I was just reading a BikeRadar review
of Trek's new 720 model - which is a bike with a grand touring tradition, re-imagined for the modern bike market. The reviewers praised the bike for a lot of points, calling it "an understated all-road all-rounder with excellent potential." The "highs" were "light, rapid, and potentially smooth - with luggage included" and the "lows" were its "soft" frame, and stock tires that were too narrow for the bike's mission.
|The bike comes equipped with those neon-yellow|
cinch-sacks that attach to the fork legs.
I suppose it's a matter of personal taste whether someone likes or hates the neon yellow cinch sacks that come with the bike, but it isn't often that bikes come with such a useful accessory as standard equipment, so I'll call them a plus. The bags attach to specially designed mounts that can be removed in a jiffy. Much is made about the bike's fork-mounted load carrying design, but in reality, really serious tourists have long
known that mounting luggage on a bike's front-end is a smart idea because it has less of a negative effect on the bike's handling. The old French constructeurs knew it. And Bicycle Quarterly
's Jan Heine writes quite a bit about front-loading for better handling.
The frame of the new 720 is built from aluminum with manipulated tapering and profiles. The sloping top tube and weird tubing profiles (some are flared, while others are flat, squarish, or even squashed) are thoroughly modern, but abhorrent to a confirmed retrogrouch. The welds look like they may have had some smoothing, but are on the whole still very noticeable. I'll just say they don't have that "carved of one piece" look that a nice fillet-brazed steel bike might have (or even an old Cannondale) and leave it at that. The bike is equipped with disc brakes and a mix of black Shimano 105-level components and Trek's own Bontrager-branded parts.
The reviewer in Bike Radar
says that the 28 mm tires (actually measuring closer to 26 mm) aren't cushy enough, and that the bike is much improved by larger tires. If I could ride the bike, I'm sure I'd agree with him. Apparently it has room for 35 mm tires, but there's no mention of whether the fork will allow tires of that size with fenders. The bike has some mounting points for fenders, but the review didn't mention actually installing any. The 43-cm chainstays might allow room for a large tire and a fender in back, but the gap looks like it would be pretty crowded in there.
As far as the frame being "soft," I can't even imagine how that's an issue. The review says that it makes the bike's acceleration "adequate rather than amazing," which falls right into the conventional wisdom that bike frames must be as stiff as possible. Laterally stiff but vertically compliant, right? It's one of those canards that gets thrown around so much and people just accept it without proof. Certainly it fits with a basic instinctive notion of efficiency and "wasted energy" but nobody has ever been able to prove that a stiffer frame is any faster than a flexier one. On the contrary, Jan Heine has been writing quite a bit lately about frames that exhibit more flex and compliance as feeling faster -- a phenomenon that he calls "planing," which when combined with large-volume supple-casing tires can make a bike almost feel like it's flying.
If I were more than a part-time blogger and had the clout and resources to run some road tests of my own (the folks at Trek aren't exactly knocking on my door with bikes to review) I would LOVE to do a full out head-to-head between a 2016 Trek 720 and a nice '80s example, like one of these classics from 1984:
|The 1984 Trek 720. One of the top touring bikes of its day.|
And what good days those were. (Catalog scan from vintage-trek.com)
Right away, one can see differences in the frame design -- the '84 classic was one of the best touring bikes of its day. Reynolds 531 tubing, silver-brazed into clean, fairly traditional-looking lugs. The workmanship was top-rate.
Retrogrouches will notice the level top tube and the extra-long wheelbase. To my eye, the bike looked great then, and still looks great today.
The '84 720 was equipped with some of the best components for touring that were available at the time, including the Huret Duopar
rear derailleur that had some pretty serious range (though I'll bet a lot of them were eventually replaced with the more bullet-proof Shimano Deore), a wide-range triple crank, SunTour power-ratchet Bar-Con shift levers, and a Brooks leather saddle. It also had a Blackburn rear rack as standard equipment. Since the 720 had braze-on mounts for just about anything a long-distance tourist could want at the time, it isn't unusual to see these equipped by their owners with a low-rider pannier rack on the front (there's that front-loading concept again), fenders, and three bottle cages (one for the camp-stove fuel bottle).
As I've already mentioned, I can't ride the two bikes and give a true head-to-head comparison, but we can look at specs and see how the two bikes stack up. Both of these are based on a 56 cm frame size.
Trek lists the 2016 model 720 as having 43 cm chainstays and a wheelbase of 101 cm. It has the fork-mounted bags already mentioned, and attachment points for a rear rack - though mounting panniers on the back might include some heel interference depending on the size of the bags. The new bike's angles are listed as ST 74°, HT 72°. Why the steep seat-tube? For a more aggressive seating position? The fork offset is listed as 47.5 mm, yielding 62 mm trail. I believe most people would consider that a medium trail figure. The BikeRadar
review says the new bike weighs about 22 pounds in the 56 cm size.
The 1984 Trek 720 is a true grand tourer and has a wheelbase that stretches a full 106 cm, with 47 cm chainstays. Lots of room for big tires and fenders - and the long chainstays mean that there is plenty of heel clearance with rear panniers. However, it should be mentioned that the bike was designed around 27" wheels (ISO 630) which were still common at the time. The bike's angles were ST 73°, HT 72.5°. The '84 Trek catalog doesn't specify the trail figure on the bike, but fork offset is listed as 52 mm, which should yield a trail figure somewhat lower than the 2016 version (more rake equals less trail). Many people believe that a bike with less trail will handle a front load nicely. Speaking of forks, the classic rake and tapered 531 fork blades should give a sweet, compliant ride -- better than the modern bike's large carbon fork with its disc brake mount. A disc brake fork has to be much stiffer to handle the braking forces which are concentrated so far from the fork crown. About weight, the Trek catalog says that the fully equipped 720 would weigh under 25 pounds. Heavier than the new bike, to be sure, but how much of a difference those couple extra pounds make is debatable.
Here's another thing to compare: Where were the bikes built? In 1984, almost all Treks were built in Wisconsin, and the workmanship on the 720 -- one of their top models at the time -- was really good for a production bike. The new 720 is almost certainly built in Taiwan, or possibly China. According to a 2014 CNBC article
, the only bikes that Trek still makes in the U.S. are their top of the line carbon fiber race models, and those only account for about 1% of their total production.
As far as price goes, the new bike is listed at $1889. The 1984 version retailed for just over $800 in its day, but I do know that they have held their value very well over the years. Occasionally one can find really clean used ones for about $700 complete, but it isn't unusual to find "like new" examples on eBay fetching well over $1000. If somebody bought one of these new in 1984 and kept it in good condition, it would have proven to be a decent investment. I wonder if the same will prove true for the new version?
So, which one would YOU choose?