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I currently own a Trek Dual Sport 3 2020. I'm very happy about the versatility of the bike from a riding point of view, but also "accessorization". I'm mostly doing light trails (no jumps, but roots and loose stones) and road. I'm also planning a 800km tour — road and gravel.

But I'm not so much happy about the components. I have the impression that I'm using a bit harder that what the bike has been designed for, and would like to either upgrade it or buy a new one.

I've read many comments saying that upgrading an entry level bike is a money hole and money is better spend buying a new one, and I agree if speaking about well-defined categories or old bikes. It seems less categoric here, the options I see are:

  1. upgrade it to better components;
  2. buy a new bike from a similar category, but from brands that have better value for money (like Cube Nature or Giant Roam), and either resell the Trek or keep it for guests;
  3. buy a new gravel/cross-country MTB: my main reserve is in fact that I would loose versatility: a gravel would be less capable off-road, and a cross-country less capable on-road (I'm sometimes doing the 2 in a single trip).

I have a couple of questions:

Option 1:

  • is "worth" spending the value of the bike in wheels and drive-train? (thinking about Mavic Allroad (S) wheels, SRAM Eagle NX/Apex drivetrain). The total cost - including the bike - would be a bit more than the highest spec'ed Dual Sport for slightly better components. My interrogation with this approach is about the suitability of the frame: if I have sturdier components and I keep using hard, there will be more fatigue for the frame.

Option 3:

  • is my assumption that I'll loose versatility correct? For gravels, I would think so because of the lack of suspension and the dropped handlebar. And for X-country, if I fit thinner tires and a 42T crankset, it would be possible to have a similar specs, but I noticed that for example Trek specifies that 32T cranksets are the max for their X-calibers, so it wouldn't be possible to install such cranksets. I haven't seen similar restrictions with other brands, but only a few are selling frames separately.
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    If you can identify some specific thing you want your bike to do that it won't do now you may be able to focus your dollars on solving that problem and we can make recommendations. If you are just unhappy with the way the bike performs in general then you need a bike designed to do what you want. A clear picture of the goal is critical to providing a clear answer. – David D Jan 6 at 14:52
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    I’m not sure if there’s any in your budget range, but an aggressive gravel bike could be your thing. Something with clearance for at least 45mm knobby tires. – MaplePanda Jan 6 at 16:19
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    @MaplePanda: if you look beyond the "Acera" brand, this bike is indeed much closer to a gravel with a flat handle bar than a cross country. And I'm using it with knobby 47mm tires (Smart Sam) :) – Renaud Jan 6 at 17:24
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    "What is wearing out/breaking?" Pedals, spokes, now lateral play in the derailleur. I discovered filling when unmounted the cassette to replace the spokes. To limit "ambiguity" about light trail, here is an example of where I use to bike when off-roading: youtube.com/watch?v=UpxghIYBluo (I'm not going as fast though) – Renaud Jan 6 at 18:04
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    the absolute top would be 2k€ That should give you one really nice bike. Currently, IMO the "sweet spot" for bikes in the US is about 1k US$, which should be about the same as 1k€. The problem with I wanted to use it for a long tour (Alps to Rome) is, if that's mostly road riding, the better road performance you need for that would would mean worse off-road performance. There's really no way around that, even with an infinite budget. A bike that's performant and comfortable on a long road ride is going to be a bad off-road bike. Contemplate Rule 12. ;-) – Andrew Henle Jan 6 at 21:42
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  • Upgrading an existing bike piecemeal is always going to be more expensive than buying a new bike with the specs you want, because manufacturers get components at a discount.
  • Regarding Option 1, upgraded components will not transmit more stress to the frame, if that's what you're asking. It is possible (but seems unlikely) that the frame was engineered with just enough safety margin to allow for light trail riding, but not more intense off-road riding. I wouldn't let that guide my decision.
  • The gravel-bike category is a broad one, and some bikes are more road-ish, others are more MTB-ish.
  • If you frequently cover both tarmac and dirt in a single ride, that sounds like a good argument for a gravel bike. Everything is a compromise, and you need to figure out what compromise you're most comfortable with.
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  • To formulate option 1 differently: if I want similar specs for the drive train, my choice at Shimano would be a combo GRX/Deore, that will cost more than the bike alone — this bike is much closer to a gravel than it looks. Is it a smart thing to do to install a high end drive train on this kind of frame - same reasoning about the wheels? The constraints about transmitting more stress is more linked to the fact that better components could link to harder riding styles. – Renaud Jan 6 at 17:53
  • I don't see why you would need a drivetrain that mixes GRX and Deore. You can get a sufficient gear range with a 2x GRX setup. If you are set on a 1x setup, then you might want a "mullet" drivetrain, but that seems like an artificial limitation. – Adam Rice Jan 6 at 18:11
  • I was thinking to mix GRX and Deore because of the shifter, to stick with a straight handle bar. The GRX 2x10 has exactly the same range as my current Acera (46/30 in the front, and 11/36 in the rear), which is indeed one of my favorite aspects of this bike. – Renaud Jan 6 at 19:46
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    ”Upgrading an existing bike piecemeal is always going to be more expensive " definitely not always true. You can buy a cheap MTB and upgrade the fork and brakes, say, for much less than buying a bike with the same fork and brakes fitted – thelawnet Jan 7 at 10:09
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    I actually did the math for the Dual Sport: it is cheaper to buy a lowest spec dual sport and upgrade it to the specs of the highest one (transmission, fork, wheels, brakes), if you can do it yourself (but not by much). Trek is also increasing its margin with the price. For mine, if I change the transmission and wheels to the ones of the highest, it is also a bit cheaper. The only concession would then be the remote lock-out. But I would not generalise those findings to all product ranges. – Renaud Jan 7 at 10:22
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The bike looks like it should be fine for light trails. I have an old hybrid with no suspension that I use on light trails and It's fine as long as I don't try to push it too much on technical sections.

I think you'll always have some problems with trying to find a single bike that works well on trails and roads as there will always be some trade offs. You might want to consider having 2 sets of wheels, one for roads, and one for trails. The stock tires don't look like they are suited for either and are somewhere in between which means they won't perform optimally anywhere. Having a second set of tires would be okay as well, but having whole wheels are a lot easier to swap out.

I wouldn't try to upgrade to something with more gears on the cassette as things can get expensive quickly because so many different components need to be changed.

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  • Thanks for the reply. It's indeed what I do now: I'm using Schwalbe Smart Sam 47mm in winter (with knobs to have some traction in the mud) and Michelin Power Gravel in the summer (trails in my region are in forests, and forests in summer here are very hot, very humid and full of mosquitoes). The stock tires were indeed not optimum, but good enough in most dry situations. – Renaud Jan 6 at 20:54
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I'd like to focus on an aspect that seems overlooked here -- the wheels. In my experience, bike makers like Trek often save money by providing less durable wheel components, as buyers are often less familiar with hub, spoke and rim designs. The fact that you are getting broken spokes suggests to me that the spokes were not properly tensioned or the rim or lacing isn't appropriate for your use.

A different wheelset can make an enormous difference to your ride, and with a few on hand, you can easily choose which wheels/tires make sense for that day.

You can easily order a custom-made wheelset or a stock one more suited to your uses. Many local bike shops have good wheel-building skills, allowing you to select hubs, spokes, lacing pattern, and rims to best fit your needs. Probably a bit cheaper will be some online vendors, but you want to have any wheels shipped to you to be checked by your LBS to make sure the spoke tension and other assembly details are correct.

I think you'll be surprised how big a difference a wheelset change can make.

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    Thanks for the reply. Except for the first spoke, I'm more than probably the culprit: I replaced the spokes myself as LBS were closed during lockdowns, and overwhelmed after. Contrary to the upper model, this model has indeed the same hub as the cheapest version (but Tubeless-Ready rims...). I think I'll then just order good gravel wheels, with straight spokes to avoid having to unmount the cassette if I broke a spoke (more critical for a bike tour than on day trips) – Renaud Jan 7 at 10:15
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Ragarding the choice of bike if you decide to replace rather than upgrade.

It does sound like you need a sort-of dual purpose bike that can tackle easier trails but not be too heavy or low geared for road use. I recently discovered that some manufactures are making ’flat-bar gravel bikes’. These essentially look like rigid fork MTBs from the 90s but with modern components. You can find them with gravel bike like ~40mm tires on 622 rims or MTB like ~2” tires on 559 rims.

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  • Thanks for the reply. What would be the benefit of a gravel with flat handle bar over this bike? The dual sport is already "geared" like a Gravel (46/30*11/36), stock tires are 40mm*622 gravel. The main differences I see would be the front suspension, a shorter wheel base and a bit lighter (although maybe not all price points). Just asking because I have the impression that gravel is more fashionable than hybrid, but there may be points I miss. – Renaud Jan 6 at 20:49
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    The idea is IF you are getting an upgraded bike, a FB gravel bike with better components / less mass than your current bike may be an option. I suggested this because you mentioned gravel bikes but didn't seem to like the idea of drop bars – Argenti Apparatus Jan 6 at 22:02
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I'll get out the way the idea that you need a special bike for each type of trail - you don't. Any bike can be used on any ride, its just some are better than others, welcome to the definition of compromise.

I do not believe the X-caliber is the right bike for you - its a technical bike designed for aggressive single track riding and racing over an hour or three. Its not designed for long tour comfort and is the wrong design for a good gravel road bike. Putting a bigger chainring is the least of your worries with regard to making it more suitable for road, gravel and long distance.

That leaves a hybrid, gravel or adventure bike - decide if you want drop bars or flat bars of something else. Personally for 800km with flats would not be my choice.

If you want a technical single track capability in one bike, then (IMHO) the best way to do it in one bike would probably be a bike that runs 29" (700C) for road, swapping in 27.5+ for single track. Gravel rides could use either wheel set - depending on the type of gravel road your facing. Problem is still the bars - you want flats for technical rides, but need multiple positions for long rides.

Aftermarket bars come in all sorts of varieties - two designs worth looking into for ideas are the Velo Orange Crazy Bar and Surly Moloko - these are just two of many variations of flat bar that give alternate hand positions.

Or you have two bikes....

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  • Thanks for the comment, my idea when looking at the specs of the frame of the X-Caliber would have been to buy the frame alone and equip it with "gravel" wheels and transmission (and keep a 100mm suspension), not buying one and just swapping the crankset. Your remark about the positions is also a good complement and the bar your suggested seems very interesting. – Renaud Jan 7 at 9:33

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