With so many new bikes and components being launched and so many different categories represented, logistic gymnastics is required to ensure every product gets enough miles, under the right riders, on the right surfaces to develop a clear picture of its capabilities. But, occasionally, the stars align, handing us the perfect bike, the right rider and the ideal parcours. So it was with the 2017 Trek Domane SLR 7 Disc and 588 miles in seven days through California from the East Bay to Los Angeles by way of Yosemite and Tehachapi.
The toolbox available to engineers with carbon is astounding. They have leveraged materials, shapes and layups to coax incredible traits from the humble double-triangle but, to use a term we learned from Keith Bontrager, cycling is a "mature art." Fractions of differences, many hard to discern, are heralded as breakthroughs. Real improvement can now require novel solutions and the risk that a brand’s innovation will be written off as a gimmick.
Gimmick. That was a word we heard quite a bit when the original Trek Domane launched in 2012. It’s 2016 now and the IsoSpeed de-coupler that Trek created has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. So proven that the 2016 Domane SLR launched with adjustable rear IsoSpeed and a new IsoSpeed front end.
The basic concept behind IsoSpeed is to liberate the tubes associated with comfort from the rigid structure necessary for power transfer and precise handling. Out back, a pivot at the seat cluster allows the seat tube to flex independently from the rest of the bike, and now the length of the lever arm acting on the pivot can be quickly adjusted, fundamentally changing how the bike feels in the saddle—slide it down for a magic carpet, up for a stiff and chattery racer. The big breakthrough for the new Domane SLR was the front IsoSpeed—the steer tube now slides through a collar, attached to the top of the head tube with a pivot, allowing greatly increased steer-tube flex, while ensuring it stays dead straight laterally for precise handling. Anyone who writes all this off as marketing hype does not understand how carbon works or what Trek has actually done. IsoSpeed allows carbon to be carbon, flexing under load, but channeling the flex exactly where it is needed and freeing it from any stiffness demands.
This IsoSpeed goodness has been available on the rim version of the Domane SLR since it launched this past spring. What this new bike brings to the party are two features that enhance the bike’s already phenomenal versatility: disc brakes and, thanks to that, better tire clearance. When your bike has the ride quality to handle the toughest cobbles, nastiest weather and even rough dirt or thin gravel, discs and high-volume contact become critical. The Domane SLR is no gravel bike, but 32mm tires fit with ease.
When it comes to versatility, the geometry options keep up their side of the bargain; the RSL, or Race Shop Limited, puts you on the same bike the Trek Factory Racing team rides, with a low and aggressive head tube and shorter wheelbase, while the stock builds use Trek’s endurance numbers. That puts more weight in the saddle to take advantage of the buttery IsoSpeed and takes strain off the lower back, neck and shoulders for long days.
Our Trek Domane SLR 7 was a special bike. We started with Project One and spec’d it like a fairly stock Domane SLR 7—600 series carbon, Ultegra Di2 shifting with hydro braking, Bontrager IsoCore bars—but we upped the ante by choosing Aeolus 5 TLR carbon clinchers over the Affinity alloy. The build of this 54cm cost $10,190 and hit 17.1 pounds (7.8 kilograms) on the scale.
We spent between five and eight hours on this bike every day for seven days straight. We climbed, we descended, we churned out miles in echelons battling crosswinds and we chucked it over dirt roads and the epically bad Old Toll Road on the way to El Portal. We never felt battered, and we never felt that the accumulated impacts and endless chatter sapped our legs or motivation.
Our peloton featured mixed abilities and it was here the disc brakes truly surprised us. We know discs are gold when the descending is long and technical or the weather nasty, but in a group that was grabbing brake, accelerating, then grabbing brake again all day long, the infinite, progressive, feather-ability of disc brakes kept our momentum up and tempers at bay.
With the bike’s plush ride, high-volume tires, endurance fit and a few extra grams thanks to disc brakes, we could forgive the bike for lacking a bit of liveliness—except it never did. Sure, we weren’t attacking at 700 watts up a 12-percent grade or punching it on the Paterberg in a bid for immortality, but whenever we stepped on it, it went, proving the rim-brake Domane’s epic power transfer and reactivity is intact in this disc version.
The Bottom Line
The 588 miles we rode had every challenge that could possibly be thrown at a road endurance bike and the Trek Domane SLR 7 Disc was a lot more than just capable—it positively thrived. A better choice for endurance riders, or anyone who doesn’t get paid to dish out suffering in the mountains of Europe, does not exist.
PRICE/WEIGHT: $10,190; 17.1lbs/7.8kg size (54cm w/o cages or pedals). BUILD: Shimano Ultegra Di2 with RS805 hydraulic disc, Bontrager IsoCore bars, Pro stem, Affinity Elite saddle Aeolus 5 TLR wheels and R3 Hard-Case 32mm tires.
Ben Edwards has been bike racing since 1987. After a long detour into the motion picture industry he plotted his return to cycling. Follow @pelotonmagazine on Instagram and Twitter to get the latest on what and where Ben's riding.