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I’d Give It.

7 / 10

Summing it up…

More comfortable than many alloy framed bikes but probably never going to set the world alight.

Buy If….

  1. You value comfort over speed
  2. Component spec is high on your shopping list
  3. You need a ‘go anywhere, do anything’ roadie

The View from the Bars…..

Anyone who has read my review of the Trek 4.5 Domane on this site will know that I am a confirmed fan of Trek’s Iso Speed system. For those of you unfamiliar with this technology, it basically decouples the seat tube from the top tube – allowing a degree of flex that takes the sting out of rough roads. Initially, this technology was only available on Trek’s carbon framed Domanes however, from the 2013 model year, it started to filter down to the more accessibly priced alloy framed bikes.

Given that the system relies, to some extent, upon the flexibility of the seat tube to function, I was skeptical around how well the benefits would translate from carbon to alloy. Not only is alloy less flexible than carbon but, in my experience, it’s a material that doesn’t fatigue well. Trek has addressed this by forming the seat tube from two different types of alloy tube, welded together just below the junction with the top tube. On early alloy framed Domanes, the weld is quite evident; as a real ‘knuckle’ of weld. However, on more recent models, this weld had been ‘dressed’ out. Consequently, you would probably not even know it was there.

First Impressions…..

First impressions of the bike are very good. The color schemes work very well – across the range and, for the 2.3 on test here, the subtle green, white and black works very nicely. The green detailing extends subtly through a number of other points (alloy seat tube clamp, bar clamp, saddle clamp and stem spacer) giving a very classy look. Fitted as standard with Shimano 105 throughout, Trek doesn’t seem to be cutting corners on components – although it’s worth noting that the crank is Shimano R565 and the cassette, Tiagra (for those obsessed with component weight).

The Ride….

On the move, the bike feels stable and comfortable. Although it doesn’t initially feel fast, it’s certainly not lacking a turn of speed and whilst it doesn’t leap forward like a scalded cat with every turn of the crank, effort is certainly rewarded. Over rough ground, the ISO Speed system does take the sting out of really rough roads and whilst the properties of alloy mean that it will never really compete with it’s carbon sibling, you certainly notice that it effectively irons out higher frequency buzz – resulting in less fatigue and a more planted feel.

Frame geometry centres on Trek’s ‘Endurance’ fit – raising the head tube slightly and placing you in a more upright position – for long days in the saddle. While not to everyone’s taste, I quite like this – it certainly takes the strain off of back and shoulders, while still allowing enough scope for some head-down, on the drops fun; when the mood takes.

Weighing in at a little over 9 Kilos, there are lighter alloy frames out there and riding the bike back to back with my trusty old alloy 2.3, it certainly feels like there is more mass to push along. Don’t get me wrong; it never feels really heavy – just heavier, if you know what I mean. Notwithstanding this, you can still make pretty rapid progress, should the mood take you and the package handles climbs well – though, it’s worth noting that this may in some part be aided by the compact chainset and 12/30 cassette.

As you would expect, the 105 groupset all works together very nicely – slick, accurate shifting and some of the most predictable braking you’ll find (even in the wet) and the standard Affinity 2 saddle is plenty comfortable (although, oddly, slightly less-so than earlier ones that I have). As standard, the bike comes fitted with a Bontrager Carbon Seat Post (although mine came out of the box with an alloy seat pin – something that was quickly rectified by the dealer). The OE wheel set is more functional than fun and would probably be the first upgrade that you would want to make. Note that a set of Bontrager Race wheels has already found its way on to the bike tested here – and it feels all the better for them. A few quid spent of decent wheels and tyres would certainly not be a waste. For me personally, one of the big draws for this bike is the inclusion of luggage mounts. The bike will be coming with me on the SMCC 2014 LEJOG – so these are a real bonus. In fact, it’s nice to find an alloy bike that isn’t a full-blown tourer that has them included.

An Unexpected Failure….

After a month of winter testing, I had really begun to gel with this bike. Initial concerns over weight had been overcome and the Iso Speed system proved it’s worth; making our usual lanes a less punishing experience than they generally are in winter. All of that changed suddenly, however, during the cool-down segment of a recent 70 mile Saturday ride.

Whilst gently (and I mean 10 MPH gently) riding over a raised section of road (a traffic calming measure – not a speed hump – just a section of road, raised with short ramps at either end) a loud cracking noise had me thinking that I’d probably broken a spoke. After an initial ‘scan’ around wheels and frame, all looked in order – so I continued home. Later, however, after a through clean, the source of the noise revealed itself – a crack in the seat tube – right along the line of the afore-mentioned weld.

Thankfully, Trek’s lifetime frame warranty stood me in good stead and after returning the bike to the dealer, I soon found myself the owner of a brand new frame set. Treks analysis of the defect was that it had occurred due to an error in the reaming of the seat tubes during the manufacturing process. Equally, they tell me that they’ve not seen a similar failure. Certainly, if this were a common problem, I’m sure that online forums and reviews would be awash with horror stories – which they are not; so I’m satisfied that the defective frame probably was a Friday Night rogue – rather than an indicator of any more serious design or manufacturing issue.

At The End of the Day….

Although, as alloy bikes go, this bike is never going to set the word alight (it’s not stunningly fast nor particularly engaging in the handling department) it does work very well as a package. The Iso Speed system makes for a smooth, planted ride and, in the real world, this is probably more relevant than outright race focus. The package is well spec’d throughout and despite the issues I have personally experienced, feels like a quality product.

The Domane 2.3 would make a great first road bike. Whilst not particularly engaging, the ride is comfortable and the overall package rewards effort and it’s one of those bikes you can really just enjoy riding. The refined colour way draws admiring glances and the bike actually looks as though it should cost more than it does. Simply adding a higher-spec wheel set would make a tangible difference and there is so little else that actually needs changing that you could probably justify throwing a few more quid in this direction than you would on a bike with lower component spec.

For the more experienced, the Domane 2.3 makes a great winter trainer – although the issue that I have experienced fitting mudguards would be worth bearing in mind if this were your primary purpose.

In my case, the bike will be filling the winter training role until spring – when I’ll be taking advantage of those luggage mounts as I bolt panniers on and get ready to take her the length of the country. Teething issues aside, it’s slotting nicely into this role. With this spec, it represents great value and the problems have actually allowed me to test the bold claims that Trek make around customer support – an area they have proved that they excel in.

Keep checking back for updates to this review – the bike will be seeing a lot more action through winter and will soon be transitioning into it’s tourer role – so I’ll aim to report back as I get more miles under the wheels and more ironwork on the back.

A Minor Niggle….

Whilst I’m talking of design, there is one aspect of the overall design that I do find frustrating; the inability of the frame to take mudguards. Trek’s website and marketing makes strong reference to the fact that the frame is mudguard ready – even including their ‘vanishing’ fender mounts. In practice, however, the exceptionally tight clearance between the brake caliper and tyre does not provide sufficient clearance to accommodate both tyre and mudguard – something that is making me increasingly unpopular on group rides.

Whilst this could probably be remedied by swapping from 25mm section tyres to 23mm section, it’s worth noting that 25mm is standard fitment – so this certainly feels like an oversight in design – Trek, please take note.

UPDATE 31/12/2013 - In the interests of fairness an accuracy, since writing this review, I have managed to get a set of mudguards on with 25mm tyres. After much fiddling, I now have a set of SKS Race Blade guards fitted. Consequtnly, I’ve upped the score a notch for this bike.