Help me decide if I want to keep my Trek Portland.
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  1. #1
    RoadBikeReview Member
    Join Date
    May 2009

    Help me decide if I want to keep my Trek Portland.

    I have two road bikes right now: a 52cm 2009 Kona Jake and a 2006 Trek Portland. I bought the Portland from a friend a couple years ago to replace a commuter I broke. It was close enough at the time and for that role.

    Lately I've been riding it as a rain bike. I like the disc brakes and it saves me pulling my Jake off the trainer. The handling can be a little weird at times though - the front wheel's a bit squirrelly on climbs and sometimes it feels a little sketchy on descents.

    I want to decide if I want to buy the Portland a set of my favorite handle bars and some STI shifters or sell it and (maybe) replace it in the Fall. I took a few measurements today that I hoped would give me some insight.

    The Portland's seat tube measures 54 cm C-T. It's a little reachier. From my measurements, the frame reach is 5 mm more on the Portland. I ride both bikes with 90 mm stems, though the one on the Portland is -17, vs -6 on the Jake. I measured the Portland's chainstays at 429 mm, vs 438 mm on the Jake. However, the distance from the bottom bracket to the front hub is 591 mm on the Jake, and 597 on the Portland. So the Portland is a bit more rear-biased.

    So I think my measurements match my perception of a sketchier front wheel. But they're not very different. I'd hate to sell the Portland if integrated shifters, bars I like, and a bit more time spent dialing in the handling would make it as fun for me to ride as the Jake. I don't think it will sell brilliantly well, since I trashed the rear wheel and shifters it had when I bought it.


    Anyone have the geometry chart for this bike?

  2. #2
    Burnum Upus Quadricepus
    Reputation: brucew's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    CAVEAT: My 56cm 2006 Portland is the one bike I'd keep if I could own only one. It's my reference standard for both comfort and handling. That said...

    I think there's something wrong with your Portland.

    Mine is the epitome of stability. It's a high-trail front end, meaning it feels firmer and more planted the faster you go. I've had mine over 50MPH on descents and feels like it's on rails, planted firmly to terra firma. It feels better on descents than my Litespeed Classic.

    Climbing I've never noticed any change in its stability, whether seated or standing. I ride this cobbled climb on my commute.

    Then it continues around that corner

    It starts at 6% which I do seated. It tips up to 12%, when I have to stand because of my low speed due to the bumpiness of the cobbles. It flattens a bit around the corner before a final kick up. Even with my typical commuting load in the panniers, it's only the grade that raises my heart rate. If anything would upset the bike on a climb, it would be bouncing over these cobbles with a load on the back. The bike actually seems to like it.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "rearward bias". Do you mean that the bike's center of gravity is towards the rear? When I load groceries on the back of mine, a typical load of provisions is 50-60 pounds. When I walk the bike through the halls of my building I sometimes have to hold the front end down when it's loaded like that. When I'm on the bike, it feels just fine. A little light in front, but never "sketchy".

    Given my experience against yours, I'm wondering how much your Portland has been altered.

    You say you want drop bars and integrated levers, but those were standard on all Portlands. If those have been changed I'm wondering if the fork has been changed too. The stock fork is the Bontrager Satellite Elite, a knock-off of the legendary Wound-Up fork. It has a polished aluminum fork crown, tubular carbon fiber fork legs, and polished aluminum dropouts and caliper mount. A third of the way up the inside of the fork legs are fender eyelets. Looks like this:

    Caliper mount detail

    Also, what size tires are you running? 28MM is the stock specification. My studded snows are a weird 35/37--width of a 35, height of a 37. They alter the trail enough that the handling becomes very sluggish at low speed, and the bike flops when laid into corners. With the 28s, it's so stable in turns, you could fax it into the corners.

    Finally, relative to the front axle, where are your hands when riding? In front, directly above, behind? On the hoods, my hands rest driectly above the front axle. That's where I like it on all my bikes. Seems to give me the right weight distribution to the front.

    Answering your question about a geo chart, I don't have one. But Trek's FAQ says you can contact them for one for an older bike. I've just done that. We'll see if they respond.
    Last edited by brucew; 04-05-2014 at 04:59 PM.

  3. #3
    RoadBikeReview Member
    Join Date
    May 2009

    Re: Help me decide if I want to keep my Trek Portland.

    The bike has its stock bars and fork. A structural problem had never occurred to me, though this is the first bike I've owned that had perceptible flex in the fork. Does yours? Maybe there is something wrong with the bonds in mine. It wouldn't be the first time I've discovered structural damage in one of my bikes, and it was due to cracks around the rear spoke holes that I changed out that wheel, so I guess I should have thought of this earlier.

    I just don't like the anatomic drop bend shape. If I'm going to keep the bike, I'm going to get some handle bars I like. Since I was using it for commuting previously, at the time I was more inclined just to live with it. That much less investment in the bike if it got stolen or vandalized. In more of a trainer/rec bike role, I don't think that's as likely, and it's worth it to me to be more comfortable. I can also afford it now.

    My friend switched the bike to SRAM Rival several years ago. He switched all his bikes. I don't like DoubleTap, so when the guts fell out of the right-hand shifter a couple years ago, I stuck on a Tiagra derailleur and some plain aero brake levers I had around and bought some downtube shifters for it. Cheapest way to get it back rolling with indexed shifting, given that I didn't want to go through all the screwing around to maybe get my friend's shop to warranty a couple-year-old shifter, through him. He lives on an island. It's not that far, but the ferry ride adds a bunch of time and planning to anything involving going out there.

    Strava tells me I had the bike at 45 mph at one point last time I rode it. But that would have been a big, sweeping turn. It's a steep grade near my house where the bike sometimes freaks me out more on descents. It has a bunch of right angles, working its way up between square properties. On climbs, it's the really low-speed stuff where it bothers me. That's why my first thought was geometry - I'd expected to measure the bikes and find that it was just too long for me. But I think my method was good to an eighth of an inch or so - dropped a plumb line from the headset spacers and measured horizontally from the bottom bracket.

    I'll have to take a pic a bit later. I "think" it's a pretty conventional setup. But text is always a little sparse on information.

    Oh - tires. 25 mm.

    And yeah, I mean I think the bike's center is a little more toward the back. I took the straight-line distances between the hubs and bottom brackets on both bikes, but given how little drop there is relative to the horizontal distance, I think that's probably good enough. I do wonder about the bottom bracket drop on each, though. If the Portland's BB sits up higher than the Kona, maybe that's a part of it.

  4. #4
    RoadBikeReview Member
    Join Date
    May 2009
    I took a picture after my ride (other bike) today.

    Trek Portland 4-6-2014.jpg

    I tried rocking and twisting the fork. It feels fine. Like I said earlier, I've sometimes noticed that it feels a little flexy when I ride the bike, although that could as easily be the front wheel.

    I guess what it boils down to for me is that there are a bunch of things I don't like about the bike, but that are pretty easily changed. Pretty much the list I always give people who've had a bike for ten minutes and want to start throwing money at it. (Well, I'm happy with the pedals and tires.) But I don't really want to spend the few hundred if at the end of it, I still don't like the handling.

    On the other hand, I don't want to spend $1000 or so on a new bike if there's a bike I really enjoy hiding under bars and a saddle I don't like, shifters that aren't my preference, and maybe a sub-optimal fit.

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