First Ride: Trek Domane Review



It’s nothing short of amazing that, within my sphere of cycling contacts, I have the opportunity to check out one of the new Trek Domanes, live and in person.  Where did this happen?  North Central Cyclery.  It seems as if Trek perhaps heard about the awesomeness that is the Gravel Metric video (you did contribute to that, didn’t you)?  But do 700x25c slicks make sense for the ‘Metric?  (If you recall from my recent post on a Gravel Metric preview ride, Mattias was rocking a Roubaix on 23cs.  So…perhaps).

But on to the task at hand…Domane.  I’m told that it’s pronounced Doe-Mah-Nee.  We got together for a cold early morning group ride, outside NCC.  The Domane is the riderless horse here:

Anyhow…here’s the Domane:

This was a 54cm bike running 700x23c tires on Bontrager’s alloy RL wheels.  Ultegra drivetrain.

Trek’s e2 tapered headtube/headset design.

This is looking aft, down the top tube.  You can see the internal cable routing to the rear brake here.  Around the seat tube, there’s a hard black elastomer that isolates the seat tube from the top tube and top of the seat stays.

Seattube from a rear view.  You can see how the seat stays remain split and go around the seat tube, to mold into the top tube.  You can also see how the elastomer does not wrap around the rear of the seat tube…the rear of the seat tube is open to the rear–no connection to seat stays.

Here’s a 3/4 rear view of the seat tube, seat stays and top tube.  The seat tube is bonded to the bottom bracket in the traditional carbon fashion.  At the junction with the top tube, there’s a pin through the top of the seat stays/rear of the top tube, that goes through the elastomer and through the seat tube.  Around this pin, the seat tube rides on a bearing.

In other words, the pin through the seat tube (at the top of the seat stays and rear of the top tube) is the pivot point for the seat tube.  When the seat tube bends, it pivots at this spot.  If you put a bunch of weight on the seat, it pivots here and the bottom part of the seat tube (halfway between the pivot and bottom bracket) actually visibly flexes forward.  It’s disconcerting to see at first.  Also disconcerting is watching the seat tube flex while riding behind the Domane.  At first, you think that you’re seeing things…but nope–it’s very active while riding.

This is the underside of the pivot point.

Relatively beefy chain stays.  If there’s any flex to be had, it isn’t coming from here.

Gracefully tapered fork.  It seems to be a bit more compliant than a traditional race carbon fork…but that could be in my head.

View down from saddle.  It sports Trek’s inverted seatpost (integrated mast with a female seatpost that nests over it).

Ultegra cranks.  Personally, I like the newer dark graphite color over the more silver version that they used to use.  (From a purely aesthetic perspective, I like SRAM and Campy cranks more still).

Ultegra rear derailleur.  The Domane can be set up Di2, similar to other Madones.

Assembled in the US.

So if you only have 10 minutes to ride a new wunderbike, where do you ride it?

Cobbles.  D’uh.

The taper in the top tube is highly evident from the rider’s perspective.

What are those little bits?  Trek’s ‘hidden’ fender mounts.  Slick.

Initial riding impressions from a very limited ride, and from 30+ miles of riding in front, behind and alongside?

All movement in the seat tube is very well dampened.  There is no vibration, no pingy-feeling, no springiness.  When the seat tube flexes, it flexes cleanly, if that makes sense.

From the rider’s perspective, you cannot tell just how much it flexes–it’s more obvious when you follow it.  As Tobie from NCC said, the best way to feel the flex as a rider is to go down the cobbles and lift your feet from the pedals–putting your weight entirely on the seatpost.  You can totally feel how it takes the edge off of the little hits.

While I didn’t have great conditions for monster sprinting, those who did advised that the BB was very stiff.  Standing and cranking, there’s minimal clues that you’re riding a Domane (maybe a bit of a different feel in the fork).  It’s only when you sit and hit rough patches that you know there’s something different.  When I’d hit a little lip of asphalt, I’d expect to feel it as I do on my Ridley–sharply.  The Domane took the edge off of a lot of little bumps.  Not quite the same ride as the Vaytanium–but surprisingly vertically compliant for a road bike.  Even with the high split on the seat stays, I tried pushing hard into a few corners and couldn’t detect any lateral weakness.  Trek’s goal was apparently to just engineer some compliance into the seat tube–purely for rider benefit without adversely impacting performance.  That, they appear to have done.

Weight is just over 17#, as built (with bottle cages and Look carbon pedals).

I’ll be curious to see how the bike reacts (or how I react) on longer rides.  Here’s a really, really bad analogy.  With a Thudbuster or other suspension seatpost, if you are trying to really spin and you aren’t doing so smoothly, you can get a bit of saddle bob.  I couldn’t get the Domane to do that in my short ride…but I’m curious about it.

The stiffness of the carbon is obviously very different from a traditional suspension seatpost.  But nonetheless…when the seatpost flexes, it’s dissipating energy.  The question is whether it is: 1) dissipating vertical/bump energy in an efficient fashion (kind of like running lower tire pressure to increase speed); or, 2) translating rider’s vertical energy from legs into wasted energy instead of forward progress.  Possibly, a bit of both.

Here’s my guesstimate:  Serious racers will stay away from the Domane unless they’re riding the cobbles.  In races like the TdF, they’ll keep riding traditional road bikes.  In races like Flanders, they’ll sport Domanes.  For those of us mere mortals out there, the Domane will find eager riders who are looking to have something quick and responsive when out of the saddle, but not terribly punishing when cranking out a century (or even a shorter ride).  I worry that there will be Domanes assigned to live under huge stacks of headset spacers and riser stems…and I think that will be a waste of some truly great talent that the bike has.  I think the value of the design is not just in riding cobbles…it’s in taking the buzz out of chip seal roads, taking the edge off of tar cracks and little potholes, and otherwise making a fast, skinny-tired road bike a bit more tolerable on a day to day basis–without giving up anything in the city limits sprint.

Time will tell.  North Central Cyclery’s initial post is here.


5 thoughts on “First Ride: Trek Domane Review

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