Fabian Cancellera won this year’s Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, shown here, on his TREK Domane. (Photo: Steephill.tv)
I enjoyed a short three-hour test ride the other day on the TREK Domane, the bike that TREK says it made specifically to help Fabian Cancellara conquer the cobbles of northern Europe. Which he absolutely did this past Spring. As the legend goes, Fabian so loves the Domane, first introduced in 2012, that he now uses it for all his racing.
And now Fabian’s teammate Andy Schleck has fallen for the Domane. Andy broke his sacrum a year ago and has been training and racing this spring on a Domane because he apparently favors the ride quality and more relaxed geometry compared with his previous racer, the TREK Madone, without losing any performance attributes (power transfer and handling).
This is the Domane 4.5 that I took for a three-hour test ride around hill and dale (and as many railway crossings as I could find). (Photo: CyclingWEST)
Well, let’s be clear. I didn’t test ride the exact $12,000+ model that Fabian and Andy use. I tested the 2013 Domane 4.5 model priced on the floor of Life Cycles Bike Shop in Abbotsford at $2,900. Big difference.
Nevertheless, my time with this bike convinced me that it should be on your shopping list if you are 1) getting into road cycling in a serious way, 2) considering training for and/or entering one or more of the many granfondo and similar events that are dotting the landscape these days, or 3) an experienced and/or aging rider who is finding it increasingly difficult to remain comfortable on long rides.
This ride was part of a series CyclingWEST is doing on the so-called granfondo bikes that all the leading bike makers are targeting at endurance cyclists. The first story in the series ran May 13 and reviewed the Volagi Liscio2.
The Domane’s upright position is dramatic compared to racing bike geometry and it is also more upright than most of the new crop of quality granfondo bikes.
The best way to explain this geometry is by using the terms “frame stack” and “frame reach”. Frame stack refers the height of the frame. Frame reach refers to the length of the frame.
Endurance bike geometry has a higher frame stack and shorter frame reach because endurance riders usually desire a more relaxed riding position for longer hours in the saddle, while racing bike geometry has a lower frame stack and longer frame reach because racers want a more aerodynamic and more aggressive position for their comparatively fewer hours in the saddle.
TREK’s various road bike models, the Madone H1, Madone H2 and the Domane have three different riding positions with the Domane being the most upright and the shortest. The following table compares frame stack and reach for a bike that TREK says is a 56 cm bike size. TREK doesn’t explain exactly how it measures it bikes, but the important thing for this discussion is that this table is giving stack and reach dimensions for the same size bike.
|TREK model||size cm||stack cm||reach cm|
|Trek Madone H2||56||57.7||38.7|
|Trek Madone H1||56||54.6||40.0|
In addition to the frame dimensions, the bike I rode had the maximum number of spacers between the top of the front tube and the handlebars. Plus, the stem had a slight positive angle, which adds more height to the handlebar position. The overall result is that the top of the saddle and the top of the handlebars are on the same plane (in other words, are level), a very relaxed position.
Aside from geometry, TREK has put lots of technical innovations into the Domane. Most important, in my view, is the IsoSpeed decoupler that allows the seat tube to rotate independently from the top-tube-to-seatstay junction. TREK claims this “increases the vertical compliance (road shock absorption) to twice that of our nearest competitor, without compromising pedaling efficiency. Result: you can ride harder, longer.”
Other technical attributes are described by TREK here. They include an IsoSpeed fork described as having “generous ride-tuned sweep and shape increases compliance for greater comfort.” In addition, the fork has “an extra curve above the dropout in our swept-leg design that creates a smaller angle to the direction of road vibrations. This angle increases fore/aft compliance, better positioning the fork leg to absorb road force rather than transmitting it straight to the rider,” says TREK.
The “sweep” of the IsoSpeed fork, left, and the “extra curve” at the dropout attachment. (Images: TREK)
When I jumped on this bike after attaching my saddle and saddle bag, water bottle and pedals, it was immediately evident that I had some fit issues. Although my personal rig is a size 56, this 56 Domane felt big.
It also felt high. It was considerably more upright than my current rig by about 40 mms (more than 1.5 inches). I found that awkward but after a couple of hours it became apparent that it was easier on my lower back and neck than my current rig. Hmmn.
At 18.5 pounds with pedals, it was also 2.5 pounds heavier than my current rig. The bike felt sluggish on the hills, likely because of a combination of the weight and the more upright position. Standing felt quite different because of the higher headset and bars, so I was more erect when standing. Surprisingly, none of this was a big problem, and the bike felt better the more I rode it.
I looked for as much rough road as I could find to test the bits of technology that give the bike its cobbles-taming reputation. Unfortunately, I was not able to test this bike on the cobbles of northern France and Belgium. I improvised with some patches of rough and slightly broken pavement, as well as some repeats over a handful of railway crossings.
Just like Fabian is able to power over the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, I was able to sit and power over railway crossings in rural Abbotsford (actually it took a few minutes to revert from my reflex tendency to unweight over bumps). No big bounces causing the rear wheel to lose contact with the ground as per my personal rig on these same crossings. Furthermore, my dentist subsequently ensured me that all my fillings are intact.
I’m less enamored with the front end. Noticeable front-end bounce and jolting over the rough road and crossings. I’m thinking the alloy stem and handlebars, instead of the carbon, might negate some of TREK’s claimed benefits of its IsoFork.
The bike was solid and predictable when descending on smooth pavement, but I couldn’t find suitable pavement on which to assess descending on rougher roads.
The U.S. and Canadian manufacturers’ suggested retail prices are $2,729 and $2,999 respectively for this Domane 4.5 bike. Personally, I would add carbon handlebars and stem and I would remove some spacers to lower the bars. TREK also has a special shock absorbing set of handlebars as stock issue on more expensive models of Domane, and these would be worth checking out for this rig. Racers can experiment with removing all spacers and lowering the bars 25 mms or more and go even lower by flipping the stem to a negative angle.
- Wheels are Bontrager Race with 25mm R2 clinchers. These wheels are apparently tubeless ready, but they were equiped with 25mm Bontrager R2 clinchers. Wheels retail for about $500 a set, very reasonable for this 1,720-gram set. Medium quality $40 foldable clincher tires. 25mm clinchers are definitely the way to go.
- Another $300 would provide for an upgrade to slightly lighter (1,500 grams) Bontrager Race Lite wheels and R3 tires that would no doubt give the bike a more responsive feel.
- The bike was equipped with Shimano’s 105 groupset which delivered predictably precise performance right off the shop floor.
- I can also see this bike as a candidate for gravel roads. There looks to be ample clearance for a set of quality 28 mm tires.
- Also appears to be clearance with the 25mm tires to fit full fenders, which would make this a great rain bike.
- The carbon Domane range is priced from $2,000 up to $12,000 equipped with a range of frame qualities and components, all with the IsoSpeed technology. There is also an aluminum $2,000 Domane with IsoSpeed.
- Lightening the bike will also lighten your wallet. For example, a Domane 6.9 equipped with Shimano’s premiere Dura-Ace component group weighs about 14.75 pounds for about $6,999 (in the U.S.) and $7,299 (in Canada.)