Trek 920 Review: What’s an adventure bike?

Share Facebook 0 Twitter Pinterest Google+

Joining the ever-burgeoning ranks of the ‘adventure bike’, Trek’s 920 aims to rewrite the classic touring rulebook. For a start, it uses a lightweight aluminum frame, the latest in industry thru-axle standards, and sports clearances for 2.2in 29er tires. There’s custom racks and provision for 6 water bottles too. But does this mean it can really go where no touring bike has previously been? Skyler Des Roches takes one to British Colombia to find out…

It’s clear on paper that the Trek 920 is a category-confused bike. Is it a drop-bar 29er? A touring bike? A monster-cross or all-road thing? Several companies are calling similar machines “adventure bicycles”. What does that even mean? How does the curious mating of spec and geometry often found in this newly-minted category play out on planet Earth?

While I’ll concede that I don’t think it really matters what particular narrow niche a bike is labeled under, I do think that knowing what a bike does best is extremely useful when shopping. In a world where the word adventure has been appropriated by urban dog-walkers and picnickers, my challenge in reviewing Trek’s answer to the “adventure bike” was to figure out what the hell this bike was for.

From afar, the Trek 920 looks a lot like many of this year’s new breed of gravel or randonneur bikes. But, those bikes are adapted cyclocross or road designs and can usually fit 700x40c tires or more voluminous, but smaller diameter 27.5×2.1” (650Bx53) mountain bike tires. The 920 comes set up with Bontrager Duster Elite 29er wheels, and clearance for up to about 29×2.25” (untested, so this might depend on the tire). Running the stock Bontrager XR1 tires, which measure 29×2.0” (or 700Cx51 if you prefer), there is even space for fenders.

Trek 920 Review

  • Trek 920 Review
  • Trek 920 Review

One upside to the bike industry’s new love for the word “adventure” is that it has provided an opportunity for bike manufacturers to break some of the old rules of touring bikes. Gone is the old singular meaning of adventure cycling, the one that meant loading up a small mountain of gear strapped to front and rear racks, just sort of suffering along whatever road, and praying that the equipment would hold up.

These days, adventure means, well, just about anything if you believe the marketing. It’s the hottest thing in cycling, and everyone wants a slice. Adventure biking is being used simultaneously as a category, and an all-encompassing activity. Full-suspension mountain bike – adventure; hardtail – definitely adventure; cross bike – whiskey and adventure; expensive road bike – hella adventurizing. The spirit of adventure never changed, but the old rule book – the one that required 26” wheels, Schwalbe solid rubber tires, rim brakes, drop bars, 36 spoke wheels, square-tapers, leather and steel – has been shown out the back door. It’s rather confusing from a marketing perspective, so it’s perhaps understandable that the 920 would appear so category-confused.

At its core, Trek’s 920 seems to aim to achieve the same thing as those rule-bound classic touring bikes, but freed the Luddite mentality that is becoming less and less necessary for international touring as bikes get more reliable, and a variety of parts more easily available around the world. Its aluminum frame features thru-axles, internal cable-routing, a bent top tube that allows three bottle cages within the front triangle on sizes 56cm and up, braze-ons for front and rear racks (which come included), and bottle cage mounts on each fork leg and below the down tube. That’s a total of six bottle mounts on the frame and fork. The aluminum material is exotic in itself for a touring bike, but it allows for a bike that weighs only 26lbs in size 58cm.

Trek 920 Review

  • Trek 920 Review
  • Trek 920 Review

The Spec

Though a frame will always be the heart of a bike, I’d guess that the 920 is the sort of bike that will almost always be purchased and ridden as a complete package. As such, the stock parts spec will be important to most people looking at this bike.

The 920’s build, with a few exceptions, offers a build spec that will come as a breath of fresh air for cycle tourists: its components, for the most part, are exceedingly well-suited to the unique needs of pedaling a loaded bike. Namely, its mountain bike gearing, powerful brakes, decent tires, and strong racks will mean forgoing some common component swaps made to brand new touring bikes.


  • Frame 100 Series Alpha aluminum w/rack + fender mounts
  • Fork Trek Adventure alloy disc, 15mm thru-axle


  • Rims Bontrager Duster Elite Tubeless Ready
  • Hubs 15mm front, 142×12 rear
  • Tires Bontrager XR1, 29×2.0″


  • Shifters SRAM 500 TT, bar end control, 10 speed
  • Front derailleur SRAM X5
  • Rear derailleur SRAM X7, Type 2
  • Crank SRAM S1000, 42/28T
  • Cassette SRAM PG-1030, 11-36, 10 speed
  • Chain KMC X10


  • Saddle Bontrager Evoke 1.5
  • Seatpost Bontrager alloy, 2-bolt head, 27.2mm, 8mm offset
  • Handlebar Bontrager Race, VR-C, 31.8mm
  • Stem Bontrager Elite, 31.8mm, 7 degree, comes w/ computer & light mounts
  • Headset FSA IS-3, 1-1/8″ threadless, sealed cartridge bearings
  • Brakeset TRP Hylex hydraulic disc

A highlight reel

  • Tubeless ready wheels with asymmetrical spokes (for more even spoke tension).
  • Bontrager 29×2.0” XR1 Comp tires: cheap yes, but also pretty ideal for rolling efficiently on gravel and paved surfaces. I was able to run these tires tubeless for duration of the test, even if they’re not a tubeless ready tire.
  • 2×10 Sram X7 mountain drivetrain: mountain bike drivetrain on a drop bar bike?! A 42/28 crankset?! Pinch me. This gear range is actually suitable for cycle touring.
  • TRP Hylex hydraulic disc brakes: because being able to actually stop a loaded drop bar touring bike is something the world deserves. Unlike mechanical disc brakes, these are set-and-forget, requiring zero maintenance.
  • Thru-axles: because if it’s going to have mountain bike wheels, it’d better be able to run common mountain bike wheels. They also surely add a degree of stiffness, stability, and strength to the frame when stressed by heavy loads.
  • Custom racks: yup, the 920 comes with front and rear racks designed to mount specifially to this bike, and as far as I can tell, they’re bomber.
  • Trek 920 Review
  • Trek 920 Review

There were only a couple of parts that were immediately unimpressive. First, the saddle did not agree at all with my posterior. I guess that’s a matter of personal preference. Second, the stock stem lengths are atrociously out of whack with the bike’s geo. Consider that Specialized’s AWOL has very similar front end geometry, and specs a 70mm stem on the size L. The 58cm Trek reviewed here came with a 110mm fishing pole.

Now, I’m a relatively averagely proportioned 6’2” tall man. I’ve never come across a bike that was offered in 58cm where the correct size for me wasn’t 58cm. I don’t doubt that the stock stem length will work for some folks out there, but I’d have hoped Trek would aim for average. As it was, I immediately swapped to an 85mm stem, and would probably be happier with a 70mm.

Besides that, there are a few spec choices that don’t quite fit with the nature of the bike. They’re not huge detriments, but they add to the category confusion of the Trek 920.

I guess it’s not really fair to be puzzled at the bar-end shifters – I know why they’re there. Reason 1: this is a $2000 drop bar bike with hydraulic disc brakes. They’ve got to cut cost somewhere and bar-cons are a good way to do that. Reason 2: there’s an old notion that bar-end shifters are a good choice for touring. Part of this idea comes from a sort of retro-grouch mentality that says simple is inherently more durable. I disagree, but I’ll get to that. Part of the old appeal of bar-end shifting stems from the flexibility of friction shifting. Bent derailleurs or derailleur hangers can sometimes be limped home with some amount of shifting in friction mode. Alas, while Sram 10 speed allows the mixing of road shifters with mountain drivetrains, those Sram bar-cons cannot be switched to friction mode.

  • Trek 920 Review
  • Trek 920 Review

But given the wide tires, thru-axles, hydraulic disc brakes, aluminum frame and tubeless wheels, I’d think the 920 was beyond all that – a 21st century answer to the touring category. Rather than providing any sort of real advantage to reliability, the bar-end shifters just place thin aluminum shift levers in one of the most vulnerable places on a bicycle. If the bike falls over, which is likely to happen at some point if you use front panniers, there’s a real possibility of breaking or bending the shifter lever.

You and I can likely live with all that given the rest of the spec. The real annoyance came when I thought to myself “damn, this bike could almost pass as a real mountain bike. I should turn off on that singletrack right there.” Or maybe it was that all the underbiking I saw the last time I checked that well-known cycling fashion blog. You know, the one where they’re always riding absurdly expensive road bikes on California singletrack.

And even that started out great. It was a blast right up until the first short, punchy climb. I stood up on the pedals, spine curled and hands deep in the back of the drops when cluuunk…instant knee-to shifter contact. Gear 1 to 10 in one second flat. Game over, no more climbing. Those accidental knee-shifts all but prevented me from using this bike as a drop-bar mountain bike.

Given that those shifters and racks are good indicators that Trek may have intended the 920 to fill the role of a classic touring bike (while somewhat extending its utility onto unsealed surfaces) the 28-spoke wheels are also surprising. Sure, 28-spoke wheels are common for all manner of mountain biking these days, including such high wheel-abuse activities as enduro racing. The Bontrager Duster Elite wheelset is built using asymmetrical rims, which provide more even spoke tension, and may allow them to hold their own against higher spoke-count hoops. But, wheels are subject to a lot of abuse when riding corrugated roads with four bursting panniers, as might be expected on a 920. Fortunately, throughout the test, the Bontrager wheels showed no sign of struggling, though I never did ride the bike loaded with more than about 15kg.

Trek 920 Review

The Ride

With its long 465mm chain stays, its very low 85mm bottom bracket drop, and its high trail fork, the Trek 920 is built for stability above all. Combined with the large wheels, this has the down side of making the bike decidedly not nimble. This is, perhaps, its weakness. It is especially noticeable when the bike plays dual duty as a commuter. Even though my commute times were not noticeably slower than on my positively zippy little 90’s mountain bike-commuter conversion, the 920 felt very slow to accelerate, and far less eager to take 90 degree corners at speed. It made up for time, however, by easily cruising at speeds similar to a road bike.

With a front load, that high-trail fork exacerbates the lack of maneuverability, making it ride as if on rails. This is likely of benefit moving fast on open roads, but I’d advise against riding with a front load bias off-road. Note that, despite the recent resurgence of front loading – a style of touring long popular amongst randonneurs and their low trail bikes – the 920 and the likes of Specialized’s AWOL have very similar trail measurements, and are not actually any more suitable for front-loading off pavement than other bikes. Instead, I found the 920 handled best with a slight rearward weight bias, or close to even front-to-back weight distribution.

Loaded up on smooth back-roads, whether dirt or pavement, this stability plays to its favour. On one lightly-loaded two-night trip, I was able to maintain close to a 25km/h moving average on smooth gravel roads – much higher than my usual plodding pace. Once up to speed, I could sit in the drops and go, and go, and go…I rode 60km of dirt roads in falling snow for lunch with friends, and 60km back along sloppy mud roads in the rain. The next day, 80km before lunch. These are not my usual sorts of backroad riding days, I’m really not that fit.

Trek 920 Review

This efficiency is no doubt one of the few benefits of drop bar bikes for dirt road touring. I find the riding position (after the stem switch) generally more powerful, and less energy-consuming on the 920 than I’m used to. That said, this being a demo bike, I did not have the opportunity to cut the steerer tube to my preferred length. I found the drops often felt too low, while the hoods felt too high. On one trip, I added some aero bars. By rotating between the three riding positions – climb on the hoods, rotate between the drops and aero bars on flats, and descend in the drops – I was able stay comfortable enough.

On rougher roads, such as the crushed rock logging roads found in British Columbia’s more mountainous parts, the efficient road bike-like riding position and incredible stability (lack of maneuverability) ceased to be a benefit. Instead, I found the position made it challenging to effectively absorb rough stretches, even if the bike itself encouraged me to bomb through those parts. After 100km of that sort of road, my back was sore and I was wishing for a flat bar bike. I’m convinced that a flat bar rigid 29er remains the best option over the greatest variety of terrain, even if the drop bar 29ers excel on gravel roads.

Trek 920 Review

Furthermore, the low bottom bracket and bar-end shifters make it very challenging to ride the 920 on even relatively easy singletrack. Perhaps it’s because I’m used to riding modern hard tails on that sort of surface, but between the constant pedal-to-ground and knee-to-shifter strikes, I wasn’t going far on singletrack without getting frustrated. Running 2.3” tires, some of the pedal striking would surely be alleviated, and the bike would undoubtedly tackle singletrack more adeptly.

Aluminum is certainly unfashionable as a material for touring bikes. I think there is a wide notion that the “feel” of steel makes for a smoother, more comfortable ride. That may be so, but 2.0” tires do a lot for a smoother, more comfortable ride. On maintained gravel roads – that is, unsealed roads that may have a good gravel cap and get graded somewhat regularly – the 920 sails. Hitting corrugated corners at cruising speed is totally comfortable. Perhaps some of my soreness on rougher roads could be attributed to the aluminum frame material. But, I think we can really blame that discomfort to the sporty drop bar position and its difficulty dodging bumps when loaded.


  • Value for the price – impressive package for sub-$2000
  • Comes with good quality front and rear racks
  • Finally, a gear range on a touring bike that’s not too tall
  • Tire clearance for 2.0” rubber with fenders, or up to 2.3” without
  • Bottle bosses for 6 bottles in size 56cm and up, and 5 bottles below
  • Hydraulic disc brakes provide plenty of power for stopping a loaded bike
  • Surprisingly good tire spec
  • Lightweight – 26lb without racks or pedals in size 58cm, 29lbs with racks and pedals.
  • Wants to go fast.


  • Stock stem length way, way too long for average build
  • Bar-end shifters are vulnerable to damage, and impede maneuvering obstacles or climbing out of the saddle
  • Stock saddle designed without any reflection on human anatomy
  • Long rear end/high-trail fork gives away too much maneuverability for touring stability

​Wrap Up: So what is an adventure bike?

​Think of the Trek 920 as​ an updated ​’classic’ ​touring bike​. It ​offer​s​ the load-carrying abilities ​of racks and panniers ​teamed with​ modern components and materials​, ​​bringing i​t in at ​a ​svelte ​26lb package​ – a relative lightweight in the touring world. ​Though the 29×2” tires ​and its generous clearances ​may ​suggest back​country,​ bikepacking ​inclinations, th​e 920’s super stable geometry​ really shines on paved roads and smooth, non-technical dirt​, the kind of terrain encountered on many of the popular touring routes​. ​Consider ​it more as a ‘Touring Plus​’ bike​. ​But note that while the big tires ​help it ride more comfortably and safely, they don’t necessarily extend the abilities of this machine.

  • Model Tested Trek 920 Disc
  • Size Tested 58″
  • Sizes Available 49,52,54,56,58,61″
  • Weight (56cm) 28lbs / 12.7 kg
  • Price $1,989.99
  • Contact
  • Recommended Uses Gravel touring, dirt road bikepacking, all-road riding

Trek 920 Review

Rider’s Background

When not on some longer exploratory bikepacking trip, I tend to do my riding on a mountain bike on the steep, technical trails of southwestern British Columbia. Earlier this year, I spent three months finding new bikepacking routes in Chile’s central Andes. Despite my bias toward lighter loads and harder trails, I’ve put in my time riding on pavement with four panniers, and everything in between. I’ll admit a preference toward standard flat handlebars and more upright riding positions for all but the fastest road riding.

Height 6’2”
Weight 180lbs
Inseam to ground 34.6”

  • Scott Loveless

    I work at a Trek dealer, and we’ve kept a couple 920s in stock since their release. Of the few we’ve sold, I think most of them get used for the dirt roads and gated fire roads in PA’s state forests. No one has come back in and told us about single track. They have, however, confirmed your issues with knee strike on the shifters. My initial thoughts were to equip the bike with a dirt drop bar that has some flare, but that would probably just lead to broken shifters. Perhaps moving them to your aerobars might work?

  • Tim Rice

    I have seen several issues with knee strikes on the Trek Crossrip and it doesn’t even have bar-end shifters. (I avoided this with sizing down and extending my stem) With that being said I am seriously looking at selling my Trek Crossrip and buying the DiamondBack Haanjo EXP. Basically Haanjo EXP is the Trek 920 with the differences being 650b rather than 29er, 3×9 instead of 2×10, 21 lbs rather than 26 lbs, carbon rather than Al. and at the same Price $1,900
    Trek had the right idea but they failed to get there.(on all of their adventure bikes 920, 720, 520, and Crossrip) Giant also in my opinion also failed with their version of the Revolt.

  • Jonathan McCurdy

    Loved the commentary on riding road bikes off road, haha. In general, this is a great, thorough, honest and critical review that tends to be pretty rare these days.

  • NDN

    Go with the Salsa Fargo. all these issues will be gone. The original “Adventure by bike”.

  • Winston

    Bar end shifters. I love them, for long rides and touring. (not for traffic or group rides) I can’t even hit them with my knees if I try, and I stand going up every incline I see, for the first 50 miles anyway. They remind me to move my hands around on the bars a bit more, and thus prevent numbness, even when I get tired and sloppy.
    Maybe it’s beacause my first drop bar bike was a stock cross check, and I just leaned to sprint in sync with them or something… I’ve also always used slightly flared bars. Rando bars now, and those horrible things that where either comfy in the drops or the tops, but not both, that came with the cross check. I’m not really an off road guy, though I love easy flowing single track.

  • Idle Prentice

    Outstanding review. Pulls no punches and tells you what you want to know – not just bloggy fluff. Thanks.

  • david herassnet

    it’s fantastic!!!

  • Ken53

    I have 1100 miles on my Trek 920. Mine 56cm weighs 24.5 pounds minus racks. Replaced the saddle with a softer one. High pressure tires, and it roles very fast just like an expensive touring road bike. I have been biking for 40 years on mostly steal frames while racing one road aluminum Trek. This 920 is the most fun and versatile bike I have ever owned. I would rarely single track it, as a suspension bike is clearly best for that. Plain and simple, its an “All Road Bike”. An excellent one at that. I plan on mounting some slim touring tires and taking it on a long road tour.

  • Skyler

    I think a good solution is to switch the bars to something flared like Salsa Cowbells. This would have the second advantage of a wider bar for descending rougher dirt roads, which tends to inspire more confidence. I think I might also look into the option of getting thumb shifters for the tops of the bars to replace the bar-cons. And, as you mention, this bike isn’t intended for singletrack. But, the same issues tend to come up on narrow National Forest Roads, and logging branch roads.

  • Skyler

    That sounds like a great plan. I was left with the conclusion that with some high-end 38mm slick tires (such as Compass tires?) mounted tubeless, the 920 would be a wonderful, and very fast road touring bike.

  • Daniel

    I’ve had my Trek 920 for over a year. It is one of my favorite bikes. I use it primarily for commuting and bikepacking. This review is pretty spot on. The bike wants to move and I really like the stability even when weighted down. I happen to really like the bar end shifters. I considered the Salsa Fargo but it feels more like a hardtail mountain bike than a rough-road touring bike. I found the 920 to be more comfortable than the Fargo for touring on gravel, dirt and non-technical forest trails

  • Callum C

    Great review! I took my Trek 920 around NZ south island last summer. Long days on road and gravel. Totally awesome, great fun, and very comfortable in the big hills all loaded up. I generally carried about 16-20kg, and liked to get more than half up front in small low panniers.

    My swap outs:
    *Bars – yes, the standard bars are wrong wrong wrong. I mail ordered Salsa cowbells to a west coast hostel and fitted them there. World of difference. This is the main thing I would recommend.
    *Tyres – Schwalbe Marathon Mundial 1.75. Great for longer days. I had some fatties at times like when i camped a stretch around Wanaka – so with racks off and fatties on, it was fun times on the trails and forests!
    *Saddle – I kept it! I actually like the saddle and if anything would go to a harder saddle like a brooks.
    *Stem – yes this is a long bike in terms of reach – for me at 5’10” I still wanted the medium to have a slightly less reach. A slightly shorter stem was fitted and it and still handled fine, this was a necessary mod for me while my body fitted in to the bike. (The Salsa cowbells also have a slightly shorter reach to the drops too, so once they were fitted that helped offset the reach to the hoods – those hylex levers do have long hoods which you also need to be aware of.)

    Some comments:
    *The rims were plenty strong for me at 75kg plus bags! But bitches to get the tyre on and off, very very (too) tight. WTF.
    *Bar end shifters – yes the bike does like to fall over and yes the shifters are in a risky spot.
    *Geo – yes you do feel the length of the back end on tighter trails, but the plus side is the way you can hum along all day so easily.
    *I did take it around the Ghost Road but – really its not a full suspension MTB fo sho.

    I really love this bike. I’m thinking about some lighter faster rims and tyres with a dynamo hub for city commuting/summer night gravel forest adventures. It will look really sharp with some Bruce Gordon Rock N Roads.

  • Callum C

    I put cowbells on mine and very happy with the change.

  • Lewy

    Why do Trek keep speccing 28 spoke wheels. I had them on my Superfly and while the front lived for 10000kms, I went through 3 back wheels in 6000kms. I replaced it with a cheap 36 spoke wheel that is still going strong after 9000kms.

  • Brian Sims

    Or maybe it was that all the underbiking I saw the last time I checked that well-known cycling fashion blog. You know, the one where they’re always riding absurdly expensive road bikes on California singletrack.


  • Richard R. De Blasio

    I’m 6′ tall and weigh 275. I commute, by bike, 10 miles round trip every day, 12 months. I do recreational riding on paved roads and crushed stone, smoothe trails.

    Ibend rims, break spokes and beat the heck out of the crams sets on the cheaper bikes I have owned (250 to 500 dollar bike store bike)

    What model bike or configuration would be recommended for me as a big guy who breaks the rear wheel weekly?

  • Cpabbey

    I bought my 920 6 months ago and on the way back from the LBS the 920 fell off the bike rack and hit the ground at 50mph. I watched in horror as it somersaulted through the air. The racks took the brunt of the impact and the guys at the LBS repaired it quickly. I can attest that the frame is strong.

    I’m still experimenting with the bars and I changed the seat, but I love this bike.

  • Jean David


    I have bought a 920 bike this year and I’ve been riding it in Ecuador for a mount now with plans to go further south. I have had huge problems with the wheels and tires. I’ve broken 3 spokes so far and have had multiple flat tires du to the Bontrager tires that don’t seem thick enough. But for the rest I enjoy riding this bike.

  • Todd Stone

    I absolutely love my 920. As a Cat1 roadie, I appreciate it’s efficiency and the “sporty” position, this thing rips. It is by no means nimble, but instead of dodging stuff, you just smash through it.

    The first thing I did before it even left the shop was install the Salsa Cowbell bars. The outward flare in the drops as pretty much entirely eliminated hitting the shifters with my knees. I rail this thing so hard on some pretty tight single track, and haven’t had any issues other than not being able to shift at a moments notice.

    Like as it’s stated in the article, this bike has a serious case of categorical confusion. I’m still exploring what I can’t do on this bike. I’ve shredded Tahoe single track, I’ve done 80+ mile road rides with my roadie homeboys, and week long bike packing trips, all on the same bike. It’s not necessarily good at anything, but it can do everything. Weighted down with 30 lbs of gear off road is really where it shined, but for most 9-5ers, those trips aren’t as often and attainable as some of the insta-celebrites make them out to be.

Share This

others did. Support us and pass it along...

Follow Us

and join the conversation.