Dave’s Trek 520
What’s the story behind your rig?
In early 2019 my partner Bonnie and I were planning an around-the-world bike tour and had decided on starting in Australia before cycling back home to the UK.
We had planned to buy our bikes in Australia, as we both needed more “adventure-ready” bikes and it made sense for us to grab them at the start line, rather than flying there with them.
We decided on the Trek 520 as it seemed like it would be the ideal candidate as a well-priced, well-respected and well-thought-out touring bike that would be easy to find in Australia – as there are an abundance of Trek stores.
While perusing Reddit one evening, I came across a post by an Australian chap, sharing pictures of his shiny new Trek 520. I commented on the post asking him how he liked it and informing him of our plans to do the same. He replied telling us that due to the short supply, he’d waited 3 months for his and that we should probably try and make some arrangements to secure ours.
This was terrible news… We chatted on the thread for a while and it was all looking quite precarious until the community manager from Trek commented on the thread, telling me to send him a private message and he would see what he could do.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and now I’m emailing the head of Trek Australia. I tell him what sizes we need the bikes to be and within a day he informs me that there’s one on hold for me in Perth – Amazing! – but there aren’t any available in Bonnie’s size… Disaster….I send him a reply, trying not to sound too deflated, asking him if there are any alternatives and what other bikes they stock that may work.
It’s over a week before I hear from him again – but it’s fantastic news – He’s found a bike in Bonnie’s size in Melbourne and is having it shipped all the way to Perth for her! How’s that for service!?
A few weeks later on May 3rd, we land in Perth. The following day we make our way to Trek Bicycle Leederville, and find two brand new Trek 520s with our nametags on them. They’ve now been our constant companions for the last 2 and a half years.
I started off our journey with the “Classic” 4 pannier touring setup that you’ve seen countless times; trundling down the road with 4 brightly coloured bags flanking each corner of the bike, but as I’ve travelled Australia, I’ve made constant tweaks to this setup. Starting with small things such as the bars and saddle which I replaced while we were stopped for 2 months out in the WA Outback – and then not so small things; like having it stripped and powder-coated orange along with fully swapping out the drivetrain while we were grounded in Victoria due to Covid.
It’s become my “do-it-all” gravel grinder, commuter, grocery-getter, bikepacker and long-term tourer; and the way I’ve built the bike up is my attempt to create a somewhat “modular” setup that is equally at home whether riding the Stuart Highway or the Pamir Highway…. Or bringing the beers back from the pub.
At this point it’s carried me from Perth to Cairns, a route totalling about 11,000km and has done well over double that when you include all the overnighters, weekenders and day rides in-between.
What trip was this bikepacking rig setup for?
In early 2019 Bonnie and I sold everything we owned and got on a plane headed for Australia. The idea being to cycle from Perth to Sydney and then head on to New Zealand and beyond. We were granted working holiday visas for Australia, which meant that we could work as we travelled and hopefully add more savings to the pot to help keep the wheels turning, or at the very least recoup some of the costs from purchasing the bikes and gear.
We took a meandering 5500km route from Perth to Victoria, stopping once to work in an outback roadhouse along the way, and then stopped to work at a brewery in the Otways. It was here, while pouring a pint of double IPA for a rowdy mountain biker, that I heard about this new virus that was spreading. The 3 months we’d intended to spend working in the Otways became 18 months of on-and-off lockdowns and it was April 2021 before we finally figured it was safe to hit the road again (spoiler – it wasn’t). It was during those 18 months in the Otways, that I did the majority of the tweaking to my rig – as the the traditional 4-pannier setup doesn’t really lend itself well to flying down a rutted Otways 4WD track at high speed nor the extended hike-a-bike that follows.
Those 18 months also changed our plan considerably. As international travel was still a bit of a minefield, and there was so much more of Australia left to see, we decided to continue travelling Australia for as long as we can.
After leaving the Otways we spent a month touring Tasmania, before heading through Gippsland and up to Canberra. From there we made a pretty dramatic weaving route up the east side of the country, skipping Sydney as it went into lockdown when we were only 45km away and then making the Queensland border 5 days before it closed. We eventually landed on the Atherton Tablelands, which is where we intend to stay for a while before we eventually head off through the NT.
What camping gear do you carry?
Tent: Naturehike Cloud-Up 3
Bag: Sea to Summit Explore II (Long)
Liner: Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme
Mat: Sea to Summit Etherlight XT Insulated (Large) & a Nemo Switchback after the Etherlight failed (Have since received a warranty replacement)
Pillow: Sea to Summit Aeros Down (Regular)
Cooking: Trangia 27 set; Sea to Summit X-Mugs, Sea to Summit X-Brew, long-handled sporks, GSI Knife, plastic Sea to Summit knife, tiny tongs, GSI pot scraper, chopsticks (yeah, I don’t know), firelighting kit, piece of carbon felt cut into a circle to nest in the Trangia set, Trangia multi-disc, Trangia 1l fuel bottle, Vargo Titanium Hexagon stove for wood-fired cooking or as a lightweight windscreen for Trangia burner for solo trips.
Notes:When you travel as a pair, you have the luxury of sharing the “communal” items such as cooking gear and tent. For all of our travels Bonnie has carried our tent and I have carried the cooking gear and food. When riding solo I prefer to take a tarp, bivy or both; so I’ve only carried our tent a few times – Still, I’ve included it here for reference anyway.
After hundreds of nights, the tent is finally starting to show it’s age and the inner zipper is failing. I’ve managed to keep it going by lubricating the teeth and giving it the odd pinch with some pliers, but we’ve been babying it for the last 1000km or so and it’s probably time for a change. For the price I’m still pretty happy that it’s lasted as long as it has.
My setup here is based on comfort and cold-weather flexibility – touring Tasmania in winter will definitely change your priorities. I’d love to go lighter for shorter trips, but when you’re on the road for 6 months or more, comfort matters. I haven’t quite gone for the folding chair yet, but it’s not far off.
Bike & Bags:
Frame: 2019 Trek 520 – Stripped and powder-coated orange (Dubbed “The Pumpkin” by the Otway Gravel Grinders)
Groupset: Microshift Advent X Drop Bar Setup, 34t Raceface Narrow-wide Chainring, 11-48t Cassette, Shimano Alivio Cranks
Brakes: TRP Spyre
Wheels: Custom Built – Ryde Andra 321 Rims, Novatec D042SB Hubs, DT Swiss Alpine III Spokes
Tyres: Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tour 47c
Handlebars: Ritchey Venturemax 46cm
Stem: Redshift Shockstop 90mm
Pedals: MKS XC-III
Saddle: Brooks B17
Seatpost: Whatever seatpost comes with a Trek 520
Front Rack: Nitto M18 with Wald 137 Basket
Rear Rack: Whatever Bontrager rack comes with a Trek 520
Alternate Rear Rack: Carradice Bagman Expedition with support struts
Fork Cages: Blackburn Outpost
Cockpit Stuff: Quadlock out-front phone mount, Wahoo Elemnt that I smashed during a crash…. There’s a new one in the mail.
Bags:Wizard Works Custom Alakazam Basket Bag, 2 x Wizard Works Voila Snack Bags, Apidura Racing Top Tube Bag 1l, Yeah Nah Threadworks Custom Frame Bag, 2 x Ortlieb Back Roller Plus OR Bags by Bird Goldback 1 x 24l Drybag when using panniers
Packing Notes:The basket and bag are phenomenally functional and a big part of what makes the bike so versatile. The bag is vast enough to take everything I need for an overnighter and the way it secures to the basket makes it more steady than anything else I’ve tried. Even without the bag installed, the basket is super useful for carrying anything from a sleeping bag and mat to a slab of beers – I also like being able to strap extra stuff to the sides of it and I have to say that acting like a hooligan on rough trails on a bike with a basket… It feels wrong in the best way.
At the rear I have the option to either run the big Ortlieb panniers for when we are travelling long term, or switch to my Bags by Bird Goldback – which is a modern take on the classic Carradice saddlebag – for smaller trips when I’m going to be settled somewhere for a while. I absolutely love the Goldback and also use it bar-mounted from time to time, such as when I rode the Goldfields Track on a MTB.
Getting a custom framebag from Ty while we were in Canberra was a gamechanger and has given me so much more versatility in my “modular setup”. On tour it basically carries tools and my first aid kit, whereas on shorter bikepacking trips it can carry tent poles or heavy food items or the like; as I don’t quite need such an extensive workshop for shorter trips.
Tell us about the things you love, or things you’d change about this rig:
In terms of things I love; I think you probably already know how stoked I am on my basket bag and the matching stem bags are the best. They’re super spacious and I love being able to eat M&Ms or other treats directly from them as I ride a long stretch. They’re also the perfect size for my rain jacket if I’m heading out for a day-ride and it looks like the weather might turn.
The waterproof Apidura Top Tube Bag has been really clutch for getting me to use my camera a bit more. I have a Sony RX100VII that lives in there with a buff underneath it for some padding and that’s all that goes in there. I make some pretty amateur attempts at YouTube videos of our travels and having quick access to my camera has made me record a lot more – now I just need to take more photos as well!
I really love the simplicity of the 1x drivetrain and it’s been great so far, but maybe I’d consider going back to something a bit more traditional before we finally leave Australia to travel places where perhaps parts aren’t as easy to acquire. There’s definitely some merit to the cheapness and availability of an 8 or 9 speed cassette.
I’d love to ditch the panniers for good, as it really is such a joy to ride without them, but it’s proving really difficult for me to go much lighter than I am now. It’s a real challenge when your trip is sort of “open-ended” and you need to carry a lot of things that you wouldn’t take on a much shorter trip – for example, I carry a laptop with me which is obviously bulky and fragile. There are other “optimisations” I could make, such as carrying something like a NBT-2 rather than the chain whip I currently carry and generally slimming down my toolkit. Perhaps in future I might also experiment with mailing things ahead to places where we plan to stay for a while, but I don’t know if I can handle that level of planning…
Lastly; I’d love to get wider bars. Going up to 50cm bars would be far more comfortable for me. As the lads at the ACT Swift Campout told me, I have the “wingspan” for it, but having comically wide bars becomes an issue when taking your bike on and off trains or in the back of cars or whatever…. We’ll see…
Overall; I’m pretty happy. There will always be things that can be better, but I’m pretty content with my rig’s ability to go from road tourer to gravel-packer in relative ease.
Check out Dave and Bonnie’s recap from a small section of their Australian adventures, riding the BVRT.