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Ridden & Reviewed: The 2013 Trek Domane

July 26, 2012

“Good things come to those who wait.”

If there’s ever been a time when that famous quote has applied to a large-scale bicycle manufacturer, this may well be it.

The 2013 Trek Domane 6 Series with Shimano Ultegra build. Available in the Bicycle Sport Shop Rentals Department.

For a number of years Trek had stayed out of what many call the “endurance road bike” or “plush road bike” category. Arguably started for the masses by Specialized with their venerable Roubaix, and quickly–at least more quickly than Trek–adopted by other companies, it seemed that everyone had their take on a bike that was supposed to be just as great under a Pro Tour rider in Flanders in the Spring as it was under the weekend rider tackling a century, a favorite charity ride, or the local club weekend throw down. Everyone but Trek.

To be fair, Trek didn’t entirely ignore the fact that riders were looking for comfort. In fact, starting with the 5000 series bikes and continuing through the last generation of Madones, it was often said that those bikes were great Grand Tour bikes precisely because they offered the comfort and stability necessary to ride a bike for days and miles on end. Having owned a 5900, I can say the bike was pretty great at mile 5 as well as 105–if you wanted a pretty “long and low” position. With the Madone’s last redesign Trek did eventually make a nod to the fact that most of us don’t have the physical characteristics of pro riders and started offering bikes with longer head tubes for more upright, relaxed riding positions. But the Madone remained, at heart, a race bike. There was no real concession to ride quality in terms of stiffness, handling, or, well, anything aside from that slightly taller head tube.

Enter Fabian Cancellara.

With Leopard Racing and then the merger with Radio Shack, Cancellara, probably his generation’s greatest classics rider, was aboard Trek. And with that, Trek upped their game to make a bike worthy of the man nicknamed Spartacus and really aimed at what many consider the greatest races on the calendar. Lucky for us–and we don’t say this lightly–the UCI has rules in place where pros basically have to ride what’s available to the consumer masses. So like Fabian, we get the all new Domane from Trek.

The Domane is, first, a complete re-look at road bike geometry from Trek. Not only are we talking about taller head tubes, but we’re also looking at a longer wheelbase, a shorter effective top tube, and a lower bottom bracket height. All of these things relax not only the rider position but also the ride quality itself when compared to a dedicated race bike–like the all-new Madone for example. Second, the Domane is constructed in a way to enhance ride smoothness. Tube shapes and build methods used are designed to maximize offering a smoother ride–without completely giving up the get-up-and-go you or Fabian might require. Third, the Domane is about new technology. At the heart of that new technology is IsoSpeed, a simple decoupler built on a sealed bearing system that separates the seat tube from the top tube and seat stays. The systems allows for added vertical compliance compared to a more traditional bike and, as a result, keeps the rider feeling better and fresher longer.

The heart of the Domane. The IsoSpeed decoupler.

The shop’s rental department, which has no shortage of amazing bikes to ride, recently got a few Domane’s in. And before the dust had settled on the 56 cm demo bike, I was on it and out the door. Well, first I had to set it up. The 56 cm bike presented me with a bit of a conundrum. I would normally ride a bike that had an effective top tube closer to how a traditional 56 or even 58 cm bike is sized. That is to say the 56 cm Domane presented a particularly short top tube and thus a particularly short cockpit for me. Knowing though that the bike was intended for a more relaxed riding position I rolled with it. I lowered the stem and raised the seat–right to the minimum insertion line on Trek’s super nifty seat mast–and shoved the seat backwards on it’s rails. I was though at the limit on the 56 cm in terms of fit and position, needing either a longer seat mast and a longer stem or the 58 cm. If you’re looking to mimic a more aggressive position on a Domane, be sure to double check fit and size before you buy. Good advice on any bike, but especially useful here. If you ride, say, a pretty traditional 56 cm road bike and you’re looking for a more relaxed ride, you’re likely to be blown away by the very non-aggressive feel for a very performance-oriented road bike.

Set up and ready to roll, I hit the door and pedaled out into the start of a 2.5 hour ride with about 2.4 hours of it being in a solid rain, if not a down right thunderstorm. I figured the ride was perfect for this bike. After all, aimed at the Spring cobbled classics–which fans generally regard as more “epic” when wet, even though statistically they are pretty darn dry–I could imagine myself like Cancellara powering though the elements aboard my Domane, specifically built just for rides like this. But the Domane isn’t really about rain riding–although it sports really slick hidden fender mounts–it’s about ride quality on less-than-ideal road surfaces. So not only did I point the bike towards the rain rolling into town, but I also pointed it East, out towards the construction surrounding the new F1 track.

If you’ve ridden out there you know it can be quiet in terms of traffic, but noisy in terms of road surface. Pot holes, chip seal, cracks, gravel, dirt, loose dogs, and other debris can run rampant on some stretches of roads out towards the old Tuesday Nighter course and beyond. The Domane handled them all with the greatest of easy. The bike really, really shined over the worst sections of asphalt–or what sometimes passes for asphalt in Central Texas. And it was as equally steady on the the terrain changes I could see as those that were buried under standing water from the welcome torrential downpour. I was thoroughly impressed with the bike’s ride quality in terms of stability and comfort, even though my position wasn’t “perfect.” The most noticeable thing was how well the bike handled larger bumps. Sure a well made carbon bike is going to offer some road vibration isolation, but even then large surface imperfections are still large surface imperfections. The Domane though ate those up, especially on the bike’s back end, although the fork sports what Trek calls IsoSpeed shaping as well and felt comfortable without really giving up anything in the handling department. Pretty amazing overall.

My demo 2013 6 Series Domane after it’s initial rain-soaked ride.

That first ride was a Wednesday. And I shot a quick picture of the bike after I got it home and cleaned it up and posted the photo to my Facebook page. Friends quickly asked if I was going to take it to the Driveway the following night. I thought about it long and hard, but aside from the rental department’s “do not race our stuff, this means you employees” policy, I also thought the bike would be somewhat wasted out there. After all the Driveway sports a pristine surface and the Domane seemed after that first ride to be clearly meant for terrible roads. But I did want to see it perform on some faster efforts.

So Friday I took it out for a couple hours for some hot laps on the South Mopac TT course. The slightly rolling terrain and the relatively smooth surface let me contemplate the bike from another angle–that of able racer–even if under a less-than-able-racer in the form of this Cat 4. The bike was great again. The Domane’s noticeable compliance on Wednesday’s rough roads was not a distraction on the smoother surface under harder, more sustained efforts. Whereas some of Wednesday’s ride was spent navigating the storm, Friday’s ride was focused on pushing the pace a little and the bike felt like, well, a race bike. Even though the IsoSpeed set up remained noticeable, it did not give the sensation of robbing power or speed. Rather, it did leave me feeling capable of giving a bit more, but family dinner called and besides, I was getting rained on again.

Like its Madone sibling, the Domane sports Trek’s BB90 design for efficient pedaling on an overall “softer” riding bike.

Saturday broke cloudy with a pretty good chance for rain again–at least in terms of Austin weather–so I grabbed the Domane and hit the door early and headed for the hills. Three and half hours would for me put the bike to the test in terms of seeing if the claims of staying fresher longer and being able to push the pace longer were really true. And, with a little over 4,000 feet of climbing on tap, I’d finally really get to see the bike’s Shimano Ultegra kit, including a compact crankset, in action. The drivetrain did not disappoint as I hit Terrace Mountain, the High Road, and Torro Canyon. In fact, the drivetrain had been spot on since I first pedaled the Domane across the parking lot back on Wednesday. But here, in Westlake Hills, the compact set up showed its real value. The slightly lower gearing made each of the particularly steeper pitches so much more manageable compared to my traditional standard set up on my personal bike.

The bike itself climbed well. On the much smaller rollers the day prior I thought “Wow! Comfortable race bike!” But on Saturday’s very steepest inclines the longer wheelbase, which gives the bike much of it’s great, stable ride quality, shone through a little negatively. The bike seemed to lack the snap of a shorter wheelbase (re: shorter chain stays) bike, although it was still a quite capable ascender. Initially I thought there was maybe some added heft in the bike given the decoupler set up on the IsoSpeed system. But a post-ride check of the scale showed the bike to be right at 17 pounds with base model Look Keo pedals and two aluminum Bontrager bottle cages–right around what my own bike weighs. The very, very slight lag in climbing Austin’s short, punchy walls was quickly displaced though by the joy of descending and cornering on the Domane.

Yes, the IsoSpeed isolates the rider from road chatter. But it also has the apparent effect of keeping the rear end of the bike planted firmly on the ground–something I noticed descending the back side of the High Road. Even over uneven surfaces heading downhill at speed, the bike felt remarkably smooth. And that sensation led to more confident descending even though I’d only been on the bike for a couple of non consecutive days (don’t worry rentals staff, I took my bike to the Driveway). The longer wheelbase, which I shrugged off a bit heading uphill, let the Domane rail around corners and stay true to the line it was set in as the road curved. I was, where sight lines and traffic permitted, easily riding no handed as I dug through my pockets to find rice cakes I had made the night prior. And, I finally managed to complete a ride on the Domane without getting rained on.

The Domane’s IsoSpeed fork. Generous rake with uniquely positioned dropouts lends for confident, comfortable riding.

The Domane proved to me to be a spectacular all-around road bike. Equally at home on rough roads as rollers, it gave up a little on the steepest of pitches, but more than made up for it gong downhill and around turns. As a race bike, I can see it making a splash on the Central Texas road race scene more than the criterium circuit, but that’s to be expected given the bike’s purpose-built design. Besides, you could take it to your local weekly crit if you wanted anyways–as long as it’s not a shop demo. Where I think the bike has the biggest likely impact though is the citizen road bike rider. Not only does the bike perform well in the comfort arena, and not only does it have the ability to cruise at speed if desired, but it comes in a host of models, both carbon and aluminum, and various trim levels making it accessible to more riders too.

Over the last couple of weeks when friends asked about my demo rides on the Domane I would tell them simply I’d buy a Domane if I were looking for a road bike. After all, the vast majority of my road riding isn’t racing, it’s riding with friends and exploring Austin and Central Texas. But already having a road bike and maybe looking for a new cyclocross bike as the season nears, I’m probably not getting a new road bike any time soon. But the Domane will remain on my short list of bikes to check out if I decide to get a new road bike, or if my wife asks what I want for my birthday.

After all, good things come to those who wait.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2012 2:06 pm

    thank you for a very enjoyable review. During the past week I rode 4 a test domane (60KMx3+85KM). I felt much more powerful than on my Lemond Tete de course 2008. I wanted to ask you regarding your discussion of the size and fit of the bike. My lemond was a 53 size and was a bit short which made me add a 120mm stem. I am wondering if I should get a domane 54 or 56. Can you please elaborate on this subject a little more?

    • djcurtin permalink
      August 21, 2012 7:28 pm

      Joshua: Thank you for reading. Pretty tough to say what would be best without actually seeing you on your current bike and talking with you about your fit and any issues you might be having with it. Also, I’m not familiar with the Lemond geometry, so I wouldn’t want to give you wrong information. I would recommend seeing your nearest Trek dealer, Bicycle Sport Shop if you’re in or near Austin, and speaking with someone about the geometry differences between your current bike and the Trek as well as your riding style and preferences in order to determine the best size for you. Good luck!

      • August 23, 2012 5:15 am

        thank you for your reply. Indeed I followed your advise and visited the guy that I consult wit for fitting my bike. It was a close call but we decided on the 56 (which was his first choice after comparing my data which he had on his computer to the size table of Trek). We hope to be able to eventually fit the bike with and 100 or 110 stem and have the stem completely horizontal and with no rings.
        Thanks again,
        Joshua

      • djcurtin permalink
        August 23, 2012 6:41 pm

        Good luck with your new bike, Joshua! And thanks again for reading!

  2. chad austin permalink
    October 19, 2012 9:28 pm

    Nice review – thanks for sharing! I just purchased the 4.5 but an waiting for it to come in. Hopefully it’ll arrive before the Minnesota winter because I’m not sure I can contain my excitement until spring.

    • djcurtin permalink
      October 22, 2012 10:11 pm

      Thanks for reading! And good luck getting your bike quick and some rides in before Winter. You can always come see us in Austin!

  3. Brad permalink
    October 23, 2012 3:00 pm

    Thanks for this informative review! After 30 years on mountain bikes I’m looking for my first road bike. I’m considering both a Domane and a Roubaix, and this review really helped describe the bike. It sounds like just the type of bike for me, a casual rider that wants a comfortable but efficient bike.

    • djcurtin permalink
      October 25, 2012 12:07 pm

      Thanks for reading, Brad! Hope you find the right bike for you. Best guess is that Domane may be the one! Cheers!

  4. Jan Kemkers permalink
    October 23, 2012 7:56 pm

    Jan Hill
    I tried some bikes, but the Domane gave me full conifidence in the fist minutes of the trial. A comfortable bike on roadtracks with stones and tarmac. I hope to use it for many years.

    • djcurtin permalink
      October 25, 2012 12:08 pm

      Thanks for reading, Jan! Glad you’re enjoying the Domane. One of the nicest bikes we’ve ridden in some time! Have fun and ride safe!

  5. Ross permalink
    November 7, 2012 1:49 am

    Great review about the Domane. I currently ride a Trek 2.1 with aluminum frame, but I am planning to upgrade to a carbon frame. During fall and spring I typically do the group rides here in Texas, both around Houston and the Hill Country. I am considering the Domane 4.5 or maybe the Roubeix to reduce the impact of the chip seal roads here in Texas. Can you please compare/contrast the ride between the two.

    • djcurtin permalink
      November 13, 2012 3:00 am

      Thank you for reading, Ross. It wouldn’t be fair for me to compare the two bikes since I’ve not ridden a new Roubaix and in fact haven’t been on one in a number of years. That said, I can tell you that not only will carbon frame reduce road chatter that you experience as vibration as a rider, but that additional design elements in both the Roubaix and the all-new Domane enhance that vibration isolation quality making those bikes perform better over rougher surfaces. I’m trying to get my hands on a Roubaix to do a head-to-head shootout and if I can I’ll certainly be providing some thoughts here. Cheers!

  6. Hani permalink
    November 24, 2012 9:02 am

    Thank you for the great review! I think you convinced me to go ahead and buy the new Domane, but ill be going for the 4.5 since the 6 is out of my range… I mainly do century rides for fun and the sound of all that comfort is exactly what I need! Great article, I really enjoyed reading it. Safe riding everyone :)

    • djcurtin permalink
      December 4, 2012 7:55 pm

      Hani, thanks so much for reading and enjoy your new bike! Many happy miles!

  7. William Perrine permalink
    November 27, 2012 6:57 pm

    I currently ride a Merlin Extralight, Tommasini Tecno and Merckx Corsa Extra. All are set up with the same saddle height, same saddles, same saddle to handlebar length and even the same Campy 9 speed groups. However, the Merckx fits me like a glove. I ascribe this to it’s geometry and am currently looking for a US frame that has as close to the Merckx geometry as I can get. While the Domane is an intriguing bike, no one can tell me how it’s geometry compares to the Merckx. Or the Roubaix, Evo or Calfee. I am a stock 56. Can you enlighten me?

    • djcurtin permalink
      December 4, 2012 8:02 pm

      William, sorry for the delay getting back to you. It’s hard to tell you how any bike compares to your beloved Merckx (a great bike by the way!) without seeing a full geometry chart on it. This would include not only tube lengths, but also tube angles, which can impact how a bike fits and feels. The other variable of course in terms of a bike’s feel is the material it is made out of. A steel bike rides differently than say a carbon one, even when the geometry is substantially similar. So there may be a question of ride characteristics as opposed to fit coming into play given all the many other similarities in your rides (and a what a collection it is!). The best bet to get a US made frame that’s as close to your Merckx as possible is to go custom with someone building out of steel. Serotta or Independent Fabrication, both building in the US, would be great sources and offer bikes in various materials should you want to explore a possibility outside of steel. Happy bike hunting!

  8. February 18, 2013 1:08 am

    wow nice article. i really can’t decided between the roubaix and the domane.

    • djcurtin permalink
      February 22, 2013 3:27 am

      Thank you! That’s a tough call. Both bikes are great when looking at similarly equipped models. The fit of the bike should be the determining factor, obviously. But you’ve also got to love the way your bike looks too! Hoping to get on a Roubaix later this year for a review. Thanks for reading!

  9. June 4, 2013 3:08 am

    This is really attention-grabbing, You are an overly professional blogger.

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  10. June 5, 2013 12:42 am

    Incredible points. Sound arguments. Keep up the good work.

  11. m knox permalink
    July 16, 2013 5:49 am

    Bought a Domane 4.3 WSD this week. It’s the bike I’ve been waiting for all my life. Hope to be riding it in my 70’s! Test ride a Domane–you will be amazed.

    • djcurtin permalink
      July 23, 2013 10:17 pm

      Thank you for reading, and enjoy your new bike!

  12. Chris Phillips permalink
    July 25, 2013 2:36 am

    Looking to get into the cycling scene upon my return from Kuwait so I am trying to decide on a bike. As I am still learning what to look for I found your review very informative. I believe I am going to start shopping around for a Domane to purchase. Thanks again!!

    • djcurtin permalink
      August 4, 2013 6:01 pm

      Chris: Thanks for reading! The Domane is a solid bike and a blast to ride. If that’s what you end up with you’re gonna love it! Happy bike shopping!

  13. Joe Chirillo permalink
    October 13, 2013 4:26 am

    Joe C. Great review. I am about to purchase a 2013 Trek Domane 4.5. I have asked the Trek Dealer to install a 7mm head tube for more height. Also un terms of climbing ability, I was thinking of swaping out the rear cog set from a Shimano 11-28 to an 11-32. My thought is it would enhance the gear ratio with the front deraillers and help out with the climbs. Is it worth the change? Thanks

    • djcurtin permalink
      November 5, 2013 8:00 pm

      Joe: Thanks for reading! Certainly the lower gearing would help with steep or longer pitches. The only trick might be a need to move to a medium or even long-cage read derailleur to accommodate the larger gear. Check with your favorite mechanic. Happy riding!

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