The Trek 820 is almost certainly the least expensive “name brand” mountain bike you can buy. With an SRP of $439 (check the Trek site for the latest MSRP) it hardly seems possible that this bike comes from the same manufacturer that produces some of the most respected – and expensive – mountain bikes on the market. It does, though, and that makes a difference. Trek is a large company that makes lots of bikes. That means they make lots of frames and they order lots of components from some of the biggest names in the industry. That gives them pricing leverage that they pass on to the customer. It would be almost impossible for a smaller or less well-connected company to produce a similar bike at the same price.
You’re also getting the expertise of some of the industry’s top bike designers and builders, and that shows in the design of the frame, the component selection, and the overall value.
The Trek 820 is a basic bike that steps away from many of the trends that define modern mountain bikes. The bike features 26” wheels, not the 27.5” or 29” versions that dominate the industry today. The brakes are old-school rim brakes. The drivetrain has 3 gears in front and 7 in back, and the front fork offers only 3” of travel. Clearly this is not a race ride or a big hit machine, but how does it stack up for its intended purpose: around-town riding and introductory trail rides?
Let’s take a look..
Quick Overview: What I Think of the Trek 820
For older riders (like me) who took up mountain biking back in the 90s, the Trek 820 has a “blast from the past” feel to it. Back in those days we all rode bikes with rim brakes, short-travel forks, 26” wheels, and steep angles. We had a ton of fun and rode some steep, rough trails. We didn’t feel limited by those bikes, because there wasn’t anything else. We didn’t know they were supposed to limit us, so they didn’t.
That doesn’t mean that the Trek 820 is an ideal ride for steep, rugged trails. If you can get a modern full suspension slack-angled trail slayer you’ll have a much better tool for that job. But if you don’t happen to have a few thousand dollars ready to pour into a bicycle, you can buy a Trek 820 and have a great around-town ride that can do more on the trail than a lot of riders realize. Those modern trail bikes are great, but don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t ride trails without one.
In short: if I could choose any bike I wanted, I wouldn’t choose a Trek 820. If I had to choose a bike that cost under $450, I probably would choose a Trek 820. It may not be the best bike you can get, but it’s probably the best you can get for $439.99
What You Get
Let’s look at the key components of the Trek 820.
The Trek 820 frame is made of steel. That means three things. It’s heavy, it’s strong, and it’s inexpensive. Because it’s a Trek, it also has a sleek design, impeccable welds, and high-quality finish and paint. The 820 will never be a light bike, but you will not break the frame and you won’t get tired of looking at it.
The 820 carries a simple coil spring suspension fork from SR Suntour, a leading Japanese manufacturer of low to mid-end suspension. Travel is 75mm (3 inches), very short by today’s standards but enough to suck up the impact of rough roads, curb drops, and small root-and-rock trail chatter. It won’t hold up to big hits, but that’s not what it’s meant to do. It’s sturdy and durable and should deliver solid service for years.
The 820 comes with a Shimano 3×7 drivetrain: 3 gears in the front and 7 in back. The shifters and derailleurs are from the Shimano Tourney series. They are the cheapest drivetrain components Shimano makes, but they are still produced by one of the world’s two premier drivetrain manufacturers. That matters, because Shimano lets its technology trickle-down: as new upgrades are introduced in the premium levels, the old premium features move down to the lower level parts.
The Tourney drivetrain won’t win you any bling points at the bike shop, but it will get the job done. You’ll have appropriate gears for level ground, moderate climbs, and all but the steepest steep climbs, and you’ll be able to shift smoothly and precisely. You may have a problem if you want to upgrade the drivetrain. Due to compatibility issues, you’d have to replace all the parts simultaneously, potentially an expensive proposition.
Because the Trek 820 is a beginner-oriented bike, I’ll point out that the durability and performance of drivetrain parts depend heavily on good tuning and the use of proper shifting technique. If you buy your bike – any bike – online, be sure that it’s set up by a qualified mechanic. Take the time to learn good shifting technique. Your equipment will perform better and last longer if you use and maintain it well! Many of the complaints you see in online bike reviews are not issues with the bike or its components, but with the way it was assembled and tuned.
The 820 carries Tektro alloy linear-pull rim brakes. These brakes work by clamping two rubber pads onto the rim of the wheel. This is an old-school braking technology that has been largely replaced by disc brakes on more expensive bikes. It still works, and it’s been used successfully for many years. Disc brakes will perform better in very wet or very muddy conditions, but rim brakes will stop you and control your speed very effectively.
You will have to be careful if you want to use another wheel. Mountain bike wheels (of the same size) are often interchangeable, but rim brakes must be used with a compatible rim. Many rims designed for use with disc brakes don’t have a flat surface designed to be gripped by rim brakes.
The 820 carries a basic, solid wheelset that will do its job, in keeping with the overall theme of the bike. The wheel size is 26”: that size is no longer popular but it was the mountain bike standard for decades, and provided solid service to a generation of riders. The Formula hubs are durable and effective. The rims and tires are from Bontrager. Trek has a long-standing relationship with Bontrager, which supplies many of the components for their lower-end bikes. That relationship brings two advantages. Bontrager makes solid, utilitarian parts, and because Trek orders a large number of parts from the company, they get competitive prices, which they pass on to the consumer.
The Bontrager LT3 tires are a compromise. They are knobby enough to give decent grip in moderate trail conditions but don’t have a high enough profile to create massive tire drag on cement. They won’t grip the trail like an aggressively knobby tire would and they won’t roll as smooth and fast on cement as narrow slicks would, but they will give you a solid platform on a wide variety of different surfaces.
Note that the maximum tire width is 2.0”, which may constrain your options if you want to step up to a wider more trail-capable tire down the line.
Trek fills out the 801’s component spec with what you’d expect: solid, reliable parts, primarily from Bontrager. Nothing is high-end, and you won’t see any featherweight titanium bits or elegant hyper-precise CNC machining, but everything there will do its job and hold up to abuse.
The 820 frame comes with a full range of mounting points for luggage racks and other accessories. This feature is important on an around-town commuter bike: if you’re going to work or running down to the store you may need to carry a light to moderate load, and the racks make that a lot easier. They also make the 820 suitable for use as an entry-level bikepacking bike. The mounted kickstand, rarely included on pure mountain bikes, makes short-term parking easier.
You won’t find high end parts on the 820. That’s expected: this is a bike designed to be the most affordable name-brand mountain bike on the market. What you will find is an intelligent selection of parts carefully selected to deliver durability and serviceability at the lowest profitable price.
Let’s rate the 820 component mix on a 1 to 5 scale relative to other bikes in the sub-$700 range.
The components of a bicycle don’t work alone: everything has to fit together and work together to deliver the performance you need. Let’s look at how the total package performs.
The 820 comes in two versions. The 820WSD is five sizes, from XS to XL, and fits riders from 4’6” to 6’8”. The 820 also comes in a version designed for women, the 820WSD, which features a sharply dissenting top tube that provides very low standover height, a very appealing feature for smaller riders, especially less experienced smaller riders. The WSD comes in three sizes: XS, S, and L.
The smaller sizes of the 820 make this bike a great option for younger riders. If you want to buy a good quality bike for a growing child but you don’t want to overspend on a bike that will be outgrown in a year or two, the 820 in S or XS is a great option.
If you’re a beginning rider the whole concept of bike geometry may seem too complex to grasp. Even experienced riders may be confused over the details! To put it very simply, “slack” or “modern” geometry places the front wheel ahead of the handlebars, which adds stability and reduces the tendency to go over the bars on steep descents. This may also cause the front to wander on steep climbs.
“Steep” or “traditional” geometry places the front wheel under the handlebars, which gives stability on smooth roads and steep climbs. It also makes it easier to tip the bike forward on a steep descent, so you’ll need to drop the saddle down and keep your weight well back when the trail turns down.
The Trek 820 is very much in the “traditional” category, which is appropriate to its purpose. That will serve you well on road rides, but if you ride steeper trails you will need to adjust your body position to keep your weight low and back and the downhills. It’s absolutely possible – aggressive riders rode steep-angled bikes for many years – but it might take some effort.
The quickest way to sum up the Trek 820’s performance is that it rides above its price tag. This is a bike that carries a price tag not much above department store bikes, but has none of the looseness, squeaking, or rattling that so often go with inexpensive bikes. Part of that is because Trek sells through a network of credible dealers with trained mechanics that assemble and tune the bikes they sell. Many department stores or general sporting goods stores sell bikes that are assembled by unqualified staff members, and that often results in poor assembly and tuning, which in turn can create issues with the brakes, drivetrain, and most other parts of the bike.
The 820 is solid. It’s heavy for a hardtail, but that goes with the price: bikers say you can have two of cheap, light, and strong, but never all three. The 820 drops the lightness, but it’s cheap and sturdy, and that’s what you want in an inexpensive bike.
This bike is a hybrid designed to serve two purposes. As an around-town commuter, errand bike, and exercise/recreation tool it would be hard to ask for more. A pure road bike will be faster and more efficient, but the wider tires, wider bars, and more upright riding position of the 820 will feel more secure, stable, and comfortable for beginning riders. The shifting and gear combinations will serve for all but very steep hills, and the entry-level Shimano drivetrain shifts smoothly and easily. The multiple mounting points make it easy to set up a rack system to carry your daily loads. The low-end nature of the bike will not limit you to any appreciable degree in this type of riding, and if you have a chance to ride a more expensive bike you may wonder what makes it worth that price tag.
The limitations of the 820 may be more evident on the trail. You can certainly ride this bike on mountain bike trails, but you will feel the bumps and you will have to learn some basic skills from the start. That’s not a bad thing. Learning to stand up on the pedals, let your knees work as shock absorbers, and move your weight forward for climbs and back for descents is important. Those skills will help you even on a much more sophisticated bike. The limited suspension will force you to pick a line rather than plowing over obstacles and letting your suspension do the work. You won’t be doing jumps or drops, but you wouldn’t expect to on a bike like this.
The Bottom Line
If you haven’t ridden a bike before or if you rode as a child and are getting back on a bike for the first time in a while, the Trek 820 makes a perfect entry point. It’s affordable and you’ll get the kind of quality that will assure that your learning experience is good and your equipment doesn’t hold you back.
If you’ve ridden bikes before and you need a highly affordable bike for daily use and around town and occasional trail rides, the Trek 820 will be one of your top picks. If you’re looking for a stable, secure bike to ride around town, to work, and to school the Trek 820 will be a perfect fit.
If trail riding is your priority and you’re looking for a dedicated mountain bike, you might be better off saving a little more and looking for a bike designed for that purpose. If that’s not realistic from a financial perspective, you can go with the Trek 820 and ride trails with it. You’ll just need to understand the limitations of your equipment and work within them, leaning more on your skills than on your bike.
Trek approaches their low-end bikes with the same care that they put into designing their high-spec packages, and it shows. The Trek 820 is very inexpensive, but it’s intelligently designed and specced, solidly built, and effective. If you’re on a limited budget and you need a working bicycle, it’s a great choice.
Let’s compare the Trek 820 to other name-brand bikes in the sub-$700 range as an overall purchase. Remember that the 820 is in most cases going to be by far the cheapest option in that category. If you compared the 820 to department-store no-brand bikes in its price range and below you’d be looking at a 5 rating right down the line!