Trek Soho £799.99

Belt-drive town ride

BikeRadar score 3.5/5

Trek are the first of the major manufacturers to introduce belt-driven bikes into their range. Compared to the slick singlespeed District, the Soho is less of a funky looking street machine, with a potentially more usable and sensible specification.

  • Frame & fork: Great finish, plenty of luggage options and balance of comfort and speed is spot on (8/10)
  • Handling: Swoopy bars and sharp handling make this one of the best riding city bikes we’ve tried (9/10)
  • Equipment: Hub gear and belt drive work brilliantly together, contact points are great, but braking is substandard (7/10)
  • Wheels: Tough rims and great tyres but a bit hefty with the roller brake setup (8/10)

Classy chassis

The Gates belt drive system is combined with Shimano’s Nexus eight-speed hub gear, front and rear Nexave roller brakes slow things down, and all the contact points are from Bontrager’s Nebula range. Full colour co-ordinated mudguards and a belt cover keep the muck off your clothes.

The frame is built from Trek’s Alpha aluminium, with shaped tubing reminiscent of the company’s road bike frames. There are plenty of braze-ons should you wish to fit front and rear racks, as well as provision for a Dutch/nurse’s lock on the seatstays.

The top tube has a full length rubber strip embedded in it which protects it from scratches, and one neat accessory is an insulated aluminium coffee mug.

Although the frame is reasonably slender, the build with a hub gear and hefty roller brakes all adds up to the bike’s 30lb-plus weight. Once aboard though, the weight isn’t an issue. A combination of 700C wheels and fast-rolling 32mm tyres make it easy to propel the Soho up to a reasonable cruising speed.

Cruise control

Trek have moved away from the traditional sit-up-and-beg position commonly used for town bikes and have gone with a flatter, longer riding position, and a gently swept back bar – a cross between a mountain bike style riser and traditional moustache type.

The whole combination results in a bike that’s great to cruise around on yet deals easily with sprinting away from the lights.

For winter riding, weather protection is spot-on, the full-length guards keeping spray off your front and back, and although belt drives don’t get quite as grubby as bikes with an oily chain, the cover fitted is a good bit of insurance.

Shifting through the eight hub gears is marginally slower than a standard derailleur setup and requires a bit more anticipation, especially on the climbs. It’s not awkwardly slow, but it is noticeable.

Them's the brakes

One major issue, though, is the Nexave roller brakes. We like the idea of the enclosed mechanism that isn’t affected by wet weather, but that’s a small plus point compared to the drawback of a woeful lack of braking power on fast descents.

Initially nothing seems to be happening; complete inertia. Then the braking starts to ramp up a little. But even grabbing big fistfuls of lever and pulling them all the way to the bar still only slows you, never actually bringing you to a complete halt.

Pitting the Soho against a V-brake equipped mountain bike and doing emergency stops, the Soho’s stopping distance could be measured in metres more. Not good.

With a bit of adjustment and fettling we managed to improve them, but not by as much as we’d like, and we’d recommend a try before you buy. If you find the same issues we did, get your bike shop to sort it straightaway.

Commute in comfort

Luckily, the frame has provision for a standard long reach calliper front and rear, which we would suggest as an upgrade anyway, despite the fact that they’ll need more upkeep during the wet winter months.

We were happier with the contact points. The Nebula saddle is wider than standard and fairly flat but with deep cushioning; it’s comfortable over longer distances even when not wearing padded shorts. The ergonomic grips are supremely comfortable and the aforementioned bar is superb.

Braking issues aside, what Trek have achieved with the Soho is admirable, taking what could be quite a bland hybrid template and creating a bike that looks great and rides really well. With the brakes sorted it would be perfect for cruising around town and commuting on through the winter.

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