Half a grand is a lot of money for a lot of people - and luckily it can get you a lot of bike. There's a huge range to choose from at this price, from commuting cycles to long-distance tourers, but if you're looking for something a little lighter and sportier you'll be pleased to know that for around £500 you can buy a machine that'll easily cope with distance rides such as sportives, as well as your day to day cycling, with a good dose of style thrown in.
The Trek SL1000, was a winner in Cycling Plus' 2006 budget race bikes of the year.
The Trek frame is based on 7005 series aluminium tubing with butted main tubes and is 1,551g in the 56cm size tested. The welding is plain without any smoothing of the joins, and the paint and decals are an improvement on the previous year's model. We like the neatly executed mudguard bridge detailing between the chainstays.
The distinctive and unusual forward-sloping top-tube (it's higher at the seatpost) is an aspect of the 1000-1500 series that you'll either like or loathe, but the short head-tube enables a low riding position for time trialling that simply isn't possible on the Specialized with its taller head-tube. The handlebar height can be altered considerably by flipping the stem through 180 degrees to point upwards, and further adjustments can be effected in small increments by using the headset spacers provided. The inclusion of rack and mudguard eyes is a major plus point as far as versatility for commuting and general cycling is concerned, meaning that this frame is a good all-rounder.
Given that the £500 price point is largely focused on those who are just getting into their cycling, it is appropriate that Trek have specified the SL1000 with a triple chainset, because the range of gears this provides is more important than the small weight saving of a double chainset. The anatomic 'pistol grip' handlebars have a slightly deeper and lower bend than those of the Specialized, and the radically sloping stem provides a greater than average range of handlebar height settings, though it doesn't win points for style. The Shimano Sora levers work well with your hands rested on the hoods, but it's a long reach to the brake hood button levers when your hands are on the drops.
An eight-speed Shimano cassette means the transition to a smaller gear is a noticeably bigger step than with a 10-speed system, but the testers felt that it hardly affected their ability to maintain a constant pedalling cadence on undulating roads.
The Trek wheels are of the traditional variety in using 32 spokes per wheel, laced in a 3-cross pattern to strong, reputable Alex rims - each spoke is crossed by two others, between hub and rim - with unbranded but smooth-running hubs. This year's wheels are 115g heavier per pair than those of the previous year's model that were outwardly similar but used Rigida Chrina rims instead. Trek have retained the tried and trusted Bontrager Select tyres that are probably the best budget tyre we have come across for vertical compliance, and they grip tenaciously in the wet. Their slightly larger 25mm width means they are more resistant to pinch punctures than 23mm tyres, but they'll need to be changed for a 23mm tyre if mudguards are to be fitted to provide enough clearance.
The Trek's butted tubes make for a lively performance out on the road and were it not for the weight of the components, this could easily be confused with a bike costing twice the price. There really is very little to criticise when ridden on the flat, but at a shade under 21lb its bulk, which is mainly centred on the wheels, makes it harder for the rider to change tempo on a climb. That said, the fun and lively nature of the ride makes you want to take the long way home on a warm balmy summer evening.
Though odd looking, the system of using spacers stacked to give the greatest handlebar height didn't cause our testers any worries, and the time triallists will warm to the fact that the spacers can be omitted completely to get a low, aerodynamic riding position.
The Trek won our budget race bike of 2006 award by virtue of its versatility and now receives a carbon seatpost, but it's 115g heavier overall because of the new wheels. Compared to the previous model year, the Specialized has seen the biggest raft of improvements which, like the Trek, include a carbon seatpost in place of an aluminium one, together with a higher spec and marginally lighter wheels.
Iit's hard to ignore the Trek's inclusion of mudguard and rack eyes. These make the it a very versatile bike, a quality that can't be overlooked if the bike is to be used year-round for different types of riding. If versatility is your bag, the Trek should be right up your street.