There is something deliciously enticing about the mocha brown livery on this bike: aided by the retro-cool of the brown bar tape and the mock leather saddle. And then there's the high arching mudguards, the carbon forks and the disc brakes that make this such an aesthetically intriguing proposition. Basically, the moment I saw it I wanted to put it to the test, and it turns out that this is a bike made for riders like me. Trek pitch the Portland as a model that's made for long commutes. It is designed to deliver speed and performance and it's made to deal with poor weather (hence the mudguards and all-weather disc brakes), it will take a pannier rack and will cope with less than perfect road terrain. It's designed to be an ideal all purpose road bike.
My first week on the Portland was pretty tentative. The roads were still dappled with early morning ice and I'd had enough spills on smaller country roads over the preceding month to last me a lifetime. So every corner saw me slowing to a crawl before hitting the apex of the bend. But on the straights with a bit of leg work the Portland is surprisingly nippy. It's not as light as my usual road bike (Trek 1.7 compact) but it's a whole lot lighter than my winter steed and it wasn't difficult to get an impressive turn of speed. It's never going to be first choice for a club ride, but as a commuter bike, weekend tourer or audax ride, it's got a lot going for it. On the hills and out of the saddle there's a really responsive kick to the bike that helps drive you up any incline and on a number of occasions I had to double my grip on the handlebars to save them being wrenched out of my hands. It feels like the whole bike is working with you to turn all available energy into forward motion, which is hugely reassuring. And on my hour long commute it proved to be exceptionally comfortable. It's clearly been designed with the city commuter in mind, so you've got a high riding position that allows you to pedal through urban traffic with a good clear vision of the road ahead. And on the open road that translates into an exceptionally comfortable ride that makes long commutes an ache free experience. The saddle certainly isn't to everyone's tastes (and this is one of the features that some riders are quick to change) but I found it surprisingly comfortable and would be more than happy to stick with it.
Brakes and mudguards
And then there are the cable disc brakes - which took a full week to really bed in. I have limited experience of this kind of braking system and fully expected to be thrown over the handlebars on my first ride, but that was not the case. The first week the brakes were spongy, unresponsive and emitted an ear piercing screech. It was only after a full two weeks that they started to feel sufficiently positive to challenge my normal vee braking system. And of course these add weight to the bike and aerodynamic drag when you're cruising along. I even had the sensation of a slightly gyroscopic effect, and found myself having to work slightly harder on bends to get the handling right. Was that to do with the extra weight and spin of the disc brakes or was it simply me getting used to a new bike? The mudguards make this an excellent option for winter commutes and the rear one proved its worth on relatively light rainy days, but I'd suggest removing the front mudguard immediately. It arches too far from the wheel and knocked against my feet as I was steering round really tight bends, which was both awkward and slightly dangerous. This is an unacceptable design flaw, but one that is easily remedied and certainly isn't a deal breaker.
Should you buy this bike?
Trek seem to be pitching this bike directly at the urban commuter. "Bring something new to the Rat Race," they say on their website. "The Portland never misses punchin' the clock with its welter-weight tough Alpha Aluminium frame paired with the all-conditions stopping of disc brakes. The fenders are standard and will guarantee that you stay business casual." As someone who has never aspired to 'business casual' I think this is massively underselling this bike. I can see that the pose factor of disc brakes and a very handsome looking bike would probably appeal to someone whose city bonus was burning a hole in their pocket. The weight and drag of the brake system aren't going to appeal to a serious racer but there's still plenty of all-weather commute appeal for any bike enthusiast, who is prepared to shell out over £1000. Without a city bonus I think I'd struggle to justify the spend, but if my Premium Bonds come in this month, that could all change. In my last week on the Portland, with the roads ice free I had more fun than I care to admit. Leaning into corners, hacking up hills, munching through the miles in a steady drizzle and nipping through traffic in the half-light of dusk: this is an exceptionally good bike that I would be only too delighted to own. It even coped admirably with the thousands of pot holes that have opened up on my local roads after the harsh 2009/10 winter: so thumbs up all round! This is an excellent bike for year-round commuting, its slick looks make it the perfect conversation starter in the work bike sheds and it's speedy enough to leave the majority of office riders standing.
At a glance
|Verdict||Comfortable, nippy and very responsive, this is an all-weather bike that needs a few easy modifications but would suit any middle-distance commuter who is prepared to spend in this price bracket.|