Trek Vs Specialized: Everything You Need To Know

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reviewed by Ben Gibbons
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American bike brands Trek and Specialized are among the most trusted and well-established bike brands in today’s market.

But who wins in the battle of Trek vs Specialized?

From bikes that wouldn’t look out of place in the Tour de France to entry-level bikes for complete beginners, both Specialized and Trek offer a wide range of bikes to cater to every experience level.

In this article, we’ll be comparing some iconic models of each discipline from these two behemoths of the cycling world. We’ll cover:

  • Trek Vs Specialized: Two Of Bike Manufacturing’s Biggest Players
  • High-End Road Bikes: Trek Madone Vs Specialized Tarmac
  • Mountain Bikes: Specialized Stumpjumper Vs Trek Fuel EX
  • Fat Bikes: Specialized Fatboy Vs Trek Farley

Ready for the ultimate Specialized Vs Trek showdown?

Let’s dive in!

Three cyclists cycle down the road discussing which bike is best, with bold white text in the foreground saying trek vs specialized.

Trek Vs Specialized: Two Of Bike Manufacturing’s Biggest Players

Both Specialized and Trek were founded during the “Bike Boom” of the ’70s, capitalizing on the gap in the US bike market generated by the more prestigious European cycling brands’ inability to keep up with both American and European demand.

Prior to the ’70s, bikes in the US were likely imported from European brands such as Peugeot and Raleigh.

During this time, household-name American cycling brands began springing up all over the country.

The likes of Cannondale, Specialized, and Trek were all founded in the ’70s in the states and quickly found success in disproving the common adage “Americans don’t do bikes”.

Coming up on 50 years since the founding of these cycling giants, Trek and Specialized now dominate the market, making up a combined share of 32% of all bike sales in the United States.

Trek: A brief history

Trek, founded in 1976, was actually one of the latest of the bike boom American brands.

However, today, they are by far the most popular brand in the States, representing a whopping 22.5% of the total bicycle market in the country.

They gained the respect and trust of the cycling market through consistently producing reliable and quality bicycles – and they now cater to any and all cyclists across a wide range of disciplines, experience levels, and budgets.

After its founding, Trek began making artisan hand-brazed upper-mid-range racing and touring bikes in the hopes of biting a chunk out of the market dominated by the likes of Bianchi and Pinarello.

However, through the ’80s and ’90s began to broaden their horizons. Since the release of their first mountain bike in 1983, mountain bikes have represented a large portion of their business, and they remain an extremely popular choice for mountain bikes.

They also helped to pioneer aluminum and carbon bikes in this period, something that immediately led to the rapid growth of the company.

And, of course, it would be impossible to talk about Trek without mentioning the tempestuous and infamous partnership with cycling’s biggest anti-hero: Lance Armstrong.

Trek was the sponsor of Armstrong’s team, the US Postal Service Pro Team, from the late ’90s into the ’00s and provided the bikes for Armstrong and his teammates.

They even signed Armstrong to the team in 1997 and remained the sponsor of the US Postal Service Pro Team for all seven of Armstrong’s consecutive Tour de France wins (which have all now been stripped).

Armstrong’s incredible successes immediately shot Trek into the highest class of bicycle manufacturers, where they remain to this day (despite the scandal that followed).

Specialized: A Brief History

Specialized was founded in 1974 by a young Californian cycling fanatic, Mike Sinyard. Having just graduated, he sold his Volkswagen Kombi and jetted off to Europe for a cycling trip.

It was in Italy that he met one of the most influential people he would meet in his career, Cino Cinelli – the founder of the incredibly popular and well-known Italian bike brand, Cinelli.

Fascinated by the craftsmanship of Cinelli bikes, he managed to convince Cinelli to become his importer to the States, where he sold frames, components, and bikes out of the back of a van in San Francisco, founding the company Specialized.

However, two years later, after expanding his business, Sinyard began producing his own components in-house.

At the start of the ’80s, Specialized produced their first two bikes: a touring bike called the Sequoia and a road bike called the Allez. The Allez, in particular, was incredibly popular and remains one of their most popular lines today.

In 1981, Specialized jumped on the rapidly exploding market of mountain bikes, producing the Stumpjumper.

The Stumpjumper was extremely popular and became the first mass-produced mountain bike in the ’80s.

This, really, was the jumping-off point for Specialized’s success. Having somewhat single-handedly popularized mountain biking in the ’80s, the company grew massively.

The ’90s was a difficult decade for Specialized, with Mike Sinyard saying they came within just a few hundred dollars of bankruptcy, mostly due to a misguided campaign to start dealing their bikes from outlets such as Costco.

However, throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Specialized continued to produce and refine their bikes, even supplying bikes to extremely successful riders such as Peter Sagan through their flagship S-Works sub-brand.

Despite their hardship in the ’90s, Specialized bounced back by retargeting their bikes at the high-end market and, like Trek, producing bikes to suit every type of rider.

They now represent 9.5% of the American bicycle market, the third largest share of any manufacturer.

Mountain biker wearing an orange helmet and blue bib shorts cycle on a specialized mountain bike.

Flagship Road Bikes: Trek Madone Vs Specialized Tarmac

#1: Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7

Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 against a grey background.
Credit: Specialized

The Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 is Specialized’s flagship performance road bike. It is an extremely well-engineered bike, made in an attempt to unite light with aerodynamics – claiming to be the fastest bike on the market.

Coming in at 6.8 kg, it is the exact permitted weight by the UCI’s weight limit (by design, of course), yet it utilizes some of the most cutting-edge “FreeFoil” aerodynamic technology in the road cycling market.

According to Specialized, it will make a difference of 45 seconds over 40 km vs the previous Tarmac model, the SL6.

Though marketing spiel should always be taken with a pinch of salt, it’s well-proven that aero improvements make a huge difference and could be the difference between winning and losing a stage in a Grand Tour.

Of course, given the quality of the bike, it comes equipped with Shimano’s latest Di2 Dura-Ace. However, this bike will not come cheap, with a current retail price of over $14,000.

#2: Trek Madone SLR9

The Trek Madone photographed against a black background.
Credit: Trek

The Trek Madone is a legendary line of bicycles, first released during the Armstrong era and named for one of Armstrong’s favorite climbs, the Col de la Madone.

The newest model, the Madone SLR 9, is Trek’s flagship aero road bike. Utilizing the latest version of Trek’s proprietary OCLV carbon fiber, it remains very light, at 7.3 kg, though still 400 g more than the Tarmac SL7.

However, like the Tarmac, the shape of the frame and componentry is streamlined to minimize drag to such a degree that it will make a notable difference to pro-cyclists using their KVF aerodynamic technology.

Additionally, the bike comes equipped with SRAM’s latest Red eTap AXS 12-speed groupset to match the quality of the bike.

Of course, again, it’s not cheap, though it comes it around $1000 cheaper than the Tarmac SL7.

Mountain Bikes: Specialized Stumpjumper Vs Trek Fuel EX

#1: Specialized Stumpjumper

An S-Works Stumpjumper against a grey background.
Credit: Specialized

The Specialized Stumpjumper is arguably the most iconic mountain bike of all time.

The very first production mountain bike to hit the shelves around the world, it has permanent residency in the hall-of-fame of the discipline and is still one of Specialized’s most popular MTB lines.

The Stumpjumper is a full-suspension trail mountain bike made to be able to traverse the grittiest of trails.

Just like all of Specialized’s bikes, it comes at a range of price points that vary the build quality, materials, and components the bike comes equipped with. However, to give a fair comparison with Trek’s Fuel EX, we’ll consider the flagship S-Works Stumpjumper.

At just 12.2 kg, the newest Stumpjumper has shaved a significant amount of weight from the previous model but remains an extremely smooth ride. With 130 mm of travel and a cleverly designed frame to absorb impact, it runs unbelievably smoothly and silently.

They have also installed a number of interesting features, such as the SWAT door, which gives the rider room inside the frame for basic necessities such as a pump and inner tube.

Coming equipped with SRAM’s flagship XX1 Eagle groupset, it’s again not coming in cheap. The S-Works Stumpjumper will set you back a hefty $11,000, but it is one of the best trail MTBs on the market.

#2: Trek Fuel EX

Blue full suspension mountain bike with orange forks and mountain bike tyres with black background.
Credit: Trek

The Trek Fuel EX 9.9 Gen 6 is their answer to the Stumpjumper. Trek’s most popular mountain bike, is also a full-sus trail bike meant to be ridden on any type of trail.

A fully OCLV carbon design, it comes in at a hair over 14 kg, so considerably heavier than the Stumpjumper. However, it does have significantly more travel, too, at 150 mm, so it could be the better option for super rough terrain.

The Fuel EX also makes use of SRAM XX1 Eagle as its groupset and is an equally well-designed bike as the Stumpjumper. Luckily, it’s priced over $1000 cheaper than the Stumpjumper and may provide a (slightly) more accessible option.

Fat Bikes: Specialized Fatboy Vs Trek Farley

Fat bikes are a bit of a bizarre one to include on this list, you might think. However, Trek and Specialized have produced some of the most popular and iconic fat bikes on the market, and they are models often compared with one another.

Additionally, these are two bikes that are far more accessible than others we talked about in this comparison. Which only seems fair given the diverse range of bikes that these companies produce.

#1: Specialized Fatboy

A Specialized Fatboy against a grey background.
Credit: Specialized

The Specialized Fatboy is a legendary fat bike that is now, unfortunately, out of production, but the latest model (2020) is still available through many retailers.

With an alloy frame and carbon fiber forks, combined with the chunky 3.8″ tires, the Fatboy basically absorbs anything and everything that stands in your way when you’re on your bike. As a fat bike should be, it is designed to be able to traverse essentially any terrain.

With a 12-speed SRAM SX Eagle groupset, it’s not exactly outdated, too. It’s also incredibly light for a fat bike; at just 14.4 kg, it’ll make climbing those steep sand dunes a little easier!

Though, the Fatboy is missing some features that you might want on a fat bike, for example, a dropper post.

However, with a reasonable price tag of just $1875, it’s pretty cheap for what you’re getting, especially for a fat bike.

#2: Trek Farley

Red, black and turquoise Trek Farley mountain bike with fat tyres with a black background.
Credit: Trek

The Trek Farley is another legendary line of fat bikes that is still in production today. The latest generation is the Farley 9, which is an upper-mid-range fat bike.

The Farley 9 has significantly fatter tires than the Fatboy, at 4.5 inches. This will likely give the ride a more “floaty” feel, though it may provide more resistance when on less rough or loose terrains.

It also comes with a SRAM GX Eagle groupset, which is a level higher than the SX that the Fatboy is equipped with. It’s the first level of SRAM’s MTB groupsets to utilize the proprietary XD driver freehub.

A little on the heavy side at 18.3 kg, the Farley 9 could feel a little sluggish when you’re tackling a steep climb. But, for the most part, this isn’t going to be a deal breaker for someone looking for a fat bike.

It’s also equipped with a dropper post, which, for many, will be a huge plus in its favor.

However, a definite drawback of the Farley 9 vs the Fatboy is the price tag; at over double the price of $3999, the budget may be the deciding factor for many riders.

The Farley 9 is a more up-to-date and arguably better bike. However, it’s difficult to argue that it’s more than twice as good as the Fatboy.

Do you have a strong opinion in the Trek Vs Specialized debate? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jack is an experienced cycling writer based in San Diego, California. Though he loves group rides on a road bike, his true passion is backcountry bikepacking trips. His greatest adventure so far has been cycling the length of the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia, and the next bucket-list trip is already in the works. Jack has a collection of vintage steel racing bikes that he rides and painstakingly restores. The jewel in the crown is his Colnago Master X-Light.

5 thoughts on “Trek Vs Specialized: Everything You Need To Know”

  1. I purchased a Stumpjumper in 1984 , it needs wielding on the rear drop, but until then, it was and, still is my favorite bike. A match made in Heaven. The most comfortable ride ever.

  2. I have nothing against Specialized, but my old 19 year old Trek 4800 is still going strong as a converted e-bike these days. That bike has been excellent although the only thing left original is the frame and seat post collar.

  3. I wonder if you compare the weight of the Trek Emonda to the Tarmac? The Madone is the Aero frame and Emonda is the climbing frame. Specialized used to do the same thing with the Venge being their Aero frame. Now the Tarmac serves as both.


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