After Fabian Cancellara’s text book classics victory at the Ronde on Sunday he returned to the winning ways that have made him a superstar on the cobblestones. Riding near the front, protected by his teammates, Fabian waited. On the final ascent of the Kwaremont he made his move. Only Peter Sagan could follow. They swept up the remaining breakaway riders and for a few kilometers they rode together. Until the Paterberg. Fabian raised his tempo yet again. At first Sagan seemed up to the task but in the final 50meters of the brutal cobblestone climb the Swiss star claimed a six second advantage. That was all he would ever need. After six hours in the saddle he turned those six seconds into 12, then 30, then a minute, scoring his second victory at Flanders and the first for Trek. This was the dream victory Trek had snatched away by a crash last year.
At the finish Fabian said he felt bad on the asphalt climbs, suffering more than he thought he would. But the cobblestone climbs? Those were a different story. He felt good on each ascent, gaining confidence, and preparing for his winning move. It’s not much of a stretch to ascribe some of that his bike and its radically new rear end. We spent much of last year riding a Domane and what follows is our detailed review of the bike, straight from the pages of peloton. We figure the timing for a second look at this review is pretty good… of course, not as good as Cancellara’s timing on Sunday. That was perfection.
Make no mistake, the Domane is an important bike and more important for what it is not, than what it is. For the better part of a decade Trek has built its brand on one bike, one race and one man, the Madone, the Tour and Lance. The Domane, with its slick rearranging of the Madone’s name, has rearranged Trek’s entire philosophy. It looks to the spring for victory, not July, it asks the one day specialist to perform, not the three week stage racer and it spurns the one platform for all riders thinking in favor of a specific bike for specific needs.
Because of all this the Domane was an exciting bike before a pedal was ever turned in anger. When a company as adept as Trek at reaching the top of the podium puts their mind to winning more than a single race in July the entire season just got more exciting. The Domane also creates a ripple that will spread through the entire Trek line up. The Madone has finally been liberated to be the true power-to-weight ratio racer the current peloton and marketplace demands. The new 2013 Madone, launched on the eve of the this Tour, is the most aggressive bike Trek has ever made. Lower, longer, stiffer, lighter, more aerodynamic. To a large degree we have the Domane to thank for that.
We also have to thank Fabian Cancellara. The moment he signed with Trek the Waterloo engineers began to take advantage of more than his massive quads. Knowing that what endurance riders want is very close to what classics riders need they began showing Fabian design concepts and peppering him with questions. They began to study the specific demands riding over rough terrain puts on a body to an astounding degree. Rather than aim at the broad target of ‘reducing vibration’ they first asked, ‘What frequency of vibration is actually transmitted on rough road, and of that vibration, what frequency really affects the rider?’
After months of study, after translating Fabian-ese like, ‘I want to be the train tracks that go through the cobbles’ into engineering solutions, the result was more than simply designing with a clean sheet of paper, it was rethinking some of the most basic assumptions of bike construction. So what exactly is the Domane? Think endurance, think relaxed geometry, think compliance. But Trek also wants you to think nimble, race and power transfer. With the Domane they endeavored to put more performance in an endurance platform than the peloton had ever seen. Much of the path they chose to has been trodden before, but to really deliver they relied on proprietary Trek technology and an entirely novel seat cluster design.
The final ascent of the Paterberg. Fabian on his Domane with Sagan faltering in the distance.
Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
That seat cluster, conveniently hidden by Fabian’s massive quads as he won the Strade Bianche during development, is called ISO Speed. Here’s the most incredible aspect of it, the seat tube shares no carbon joint with the top tube or seat stays. Instead it rises through the seat stays and is attached to the top tube by an aluminum axel on bearings, similar to a mountain bike’s pivot. Trek shuns the word ‘pivot’, instead classifying it as a de-coupler. Regardless of terminology the system allows the seat post to flex fore and aft, around the de-coupler, irrespective of the stays and top tube. The result is almost four centimeters of front to back compliance that Trek has been able to totally remove from the lateral stiffness equation.
The de-coupler, hidden under the snap on, screw secured, cowling...
…and with cowling removed
That lateral stiffness comes from what Trek calls Power Transfer Construction. It refers to the lower half of the bike, starting with the tapered E2 head tube, into the massive down tube, through the BB90 and into the beefy chain stays. Trek’s BB90 is the widest in the peloton and it allows Trek a huge platform to attach the wide down tube and tall chain stays. With ISO Speed removing any possibility of a harsh ride Trek was able to invest more stiffness in the Domane than even the 6.9SSL Madone.
ISO Speed thinking is also evident up front. The fork, while a tapered E2 steer tube, gets an enormous amount of rake. The ovalized nature of the E2 system invests the fork with plenty of lateral stiffness. It may not be an active system, but for a static fork the pronounced rake allows significant compliance back to front.
The kicked back drop-outs that shorten the front center and speed up handling.
Trek got their Bontrager brand involved as well. Bontrager looked at the homespun solutions pro riders created for cobbles, double wrap bars, garden hose under the tape, and took it to the 21st century. ISO Zone bars utilize a closed cell, replaceable foam that reduces the exact frequency of vibration that buzzes your hands by 20%, while weighing less than gel inserts or double wrapped bars.
Undoubtedly, long mile comfort for the everyday rider is as much about position as compliance and Trek has been well aware if this for many years, pioneering the use of different head tube heights to vary the Madone’s position. Compared to the new Madone’s H1 head tube a 60cm Domane is four centimeters taller and over a centimeter shorter in the top tube department. This puts more rider weight in the seat taking pressure off the lower back, the neck and arms. The head tube angle is also a bit more relaxed adding some stability to the rearward weight distribution. But to ensure your weight is still between the wheels for confident handling Trek has lengthened the chain stays slightly, although they are still a racey 42.5cm. In a nod to more of this race ready performance the fork also has dropouts that kick back significantly behind the raked blades keeping the front center nice and nimble. It is in these touches that we see the influence of Fabian Cancellara. He may not need a high strung bike for bunch sprints, but as possibly the best bike handler in the pro ranks, he needs a bike he can rail through corners and flick from side to side on the cobbles.
The new Domane has a laundry list of other well thought out details, from an integrated chain keeper to optimized internal cable routing, from their StepJoint tube connections to the 600 Series carbon. It is however missing one key feature we have always admired Treks for. Until the Domane, every 6 Series Trek had been built in their Waterloo facility. Made in the USA means a commitment to a living wage and the environment you won’t find overseas. For our money, Treks always rode a little better when we kept this in mind. While we wish the Domane was made in the USA, to be fair to Trek, they are still building the new 6 and 7 series Madones in their Waterloo facility.
Is a bike designed for Spartacus still a bike mortals looking for long mile comfort and grand fondo performance will enjoy? The short answer is, absolutely. The long answer is a little more interesting. After our first few rides on the bike we were shocked by two things. First, over some of the most brutal cobblestones on the planet the performance of the ISO Speed rear end was a revelation. Power went down more easily over unforgiving road than we had ever experienced before, while protecting our bodies from that same terrain to a degree we didn’t imagine was possible without actual suspension. Stunning. Secondly, the front end felt harsh, no other way to describe it. The fork would hit an object that would then seem to disappear beneath the rear end. While it was a feeling of some unbalance, it did nothing to hinder the bikes handling over the cobbles, it was easily pointed precisely over the worst cobbles.
However, once we got the bike off the cobbles and on to rough roads that fall within the realm of sanity the reason for this initial feeling of unbalance became clear. The ISO Flex rear is so incredibly successful, so fundamentally reinvents how complaint the rear of a bike can be, that even a very complaint fork just seems a bit stiff by comparison. The Domane’s fork, along with the ISO Zone bars, is more than up to the task of taming even the roughest roads, but unless road suspension becomes popular a static fork will likely always be a bit harsher the the Domane’s rear end. It’s just that good, removing high frequency vibration entirely and muting even the biggest hits you are every likely to experience on the road.
The Domane’s dual purpose, bringing compliance to a true race bike, required us to look at more than comfort, it required us to hit the gas up hill and down, it required us to attack and sprint. While in the saddle, big power is delivered to the road very progressively, while out of the saddle the liveliness of the Domane has more in common with a super-stiff, lightweight climbing bike than any bike designed for comfort. Its a transformative quality unlike any we have experienced before. Laying power down over the rough stuff? No bike does it better. The Domanes rear just seems to stick, putting the rubber down through potholes, big cracks and rough gutters. Incredible.
The Domane doesnt have the high spirited feel of a steep, short wheelbase, a nimble feel some call twitchy. The Domane instead has the relaxed feel of a stable and predictable wheelbase. The issue with bikes like this is they can under steer, requiring you to lean in deeper to a corner across the apex to hold your chosen line. The Domane exhibited none of this. The trosional stiffness axle to axle, the shorter rear stays, and the kicked back dropouts have invested the bikes stability with incredible prowess when the road gets windy. Dive into a corner at a reckless speed, chose an inadvisably tight apex, and the Domane will stay true to line and pace longer than your nerves.
Designed for spring, designed for cobbles, designed for Cancellara, but the Domane is so much more than that. It has profoundly affected the way Trek has designed the new Madone and it can profoundly affect the way you ride long miles, as in faster and more comfortably. But perhaps the best example of how much the Domane has to offer again comes from Fabian. As the Tour is rolling its way across France this month, Spartacus will not be on a new Madone. He will be riding his faithful Domane, proving just how much performance this comfort bike has.
You dont need to have Fabians motor to make the most of this bike, but if you do, its more than up to the task. You want to ride longer, more comfortably, but you want to do it faster than ever before. You dont like sacrifices in your bikes performance, but are happy to sacrifice by taking a long pull in the wind.
The Bottom Line
Price: $4,620 Size
Weight: 17.4lbs with Speedplay pedals
Build: Shimano Ultegra; Bontrager Race Lite wheels, Race Lite ISO Zone alloy bars, Race X Lite stem, Affinity Race Lite Saddle and Ride Tuned carbon seat mast.