Trek 820 Review – Is This Bike Worth Buying?

The Trek 820 is almost certainly the least expensive “name brand” mountain bike you can buy. The Trek 820 has a retail price of $439. (Check the Trek website for the most recent information). 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. But it does and that is a big difference. Trek is a large bike manufacturer. They make a lot of frames, and order lots of parts from some of the most respected names in the business. This gives them pricing power that they can pass on to their customers. A similar bike would not be possible for a company with a lower level of connections to make 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, a basic bike, is far from the modern trends in mountain biking. The bike features 26” wheels, not the 27.5” or 29” versions that dominate the industry today. The brakes used to be rim brakes. The drivetrain has 3 gears in front and 7 in back, and the front fork offers only 3” of travel. This is clearly not a race bike or a big hit ride, but how does the drivetrain stack up for its intended purpose? Around-town riding and introductory trails rides.

Let’s take a look..

Quick Overview: My thoughts on 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 lot of fun on some very steep and 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 could choose any bike for less than $450, the Trek 820 would probably be my choice. 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.

Frame

Trek 820 frames are made from steel. This means that it is made of 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. 

Suspension

The 820 is equipped with a coil spring suspension fork made by SR Suntour, a Japanese manufacturer of high-quality 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.

Drivetrain

The 820 comes with a Shimano 3×7 drivetrain: 3 gears in the front and 7 in back. Shimano Tourney series shifters and derailleurs provide the shifting. They are the cheapest drivetrain components Shimano makes, but they are still produced by one of the world’s two premier drivetrain manufacturers. This is because Shimano allows its technology to trickle down: As new upgrades are made in the premium levels of the product, the older premium features get moved 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. Upgrades to the drivetrain could pose a problem. 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. Make sure you learn proper shifting techniques. If you take care of your equipment, it will last longer and perform better. Many of the issues you find in bike reviews online are not related to the bike or its parts, but rather the way the bike was assembled and tuned.

Brakes

The 820 comes with Tektro alloy linear-pull rimbrakes. The brakes are made by attaching two rubber pads to the wheel’s wheels. This is an old-fashioned brake technology, which has been mostly replaced by disc brakes on higher-end bikes. It still works, and it’s been used successfully for many years. While disc brakes are more effective in wet and muddy conditions than rim brakes, rim brakes can stop you very effectively and control your speed.

If you are planning to use another wheel, be aware. Mountain bike wheels of the same size can be interchanged, but you must use rim brakes with a compatible wheel. Many rims designed for use with disc brakes don’t have a flat surface designed to be gripped by rim brakes.

Wheels

The 820 comes with a simple, solid wheelset which will serve its purpose and keep the bike’s overall theme in mind. 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. Formula hubs are strong and reliable. Bontrager supplied the tires and rims. Trek has a long-standing business relationship with Bontrager. Bontrager supplies components for Trek’s lower-end bikes. This relationship has two benefits. Bontrager manufactures solid, functional parts. Trek orders a lot of parts from Bontrager, so Trek gets competitive prices. This is what Trek passes on to the customer.

Bontrager LT3 tires offer 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 has a wide range of mounting points to accommodate 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. The 820 is also suitable for use as an entry level bikepacking bike. A mounted kickstand makes it easier to park short-term.

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. You will find an intelligent selection parts carefully chosen to provide durability and serviceability at a low profit price.  

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

Component
Rating: 5/5
Frame
4
Suspension
3
Drivetrain
3
Brakes
3.5
Wheels
3.5
Other
4

Features

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.

Sizing 

There are two versions of the 820. The 820WSD is five sizes, from XS to XL, and fits riders from 4’6” to 6’8”. The 820WSD is also available in a women’s version. This model features a sharply dissected top tube, providing very low standover height. This makes it very attractive for smaller riders, particularly those who are less experienced. The WSD comes available in three sizes: S, S, and Large.

This bike is great for younger riders because of its smaller size. 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.

Geometry

If you’re a beginning rider the whole concept of bike geometry may seem too complex to grasp. Even experienced riders can get lost in 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. The front may wander when climbing steeply.

“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. This will work well for road riding, but you’ll need to adjust your body position for steeper trails. It’s absolutely possible – aggressive riders rode steep-angled bikes for many years – but it might take some effort.

Performance

The quickest way to sum up the Trek 820’s performance is that it rides above its price tag. The Trek 820 is an affordable bike with a price tag that’s not too high. However, it has no looseness, squeaking or rattling like cheaper bikes. Trek has a network of trusted dealers that are trained mechanics and assemble the bikes. Unqualified staff often assemble bikes in department stores and general sporting goods shops. This can lead to problems with brakes and drivetrain.

The 820 is strong. 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 can be used for two purposes. You can’t ask for anything more from this bike as an all-purpose commuter, errand and exercise bike. While a road bike is faster and more efficient than a pure road bike, the wider tires and wider bars and upright riding position of an 820 will make it more comfortable and secure for beginners. Shimano’s entry level Shimano drivetrain shifts easily and smoothly, and will allow you to change gears and shifting on all but the steepest hills. Multiple mounting points make it simple to mount a rack system that can carry your daily load. You won’t be restricted by the low-end bike, but you might wonder why it is worth the extra cost.

On the trail, the 820’s limitations may be more apparent. Although you can ride the bike on mountainbike trails, you’ll feel the bumps. You will need to master some skills. That’s not a bad thing. It is essential to learn how to stand on the pedals, use your knees as shock absorbers, and shift your weight forward and backward for climbs. These skills will be useful even on a more advanced bike. Because of the limited suspension, you will have to pick a line instead of plowing over obstacles. 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 treats their low-end bikes the same way they treat their high-spec models. 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. The 820 will in most cases be the cheapest option in this 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!

Review Category
Rating: 5/5
Components
3
Qualitative Construction
4
Quality of Ride
3.5
Overall value for money
5

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