As devoted readers know, I reviewed a Domane before they were on the market, way back long ago. At that time, my review wasn’t overwhelmingly glowing, and was based on a relatively short ride experience. As a component of the Trek Travels trip, I was able to spend some quality saddle time on a 5.9 series Domane, equipped with Ultegra Di2. It was a 56cm bike.
Here she is:
Bontrager RaceLite alloy wheels.
Ultegra Di2 (Aesthetic note: I LOVE the dark graphite Shimano is using this year. Much better than the former silvery gray).
Slick integrated wiring.
I’m going to reserve my thoughts on the Di2 for another day, because it deserves its own post. What you’re going to get today is pure thoughts on the Domane. These thoughts are based upon my experience on a host of road bikes, and perhaps most importantly, based upon my recent couple days on a 6 series Madone, and extensive saddle time on my own 7 series Madone.
First, the Trek people call it the Doh-MAH-nee.
Second, if you’re living under a rock, the Domane features a unique design, in that there is a pivot point at the juncture between the seatpost and the top-tube/seatstays. With this design, the seatpost is isolated from the rest of the frame, such that it can pivot avound the above-mentioned joint, providing greater vertical compliance than a traditional road frame. With a traditional frame, you might get some compliance from the seatpost or seatmast–the weight of the rider bends the seatpost and that vertical deflection provides a bit of a smoother ride. The Domane takes that concept to the extreme–by isolating the seatpost from the top tube and seatstays, the whole seatpost can deflect, from the saddle down to the bottom bracket. You get much, much more deflection, and thus much, much more compliance.
Some frame designers have approached the issue of designing vertical compliance by putting inserts into the seat stays, and introducing compliance into the rear triangle. The Domane does not do this–and that’s hugely important. Here’s why: the rear triangle on the Domane is very stiff. The BB and chain stays are super-stiff…perhaps even more so than on the Madone. What that means is that you have a very high amount of pedalling efficiency. When you stand on the pedals, or put in a hard effort, the bike lunges forward. There is no power lost in the seat or chainstays deflecting. The part of the bike that deals with the transmission of power is as efficient as possible. By isolating the deflection to the seatpost, the rider experiences the compliance, without a loss of efficiency. That’s why it is such a huge step forward–the rider gets the benefits of compliance without the detriment of riding a noodly frame.
Brief aesthetic note here: from my perspective, the clean frame that Trek is able to achieve with the Domane, with a concealed pivot point, is far more attractive than a bike with big inserts in the seatstays as well. That’s up to the individual rider to decide, but it’s a positive in my book.
So you have a bike with a very efficient drivetrain, coupled with a seatpost that gives a very compliant ride. What else should be noted? The Domane has a custom fork with more rake than the Madone. Turn-in isn’t as aggressive–the change in geometry is noticeable. The wheelbase is also longer, which lends to stability–again at the expense of making the steering a bit slower. The BB is lower than on the Madone, which eats a bit of cornering clearance (though I never ran into any problems), and which lowers the rider and bike’s center of gravity, again promoting stability.
So what do you get with the Domane? You get a bike that is Madone-fast when you’re pedaling, but that has greater much greater vertical compliance, both through the fork and the seatpost. Comparing the Domane and 6 series Madone, the Domane does a better job of absorbing both rough asphalt/chipseal chatter and of taking the edge off of bumps and potholes. The change in geometry is also noticeable–the Domane is a bit more relaxed (though I’d feel very comfortable hustling it through a crit or other race). Let’s be clear…the handling is slower than a Madone, but by no means is slow. It isn’t like a one of the older Bianchi Coast to Coasts.
Comparing the Domane to the 7 series Madone, there is still a palpable difference in the ride quality. Here’s a sneak preview of tomorrow’s post: I think there is a significant difference in ride quality between the 6 and 7 series Madone, with the 7 series offering substantially improved dampening. That said, the Domane is untouchable in regard to dampening out vibration and big hits–there is simply no comparison. From a comfort perspective, the Domane wins, hands-down.
I pushed the Domane up a big climb that topped out on a big flat, with a little-used forest service road that was pretty potholed. By the time I summited, my legs were pretty shot, and I was in the saddle, spinning. I was able to just stay in the saddle and keep spinning right through bumps, continuing to pedal. On a Madone, I would have been out of the saddle, standing over the pavement irregularities. In that regard, the Domane can be a more efficient bike on rough roads. It’s kind of like the difference between a full suspension bike and a hardtail–suspension gives you the ability to keep pedalling at full effort, at times when a hardtail requires you to stand and do some shock absorption. The Domane’s compliance enabled me to remain seated and pedalling efficiently over bumps that would have disrupted my efforts on a Madone.
And yet because the BB is so stiff, when I was standing and hurting myself on the climb, the Domane felt like a Madone, and surged up the hill with no power lost.
What are the Domane downsides? Well–riding one would take some adjustment. When riding over bumps, you feel the bumps in your legs/pedals more than you do through the saddle. That is disconcerting at times, and would take some getting used to.
The other issue is that of the seatpost tuning. With a full-suspension mountain bike, you can adjust the shock pressure and valving to meet your particular needs. When I, at 150 pounds, ride my Spearfish, I run a certain pressure. If a 200 pound rider got on it, they would need more pressure and more dampening. The Domane seatpost is ‘tuned’ to one spec, and cannot be adjusted. Let me say at the outset: the tune that they gave it works well for a variety of riders. But if you’re at either extreme of the weight spectrum, it may be a ‘try before you buy’ situation. Trek maintains that there is not a weight limit for the Domane–that’s probably self-limiting. I would be curious to see how the bike reacts to a 300 pound rider–there would be a lot of seatpost deflection. Perhaps too much.
At my weight, there were a couple big hits that I took where it felt as though the seatpost was loading up and then bucking me a bit…kind of like a spring without a shock to dampen the oscillation. The Carbon does a good job of dampening hits–don’t get me wrong, it’s good–but there were at least a couple of bumps where I had a weird sensation that I was being thrown, rather than getting a compliant ride. Here’s the important disclaimer, though: I had that sensation because I was in the saddle, hitting big bumps on a road bike. Had I been on a Madone, I would not have had that feeling, because I would never be in the saddle, on a Madone, on a similar bump. The compliance of the Domane lets you stay in the saddle on bumps that you would otherwise stand for. That is 99% good–but once in the while, it leads to odd results.
So what about purchasing a Domane? If I was going to the bike shop today and looking at Madones and Domanes, what would I get?
If my goal was road bike efficiency with a bit more comfort, a Domane would win, hands-down.
If my goal was minimum weight/maximum efficiency and race-bike handling, a Madone would win.
If I was planning on using the bike for long rides on varied surfaces, Domane.
Frankly, if I was comparing a Domane and a 6 series Madone, I’d get a Domane. The few instances where the Domane has a wonky result (e.g. the ‘bucking’ sensation) are the result of exploiting the seatpost beyond its capabilities. They’re the fault of the rider, not of the bike. The weight penalty is negligible, the difference in pedalling efficiency is negligible (the Domane feels stiffer in the BB), and the gain in comfort is noticeable. I think for the vast majority of road bike riders, the Domane is probably the better bike. And I suspect that if riders had a chance to ride them back to back, they would feel that way. Again, even for my riding, if I was comparing a Madone 6 (or below) to a Domane, I’d get the Domane. (Note: I haven’t ridden one of the lower-level Domanes that are aluminum and carbon…so I’m not passing judgment on them).
Comparing the Domane to my 7 series Madone, I’d get my bike a majority of the time. If I was looking for a bike to ride centuries on, I’d look hard at the Domane. But the 7 series Madone is so sweet, I can’t claim to have any regrets with it.
So what is my takeaway?
- Getting to spend some real saddle time with the Domane convinced me that it has real merit.
- I suspect that if bike purchasers were really informed about how well it works, and if they were honest about their riding, the Domane would substantially outsell the Madone in any location of the world that does not consist solely of glass-smooth roads.
- The longer your rides, or the more tired you get, or the worse the roads turn, the better and better the Domane becomes. (Recall that a Domane-mounted rider won Gravel Worlds this past year).
- I have a hard time finding fault with the Domane, except when you push the seatpost past the point of reason by hitting bumps that you shouldn’t be hitting on a roadbike.
- Before you buy your next roadbike, you owe it to yourself to at least try a Domane.
Longer term, what are my thoughts?
- I don’t know how well this would work on a mountain bike. I think the seatpost likely has too much compliance, and would create more of the “I’m being thrown from the bike” or “I’m being hammered in the rear by my saddle” sensation. Perhaps not, but I’d definitely want to do some real test-riding before committing to a mountain bike with this exact technology.
- I wonder if we will eventually get to a point where the technology permits rider-tuning. The seatpost is already decoupled at the top-tube/seatstay junction. What if you decoupled the seatpost at the BB, and allowed the rider to select different seat posts? (Some sort of mechanical joint at the BB that could be disconnected–perhaps a second pivot point?) You could have thinner/thicker seatposts, or different modulus carbon, to accommodate different conditions (comfort vs. crit) or to accommodate different rider weights, just like riders can tune a FS mountain bike, or can select a different seatpost on a bike. Or in the alternative, the ‘seatmast’ could be mounted as it is on the Domane, and you could have super long ‘seatpost’ inserts that would extend well down into the bike frame, and allow you to tune the responsiveness of the bike (again by changing seattube thickness and modulus). There are some interesting opportunities here, for this technology to grow. Imagine a Domane that you could make super-rigid for a crit, and super-compliant for a ride on the cobbles, just by swapping the seatpost.
My ‘now more informed after a couple long rides’ thoughts on the Domane: It’s a game changer. It is both more efficient and more comfortable (more effective at achieving vertical compliance and a smoother ride) than bikes like the Roubaix. I think it’s a harbinger of things to come in the road biking world, and I think the technology can, and will improve. I also think it’s a bike worthy of consideration for just about anyone.