The Bike List

Trek Domane 2.3 2015

Tested by Oliver Laverack

Review

When I first heard about Trek's cobble-gobbling Domane back in 2013 I got very excited. A frame designed for rough road conditions such as those found throughout the spring classics, and the UK. Having ridden both the Flanders and Paris-Roubaix sportives a number of times I'm all too familiar with how harsh the pave can be, particularly in France. At times it feels like every individual cobble is trying to take momentum from you as you bounce your way through the roughly-shaped and often broken mass of stones, hoping not to puncture or fall off. When riding terrain like this the prospect of a bike that could help dampen the harshest road conditions, making you faster and more efficient is the ultimate promise. The classics are exciting to watch, especially the pro races, but to ride they are an unequalled test of endurance and stamina, so any technology that can dampen the harsh blows offers an invaluable advantage.

To say that British roads are as bad a pave to ride would be unfair to British councils but at times we have all experienced a road so bad, littered with potholes that a comparison could nearly be drawn. Just recently I have been searching for roads like this to test the Domane on and after many winter miles have found the perfect stretch of road which even to my surprise, is so bad that it almost emulates the Flandrian experience. If I were to give it a Paris-Roubaix secteur pavé rating it would only be a one or two star at most but naturally it only made sense to test the Domane 2.3 over this stretch to put its bold comfort claims to the test.

Those claims are of course based around the fancy-named IsoSpeed decoupler, which effectively creates a floating link between where the seat tube and the top tube meet, helping absorb some of the vibrations that would otherwise be transferred directly to the rider. This floating link, allows the seat tube to move independently of the rest of the frame, creating a seat tube that reacts to the riding conditions. Why is that better than what most road bikes currently do, I hear you ask? Well, the theory would be that a small amount of movement in the tube directly beneath a rider allows more of the knocks and vibrations that are transferred from the road upwards to be dissipated. The ability of a frame to absorb vibrations from the ground up is also often referred to as vertical compliance and Trek claim that the Domane is twice as good at this as their nearest competitor. This stat presumably refers to the top of the range carbon model but perhaps does not translate all the way down the range as different carbon is used throughout the range and the bike I'm testing is aluminium. Although the rubber that encases the floating link looks like it might help absorb vibrations, it is in fact simply a seal to help keep grime out.

Having been to the Trek launch and seen a couple of Domane carbon models in the flesh, I can confirm that on carbon models the seatpost visibly moves when pressure is placed on the saddle, thanks to the floating link. As aluminium is a completely different material I just can't understand how it could work in the same way. Applying the same pressure I certainly can't make the aluminium seat post flex at all and therefore I'm not sure what different the IsoSpeed decoupler makes on the bike I'm testing. Having ridden the Domane 2.3 for over 1000 miles now, and tested it on the roughest roads I can find, I'm not convinced that the IsoSpeed decoupler offers much if any vibration dissipation. I'm certainly not able to interpret the benefit in the ride quality which suggests that the improved comfort thanks to this feature on the aluminium model isn't huge. I suspect on the carbon models this is more noticeable and as the level of carbon improves so does the quality of the IsoSpeed decoupler. I must stress that this is only a theory at this stage but I will be testing a carbon framed model immediately after testing this bike so will be able to comment on this.

On the whole the Domane has lived up to my expectations, but the IsoSpeed decoupler has left me wanting. I've managed to find a comfortable position on the bike that has allowed me to endure testing interval sessions as well as four or five-hour endurance rides with relative ease. The handling has continued to offer predictable and confidence-inspiring riding regardless of whether I'm doing three or 30 miles per hour. The comfort I did perceive came from the slightly wider than usual 25mm tyres which I feel really make a difference to ride quality, especially on rough UK roads, and seem to have become increasingly popular on road bikes in the last year or two. Although I've managed to slice open one of Bontrager R1 Hard-Case Lite tyres, they have performed well and much better than expected on numerous cold wet, leaf-littered winter rides. I'm still unsure what cut the tyre but on re-riding the same route a day later I noticed pieces of glass close to where the tyre went so this is likely to have been the cause.

Before I go on to talk about the new Shimano 105 11-speed groupset, I want to highlight the Bontrager TLR (TubeLess Ready) wheels. Personally, I think tubeless wheels and tyres are a greatly overlooked innovation on road bikes and are still relatively rare. The addition of a set of tubeless-ready wheels on even this entry level bike shows that Trek are ahead of the curve on this one and gives riders ultimate flexibility allowing them to choose between either clincher and tubeless (as distinct from tubular, which are glued directly to the rim) tyres. Of course with tubeless, the sealant fixes punctures as you ride if they aren't too bad and you can always insert an inner tube should all your sealant fluid fail to seal the hole.

At £1100, the Trek Domane 2.3 is one up from the £900 2.0 base model. Carbon models of the Domane start at £1500, with the Domane 4.0 Disc which, as the name suggests, is also equipped with disc brakes. Going up in price from there you'll find 5 series carbon Domane bikes starting at £2500 and 6 series models starting at £3600. As well as improved specification the standard of carbon used improves as you go up the range.

Equipment-wise the 2.3 model is well specified, with a large complement of Shimano's latest 11-speed 105 groupset including brakes, front and rear derailleur and shifters/brake levers. The cassette is one step down, being Tiagra (a common cost- saving measure) but offers a wide 12-30 set of cogs, and the chainset is a non-series R565 compact with a 50/34 chainring ratio. Non-series essentially means cheaper and not branded 105. The two together have provided a 22-speed geared bike that can tackle even the most testing gradients, especially useful if this is your first taste of a capable road bike. For me, this has meant I have been able to grind up even the steepest local climbs whilst still managing to stay within my endurance (zone 2) heart rate.

First impressions of the Shimano 105 11-speed shifters wasn't as good as expected. The feel of the shifts on this bike with 105 front and rear derailleur haven't felt quite as snappy as the older 10-speed 105. Having said that, the shifters haven't missed a gear and the 11-speed block is a pleasure to use. I've already mentioned how great the gear selection has been during my training and whilst my training partners have struggled to find a gear on some hills, I've managed to spin my way up virtually every hill when needed.

The front derailleur shifting really stood out as being noticeably easier, thanks to the additional leverage of the new Shimano 105 front derailleur. That's great news for anyone who has struggled with the force required to move the chain on to the largest chainring. Shimano 105 shifters also follow an arc as you push through the gears meaning the levers don't wander away from you as you shift. And 105 shifters offer reach adjustment which doesn't require the use of plastic or rubber shims; that's great for riders with smaller hands.

Having ridden this bike over the winter months I've fitted a set of Crud RoadRacer Mk2 mudguards to help keep me and my fellow riders dry. They fit well but if you prefer your mudguards to be more permanent then the Trek does have mudguard and rack mounts. The downtube is in fact so wide that you can get away without a front mudguard if you prefer to keep the lines of your bike as much as possible. The frame itself is made using Trek's 200 series Alpha aluminium. The use of hydroformed tubes, which have been shaped using water under high pressure, has allowed Trek to create more intricate and sophisticated tubes shapes, helping the frame look very similar to its carbon-fibre counterpart. One thing I have noticed, which isn't always the case, is the super-tough paint on the Domane. I've had to hose down and wash the bike after nearly every ride and the matt paintwork has held up particularly well and at the moment still looks like new. The anodized blue finishing touches such as the blue rear derailleur hanger, seatpost clamp, saddle clamp top half and single blue headset space and headset top cap are small details that not only make the bike even more eye catching but also please me every time I see them. I know it's only a few pieces of blue metal but something about having a few carefully placed anodized parts pleases me. What can I say? I'm a simple man…

The Trek Domane 2, 4, 5 and 6 series models are all available with the same geometry. The 58cm Domane model on test has a stack of 611mm and a reach of 380mm, whereas a 58cm £1200 Trek Madone 2.5 has a stack of 598mm and a reach of 391mm. Assuming that all other items are equal, with both bikes having the same size stem, handlebars and have their saddles positioned in the same place along its rails, the Domane will feel slightly taller (13mm) and shorter (11mm). Although that might not sound like much, subtle differences of a 1cm can make a noticeable difference, especially if you have a shorter torso, for example.

So, the cockpit position of the Domane is slightly more comfort minded than the Madone and also the Emonda which is very similar to the Madone. Despite this I've found I've had to slide my Adamo saddle forward as much as possible to find a comfortable position. I suspect this is more a reflection of my body as I have long legs and a relatively short torso which means this is a common problem for me.

In terms of competing models from other manufacturers at a similar price point that offer a similar fit to the 58cm on test, you'll find Merida's Ride 400 £1000 (size 56cm, stack 615mm, reach 377mm), Felt's Z75 Disc £999 (size 56cm, stack 602mm, reach 379mm), Canyon's Endurance AL 7.0 £1049 (size 58cm, stack 598mm, reach 377mm) and Orbea's Avant H30 £950 (size 55cm, stack 596mm, reach 383mm). To check which size we'd recommend for your height and inside leg, and which models from other manufacturers offer a similar fit, visit our bike fit page.

Although the above models may offer a similar fit, the ride itself is likely to be different as this all comes down to factors such as the headtube angle, bottom bracket drop, chainstay length and wheelbase. Compared to the models above, the Trek Domane has the most relaxed head tube angle, the longest chainstays, the largest bottom bracket drop and the longest wheelbase which all combine to offer a very stable and predictable ride that isn't easily thrown off course. Ideal for navigating difficult stretches of pave and tarmac. Demi-god Fabian Cancellara certainly seems to think so as this has become his favourite weapon on choice for the classics and other road races, too. Although his version uses a much more aggressive geometry than the one most of us mere mortals will use.

I woudn't hesitate to recommend the Trek Domane 2.3 to any new road cyclist. The gearing on offer is very good. Whilst the ride of the aluminium-framed Domane was comfortable thanks to its geometry, I'm not convinced there were any noticeable gains from the IsoSpeed decoupler. Although I have yet to test a carbon version of this bike I would strongly advise anyone considering buying this model to also try the carbon- framed Domane 4.0 which comes with the cheaper Sora groupset but is equipped with powerful TRP HY/RD disc brakes. Although the colours used are the same I even think the bike looks a bit better. The carbon frame also features an integrated space for Trek's very neat integrated speed/cadence sensor called DuoTrap which I've always thought is a great idea that I'd like to see on more bikes. Sticking a set of tubeless tyres on and running them with slightly lower pressures (which you can with tubeless) should help improve the comfort levels even further. My question now is, does the carbon framed Domane offer a noticeable improvement in comfort?

At a glance

Verdict A great concept but sadly the aluminium framed IsoSpeed decoupler version doesn’t quite live up to expectations. Despite this it is still an enjoyable bike to ride and a great option for new road cyclists or as a winter bike.
Value
Performance

Geometry

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Size Stack Reach Head
Angle
Seat
Angle
 
50cm 546 mm 368 mm 71.1 ° 74.6 ° details
52cm 561 mm 371 mm 71.3 ° 74.2 ° details
54cm 575 mm 374 mm 71.3 ° 73.7 ° details
56cm 591 mm 377 mm 71.9 ° 73.3 ° details
58cm 611 mm 380 mm 72 ° 73 ° details
60cm 632 mm 383 mm 72.1 ° 72.8 ° details
62cm 656 mm 386 mm 72.1 ° 72.5 ° details

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