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Trek District belt drive review – urban style!

Posted by Matt | April 23, 2013 | 46 comments so far

Trek District 1 singlespeed belt drive

Trek District 1 singlespeed belt drive

It’s been a long time since I’ve invoked the Second Law of Cycling by indulging in a complete new bike. I have bikes of course; several of them in fact, with a disappointing number languishing in need of various key parts to get them mobile. Most recently my Five has required some major surgery, of which more soon, but this review is about something completely different.

It’s a bike, yes, but not exactly what most of us would understand by that phrase. People, I give you the Trek District belt drive urban singlespeed.

I know what you’re thinking; well maybe not exactly what some of you are thinking but enough to generalise in a pointless act of socio-demographic labelling. I’m thinking that you’re thinking what the hell has a belt drive urban singlespeed runabout got to do with a website whose modus operandi is mountain bikes? Actualy, quite a lot really.

First of all, it’s a bike, and in my world – and in strict accordance with the Second Law of Cycling mentioned above – that’s a good thing. Secondly, this has ticked a few of the boxes that have been growing on my wish list of interesting bike-related things.

Of these, the fact it is the perfect bike to move me stylishly from home to coffee house* and back again is by no means the least of them. I also liked the idea of a flat bar road bike, I enjoy singlespeeding and that belt drive is just plain intriguing isn’t it?

Oh and another thing. It was ridiculously cheap!

So what we’re looking at here then is a Trek District 2012 model. In other markets that can be found as the District 1 I think, although the District range currently covers three models that include a belt drive singlespeed, a ‘normal’ singlespeed and a 1×9 option. It has to be said the range has also taken on a more muted and less retro look as well and has also lost the carbon fork that this version is discreetly equipped with.

The 2012 model that I have is finished in a lovely steel (Neptune) blue with cream detailing that adds a real 50’s vibe – a modern 50’s vibe (as Dave commented) – and which really was a big factor in my going for it. It’s a great looking bike and quite a head turner where I live, especially if you are indiscrete enough to team it with lycra. That doesn’t really work.

What does work is some of the new technical cycle clothing that also manages to look like ‘normal’ casual clothes. Cycle-specific skinny jeans, sneakers with SPDs, and merino-based T’s are perfect for this bike and something I’m working on! Three-quarter length mtb baggies would also look fine with summer coming on I guess.

Trek District 1 seatstay bridge

The cream extends to the wheel rims which are rather odd, quite deep sectioned (hinting in passing at aero qualities) but with heavy straight gauge spokes that speak more precisely of the strength planned-in to cope with rough urban roads.

Teamed with a set of puncture protected Bontrager 25mm Race Lite tyres the ride is smooth and extremely comfortable. And those potentially heavy rims don’t harm things too much with the overall weight of the bike as supplied (complete with metal cage pedals) coming in at 20.88lbs. That’s pretty light isn’t it, without getting silly?

As I’ve said this bike is surprisingly comfortable.

I have the 56cm and was blessed to find it essentially fitted me straight away. I bought from Cyclesurgery using their click and collect scheme which although slow (delivery to store was nearly two weeks!) meant that the bike was fully assembled when I picked it up. My only adjustment was to alter the angle of the handlebars from a slightly drooping moustache bar position to more of a horizontal plane. This helped get a nice backsweep on what are reasonably narrow bars and lengthened the reach slightly.

If you are used to tweaking bikes you’ll know that’s pretty minimal as there’s a whole raft of things you could do to alter the riding position, but for me it was basically just right out of the box. The riding position is quite upright which gives a great view of the road ahead while the backsweep on the bars allows a good pull when cranking out of the saddle, something you do a fair bit on a siglespeed if an incline is involved.

The bike itself is extremely nimble, probably as a result of those narrowish bars which speed up the steering, yet it feels very secure chucking it into a corner. I wouldn’t race on it – it’s not that kind of bike – but for sweeping round turns and making smooth progress it works well. And that’s urban riding in a nutshell.

Trek District 1 belt drive

So the geometry seems to be well chosen for the kind of riding it’s intended for (72.5° head angle and 73.5° seat tube with 45mm of fork offset). What’s also interesting is the frame, which is made from Trek’s Alpha aluminium, while the fork is a nice carbon effort that surely contributes to the great ride.

The frame has pretty large and visible welds but these are painted and therefore less obtrusive. It uses an unusual solid yolk for the seat stays and lots of box section tubing that ovalises just where it needs to be. In short it’s a competent but budget frame that has one surprise up it’s sleeve. The driveside seatstay can be unbolted and a small slug removed to let the belt for the belt drive slip through. This is rather important since in normal use you can’t split the belt!

Ah yes the belt drive. I’ve said before how much I’d like to try one but this was in relation to the Gates belt drives on Spot mountain bikes. Actually it turns out that a belt makes a lot of sense on a commuter, urban runabout bike.

For a start, it’s rated for 10,000 miles which is a lot more than I’ll do in a hurry. Secondly, no oil. This is a biggy for me as combined with the belt guard it means I can get on it and not worry about trousers or laces getting mucky or enmeshed in the inner workings of the drivetrain. So it scores for convenience there. Finally – and no review of this bike would be complete without mentioning it – there’s the stealth factor. This is one quiet bike, even over rough surfaces. No rattle, no chain noise, not even a clicking freehub as this is blessed with one that’s near silent. It’s a joy to ride and the only thing that I can think of when I’m on it is Mazda’s zoom-zoom advert ‘cos it makes me want to zoom-zoom!

Overall then I’m pretty happy. This bike is cheap, is well thought out for it’s intended purpose and takes the rough of the road in it’s stride. It’s comfortable, steers well and hopefully with the belt drive will prove reliable.

That’s an unknown at this stage and the grumblenet has a few reports of problems but I feel confident enough with it. If the worst happens and I’m not happy then my positive comments about the great handling, the comfortable ride and the near silence will apply just as much to a bike with a chain drive.

See you on the trails (and perhaps on the streets!)

*coffee house – it’s a broad and optimistic term Paul!

Filed under Bikes, Reviews in April 2013

Matt

About the author

Matt is one of the founding Molefathers of the Muddymoles, and is the designer and main administrator of the website.

Having ridden a 2007 Orange Five for many years he's now running a YT Industries Jeffsy 29er and a Bird AM Zero Boost.

An early On-One Inbred still lurks in the back of the stable as a reminder of how things have moved on. You can even find him on road bikes - currently a 2019 Cannondale Topstone 105 SE, a much-used 2011 Specialized Secteur and very niche belt drive Trek District 1.

If you've ever wondered how we got into mountain biking and how the MuddyMoles started, well wonder no more.

There are 46 comments on ‘Trek District belt drive review – urban style!’

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  1. Elliot says:

    I’ve always liked the idea of those and that’s a cracking deal. Is there a break-in period with the belt? Seemed like new belt equipped bikes at shops/shows have a bit of resistance/drag.

    • Matt says:

      Hi Elliott, I haven’t really noticed drag from the belt, no sounds of rubbing or heaviness to the pedaling (aside from it being a 55:22 gear!). I suspect it’s higher than with a chain but the silence and cleanliness are big positives in this situation.

      If it started squeaking I’d rapidly fall out of love with it I think. You could probably put a chain drive on there though and those stealth/retro/comfort/handling attributes would remain.

      In terms of a break in period, so far it’s running well but I’m keeping an eye on the belt tension and wondering if perhaps there’s a tiny bit more of it than was there originally. It’s easy enough to tension it though, just like a normal singlespeed really.

  2. Markymark says:

    Nice addition to your bike quiver Matt! Great time to get it as we de-kit and slip into Spring/Summer mode.

    It’ll be a tasty cruiser and a good reason not to Strava everything and just enjoy the glide…. whooosh.

  3. paul901 says:

    In truth I didn’t really take much notice of it at first Matt except for the styling which is neat and evokes same-era retro thoughts of my Parker 100 fountain pen. However, when I started to think about the Specialised Globe Sport I have owned for about 5 years as my runabout but detest hence it gets no riding at all, it made me think I should try your Trek.

    By the way I make your gearing 67.5 (55 x 27 / 22). Some equivalents to put it in perspective would be:

    32 x 13 (64.0) or 44 x 17 (67.3) in mountain biking terms,

    34 x 11 (65.6) or 50 x 21 (64.3) for roadies using compacts

    39 x 16 (65.8) or 52 x 21 (66.9) or 53 x 21 (68.1) for full road chainsets.

  4. DaveW says:

    I like it – well done on getting stuck into the belt drive niche before a certain Dave ;o)

    The gearing seems to be on the comfortable side. As I understand it popular opinion considers the sweet-spot for road single speed / fixed gearing in the London area to be 70 gear inches. I run mine slightly higher than that, but I think 67.5 seems to suit the sporty but not full on nature of the bike.

    • Matt says:

      Hi Dave, depends what you call comfortable and where you’re riding!

      A 70/71 inch gear equivalent for a chain drive would be 42:16 – the belt drive has a higher number of teeth as the belt doesn’t bend as much as a chain can. Assuming 22 is the minimum at the back, that means I’d need to have ‘chainring’ of about 58 to get that kind of gear!

      67.5 gear inches on this is pretty good, in practice 18-19mph is a fast spin, anything above 20mph and things get pretty frenetic as I found out last night on our 28 mile road ride round Wisley! You can just about hold 22-23mph for short periods if you can spin smoothly.

      At cruising speeds of 16-17mph you get to feel nicely on top of the gear, so relaxed progress is quite easy to come by. I felt I’d had a good workout after 28 miles and 1 and three quarter hours of spinning at a 17mph average though!

      So much to gentle rides lads…

  5. paul901 says:

    Incidentally Matt, I see this bike has been given “4 moles”. What would make it a 5? Might be worth adding it into articles if they reach further than one might expect.

  6. KevS says:

    Sure is a smooth looking coffee shop cruiser Matt but you demonstrated on Weds nights road spin that it can go quickly if you are prepared to spin your legs off! 🙂

    Riding next to it there is noticeably very little noise from any part of the bike and I have to say it looks very comfy even down to the slightly bent Carnegie type bars. (MuddyDave will jump in here and correct me as to the bars true category no doubt)

  7. Tom F says:

    Hi Matt, great review – good to see that the Trek District range is still garnering interest, despite the last two incarnations not being available in the UK.

    I am currently in the market for one myself, the original Grey – Orange one which itself is a beauty.

    One thing – as someone who loves to cycle but knows very little about bikes and the terminology that engulfs them; what would the District’s single-speed gearing compare to on say, a Mountain bike?

    I currently ride a Specialized Rockhopper Comp Pro (2009) and only use a handful of gears, but I’d be keen to know where the District stands.

    I live in London, so there are no really hilly areas, and I will generally be using it to get around town and for the odd 10 mile return ride here and there.

    Cheers! 🙂

    • Matt says:

      Hi Tom, I like the look of the original grey/orange one too, good choice.

      Gearing wise, it’s close to running a 32 middle ring with a 13 or 12 tooth cog at the back on a 26 inch wheeled mountain bike. The difference is you are on the road with less weight and skinnier tyres so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

      Depends how fast you want to go and what you are wearing, but a 10 mile ride would leave you feeling warm as you likely need to stand up to crank up the odd hill. Generally though it’s a comfortable cruising spin at 16-18 mph, at which speed you feel well on top of the gear without spinning crazy fast.

  8. Paul Graville says:

    Great review Matt and I agree with all of it. I got one recently from Cycle Surgery in the same colour because I wanted a belt drive bike for commuting. Unfortunately I hated the hipster look so have made a few changes! The detail of this will bore most but I’ll share it because of the lengths you went to in your review.

    I wanted to get rid of everything white on the bike so have done the following. Changed the saddle for an old WTB Laser V that kind of follows me around because it suits my behind; changed the handlebar grips to Bontrager lightweight black foam ones; have removed the chain guard and am in the process of repainting in black and laquering; have replaced the white brake cable housings with black Teflon-coated Shimano stuff.

    But the thing I hated the most was the wheels, or rather the rims. They made me look like I lived in Shoreditch and wore a man bag! So I replaced them with grey-anodised H Plus Son TB14 rims. These are really nice. I also have them on a race bike but they’re quite wide at 23mm and strong and well made with a welded join, double eyelets and machined braking surfaces. I also changed the rather agricultural straight gauge spokes for top of the line Sapim Race double-butted ones. I thought about changing the hubs but the stock ones are actually very good. They run as smooth as butter with no play and the front one is very light. The rear one is pretty heavy but has a near-silent freewheel, which suits the bike, and has the correct chainline for the belt so I didn’t want to mess with it. This wheel upgrade cost a significant £196 but it completely transforms the bike. It is more comfortable, has a fair bit lower rotating mass and of course no longer makes me look like an idiot. Money spent on good wheels is not wasted.

    Finally as a commuter I added mudguards and changed the pedals from the sharp cages to flat rubber ones to protect my leather soles! And Cycle Surgery also set up my bars in a moustachioed style so I have set them more upright for comfort.

    • Matt says:

      Thanks for your comments Paul! Sounds like you have a pretty unique and carefully thought out bike there, and very stealthy by the sound of it.

      It has to be said I’m really enjoying riding this bike and have had lots of largely positive/envious comments from people, especially non-enthusiasts, interestingly. It really seems to capture people’s interest.

      The rims… made me look like I lived in Shoreditch and wore a man bag!

      That made me laugh! I suspect I shall now be called the Shoreditch Shuffler by some of our more appreciative riders!

      I quite like the wheels, but they can indeed be improved with better/lighter rims and spokes. A set of Velocity A23 rims could be a good choice too, retaining an element of the deep rim look.

      On the wheel issue, we’ve some rather high-end 29er MTB wheels coming in for review shortly – watch this space.

      Thanks again and enjoy the ride etc.

      • Paul Graville says:

        Yes I’ve had loads of positive comments too and have recommended to a friend who subsequently bought one and loves it. He’s not an enthusiast but it seems to suit all types.

        When I have more money I reckon the ultimate upgrade is a SRAM Automatix 2-speed automatic hub. Would help setting off from lights and up hills. Unfortunately this would require rebuilding the back wheel, a new rear sprocket and longer belt so definitely not for the faint hearted! Shame Trek have pulled belt drive from the UK market due to lack of sales.

  9. Bev Woodward says:

    How does this bike cope with hills…?

    • Matt says:

      Hi Bev, that’s a tough one to answer! I guess it all depends on what you call hills?!

      I find it’s actually more of an effort on long steady inclines, as the need to keep your legs pushing takes it’s toll after a while. Short short and sharp hills I generally get out of the saddle, and it’s fine then.

      If you live somewhere quite hilly (or have one big hill to get over) this is definitely not the bike for you. Trek do offer a version with gears but that comes with a chain which is no bad thing. All the other characteristics of the bike remain, such as it’s comfort and easy handling/ride.

      • Bev Woodward says:

        Hi Matt,
        Thanks for your advice..I love the look of the bike and the idea of a no maintenance chain but I live in a hilly area(Saddleworth) which is big ups and long downers…!! .. I think I will have to leave buying one then..
        Many Thanks
        Bev

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  11. James says:

    I too got my Trek District at a bargain price from Cyclesurgery about 6 weeks ago. So far I’ve done nearly 300 miles but at 250 miles I noticed a bit of stretch in the belt and it was at this point I discovered what probably is this very good bike’s ‘Achilles Heel’.

    I also ride fixed and like most riders I can retention my regular steel chain in seconds! On the Gates belt drive the adjustment and tension needs to be checked every quater turn of the crank. As you can imagine, this not the ‘work of a moment’ and best done with the bike up on a workstand. Failure to to this can lead to a ‘tight-spot’ which will damage the hub bearing at one point and a slack point on the opposite side which will damage the belt. Also while you’ve got it on the stand check that 5 arms of the front ring are fitted evenly and tightly against the shoulders of the arms of the spider crank. Unlike a steel or alloy front ring there quite a lot a flex in a carbon risin one so pays to check- there was a 5mm gap on one arm of mine.

    This isn’t a niggel about the Trek as much as an observation about what makes it noteworthy means that it requires the same attention that it deserves.

    I’m going to enjoy riding the Disrict, I’ve already fitting full SKS mudguards to mine. It’s going to be my wet weather trainer and my winter commuter for hopefully many easy maintaince years. Just think. No more wet lube, no more grimy, noisy chain!

    Ride Safe,

    James

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  13. Terry Mack says:

    Hi, I quite fancy one of these bikes, but I am worried about the integrity of carbon forks. A friend’s carbon forks snapped and put him in hospital with a serious face injury, since then I have been dubious about just how safe they are. What do you think? best regards, Terry…

    • Matt says:

      Hi Terry, I understand where you’re coming from and it’s fair to say that if carbon fails it can fail catastrophically although more often than not it will show cracking first. It could suffer from the rough and tumble of urban life (bike racks and so on) I guess.

      Mind you, the Pro Tour put their bikes through an awful lot of abuse and you don’t hear of these kinds of failures very often these days despite them all running full carbon bikes. On balance I’d say its safer than it sounds!

  14. Terry Mack says:

    Hi Matt, After reading your review, I went out and bought a District from Cycle Surgery (and got a great deal). Thank goodness I disregarded the inner voice saying “what does a 70 year old want/need with four bikes?” I’ve just come back from my first 12 miles on it with a Cheshire Cat grin – I haven’t had such a buzz since I got my first bike! Thanks, Terry…

  15. Anders says:

    Hi Matt,
    Thanks for a great review. I’m desperately trying to find a European, preferably UK, retailer for the District belt drive. I live in Sweden and there’s no distribution here anymore. Any advise would be greatly appreciated.

    Cheers, Anders

    • Dave says:

      I had a look a few days ago and could not find any either. This could be the “no internet sales” rule that Trek has with their dealers which most seem to stick to or it could just be that these already old 2012 models have just all gone. As far as I can see there was no 2013 model in the UK.

  16. Bernard says:

    Hi Matt – great review and looks like a great bike. I’d like to buy one but can only find size 56. How tall are you? I’m 6ft so would have thought borderline 56-58? Any thoughts? 🙂

    • Matt says:

      Hi Bernard, I’m close on 5’11”, so near you in height.

      I’d say you’d probably be OK with a 56 but you’re definitely at the upper end of the scale for that size. For me it’s perfect and you should find that as you move the saddle up you get the room you need.

      As with all these things though, it would be a good idea to try before you buy.

  17. Dan says:

    Hi Matt,

    I bought the District 2012 around the same time as you and I have to say it has been a great commuting bike. One thing that has been happening recently is quite a bit of slippage on hills or when stop-starting at lights.

    Just wondering if anyone else has had the same issues with the carbon belt on this bike?

    • Matt says:

      Hi Dan, good bike choice 😉

      I’ve not had any slippage but on investigating the tensioners it ‘looks’ as though the threaded nuts don’t actually thread into anything that pushes against the dropouts and tensions the belt.

      I’ll have to report back once my bike mechanic (OK, Dave) has checked I’m not going mad…

  18. Sam says:

    What is the largest tire size you could run with this bike?

  19. Bill Isenbarger says:

    Hi, Matt:
    Mine is a 2010 grey/orange—a real beauty. Got it in Aug. 2014 and have about 4,500 miles on it. Please pass to Sam that mine arrived (ebay) from a dealer with Bontrager 32mm Nebula Plus tires. Nearly drove me nuts keeping the rear running free. Trek advised 25-28mm. Now running a 28mm on the rear and all is well.
    I am 67 and wrecked my legs by always sitting, even up hills. Standing helps, but I am planning to go to a Shimano Alfine 8 speed hub. I’ll let you know how that works out. Thanks for your work! Bill in Texas.

  20. Jim says:

    Can I please buy this bike? Mine got stolen years back and can’t find anything close to replacing it! Dm me if you’d be willing to sell

  21. scholz says:

    Trek Singlespeed Mit Riemenantrieb
    Trek District 2009:
    Alurahmen 58cm
    Gates Carbon Belt Drive (Riemenantrieb)
    Alurahmen
    Carbongabel
    Kurbel, Ledelsattel, Lenkervorbau, etc.: Bontrager

    Ich möchte gern dieses Fahrrad kaufen, wenn möglich, was kostet es mich? HABEN SIE EVENTUELL NOCH EINEN RESTPOSTEN!!!!!Bitte rufen Sie mich unter 015214313482 an.
    Freundliche Grüsse T.Scholz

  22. Bill Isenbarger says:

    OK, here’s my update:
    I Now have over 10K miles on this 2010 District. Did convert to an Alphine 8 speed rear hub with manual shifting. Been running it now since Feb. 17. Paid $340 for the hub and with all other parts (shifter, cassette shim, new Gates cog, spokes, and installation) it all came to $705. Worth every penny to me! What a great bike it is. I use Runk eeper to track rides and I average 250 miles a month, so with 23 complete months I’ve put well over 5,000 miles on the hub. Needed an initial adjustment just after install and have NEVER had to even use the barrel adjuster since!
    I did have the rear cog changed Feb. 2018, going from the 55/22 stock setup to 55/24 in order to get a bit lower gearing. I would even go to 55/26 to get the most reduction I can with this stock 118 tooth belt, but can’t find a cog. I am still running the original belt with no problems!
    Universal Cycles states you can change up to 4 tooth sizes on a cog without needing to go to a different numbered tooth belt. All work expertly done by Justin at Bikeland, The Woodlands, Texas.

  23. Eugene says:

    So I just got this bike, and it rides really well, but the other day I got the front wheel stolen. I know almost next to nothing about bikes, and have been scouring online to see if I could find an apt replacement, without sacrificing the feel of the ride too much.

    Is there a name for the rims for this bike I can find? Or something ample to use instead (within a budget of $100-$150 for a front wheel only)?

    Any help would be appreciated. Thank you.

  24. Steve Jones says:

    I have one of the green/brown models. I have converted the rear wheel to an Alfine 8 Speed and the front wheel to a Dynamo with an Exposure hub. Currently running 30mm Schwalbe CX Pro Tyres as I tend to use it on gravel at the moment.

    Does anyone know what screws are needed for the chain adjusters as mine are starting to round off, making belt tensioning a pain.

    • Matt says:

      Steve, I have a similar plan – not sure yet wether to stick to the belt or swap to a chain to go with the Alfine. What did you use to route the cables? My bike doesn’t have any cable stops so not sure what to do!

      The idea is to pair the Alfine with some Pacenti tubeless rims for a more flexible town bike…

  25. Brendan says:

    Just checking in as an owner of one of these bikes. I’ve probably clocked up about 5,000km on it so far.
    My one is still single-speed but I changed it to a normal chain after the belt dramatically snapped one day while crossing a stressful junction. And it now has some Marathon 2 tyres, but is still single-speed.
    Every now and then I consider getting a new bike and spend a couple of weeks googling around for alternatives. But it always ends in the same way, with me wondering why I’m looking for another bike: there’s nothing wrong with this one!

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