The initial question that must be answered when considering whether or not to modernize a classic road bike is, “Do I want to alter the bike from what was originally intended?” With my Trek, I struggled with that question mightily… for about five minutes. For others, especially when it comes to older bikes, that Q & A might not be so easy.
I bought the 5200 used in January of 2012 because that was about all I could afford and the first road bike I bought was entirely wrong. Too small, down tube shifters, and old-timer heavy wheels. Over time I took the Trek from a nine speed triple (27 gears) to a ten speed compact double (20 gears) that I’m absolutely pleased with. I like the bike a lot more now than I did when it was a triple, and the reason for this is a little geeky.
So, the 5200 has been my “rain” bike since late in the 2013 season when I bought my brand spankin’ new Specialized Venge. The Specialized became my “A” bike the day I brought it home. Over the years, though, I came to appreciate the simplicity of the Trek and how it’s built. External cables, exceptional components… As parts wore out, it became increasingly clear that I wanted to use the Trek on multi-day tours rather than the Venge. The Specialized was great, but if anything went wrong with the Trek, I knew I could fix it blindfolded. The Venge is a little more labor intensive that way. Going back to geeky, I knew, from the voluminous articles I’ve read about road bikes over the years, that triples have a lot of overlap gears – doubles, therefore, are more efficient. Let’s look at the new gearing versus the old:
The top speed is a little misleading – I can get 40-mph out of the 50/34 (I’ve done it). The 52 tooth big ring is closer to 43-mph. That said, the granny gear is what’s important to me – I travel to a lot of places with hills, so I want to be able to climb anything that comes at me. You can see, the new gearing and the old are almost identical at the low-end.
Getting back to the overlap, look at the triple chart. 52/15 is almost identical to 42/12. 52/19 & 42/15. 52/21 and 42/17 match up exactly… and you can do the same thing for the baby ring and the middle ring. You’ve got another five overlap gears between those two. You’ve got 27 gears with the triple, but you only need 19 or fewer because of all of the overlapping gears. In other words, the triple is inefficient. Using the compact double, there is some overlap (50/24 & 34/17 for instance), but I use a double different than a triple on the road. The overlap isn’t quite as wasteful. The transformation was slow, though. It took some time.
As purchased in 2012 (with the addition of a modern saddle – the original was too wide):
The first thing to give out on the Trek was the wheelset. The Rolf wheels were bombproof as wheels go, but one too many rides in the rain and the brake track thinned and blew out – the aluminum brake surface wore too thin. The wheels were simple enough to rectify because, even being a ’99, the rear dropout width was the modern 130mm. I had a spare set of wheels that went on the bike. The headset was next to give out. The original headset was a mess after decades of abuse, so when I got the bike painted the stock headset was upgraded to a new Chris King. Shortly after the paintjob, the right shifter broke – again, after almost two decades of hard use, they were simply beat. Rather than change the drivetrain, I decided to go with MicroSHIFT 9sp. shifters to save money. They were only $75 shipped to my doorstep and I installed them myself. They worked flawlessly.
Painted, new headset, saddle, carbon fiber seat post, stem, handlebar and 9sp MicroSHIFT shifters 2016:
Eventually, a friend was selling an Ultegra 10sp. component group that I put on the Venge and I took the 105 drivetrain off that and put it on the Trek. A used Shimano crank for ($20), some new chainrings ($60), a new Ultegra bottom bracket ($40 installed) and I was ready to roll.
Today – 2018: New compact crank, new Ultegra bottom bracket and bearings, 17° stem (flipped), 10sp Shimano 105 drivetrain:
Whether good or lucky, my ’99 Trek was easy to upgrade – at least the parts I installed myself were easy (everything except the bottom bracket and headset). The headset was a little tricky because, if memory serves, there was only one available on the market that would fit the bike. The bottom bracket was a happier story; ultra-easy. I did agonize over the stem for a bit, though. I was stuck between going with a 17° and a full-on-crazy drop with a 25° stem. I’m glad I went with the 17 in the end. The 25 would have been too much drop for me to reach comfortably.
Other than that little bit of consternation, everything fit and worked perfectly.
I think, eventually I’m going to change the brake calipers to something a little more black but that’s way, way on the back burner.
So, from a 21-pound 52/42/30, 9sp. triple to a 18-1/2-pound 50/34, 10sp. double… Having to do it all over again, would I alter the original again (obviously, the worn-out parts had to go anyway)?
In a heartbeat. I was never much for nostalgia anyway. The bike is faster, lighter by 2-1/2 pounds, and more enjoyable to ride… not to mention, it looks a lot better. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. 1999 was the only year the triple got it’s own designation as the 5200T. In reality, what I did was upgrade a rare bike – doing what I did in the automotive world would be a pure travesty. Thankfully, as bike geeks go, it’s less about altering a classic and more about making an old bike into something that’s more fun to ride. I’ve taken that bike on every tour I’ve done for the last two years, and I couldn’t be happier.
I took a fine classic and perfected it.
Would the whirling dervish purists get their undies in a bunch over what I’ve done? Without question – but they’re not riding the bike, so let them whirl.