My new Trek Domane has had its first proper test: the Heart of England 300. So maybe it’s time for a review.
It’s a Domane 5.2. To look at, it’s a bit, how can I put it, Essex. You may wish to don shades before looking at it.
The stock bike is, believe it or not, even more Essex than that. It has white bar tape, a white saddle, and whitewall tyres.
HK took one look at my toned-down version, and referred to me for the rest of the day as the King of Bling. Harsh but fair, I think you’ll agree.
The Domane’s USP is that the frame is vertically compliant, but stiff where it counts for power transfer. The seat tube is attached to the top tube via an elastomer, and can flex slightly, though not so much that you’re aware of any bobbing. There’s no creaking. The down tube, bottom bracket, and chain stays are chunky and seem very stiff. You can find the full marketing voodoo on the Trek website.
Does it work? Short answer is yes. The ride quality is remarkable. It seems to turn crappy English lanes into smooth French tarmac, but is disconcertingly responsive when you get out of the saddle or put the hammer down (in my case a very small hammer). I felt significantly less beaten up than usual when I finished the ride. The bike is also very light.
Some other versions of the Domane have a more tasteful paint job, or you can pay Trek ludicrous sums for a custom version. The TOWIE paint job is growing on me, mainly because I don’t have to look at it while I’m riding.
Here’s a list of pluses and minuses, from the viewpoint of an audax rider.
- Plush ride combined with sharp handling.
- Goes like stink if you’re in the mood. I spent a greater proportion of the day in the big ring than I ever have before.
- Light. Very light. Frame-filled-with-helium light. You need a café lock to tether it to a solid object in case it floats away in the breeze while you’re eating your beans on toast.
- Will take mudguards, via discreet mounts (You remove grub screws, and screw mudguard eyes into the threaded bosses. There’s a threaded eye behind the bottom bracket for the rear mudguard. I’ve fitted a narrow Tortec guard at the rear—clearance is fine with 23s. Bigger tyres might require a bit of mudguard creativity. I haven’t fitted a guard at the front—given the width of the downtube, there seems little point).
- Long-distance frame geometry—relatively tall steerer, relatively short top tube, so it suits a less aggressive, more comfortable position.
- Triple chainset option available (and you can get a 12-30 cassette, so you can get a 1:1 bottom gear).
- Unless you spend silly—well, sillier—money for a custom bike or a frameset, you’re stuck with Shimano. Leaving aesthetics aside (I can’t be the only one who thinks that current Shimano chainsets have been given a good seeing-to with the ugly stick), I find the ergonomics of Shimano suboptimal. It’s too easy to end up in the granny ring rather than the middle ring, or to brake unintentionally while shifting.
- There’s a slight question mark over the brakes, though this is probably just a matter of replacing the pads for something sensible. Braking was mostly fine, but got juddery when slowing to take a right turn on a long fast descent, almost like brake fade.
- You’re limited to seat packs, saddle bags, or something like the Arkel Randonneur Rack for luggage carrying. Though it’s arguable that this is a plus for audax riding, since it forces you to travel light…
- I suspect the longevity of the external bearing BB90 bottom bracket may be less than wonderful.
- I also wonder about the durability of the factory-built Bontrager Race Light wheels. They have quite a deep section rim, but not many spokes (18 front, 24 rear). They’re noticeably light, though, and stood up fine to their hammering on some cratered roads over the weekend.