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Summing it up…
Mountain bike comfort , movie star looks and great spec.
The View from the Bars…..
If you ride regularly anywhere in the UK, you will know just how bad our roads really are; uneven, un cared-for surfaces that can make the shortest commute feel like the Tour of Flanders!!! Even on a mountain bike, some sections of our local roads feel like a BMX park. On a roadie, they’ll have the fillings out of your teeth.
Being honest, I can’t see the situation improving anytime soon. As cash-strapped councils struggle to pay the bills, I have a feeling that the continued decline of our asphalt is going to be a fact of life.
Pragmatically, only a small percentage of our total road network falls into the really bad category. Unfortunately for we cyclists - that small percentage is usually the smaller rural roads that we all know and love. Even if 85% of your ride is smooth, the 15% that isn’t can take the edge off of a really good ride. Or, at worst, can take you off the bike altogether.
Trek’s Domane promises a ray of hope for long-suffering roadies. The Iso Speed and Power Transfer Construction technologies in the frame promise to both smooth the ride and get every last watt onto the road. Sounds too good to be true; doesn’t it!
Iso Speed works by de-coupling the seat tube from the frame at the top tube. Cartridge bearings allow the entire seat tube to pivot - whilst still safely bearing the load of the rider. In effect, what this does is allow the seat tube to soak up the bumps by swaying back and forth - whilst still keeping the rider firmly connected to the bike. It’s a little hard to get your head around without actually seeing it in action - check out this video from Trek’s website for a more succinct description.
Power Transfer Construction exists to make a rigid connection through the drive train. A number of elements combine to ensure that wheels stay put on the road and effort gets translated into speed.
I have to be honest, I was sceptical - about both of these claims!!!
One of the first things that strikes you when you see this bike in the flesh is the sheer width of the frame at the bottom bracket. The BB90 is simply huge - by all accounts, the largest bottom bracket available on any road bike. Having see it, I would believe that. This hugeness extends up through the downtube to the headtstock; before even turning a pedal, it looks built for purpose.
Sitting at the junction between the seat tube and the top tube, the Iso Speed Decoupler is a very neat installation. Unless you know that it’s there, you may be hard-pushed to spot it. For some reason, I felt compelled to try shoving my full weight up and down on the saddle; expecting to see the seat tube bending like a blade of grass on a windy day. Sadly, however, I was disappointed - it seems that you need more that that to get some flex going.
The bike reviewed here is the 4.5 variant. As far as the Domane series goes, this is pretty much high-entry to low-mid level; the range extending all the way up through the truly awesome 6 series. Having said this, I personally think that it is represents a real sweet spot in the balance between price and equipment.
Supplied as standard with Ultegra Flight Decks, Ultegra front and rear derailluers and 105 callipers, it certainly does not look like too many corners have been cut. Trek obviously make savings somewhere and on this model it’s most apparent in the choice of 400 series carbon in the frame (higher spec bikes get 600 series) and finishing kit - such as handlebars; the 4.5 getting standard Bontrager Race Lite items - as opposed to the Bontrager IsoZone items found on higher series bikes.
In a nod to the future, Trek also supply the bike with Tuibeless ready wheels - although, as you will see, the bike on test here is wearing a very plush set of American Classics (nice wheels - test to come soon). You can also take advantage of the fully integrated Duo Trap Cadence sensor. If you use an ANT+ compatible computer then this is an absolute must-have item.
The proof of the pudding…
Climbing on board, the riding position feels comfortable; rather than focused - you certainly get the impression that this is built for distance, rather than outright speed. That view is reinforced when you start turning the cranks - there is a feeling of solidity about the bike and a reassuring sense of composure.
Everything that has been claimed for the Power Transfer Construction certainly feels true and the whole bike moves efficiently forward with every pedal stroke. Really, it never feels like you are wasting energy - and somehow this makes you want to try harder.
Within the first few miles, I was convinced that the Domane was slower than my old 2.3 alloy framed road bike - basing that solely upon the amount of effort I felt I was putting in. After a brief reality check and actually taking some time to read the Garmin, it was clear that I was maintaining considerably better average speeds. Given only a marginal increase in effort, this feels like very good payback. In fact, it’s also a pointer to how comfortable the bike is - the way that it soaks up the road almost masks the speed.
Handling never feels dull. In fact, at times, it can feel positively lively. I guess that some of this could be down to the frame dynamics - but it did take a little while for me to fully ‘gel’ with it. Once fully ‘gelled’, however, I have to say I really like it
Trek claim that they wanted to keep the sharpness of the Madone, whilst giving the endurance focus that the Domane was built for. It certainly feels like they have achieved that - to a reasonable extent at least. Let’s be honest, this is never going to handle fully like a Madone - because it isn’t one. But it certainly retains enough focus to feel sporty and rewarding.
I’d Give It.
9 / 10
As you would expect, the Ultegra drive train works with the usual Shimano efficiency. It’s Ultegra - you know what you are getting before you’ve even used it. Although the 105 callipers may be viewed by some as penny pinching, in practice, I don’t think the average rider would need more. Again - you know what you are getting; smooth, predictable braking that works nicely in the wet too.
Heading out into the lanes, the Iso Speed decoupler does not feel quite how I had expected. In my mind, I had imagined that I would feel ‘sway’ in the seat mast with every bump. In practice, you don’t. What you do notice, however, is just how plush the ride feels. Sections that feel like cattle grids on my usual ride just felt smoother. Tackling rough corners, you do not get kicked out of the seat - consequently, the bike feels more stable and, honestly, you really do feel like you can make better use of the power. I thought the seat tube was not moving at all until a fellow rider said, “I can see your whole seat tube swaying”.
The good along with the bad….
Like all bikes, it does have it’s vices. Taking your hands away from the bars to take a gel, remove arm warmers or get a drink, the bike feels more nervous than some. In fact, for the first couple of rides, I didn’t even feel brave enough to try this because it felt like I was going to get spat off.
Also, the integrated chain catcher - which actually does a good job of keeping the chain in place at speed - can become a bit of a liability if you have one of those odd low-speed chain-offs (the sort that sometimes happen without explanation at junctions etc). I had one such incident and found the chain firmly wedged behind the chain keeper. I actually had to remove the device to get the chain free.
In fairness though, these are just small annoyances. This is a lovely bike to ride and suits my ‘big miles’ style perfectly. It’s probably not going to be your thing if you are one of the head-down, arse-up chain gang boys but, let’s be honest, if that is you then you’ll be drawn to the Domane (or other manufacturers equivalent) in any case.
Would I recommend this bike? Yes; it’s well built, well specced, competitively priced and great to ride. It puts a smile on my face and makes long summer rides enjoyable and, despite the state of the roads, comfortable.
Oh, and Fabian Cancelara rides one……that’ll do for me!