While the glamorous range-toppers attract attention, it’s usually the unsung and unremarkable mid-range bikes that generate most of a bike company’s profits. Trek know this, which is why the 4500 is the product of some time-proven design features and sensible, if unadventurous, hardware choices. It's a competent trail all-rounder that aims to please most riders, most of the time. But you could be having more fun for this kind of cash.
Ride & handling: Newbie-friendly but short on thrills
Trek has years of experience in turning out bikes that won’t scare off new riders. It shows in the 4500, which pulls off the deceptively simple feat of providing a ride position that’s both newbie-friendly and surprisingly efficient. The shortish top tube and longer stem won’t win any prizes for lively steering, but that’s hardly a major concern if you’re looking for your first steed. And the big stack of headset washers between the top bearing race and the underside of the stem leaves plenty of scope for adjustment as your tastes refine.
Out on the trail there’s little to disturb this feeling of confidence-inspiring can-do. Grippy tyres translate your efforts into forward progress without fuss, that extra large rear sprocket makes short work of steep climbs and 100mm of rock-swallowing travel up front means it’s hard to bite off more than the 4500 can chew. The only thing that’s missing is the liveliness that distinguishes fun frames from competent ones.
It’s also worth noting that with its relatively weighty build, conservative geometry and unforgiving wishbone rear end, the 4500 ploughs a furrow through – rather than skipping its way over – rougher sections of trail when the pressure’s on. That means it’s hard to get too excited about the 4500. It’s well built, doesn’t expect too much of you and gets the job done. But if you’re looking for thrills, this isn’t the bike to find them on.
Frame: Functional chassis is ready for a brake upgrade
True to form, there are no surprises in the 4500’s neatly welded chassis. You won’t find any wacky tube profiles or superfluous gussetry here – just well designed functionality. The hydroformed down tube features an extra bulge at the vulnerable head tube junction, doing away with the need for a separate welded strengthening gusset.
Tidy wishbone seatstays incorporate some neat rack and mudguard mounts that you’ll appreciate when commuting or touring, and there are two bottle boss mounts inside the main triangle. A cutaway disc mount, along with disc-compatible hubs, makes any future brake upgrade a relatively cheap and painless process, but you’ll have to live with the rim brake bosses on the seatstays if you make the switch.
Trek’s design team has gone with 100mm of travel up front, in the form of a RockShox Dart 2 coil-sprung fork. The difference between 80mm (3.14in) and 100mm (3.9in) at this price is largely down to your personal preferences, because ride quality is affected by factors such as tyres, frame weight and resilience just as much as it is by fork performance.
Having said that, the Dart 2 is a decent contender, with adjustable rebound damping and a lockout function – great if you’re hard on the pedals and concerned about excess bob. It can’t quite match more expensive forks for controlled plush and steering precision, but it’s a good first line of defence in the battle against blurred vision and loose fillings.
Equipment: Nine-speed cassette and Bontrager kit
You may have noticed the lack of disc brakes on the 4500 already, but don’t worry, there’s an upside to their omission. Instead of hydraulic discs as standard, you get a nine-speed cassette at the rear, driven by Shimano’s evergreen and very reliable Deore mech. That extra rear sprocket creates room for 34 teeth and a genuinely useful low gear.
The Tektro/Avid rim brake setup isn’t as powerful in the wet as the best disc alternatives, but it makes up for it with easy maintenance and a light, progressive lever feel. The Bontrager finishing kit is all good stuff too – particularly the open-treaded Jones ACX tyres, which cope well with the UK’s slimy trail conditions.