Trek's Portland urban crosser has hokey cokeyed in and out of their UK range over the past few years like some particularly over exuberant regular down at the Queen Vic, this year it's in and it 'd going to be shaking it all about with the likes of the Specialized Tricross and the Genesis Croix de Fer. Trek say the Portland is a tough, traffic proof and a capable of load lugger which with its mudguards as standard will always get you to work looking your best. So, how does road.cc’s experience with the Portland compare to the marketing blurb?
Pretty well it turns out.
The Portland made a good first impression, the understated ‘dark mocha’ (or bronze if you like) finish on the frame works very well paired with brown bar tape and a Bonty Race Lux saddle alongside the ever so tidy Bontrager Sattelite Elite forks. The Bontrager SSR Disc wheelset also turns heads, with 24 cross laced spokes front and rear you know you are buying a good looking steed.
There seems to be a fair few drop handlebar, road/cross bikes being fitted with discs and getting branded as urban at the moment aside from the Tricross the Genesis Croix de Fer or the Kona Honky inc spring instantly to mind, so big brands seem confident that the blend of on and off road features can come together to create a desirable and rideable machine. Even as an avid road rider (I used to mountain bike in my teenage years so do have a soft spot for a good set of discs) I can see that these bikes look good. I can also see why a man about town like myself would be happy to be seen riding something like this as an alternative to a bulky looking hybrid, a folding bike or God forbid an electric bike.
My first proper ride on the Portland wasn’t harmed by leaving home at 5am on a glorious July morning on my way to the bike breakfast event in Bristol. Now, I don’t normally do early starts but with nobody else being at home and the day forecast to be stunning I thought I really should take the opportunity of empty roads, bird song and sunrise. Good decision, and the Trek Portland really added to the experience. It isn’t often that I get on a bike and don’t ride it quickly, even commuting to work I want to get there asap so to ride the Portland feeling relaxed and calm was fantastic.
Rolling along through the north Somerset levels, taking in some empty A-roads, lanes and the climb up to Bristol Airport the Portland was assured and smooth. Never did I feel the need to struggle with the bike, get some more power out or throw it into corners for some excitement. This, to me, didn’t seem to be the sort of bike that was for thrill seekers. It is marketed as a tough acting and traffic proof urban bike and subsequent journeys were to prove this to be correct but for now, me and ‘the Port’ were happy taking things that little bit easier.
That's not to say that the Portland can't generate excitement, at the numerous events the Trek carried me to it has grabbed peoples attention, asking about the spec, price, “wow, I like the colour” being a frequent comment. It looks classy in a quiet way and it rides in the same manner. In traffic the Portland is very sure footed, the wheelset, despite concerns about the low spoke count and lace pattern is very strong and stood up to Bristol’s notoriously rutted roads when carrying loads with ease and on the occasion that I thrashed it around the Ashton Court cycle trails (albeit in the dry) I never felt uncertain.
Disc brakes on a drop bar bike; in the dry I can’t really see the point. They are heavier, and offer a smaller selection of wheelset options, but in the wet I can definitely see the sense. They don’t offer such a drop in performance as some calliper brakes (especially at this price point), you can take the front wheel off without fuss and lock it securely (which has got to be a good selling point for an urban steed) and the pads should last you longer. In the dry the Shimano R505 mechanical discs were a little weak and took a bit of aligning but in any damp conditions they were great, I would catch other commuters with ease into corners without going any quicker on the straights simply because I had confidence in the brakeset and the surprisingly robust Bontrager Race Lite hard case 28 tyres which performed superbly in all conditions.
Our test model did not come with the mudguards as specified on the many adverts you will see online for this bike and nor did we get the Shimano M520 pedals although speccing double sided clipless pedals seems a bit strange to me, especially on an urban bike - something like the Shimano M324, flat on one side clipless on the other would I think be a better bet for the urban jungle.
The Shimano drivetrain performed admirably, no mechanical issues, certainly no Schlecky overshifts to speak of. It's an interesting mix consisting of Tiagra 9 speed shifters and front derailleur tied to a 105 rear derailleur and an FSA Vero triple crankset which I suggest is a smart choice. Bristol isn’t the flattest of cities and this bike doesn’t encourage the rider to go all out at any point, it promotes a smooth, comfortable ride which wouldn’t be aided by having a double, even of a compact design. The shifts were quick and accurate, the Sram 11-26 cassette offered every gear I would need and plenty more besides.
Being a Trek you know that Bontrager parts will be liberally sprinkled around the frameset. I have already mentioned the appearance of the brown bar tape and saddle, they back up their good looks by working well tand are both grippy yet comfortable. Bontrager Race spec bars, seatpost and stem complete the package and offer no cause for concern while also not being particularly exciting.
Trek have priced this at £1250, however, it can be had for as little as £1k but is not available through mail order or online so you will need to go in store to try and buy. An odd price point really, a bit too high for the cycle to work scheme to cover the cost fully and I would have thought that this would be an ideal market for Trek to aim at. That said it is a similar price and spec to the Specialized Tricross Comp (that's even brown too) the difference being that there is a whole brood of lesser priced Tricrosses that do make it under the magic £1000 while the Portland is head of a family of one. It's up against some competitively priced competition too as previously mentioned, the Genesis and Kona both come in at a shade under £1k so can make the most of the allowance. Having not ridden the Genesis or Kona (yet….!) I cannot compare these similar bikes but that £250 extra that misses the cycle to work scheme has got to be a bit of an issue if you are in the market for a get to work bike.
The Trek Portland isn’t the sort of bike I would normally ride, I would admire it but wouldn’t take it any further than that. Since testing this machine, though, I have adjusted that view. There is a place for this bike, that place is allowing me to get to work and not have a red face, to allow me to ride along with my girlfriend and not feel like I should be going quicker but most importantly the Trek Portland reminded me what is best about cycling; getting out there, enjoying the world and enjoying being on two wheels. Not everything needs to be a training ride and the Trek Portland lets me make my way around the city and countryside while looking smart and enjoying life.
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Trek Portland
Size tested: 56cm
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
The Trek Portland is aimed at the savvy city rider, someone who wants a tough bike that oozes classic style. The promo material say its a tough acting, load hauling, go anywhere machine. Maybe, I found it to be useful in all of those areas but it would make a great long day tourer as well.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
One of a growing number of drop bar bikes with discs. With a frame made from Treks tried and tested Alpha black Aluminium you know you will get years of design evolution and technological fettling. Formed tubing and neat welds come together to create a sleek machine. Paired with a versatile and reliable carbon fork you can trust the bike to react when you need it to.
No creaks or squeaks. Would have liked to have tried the bike with mudguards to see how they coped with the ploughed roads of Bristol.
Not a quick bike but make no mistake the Portland lets you get where you need in comfort.
A strong frame and wheel combination never felt like failing me. I cant say it is perfect because I had to tighten a couple of fittings after a ride but nothing serious.
It isnt designed to be lightweight and with the ability to fit pannier racks the weight is only going to increase. Having said that, Trek have fitted a triple up front so you can always bail out and use the granny ring if need be.
Outstanding. I could have glided around the countryside all day. Great riding position complemented very nicely by some neat bar tape and a no fuss saddle. No complaints.
As mentioned in the main section, the Trek Portland is a really nice bike to ride but for £350 less (or more if you look hard) you can have the Genesis Croix de fer or the Kona Honky Inc with similar specs. No matter how much I like the Portland I'd probabyl save £300 and have the Genesis (okay, I'd take a test ride first) which itself is a bit of a looker.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The Portland was fine, cruising along cycle paths, chugging up hills, weaving through stationary traffic. Nothing could put it under pressure and never did I feel uneasy.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
I like the whole package but if I had to choose (and Im not allowed to choose aesthetics) it would be the wheelset. Others have commented how flimsy it looks but when ridden there is no hint of weakness.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Nothing really, I would like it to be cheap enough to come in under the £1k cycle to work scheme barrier but that is Trek's issue. With regard to the bike there is nothing that didn't perform.
Did you enjoy using the product? Immensely
Would you consider buying the product? If on sale, otherwise I'd be tempted by the Genesis Croix de Fer.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, but with the same caveat on price
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
Great looking, smooth riding bike from the States that should have been available over here long ago.
About the tester
Age: 24 Height: 5ft 10 Weight: 70kg
I usually ride: felt ar4 My best bike is: i like my felt and my orbea ora tt bike equally
I've been riding for: 5-10 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, commuting, club rides, general fitness riding, mtb, triathlon