deliver solid service for years.

The 820 comes with a Shimano 3×7 drivetrain: 3 gears in the front and 7 in back. The shifters and derailleurs are from the Shimano Tourney series. They are the cheapest drivetrain components Shimano makes, but they are still produced by one of the world’s two premier drivetrain manufacturers. That matters, because Shimano lets its technology trickle-down: as new upgrades are introduced in the premium levels, the old premium features move down to the lower level parts. 

The Tourney drivetrain won’t win you any bling points at the bike shop, but it will get the job done. You’ll have appropriate gears for level ground, moderate climbs, and all but the steepest steep climbs, and you’ll be able to shift smoothly and precisely. You may have a problem if you want to upgrade the drivetrain. Due to compatibility issues, you’d have to replace all the parts simultaneously, potentially an expensive proposition.

Because the Trek 820 is a beginner-oriented bike, I’ll point out that the durability and performance of drivetrain parts depend heavily on good tuning and the use of proper shifting technique. If you buy your bike – any bike – online, be sure that it’s set up by a qualified mechanic. Take the time to learn good shifting technique. Your equipment will perform better and last longer if you use and maintain it well! Many of the complaints you see in online bike reviews are not issues with the bike or its components, but with the way it was assembled and tuned.

The 820 carries Tektro alloy linear-pull rim brakes. These brakes work by clamping two rubber pads onto the rim of the wheel. This is an old-school braking technology that has been largely replaced by disc brakes on more expensive bikes. It still works, and it’s been used successfully for many years. Disc brakes will perform better in very wet or very muddy conditions, but rim brakes will stop you and control your speed very effectively.

You will have to be careful if you want to use another wheel. Mountain bike wheels (of the same size) are often interchangeable, but rim brakes must be used with a compatible rim. Many rims designed for use with disc brakes don’t have a flat surface designed to be gripped by rim brakes.

The 820 carries a basic, solid wheelset that will do its job, in keeping with the overall theme of the bike. The wheel size is 26”: that size is no longer popular but it was the mountain bike standard for decades, and provided solid service to a generation of riders. The Formula hubs are durable and effective. The rims and tires are from Bontrager. Trek has a long-standing relationship with Bontrager, which supplies many of the components for their lower-end bikes. That relationship brings two advantages. Bontrager makes solid, utilitarian parts, and because Trek orders a large number of parts from the company, they get competitive prices, which they pass on to the consumer.

The Bontrager LT3 tires are a compromise. They are knobby enough to give decent grip in moderate trail conditions but don’t have a high enough profile to create massive tire drag on cement. They won’t grip the trail like an aggressively knobby tire would and they won’t roll as smooth and fast on cement as narrow slicks would, but they will give you a solid platform on a wide variety of different surfaces.

Note that the maximum tire width is 2.0”, which may constrain your options if you want to step up to a wider more trail-capable tire down the line.

Other Components  

Trek fills out the 801’s component spec with what you’d expect: solid, reliable parts, primarily from Bontrager. Nothing is high-end, and you won’t see any featherweight titanium bits or elegant hyper-precise CNC machining, but everything there will do its job and hold up to abuse. 

The 820 frame comes with a full range of mounting points for luggage racks and other accessories. This feature is important on an around-town commuter bike: if you’re going to work or running down to the store you may need to carry a light to moderate load, and the racks make that a lot easier. They also make the 820 suitable for use as an entry-level bikepacking bike. The mounted kickstand, rarely included on pure mountain bikes, makes short-term parking easier.

Component Roundup

You won’t find high end parts on the 820. That’s expected: this is a bike designed to be the most affordable name-brand mountain bike on the market. What you will find is an intelligent selection of parts carefully selected to deliver durability and serviceability at the lowest profitable price.  

Let’s rate the 820 component mix on a 1 to 5 scale relative to other bikes in the sub-$700 range.

The components of a bicycle don’t work alone: everything has to fit together and work together to deliver the performance you need. Let’s look at how the total package performs.


The 820 comes in two versions. The 820WSD is five sizes, from XS to XL, and fits riders from 4’6” to 6’8”. The 820 also comes in a version designed for women, the 820WSD, which features a sharply dissenting top tube that provides very low standover height, a very appealing feature for smaller riders, especially less experienced smaller riders. The WSD comes in three sizes: XS, S, and L.

The smaller sizes of the 820 make this bike a great option for younger riders. If you want to buy a good quality bike for a growing child but you don’t want to overspend on a bike that will be outgrown in a year or two, the 820 in S or XS is a great option.

If you’re a beginning rider the whole concept of bike geometry may seem too complex to grasp. Even experienced riders may be confused over the details! To put it very simply, “slack” or “modern” geometry places the front wheel ahead of the handlebars, which adds stability and reduces the tendency to go over the bars on steep descents. This may also cause the front to wander on steep climbs.

“Steep” or “traditional” geometry places the front wheel under the handlebars, which gives stability on smooth roads and steep climbs. It also makes it easier to tip the bike forward on a steep descent, so you’ll need to drop the saddle down and keep your weight well back when the trail turns down.

The Trek 820 is very much in the “traditional” category, which is appropriate to its purpose. That will serve you well on road rides, but if you ride steeper trails you will need to adjust your body position to keep your weight low and back and the downhills. It’s absolutely possible – aggressive riders rode steep-angled bikes for many years – but it might take some effort.


The quickest way to sum up the Trek 820’s performance is that it rides above its price tag. This is a bike that carries a price tag not much above department store bikes, but has none of the looseness, squeaking, or rattling that so often go with inexpensive bikes. Part of that is because Trek sells through a network of credible dealers with trained mechanics that assemble and tune the bikes they sell. Many department stores or general sporting goods stores sell bikes that are assembled by unqualified staff members, and that often results in poor assembly and tuning, which in turn can create issues with the brakes, drivetrain, and most other parts of the bike.

The 820 is solid. It’s heavy for a hardtail, but that goes with the price: bikers say you can have two of cheap, light, and strong, but never all three. The 820 drops the lightness, but it’s cheap and sturdy, and that’s what you want in an inexpensive bike.

This bike is a hybrid designed to serve two purposes. As an around-town commuter, errand bike, and exercise/recreation tool it would be hard to ask for more. A pure road bike will be faster and more efficient, but the wider tires, wider bars, and more upright riding position of the 820 will feel more secure, stable, and comfortable for beginning riders. The shifting and gear combinations will serve for all but very steep hills, and the entry-level Shimano drivetrain shifts smoothly and easily. The multiple mounting points make it easy to set up a rack system to carry your daily loads. The low-end nature of the bike will not limit you to any appreciable degree in this type of riding, and if you have a chance to ride a more expensive bike you may wonder what makes it worth that price tag.

The limitations of the 820 may be more evident on the trail. You can certainly ride this bike on mountain bike trails, but you will feel the bumps and you will have to learn some basic skills from the start. That’s not a bad thing. Learning to stand up on the pedals, let your knees work as shock absorbers, and move your weight forward for climbs and back for descents is important. Those skills will help you even on a much more sophisticated bike. The limited suspension will force you to pick a line rather than plowing over obstacles and letting your suspension do the work. You won’t be doing jumps or drops, but you wouldn’t expect to on a bike like this.

The Bottom Line

If you haven’t ridden a bike before or if you rode as a child and are getting back on a bike for the first time in a while, the Trek 820 makes a perfect entry point. It’s affordable and you’ll get the kind of quality that will assure that your learning experience is good and your equipment doesn’t hold you back.

If you’ve ridden bikes before and you need a highly affordable bike for daily use and around town and occasional trail rides, the Trek 820 will be one of your top picks. If you’re looking for a stable, secure bike to ride around town, to work, and to school the Trek 820 will be a perfect fit.

If trail riding is your priority and you’re looking for a dedicated mountain bike, you might be better off saving a little more and looking for a bike designed for that purpose. If that’s not realistic from a financial perspective, you can go with the Trek 820 and ride trails with it. You’ll just need to understand the limitations of your equipment and work within them, leaning more on your skills than on your bike.

Trek approaches their low-end bikes with the same care that they put into designing their high-spec packages, and it shows. The Trek 820 is very inexpensive, but it’s intelligently designed and specced, solidly built, and effective. If you’re on a limited budget and you need a working bicycle, it’s a great choice.

Let’s compare the Trek 820 to other name-brand bikes in the sub-$700 range as an overall purchase. Remember that the 820 is in most cases going to be by far the cheapest option in that category. If you compared the 820 to department-store no-brand bikes in its price range and below you’d be looking at a 5 rating right down the line!

The Bicycle Resource

1990 Trek 950 Singletrack Restoration (2021 Update)

Six years ago, I started a project to restore, more like resto-mod, a Trek 950 that I found on Craigslist for $125. You can read more about the original build here .

My initial intent was not to do mostly short rides. However, I loved it so much, I started wondering about making the bike more capable and more modern while keeping the original good looks.

trek singletrack

Upgrades I Made to the Trek 950 this Year

The updates that I made really changed the riding position of this bike. 4 inch rise on the handlebars, shorter stem, new saddle, new drive train. Prior to making these changes, it would be hard for me to ride past 2 hours on this bike. Now, it feels a bit more like an aggressive beach cruiser which is really fun and I like it!

The best rides are to the coffee shop!

trek singletrack

(There are affiliate links below. These are products that I’m actually using. )

New Saddle. Brooks B17 Saddle . I always wanted to try this one. So far I like it. I’ll have to do a full review in the future.

Mone Meal Replacement Bars. Learn more here. These are sick. You gotta read the description on Mone site if you get a chance. This guy works magic and I love that they are hand made.

Sram 1x drivetrain

  • Truvativ Bottom Bracket . This is a small upgrade over the square taper bottom bracket that I had installed in my first work on this bike. But allows for an affordable 1x crankset via SRAM.
  • SRAM crankset – 32t . I love this option and have the same one on my Surly Karate Monkey.
  • 9 Speed Chain . Always feels good to put a new chain on.

Shorter Stem. Wake 50MM

New Grips: Raceface Grips. These are surprisingly comfortable and feel amazing when riding.

trek singletrack

Bikepacking Test Ride

After all this, I was able to get out for a super fun event where you bring nothing but a bike + $40 and plan for a Bikepacking night. We all rolled into Walmart at 9PM, loaded up on cheap blankets and hit a local campground. It was super fun. Knocked out 50 miles locally in a short/long day.

Bike Lights I’m using currently:

NightRider 1800 . This bike light has three settings and the lowest is sufficient for riding slowly on trails. The brightest is a luxury for shorter trips and on roads.

NightRider Cherrybomb 35 Taillight . This like is also so bright that when people ask not to ride behind me because it can hurt their eyes. Usually, I’m happy to ride in the back and make sure everyone is seen.

trek singletrack

What’s missing from this Trek 950 Restoration?

Trek 950 original wheel set is holding me back from the future!

The original rear wheel is only built for a 7 speed cassette. I actually have 9 speed cassette modified into an 8 speed and this works with my 9 speed friction shifter from Microshift.

Riding up steel hill, there’s just not enough range with the 1x drivetrain. The next move will be to upgrade to a new rear wheel / hub and get a full 9 speed cassette on there.

I’ve looked into options with the standard Shimano/SRAM or potentially Box Prime 9. With the wheels being 26 inches, I probably don’t need a 50t cassette. 42 would probably be sufficient. I’m going to think on this, I’ll post an update when I make the move.

Potentially going up to a 34 in the front and putting a wider range in the back would be ideal and cover all the riding.

I’m currently on 2.0 inch tires. Going slightly wider would be fun, but there’s not a ton of room.

I’ve also considered converting to disc brakes. There’s pros and cons to that as well.

Loved the world over, Marlin has long held hearts of new riders and seasoned rippers alike, and to keep everyone rolling with ear-to-ear grins we’ve revamped it with more trail confidence than ever. Whether zipping through town, dipping your toes into the trail for the first time, or slicing through switchbacks as a well-seasoned rider, you’ll appreciate the sleek new frame that ups the capability and brings looks to match. There’s a reason it’s always been your favorite.

Total trail confidence A bike's geometry is the defining framework it's built on, and Marlin is a true mountain bike at it's core. Its measurements are perfectly dialed to give you a confidence-inspiring, planted feel when you’re rolling down steep and bumpy trails, while keeping it easy to pedal back to the top when you’re ready for another lap.

Marlin’s head tube (a) sits at a slacker (more acute) angle. The slacker head tube angle (b) moves your front wheel farther in front of you. Take it to the trail, and this slacker head tube angle (b) boosts stability and control for confidence when descents get steep and rowdy.

To balance a slacker head tube angle (b) , Marlin features a steeper (more upright) seat tube angle (d) . A steeper seat tube (c) lets you get the most out of every pedal stroke, so you don’t waste power on the climb to the top.

Marlin is equipped with a short stem and wider handlebar for more direct control and responsiveness when you’re maneuvering through rocks and roots. Meanwhile, a longer reach (e) gives you extra stability so you can ride faster and more confidently.

Secure your ride

A new Thru-Skew axle provides better rear wheel security, holding your wheel in place snugly and ensuring it doesn't slip out of the frame, even when you're rolling through rough-and-tumble terrain.

Fully guarded

Full-length, full-coverage guards on the chainstay protect your frame and keep your ride quiet.

Float on the trail

Big 2.4˝ tires elevate traction, so you stay planted on dusty switchbacks. But not only do bigger tires give you more grip — they also soak up bumps for a smoother ride.

Upgrade ready

With a frame this nice, you won’t want to part ways with your Marlin as your skills grow. Marlin Gen 3 is upgrade-ready, so you can upgrade your bike when you upgrade your skills. New internal cable routing lets you install a dropper post — and sizes XS and up can be upgraded to a bigger, 120mm fork when you’re ready to take on bigger trails.

A bike for everyone We believe that ever rider deserves a well-fitted bike, that’s why Marlin is available in every size from XXS to XXL — and even an “extra-medium” size for riders who fall in between a medium and large. Each size is tuned to its riders, with Smart Wheel Sizing that scales the wheel size with the bike size, so every rider has comfortable stand over height. Smaller, XXS, and XS frames also feature a curved top tube to boost confidence and make getting on and off a breeze.

Make Marlin yours Whether you’re ripping up the trail on the regular or a rugged city commuter, your Marlin can be fully customized with a treasure-trove of accessories. From kickstands and grips to bottle cages and bags, you can turn your Marlin into the perfect bike for your everyday ride.

  • Deck out your Marlin

Trek warranty & backing We believe that when you put your heart and soul into something, you should have the stomach to back it up. That’s why we stand behind all Trek bikes with a limited-lifetime warranty. From your first ride to your 500th, we’ll be here for you in the unlikely event that something goes wrong with your Marlin. All you have to do is stop by your local Trek store and you’ll find all the support you need to get back spinning in no time.

The Marlin family Both generations of Marlins are true mountain bikes aimed at the rider who wants a versatile hardtail capable of off-road singletrack or in-city missions. Both generations have a 100mm travel suspension fork and 29” wheels on most sizes except for smaller sizes with proportionate suspension travel and wheels, thus making it a great bike for shorter riders as well.

Marlin Gen 2

Get all-around versatility on Marlin Gen 2. It fits up to 2.2˝ tires, and features balanced, neutral geometry that keeps you comfortable and in control as you venture off road.

Marlin Gen 3

Get serious trail capability with Marlin Gen 3’s bigger, 2.4˝ tire clearance, internal dropper post routing, and a stiffer and more secure ThruSkew rear axle. Plus, its updated longer, slacker geometry gives you a boost in stability on steeper trails and at higher speeds.

Looking for something more to fill your singletrack appetite?

If you’re itching for a lighter weight, even faster hardtail, X-Caliber is your ride. It’s light, sleek, and efficient — perfect for new riders, cross-country racers, and anyone who wants to cover a lot more trail miles in a lot less time.

Roscoe delivers the capability of a full suspension trail bike in a simple hardtail package. The laid-back geometry that gives you tons of stability on rowdier trails, and it rolls on big 2.6˝ tires that give tons of traction for getting through rough and tricky sections of trail.

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Beautiful Bicycle: Benedict's Trek 970 650b Shred Sled

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Trek singletrack 970: benedict’s trek 970 650b shred sled.

By: John Watson January 24, 2014

Beautiful Bicycle: Benedict's Trek 970 650b Shred Sled

The 970, one of the last made in the USA, lugged MTB frames ever produced by Trek. In recent years, there has been a resurgence in interest for these bikes. Especially seeing as how a XO-1 can set you back a pretty penny. They’re Wisconsin-made, rugged and actually pretty lightweight, considering. Frames can be found on eBay for around $200 .

trek singletrack

These bikes are one of the best options out there for those looking for to convert a 26″ MTB to a full-bore 650b Shred Sled. Which is exactly what Benedict began doing a few years back. After procuring the frame, he immediately stripped it, then acquired new decals and treated it with shellac.

trek singletrack

Next up: the fork. He wanted to keep the frameset Wisconsin-made but needed an upgrade to replace the stock unicrown. Clockwork did the job for around $200 – a Pacenti crown, with a nice, classic bend to the blades. From there, it was pretty straight forward: Suntour Cyclone rear derailleur, XT front, XTR cranks, Suntour power thumb shifters, Nitto post, Brooks saddle, Tektro cantis, Bullmoose bars and some older 650b wheels a friend gave him. Oh and a Campy Record 10 speed chain, drizzled with garlic-infused, extra virgin cold press olive oil, because what else do you lube a Campy chain with?

trek singletrack

Benedict’s added numerous personal touches to this bike. The Sackville bag carries his stealth camping gear, pipe and tools. Newbaum’s cloth bartape provides ample grip, protection against chain slap and an additional wrap on the brake lever ensures proper skids.

trek singletrack

With all those details, most people would scoff at the thought of riding in Austin on it, with its rocky and technical trails, but little do they know, the captain of this shred sled is a master at roosting. Besides, he’s got a lucky penny on the fork crown!

trek singletrack

I don’t really know what else to say about this bike, especially since the photos do the talking! See more in the Gallery!

What are singletrack MTB trails?

Riding singletrack is what sets mountain biking apart from other types of cycling

Santa Cruz wheels

The most magical part of mountain biking is riding on singletrack trails. Imagine that you're in the forest, with trees and brush all around you. The soil is moist, offering perfect traction for tires to dig into. Or maybe you're in the desert. It's hot, but rocks and cacti outline a path through the rough terrain. 

No matter the setting, mountain bikers seek out singletrack. It's the whole point of our sport. After all, nobody wants to ride a mountain bike on the road. But what exactly is singletrack, and how does it differ from riding a MTB trail ? We're here to tell you, so keep reading. 

Singletrack vs trails 

Mountain bikers use the terms 'singletrack' and 'trail' interchangeably, but there is technically a difference. All singletrack are trails, but not all trails are singletrack. 

You'll likely have heard of trail mountain bikes , but of course trails have been around a lot longer than mountain biking or even cycling. The term trail is actually quite broad. Before cars and roads existed, people used trails to travel from one place to another. In the case of the European settlers traveling westward across America, trails like the Oregon Trail were rough wagon paths. So a trail is really any path that is not paved. 

In mountain biking, the least fun type of trail is fire roads or access roads. These simply dirt roads are great for gravel biking, they are often used by mountain bikers to access and connect sections of singletrack.  

In between fire roads and singletrack is double-track. Double-track trails are not quite as wide as a road but also not as narrow as singletrack. Double-track trails allow trail users to pass each other without having to get out of the way. 

That brings us to singletrack, which is a narrow trail. On singletrack, if people have to pass each other, one person will have to move out of the way to let the other by. There is no hard width limit for singletrack, but it is generally a foot in width (a third of a meter). 

Riding singletrack

As we have defined it, singletrack is essentially what a mountain bike trail is. So what might you find on singletrack trails? Features like rock gardens and jumps turn singletrack into a trail that is really fun to ride on a mountain bike. 

One of the most engaging parts of riding singletrack are the technical sections. A technical section is any part of a trail where you have to really focus on what line you take. Technical sections will often feature rock gardens and roots. There can be multiple ways to successfully get through a technical section, which can reward creativity and quick thinking as well as riding skill.

Singletrack trails may also feature challenging jumps and drops. If it's an expert-level trail, these features may be mandatory, but on easier-rated trails, there will be go-arounds so riders can work their way up to tackling difficult or consequently sections. 

Mountain bike trails may also have banked corners called berms . Berms help riders corner faster by providing support for the tires to dig into. More naturally built singletrack trails won't have berms. Instead, they will rely on the path of the trail to create flow. 

Some singletrack trails will be more natural, with minimal man-made features. For example, remote backcountry trails will be more naturally built. These types of trails will feel like somebody decided to simply rough in a path through the forest. Other trails are more man-made, with jumps and berms that are often built with machines. These are great fun, especially if you like flow and air time. 

The skills required for riding singletrack trails are the same as the basic mountain bike skills that everybody should learn and practice. One important idea is to practice looking ahead and anticipating what is coming up on the trail. This is especially important on tight, twisting, and technical trails. Check out our tips for beginner mountain bikers guide for more advice. 

Ryan Simonovich

Ryan Simonovich has been riding and racing for nearly a decade. He got his start as a cross-country mountain bike racer in California, where he cultivated his love for riding all types of bikes. Ryan eventually gravitated toward enduro and downhill racing but has also been found in the occasional road and cyclo-cross events. Today, he regularly rides the trails of Durango, Colorado, and is aiming to make a career out of chronicling the sport of cycling. 

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a rest stop on the information superhighway

New ride: 1992 Trek 970 Singletrack

Trek 970 mountain bike

After almost 20 years I’m back in the saddle of a 1992 Trek 970 Singletrack.  I’d been looking for this make and model—in this color (officially “Sour Grape,” per  the 1992 Trek catalog [pdf] )—off and on for a few years. For some reason, early ’90s Trek 970s are hard to find—or at least they don’t come up that often on eBay or Craigslist.

This is almost the exact same bike I owned through much of college, down to the color—well, except for the handlebars, stem, and seat post. They were all silver on my original 970. (An aside: When I bought that first one, I thought it was blue. For years. Finally someone mentioned “your purple bike,” and I was like, “Purple? Wha?” See, I’m colorblind.)

Anyway, when I moved to Oregon after graduating, I left my Trek at my parents’ house in Kansas City. My mom sold it in a garage sale (with my permission). Turns out, I didn’t know how good I had it with that bike. Every bike since (with the exception of a sweet Raleigh 5-speed English roadster) has failed to live up to the 970.

Trek 970 1992

This is the bike as-bought (above). I found it on Craiglist Denver. Lucky for me, my sister lives there. So she and her boyfriend went and picked it up and shipped it to me. (If you need bike-shipping, it turns out that REI does store-to-store shipping and is rather reasonable. Especially if you’re a member—I’m not, but my sister’s boyfriend is, so bingo.)

By the way, good luck trying the same thing with Craigslist if you don’t have someone local to help out. Sellers on Craigs don’t like to deal with out-of-town sales. Cash and carry is the (unofficial) rule.

1992 Trek 970

As soon as it arrived at REI in NYC, I had them put some commuter slicks on ( Panaracer Paselas ) rather than the knobby mountain-bike tires. I’ve ridden it to work a few times like this, but the weather has gotten rainy lately, which is why I installed fenders this past week (photo at top).

I still need a bell to be completely street legal per NYC law, so that will probably come next. After that, a rear rack, then eventually some new handlebars (I’m thinking mustache bars), and then a new seat.

From semi-rad.com.

Going back to the rarity of this model, I’m surprised there aren’t more 970s out there. The mountain bike boom was in full swing in the early ’90s, and Trek must have made A TON of these bikes. I’ve seen a lot of 950s for sale, but relatively few 970s. In googling around for Trek 970 info, I found this great post on SEMI-RAD.COM about the author’s friend Nick and Nick’s obsession with buying a 970 to turn into a commuter:

Every time I met him for a cup of coffee, he would tell me that he had been scanning eBay, looking for 970s — lugged steel mountain bikes, which back in the early ’90s sold for about $500. Nothing special, not like Lance Armstrong was riding one. One problem with his search was that he needed the largest size, which seemed to be rare. I can’t even remember why this particular bike build was so special — something about one of the last great American-made Trek frames, whatever.

The thing is, I know just how that guy feels. Once the idea of getting my hands on one of these took hold, no other bike would do. I’m just glad the actual bike has lived up to the memory. I’m looking forward to some more great commutes on this thing.

About the author: Adam Kuban is a one-time foodblogger turned aspiring pizzeria owner — see margotspizza.com. Founder of Slice and A Hamburger Today and founding editor of Serious Eats . He enjoys photography, urban hiking, and naps.

25 thoughts on “New ride: 1992 Trek 970 Singletrack”

A bike love story! I love my Schwinn Peloton so much that if we ever parted, I’d be forced to hunt another one down.

I need a better commuter bike, though. Though I’ve had many good years with my Fuji Crosstown, I need something lighter, something that speaks to me.

What commuter bikes have you been look at to replace the Crosstown?

I took a Bianchi Volpe out for a test drive and liked it: http://urbanvelo.org/bianchi-volpe-review/ I’m afraid it’s too attractive to lock up on the street, though.

I liked the

I haven’t ventured beyond my local bike shops, though. And I don’t really have the drive to do the kind of research required to find my perfect fit.

Sorry, didn’t finish. I liked the Cannondale, I think it was a CAAD 9, but it had these wretched Lilith Fair vines all over it.

The perfect street bike is so tough to find! I am jellz that you have yours.

You should do the Ride to Montauk with me this year!

Of those two, I like the Volpe more. It looks more comfortable. The Cannondale looks like you’d have to scrunch down more. But that’s just me. I’ve never liked the hunched-down riding position. And the Cannondale not only looks really rigid, it’s aluminum, so I’d be worried about the feel of the ride.

How many miles is Montauk? That might be beyond me. I think it took 3 hours by car. I’m going to try to do the Five Borough Bike Tour this year and start there. I think I can manage that.

P.S. What’s your route from Astoria? Is Queens an okay cycling hood?

I’ll try to embed a map here below. But roughly, it’s from the very end of the N/Q line (Ditmars Blvd/31st Street) to 53rd and Seventh (near Carnegie Deli, Letterman, Steak ‘n’ Shake). I go south down 36th Street, which is a bike route, then west across 34th Avenue, then down 28th Street to the Queensboro Bridge. QBB dumps you on First Avenue, I ride down that to 55th and then over to Seventh Avenue. The ride isn’t as pleasant as my old Park Slope–Chelsea commute, but I like the Astoria part of it.

I’ve only ever ridden around Astoria. It’s OK. It’s very suburban-esque/residential, but at the same time, everyone has a car here and people are always trying to park, so I’m really paranoid about drivers not paying attention to bikes or surroundings other than parking-space scouting. For most of the ride to work, I’m in a left-side bike lane, which I feel reduces the risk of dooring (passenger side). But on the way home I really watch it, because I have to ride along next to driver-side doors. I feel safer in Queens than I do Midtown, though. Well, each has their risks. At least in Midtown, around rush hour, traffic is barely moving. Anyway:

I don’t know how accurate the mileage is. I’ve gotten anywhere from 6.5 miles to 8.1 miles on the same route. I think the MapMyRide app is a little funky.

For Montauk, you choose your starting point – can be 35, 70, 100, or 145 miles. (145 is for the nutters who want to start in Manhattan.) I did 70 miles last year, and it was plenty, but it was mostly flat. It is such a lovely ride. If you do a 7 mile commute daily, you can definitely do this ride. And it’s beautiful. Goes through the fanciest parts of the Hamptons, where the landscaping is absolutely alien and gorgeous.

Olá, Tenho uma Trek 970 pintura preta comprada em 1992, são 20 anos de uso e muito cuidado para mante-la em excelente condições. Como moro no Brasil, atualmente a minha maior dificuldade é achar peças originais de reposição, pois, quero manter a sua originalidade. Eventualmente tenho encontrado peças no Ebay, com isso vou mantendo o seu bom estado. Espero poder por muito tempo usa-la…

Thanks, Antonio. I wish I spoke Portuguese so I could respond in your language.

You say you have difficulty finding original replacement parts. Which parts have you needed to replace?

In my case, the only parts I’d be concerned with replacing would be the frame and fork. As long as I could find somewhat equivalent parts, I wouldn’t mind replacing the derailleurs, cranks, brakes, etc.

Ebay can be a pain, because a lot of times people are selling the whole bike and you might just need a few parts from it. Also, I can imagine that those outside Brazil may not want to ship there.

Best of luck with your 970, and I hope that you do get to use it for many years to come.

Crazy! A few years ago through Craigslist I bought this model from a local guy here in KC; he said he’d had it through college (KU) and had great memories with it, but needed the cash for his new family. It’s a great bike, the steel and ride are amazing. I replaced the saddle with a Brooks, and also have some bar ends. And yeah, I love it too. Currently thinking about powder coating the frame, as it’s got a bit of rust, but can’t decide on the color. : ) Happy Trails! bob in KC

Bob: glad you love the 970. If I had a garage or any type of storage, I think I’d end up hoarding 970 frames. I’ve thought about putting on a Brooks, but they’re pricey, and I’m afraid it’d get stolen. Your bike’s gotta look great with that saddle, I bet. Oh, man … It’s finally getting a little warmer here again that I’ll want to start riding to work. Your comment was a good kick in the pants to start commuting by bike again. Thanks!

I just got a trek 970 in craigslist Eugene , deore xt , old but this bike screams and is amazingly light I never knew these frames were that good . I’m not sure the year but its dark metallic grey and purple . The guy said its a 1993 frame I will look it up later .

Guy: I wonder if that’s the same one I saw on there a few months ago, when I was looking. I saw one in Eugene, one in Seattle, one in Portland. All bike-friendly areas. I’m happy for you. They’re great bikes. Stay safe!

Adam: can u tell me if trek 950 , 990 frames are any good I assume they are pretty much the same frame or very simular . The 950 is 150.00 and the 990 is 65.00 , curious if these prices are to hi or just right

Guy: I really can’t say. I’ve never done the research on those particular frames. I’d suggest just diving in to Google and reading all you can about them and then comparison-pricing them on Craigslist and eBay.

I know the 970s pre-1993 or so (can’t remember the exact year) were steel frames, lugged (rather than TIG welded) and were made in the USA. After ’93 I think they went to TIG-welded steel made in China. From what I’ve read, all Trek went to China after ’93 or so.

Honestly, I’m probably too much of a novice to tell the difference between a lugged steel ride and a TIG-weld, but I know I loved my 970.

Adam: there is a trek 970 pre 93yr in craigslist bend , its red and white …150.00 , just wanted to let u know . I bet it won’t sell lol

Hey Adam, great story. Also I’m glad to know I haven’t lost my mind with my obsession finding another of the the 900 series Treks. I had a 96 model 930 and tried to buy it back from the guy for 100 dollars more than he paid 30 minutes after I sold it to him. He wouldn’t do it. When it comes to bikes, letting that one go is my biggest mistake. I look on ebay or craigslist daily but so far, none with the 19.5″ frame that I require. Several 17″ ones but too small. My son did luck onto a 950 last year and loves it. I had been reluctant to ride it but did l a couple weeks ago and it made my determination to find one stronger. Just wanted to drop a line to say congrats and I envy you. It may take me 20 but I will find one. Take care of her she’s one of the great ones.

@Sam: I had the opposite problem with frames. Was looking for a smaller one but could only find larger ones. Did you set up a search reminder on eBay? It’s also good to go on Craigslist and search for “vintage Trek”. Sometimes sellers don’t know to put the model number.

970’s are awesome bikes, I had a white 20 inch and crashed it, its been 20 years and I miss that bike and Im on the hunt as well and Im shocked how hard it is to find one….

Dave: It took a couple years for me to find mine. Granted, I was only looking off and on. But they are not a dime a dozen, that’s for sure. Good luck in the hunt!

Hi everybody, Nice to see someone else have the same vintage mtb. My 970 is from 1993 with ahead set direction; as i want to re install the original fork and i discovered the bearings inside are broken, i dont know wich headset to buy ( 1″ or 1 1/8 ” ?, integrated or semi integrated ?). the most easy thing would be to find only the bearing but i cannot find it as it’s hard to name it properly to Google it. if someone know about it , i will be thankfull to read about it. (im in France and English is not my native language : im sorry for the wrong spelling and grammary)

Still ride my 970 bought in 1992. Had to replace the shifters as they both finally broke, and the bottom bearings. This bike has seen a lot of trails and surface roads, and has held up amazingly. No rust, still looks new. The mag 21 front shock still functions but its tired. Needs a rebuild. If I was to go out on the trails again I would probably pick up a newer bike, as the technology, comfort, has really advanced. But this bike will always be my daily until I can no longer ride. Then I’ll just hang it up on the wall.

Good point about using a newer bike for trail riding. I think I’d do the same. Though I won’t be trail riding anytime soon. But for a daily ride, it’s perfect. You’re so right. (And here in NYC it’s relatively inconspicuous, so it’s got a lower theft potential.)

I have a Trek 970 in the garage (Grape colour) that is as new but needs some work as she has not been used for over 6 years and the tyres are probably cracked and the cables will need changing.

Bought it new in the UK and never got around to using her very much so she sat around and maybe once a year I would get out on the road and go for a ride but that was it. More dust on her than in my hoover!!

If anyone is interested let me know as I would let her go to an enthusiast.

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Reader’s Rig: Nick’s 1991 Trek 970 Singletrack

2018 Bikepacking Summit Recap

Previous Dispatch From Thu Mar 28, 2019

Registration Open for 2019 Bikepacking Summit

Author Photo

This week on Reader’s Rig, we scope out Nick Karwoski’s 1991 Trek 970 Singletrack, built up for trips around town from mostly repurposed parts. Find more photos and build details here…

My name is Nick Karwoski and I’m originally from Wisconsin but now live in Austin, Texas. I’m a recovered roadie who discovered touring first, then bikepacking. I try to get out on trips as much as my life allows, but end up commuting a lot more than touring.

Nick Karwoski, Vintage Trek 970

I’d been interested in building up a a Trek 970 for a while and recently found a nice 970 XL frame at the right price, so it was time to take the plunge. My bike is a 22” 1991 Trek 970 Singletrack, mostly used for commuting, around town trips, and #coffeoutsideatx.

I salvaged a lot of the parts from a bike Co-op in Austin, used what I had lying around, and bought a few items on eBay. The bars are 1” Nitto Bullmoose attached to a Shimano STX 1 ⅛” headset with an adapter (I’m still alive). The bar tape is Serfas with .12 gauge shotgun shells for bar ends. The brake levers are Shimano Altus. The shifters are SunTour Power Thumb friction shifters. I used a Shimano Deore XT (M730) triple crankset with 9-speed XTR front (M953) and rear derailleurs (M952 Long cage). The wheels are Matrix rims, mystery hubs, a 7-speed cassette, and Compass Rat Trap Pass tires. The brakes are Tektro CR720s. The seatpost is a Velo Orange attached to a Fyxation Pilot saddle. I drilled out the fork crown hole (a tiny bit) to attach a Nitto M12 rack. The bag is a large Fabio’s Chest (the chest is the best!).

Nick Karwoski, Vintage Trek 970

  • Frame/Fork 22” 1991 Trek 970 Singletrack
  • Rims Matrix 26″
  • Hubs Unknown, the name has worn off!
  • Tires Compass Rat Trap Pass
  • Handlebar Nitto Bullmoose
  • Crankset Mystery 7 speed cassette
  • Cassette Shimano XT 11-46
  • Derailleur(s) 9-speed SHimano XTR M953 (front) and Shimano M952 long cage (rear)
  • Brakes Tektro CR720
  • Shifter(s) SunTour Power Thumb friction shifters
  • Saddle Fyxation Pilot
  • Front Rack Nitto M12
  • Front Bag(s) Swift Industries / Ultra Romance Fabio’s Chest

This bike really wants to you to stand up and mash on the pedals, just like the bikes you rode as a kid. All in all, this build was relatively inexpensive and fun to put together, and almost everything was reused. You can find it (and me) on #coffeeoutsideatx leisure rides in the ATX area.

You can follow Nick on Instagram at @bicycleexplorersclub .


Reader's rig.

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