The industrial design influences found on the US$1,100 Trek Soho 4.0 make it one of the more intriguing urban commuters, and with the wonderful Shimano Alfine internal 8-speed rear hub, the bar has been raised on what makes a solid commuter.
Trek has always done well with its hybrid line, but there's a finicky bunch amongst newer commuters, and sometimes a perceived 'frumpy' hybrid bike just doesn't deliver. Trek's engineers did their homework with the Soho 4.0, and the finished product is delightful to look at as well to ride.
Ride & handling: acceleration when it matters most
The semi-upright handlebar position works well in traffic and when transporting a backpack. Trek specced the Soho 4.0 geometry like a road bike, with nearly 73 parallel head and seat angles, which, coupled with a longer head tube and chubby 700 x 32c tyres, makes for a lively, nimble and enjoyable city bike.
The gentle swept-back Bontrager Satellite Plus arc bars make riding in traffic fun, providing confident steering while being easy on the wrists, unlike most straight bars.
But the strength of the 28.5lb Soho 4.0 (and there needs to be plenty at this price) lies in the bike's ability to stomp and accelerate instantly, keeping its pretty self and its driver out of harm's way. The Soho 4.0 proved itself worthy several times during our long term testing.
Frame: clean lines and smart add-ons
Don't let the satin platinum finish fool you - this is a mean street machine. Trek benefits from its engineering and research and development efforts on its high-end road and mountain racing bikes. Trickling down from those machines is the extensive use of lightweight hydroformed aluminium which adds subtle and sexy lines to the Soho 4.0. Those clean lines are nicely uninterrupted because Trek has chosen disc brakes rather than V or cantilever brakes.
Trek also wisely provides braze-ons galore for racks, mudguards and chainguard.
One of the coolest aspects of the Soho 4.0 frame is the integrated rubber bumper, designed to protect the tapered top tube from nicks, scratches and the like.
Equipment: Shimano Alfine reigns supreme
As we mentioned earlier, the drivetrain is based on Shimano's fine Alfine 8-speed internal hub gear. The whisper quiet and nearly effortless trigger shifting is a boon at stop lights and in situations where meddling too much with looking down and trying to commandeer a bike through busy traffic is a hazard.
Trek's house brand Bontrager provides much of the finer components on the Soho 4.0, namely its Nebula deep-section aluminium rims and puncture-resistant Satellite Nebula tyres. Taking a nod from the popular (and smart) trend for commuters, Bontrager includes a reflective sidewall strip on the tyres to make the Soho 4.0 more visible to traffic from the sides at night. The larger platform pedals provided ample room for street shoes, and never once felt cheap or flexy like most stock commuter pedals.
Gearing is provided by the Bontrager Nebula 44-tooth crankset and Shimano's 18-tooth rear cog, while slowing and stopping duties are provided by Shimano's M65 mechanical discs and Tektro two-finger alloy brake levers. Our tester's hands enjoyed the ergonomically-friendly shaped grips, a trend we hope to see on more bikes soon.
Verdict: spending more and getting every penny's worth
As the average bicycle purchase climbs higher with so many art house brands entering the fray, and with no end in sight for the crazy-spendy carbon racer bikes, it's pretty cool to see Trek putting its resources into a rather hip and smart urban commuter like the Soho 4.0.
As we experienced with the similarly smart Specialized Globe Centrum Sport last year, a good commuter needs more than one speed to be really effective on a daily basis.
The Trek Soho 4.0 adds credibility to the thinking that, as the price of gas in the US creeps way above US$4 a gallon, there's really no limit to what even urban commuters can and should spend for reliable transportation.