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Long chainstays are used on touring bikes to provide a more stable, cushioned ride and to provide more room for panniers (saddle bags).Serious touring bikes in the 80s and 90s were equipped with cantilever brakes (the classic center-pull cantilevers).Trek made a total of 7929 720 and 728 bikes and frames (number calculated by Mitch Hawker). The 520 touring bike first appeared in 1983 and probably has made more trans-America crossings than any other bike model.The Model 170, arguably Treks best steel racing frame, was available during the period 1983 to 1985. It still is offered by Trek in steel (although not lugged), which has helped maintain significant model recognition among bicyclists.
The sidepull brakes of the time were considered less capable for such extreme duty.This longevity and popularity has raised the value of this bike over similarly-priced vintage Treks of the period.Two parameters are specially important to the 520 over the years: chainstay length (as pointed out by Robert Cooke) and the type of brakes used.Mountain bikers, and carbon and aluminum aficionados do not despair - the brochure extracts on the site contain a list of specs for all of the bikes Trek produced in that year.Additionally, the table of Trek models by year includes all Trek bikes through 2005.
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It wasn't until Shimano developed their "V-brake" (known generically as the side-pull cantilever or the direct pull brake) that a viable alternative to the traditional cantilever was available. The table below shows these two 520 characteristics through time.