Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Phoenix Project - The 1985 Trek 620 Alights

When I returned home today, I found the promised UPS package on my porch.  I rapidly unpacked and assembled the candidate bike, here it is, a 1985 Trek 620, 22.5 inch, more or less thrown together, nothing really hooked up or adjusted:

I'm not going to put more pictures in this post as it was a little late when I finally got it together and we will be seeing a lot of this bike in the weeks to come.

The condition really is excellent.  Minimal wear on components, paint is superbe, really better than the ebay seller described, kudos to ebay's rare-ca.

It was well packed by professionals, but still received a few small scratches during its transcontinental journey.  Rather than get wrapped around the axle on this, I'll just do a little touch up (rare-ca is quite willing to work w/me on this, fwiw).  When I was in the Navy shuttling around the world, we had a saying, "Three moves equals a house fire"; the corollary for bikes is, "Three packing and shippings equals a taxi t-bone".

Having passed inprocessing and acceptance inspections, the 1985 Trek 620 is comfortably nestled in the garage, heating up, and looking positively ashen.  The Phoenix Project has cast off all lines and is officially underway!

Street Cred

The 1985 Trek 620 used to be a bit of an unknown quantity relative to its brethren, the long running 520 model and the fabled 720.  However, the word has now leaked out about these, that the 1985 620 (and only the 1985 620), is more or less the same frame as the 1985 720, most notably so in the long 47 cm chainstays.

The frame/fork tubes are Reynolds 531CS as opposed to the 531C, meaning that the frame is slightly heavier and consequently a bit stouter.  This is a good thing in my weighty circumstances and has a logical elegance in relation to my wife, he on blue 620, she on a red 720.

As some historical background, many consider the 1985 Trek 620/720 among  the highest expressions of the touring bike during the Great Bike Boom wherein the touring bike was the prime exponent of cycling - back then, people used to label all sorts of bikes as "tourers", much as they do with "race bikes" these days.

The 1985 Trek 620/720 had it all - geometry for cush all day riding, all the brazeons (3 water bottle mounts, low riders, rack mounts, chain hangers, etc).  These bikes have been ridden by some for decades and many tens, if not hundreds of thousands of miles.

And then, almost as soon as they appeared in this final, fully-flowered form, they disappeared in 1986, never to be seen again.

The credentials of the Trek 620 are impeccable and as the last and fullest expressions of a mass cycling trend, they are to lugged steel touring bikes what the Yamato is to battleships and the 1959 Coupe de Ville is to 50's automotive excess.

My previous 1985 Trek 620, 21 inch:

Mrs. Otakus' fine 1985 Trek 720

Gizmo Lust 


As mentioned previously, the Trek 620 has a full plethora of brazeons on a Reynolds 531CS tubeset.  In addition to that, it has "Trek Investment Cast" lugs festooned with "Trek" engravings, lug cutouts, and, reputedly, silver brazing.  In addition, this was produced on the tail end (very tail end) of Trek's hippie era, before they became the borg.

Being a one year unique issue, it gets unobtanium rarity points. 

It gets knocked down a bit for not having chromed lugs, fork lowers/crown and stay ends.  I know this has no place on a stolidly midwestern plain Trek, but I still like chrome.  A few points off the boards for the dropouts - the Trek dropouts are perfectly fine, but they aren't Campagnolo dropouts.


My initial thought was a Crimethink rating of diddlysquat.  After all, what could be more between the white lines for a sensible cyclist than a fine vintage Trek?

Then it occurred to me that this example is in stock configuration with the apparent exception of the black seatpost and the obvious exception of the anatomic Sakae bars.  Beyond that, and not shown in the pictures, is the matching OEM vintage Blackburn rear rack painted blue to match the frame.

Restoration purists and other assorted reenactors are likely incensed by my plan to replace nearly everything on this frame in our quest for the ultimate post-vintage sensible cycle.

And then cast the original components to the four winds on ebay - this is not the place you'll find much sentimentality.

Tweed Factor

Gotta face facts here, the Tweed Factor is off the charts on a Trek 620.  If it were up to me,  the Tweed Factor would be far greater than the maximum of 5 cycling rain ponchos.

Takoma Park graybeards lovingly caress their original examples as they would their first-born if they got them and yearn for them if they don't.  The abrupt disappearance of the Trek 620/720 is Grant Petersen's founding principle for Rivendell, as the fender clearance on these bikes is superb in addition to all that lugged steel nonsense.

Actually, lots of people who buy a Hilsen or Atlantis would rather have one of these as even they grok the unrivalled cool of this machine.  But, sadly, they've read too many Internet horror stories on making the cantilever brakes, designed for 27" and narrowly spaced to the old cantilever post spacing standard, work with 700c wheels.

But I don't worry about that because I know and have done the tricks, but more on that in later posts.

Phony Accent

The Trek 620 is not a copy of anything, leaving aside the Trek 720.  This is a an effort by plain Midwesterners to render the ultimate touring bike in their indigenous American Gothic style.

So why does the Trek 620 get a Phony Accent rating of 1 beret rather than 0 or -10?  Well, the 620's head lugs and headtube are actually a single casting made to appear that the lugs and headtube are separate pieces.

One could take this as a bit of period charm, and it is and adds novelty points to Gizmo Lust, but I wonder how much heartburn this created back in the day at the plant amongst the lug hardliners.

Lily Gilding

This is tough, so let's do some rough numbers first.

Not wanting to sift through hypodermic needles and dismembered limbs at the town dump for the candidate frame, I simply let my fingers and paypal do the walking on ebay and paid full freight, $800 to be exact.

Somebody has to make the market, I guess.

I'm estimating I'll take in about $300 from the parts not retained.  Nothing is really spectacular, but a few parts have their following - the Sachs Huret Eco Duopar rear mech, the nicely art deco Huret ratching downtube shifters, and the proto-ultegra Shimano N600 crankset, all in very good to excellent used condition.  The stench of the helicomatic hub still wafts down through the decades, so not much dough there, although they and the rims are excellent, I'll get a few bucks on CL for somebody who needs a cheap set of wheels to ride to death.  And there are a few other bits, it starts adding up.

So, this cost me $500, say.

Getting a modern frame of this quality, made in America, costs a bundle, $1500 at a minimum and rapidly proceeding north of that.  So by that standard, this is a screaming good deal and is the basis of my contention that vintage frames are still the most economical route even if not so much as in the past.

However, by the standards of vintage frames, this has come rather dear.  The Trek 620 is a trophy bike, going after one is shooting for the moon a bit.  There are certainly very nice rough equivalents that could be had for 1/2 the price or less.

So we have some lily gilding go on already and, I hope readers agree, that is a good thing.

Running Tally


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