The 3500 isn’t just Trek’s entry-level option, it’s also the company’s cheapest adult bike of any kind. That’s likely to attract buyers just looking for something to get about on, but the 3500 is very much a mountain bike.
Ride & handling: Conﬁdence-inspiring neutral handling
Trek have stuck to tried and tested geometry with the 3500 to good effect – it’s a conﬁdent ride with a good blend of stability and agility. The cockpit is a little shorter than some of the competition, which is arguably a little more user-friendly for the beginner but will start to feel cramped as your experience grows.
The 3500 isn’t unduly heavy overall for its price (14.2kg/31.3lb), but somehow feels less lively on the trail than the best of the other bikes at this price. Part of that is down to the generally higher gears, but the Trek also carries a bit more of its weight in its wheels. Because wheels spin, you have to accelerate them round as well as forward, so weight there and in the tyres is more noticeable than in the frame. The rubber rolls fairly easily, which helps.
Frame: Thoughtfully-designed and well ﬁnished chassis
Trek deﬁnitely win the paintjob prize here, with a classy Matte Candy Orange ﬁnish that resembles the anodising found on more expensive bikes. The beauty isn’t just skin-deep, either: the frame underneath is very tidily put together.
There aren’t any constructional gimmicks, just useful things like a ﬂared down tube, slimmed-down head tube and an open-ended gusset beeﬁng up the join between them. At the back is a wishbone seatstay, with rack and mudguard mounts present and correct. All the cables route along the underside of the top tube out of mud’s way and you’ll ﬁnd two sets of bottle bosses inside the main triangle.
Equipment: Gear range is more suited to off-dirt use
The colour-matched fork is a neat touch, although the fork itself is fairly unexciting. The SR Suntour unit is all-steel, with skinny stanchions, a welded-on brace and simple spring/elastomer internals. It’s heavy, ﬂexible and bouncy but – critically – if you’re not used to a decent suspension fork then you’re unlikely to notice.
The 3500 has a Shimano MegaRange 13-34T freewheel with a big drop down the oversized big sprocket. Up front, Trek have opted for a 28/38/48T setup on the Shimano chainset. That makes all the gears rather high, which is a mixed blessing. On the downside, steep climbs are more challenging and that 38T middle ring means you’ll be spending a lot of time on the bigger sprockets out back. You won’t have to spin your legs off downhill or on the road though. On balance, lower gears would be better for the trails.
There are lots of bits from Bontrager, Trek’s in-house component brand, on the 3500 including the big Bontrager LT3 tyres. They’re listed as 2in, but they’re quite tall for extra trail-smoothing volume. The tread pattern is at its best on hard surfaces, with a shallow tread but some worthwhile side knobs.