Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Trek Soho Deluxe review

Trek's Soho Deluxe falls at the upper end of most people's commuter bike budgets at US$1,319.99 but in return for this outlay you get a well thought-out, versatile and virtually maintenance-free machine that's always ready to go. Add in some clever armoring, a stealthy look and smart all-weather component choices, and it's a perfect choice for urban cyclists in low-crime areas.

Ride & handling: The quiet, dependable type

The Soho Deluxe's main emphasis is on utility and in this sense it delivers, with a no-nonsense demeanor that always feels ready to run despite almost never calling attention to itself. Simply put, its greatest attribute is that you almost never have to think about it. Key to its appeal is its largely maintenance-free setup â€" even through the rain, cold, snow, slush and ice of an unusually snowy Colorado winter, we've barely even had to inflate the tires since the beginning of November.

One of the biggest contributors to that formula is the Gates CenterTrack belt drive, which is more tolerant of mud (or snow, in our case) and maladjustment than earlier Gates belts and delivered a whisper-quiet and smooth feel throughout our test period. It never needed an adjustment or lube, either, which also means it was always clean and never left a mark on our pants legs.

Following along that same philosophy are the rear drum and front disc brakes. Front braking is powerful, easily controllable, and consistent in both wet and dry conditions â€" not to mention admirably quiet. The rear brake could use more power and the lever is notably squishier than the front one but modulation is excellent and it's highly resistant to lockup â€" not the best for skidding competitions but certainly better when playing in traffic.

Capping off the SohoDeluxe's carefree attitude is the Shimano Nexus eight-speed internally geared rear hub. The enclosed design is mostly protected from weather and requires less upkeep than a traditional drivetrain. Ratios are reasonably well spaced, too, and unlike traditional derailleurs, the Nexus can be shifted while either pedaling or at a standstill â€" great for commutes that include a lot of stoplights.

Total gear range is fine for moderately hilly areas but might not be sufficient for riders lacking in fitness or if the bike is heavily loaded. It's a heavy chunk of hardware and has a very rear-biased weight distribution â€" not the best for hopping curbs or potholes.

Ride quality is nothing to write home about, what with the straightforward aluminum frame and thick-treaded tires, but in this context, that's alright. It's a pleasant enough bike to ride around town all day thanks to the semi-upright position and cushy grips and seat, and the fast-rolling tyres help offset the somewhat hefty 13.33kg (29.39lb) complete as-tested weight (17.5in size, with pedals).

Frame: Straightforward TIG-welded aluminum

The frame on the Trek Soho Deluxe again follows the utilitarian theme with a basic, TIG-welded double-diamond aluminum layout. There's some modest shaping on the top tube and down tube but it's mostly for style, and surrounding the carbon bladed fork up front is a straight 1-1/8in head tube anchored at either end by a sveltely integrated headset.

Two details are worth mentioning, though: one is the well thought out slider rear dropouts, which are necessary to tension the belt and both easier to adjust and less prone to creaking than eccentric bottom brackets. The driveside dropout can also be separated from the seatstay by a cleverly hidden bolt so that the Gates belt can be fed into the rear triangle.

The other is the thick, full-length rubber pad on either side of the top tube. Go ahead and carelessly lean the Soho Deluxe against a signpost or similar object when you head into a building for an errand, knowing full well that the top tube won't have a single scratch to show for it.

Equipment: Lots of standouts but a few oversights, too

Trek have made a lot of excellent decisions regarding the major components on the Soho Deluxe, most of which we've already mentioned above. Other highlights include the easily adjustable and stout aluminum rear rack, the tough but reasonably fast-rolling Bontrager tires with their reflective sidewalls, durable 36-hole aluminum rims, and the inclusion of full-length fenders for more pleasant riding in wet conditions.

We'd still prefer that Trek spent a bit more time sweating some details, though. While a thoughtful addition, the chainguard is disappointingly flimsy and ironically, its lower point often caught the cuff of our pants. Likewise, we love that Trek included those fenders but the front one could really use a longer flap as our shoes and pants cuffs still got wet from road spray.

Up front, the dual-density grips sport a comfortable, ergonomic shape but are annoyingly prone to rotating and while we're happy to see aluminum-bodied pedals instead of cheaper resin ones, they offer almost no grip on nearly any street shoe we wore during testing, especially when wet. Given how infrequently bikes like these find their way atop roof racks, it'd also be nice to see a bolt-on front hub to prevent theft. Since most buyers will add one anyway, it'd be good if Trek would include a kickstand as stock equipment.

Save those relatively minor oversights â€" most of which are easily remedied with minimal expenditure â€" the Trek Soho Deluxe proved to be a dependable companion for regular errands, regardless of weather. It won't turn many heads but that's kind of the point. Think of it as the Honda Accord of bikes: you likely won't look back at it admirably as you walk away from it but then again, you won't have to think about it much, either.

Hat Tip To: BikeRadar.com Road Bikes & Gear

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