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Ridden & Reviewed: 2014 Trek Race Shop Limited Classics Edition Domane

September 15, 2014

The endurance bike for the race crowd.

By now you know the story of Trek’s endurance geometry bicycle, the Domane. If not, you can read about it as well as my ride impressions of the first generation, stock Domane from last year.

Since the Domane’s initial release, the chorus of folks wanting to see the IsoSpeed decoupler appear on a cyclocross bike as well as a Domane with a more race-oriented geometry grew.

On the later point, everyone knew it was possible and probably already in existence. After all, it seemed unlikely that Fabian Cancellera, the cobblestone king of his generation, was piloting a stock Domane through his Spring Classics campaigns in Flanders and Roubaix. On the later point, it too seemed like a given, since Trek had signed cyclocross’ two biggest stars in Sven Nys and Katie Compton and had a wholly re-worked cyclocross bike geometry in the Crockett.

And both things came to pass, not only for pros, but also for enthusiast riders.

Early January 2014 saw the release of the excellent Boone cyclocross bike, featuring the IsoSpeed technology. And around that time Trek somewhat more quietly made the Domane Classics Edition available not only to Trek Factory Racing team members, but also to the general public.

The 2014 Race Shop Limited Classics Edition Domane.

The 2014 Race Shop Limited Classics Edition Domane.

When I first rode the Domane last year, I said the bike was on my short list for whenever the time came to consider a new road bike. So when the chance came to demo the Domane Classics Edition, I welcomed the opportunity. Having covered a little over 5,000 miles on it, I can say that it does not disappoint.

The biggest difference between the Classics Edition and a stock Domane is the geometry. The Classics Edition presupposes a race oriented fit with a bike that is notably longer and lower than a stock Domane. My 56 cm Classics Edition features an effective top tube length of 56.2 cm compared to the stock Domane’s 55.4 cm length. And the headtube on the Classics Edition is a staggeringly short 12 cm compared to the stock Domane’s 17.5 cm. The Classics Edition Domane headtube is actually shorter than the H1 race geometry of the venerable Madone and only .2 cm shorter across the top. This means that both reach and stack for the Classics Edition Domane favors those who undoubtedly prefer a more aggressive position. It’s not for folks looking to experiment with fit.

There are some construction differences as well between the Classics Edition and the stock Domane. The Classics Edition is built in Trek’s facility in Waterloo, Wisconsin, whereas the stock Domanes are built overseas in Asia. Being built here means that the Classics Edition is a Project One offering only. As a bike designed originally as “team only,” the Classics Edition foregoes the nifty integrated fender mounts as well as the replaceable derailleur hanger found on the stock Domane. Keeping the weight down and the functionality up, the loss of the fender mounts isn’t surprising, and the integrated hanger means stiffer derailleur function and better shifting. Not to mention a more robust dropout for the frequent wheel changes team bikes see. I’ve also been told that the seat tube on the Classics Edition features a different carbon layup to render it slightly stiffer than the stock Domane offering, likely a nod to the ride characteristics wanted by pro tour riders.  The Classics Edition also sports a nifty looking metal head badge as opposed to a graphic on the head tube. No added functionality there, but a nice touch.

No fender mounts. And no replaceable derailleur hanger. Extra crisp shifting though.

No fender mounts. And no replaceable derailleur hanger. Extra crisp shifting though.

Other aspects of the Classics Edition Domane are what you may well expect from Trek: the BB90 bottom bracket standard, the E2 tapered head tube, their quite clever “ride tuned” seat mast system, OCLV carbon, and tidy internal routed cables.

Ordering my bike through Project One, I selected a matte black finish to keep things simple, a SRAM Force 22 kit, and a bevy of Bontrager bits to round out the build, including the XXX stem, RXL bars, XXX Paradigm saddle, and RXL TLR wheels—tubeless ready offerings from Bontrager that I knew were top flight (I raced a pair two years ago for cyclocross season and they were bombproof). After ordering, I sat back for two months and waited. And the wait was worth it.

I'm old enough to remember when every bike had a head badge.

I’m old enough to remember when every bike had a head badge.

The Classics Edition Domane is a revelation in terms of ride.

The geometry of the bike as it relates to fit works particularly well for me in the size 56 that I selected. I can get all my contact points in the same place relative to the bottom bracket as I have them on my personal bike. So switching between bikes was a non-issue as there was virtually nothing to get used to aside from the road manners of one bike versus another.

Of course, I ended up loving the Classics Edition Domane’s feel. The bike sports the familiar longer wheelbase of bikes in the “endurance road bike” category. That feature alone would give most bikes some measure of added comfort. The bike also has a lower than normal fork rake compared to a typically “neutral” bike. This renders the bike quite stable at lower speeds over rougher roads—perfect for cobblestones–and demands more aggressive turn input from the rider at higher speeds, a characteristic I like. The lower bottom bracket drop sets the center of gravity lower, which also adds to the stable feel. Add the IsoSpeed decoupler, which adds a noticeable measure of compliance to the rear end, and you have the makings of a true all-day racer. It’s not too surprising that Cancellara chooses to ride this bike in nearly every setting, despite having access to the Madone, and now the Emonda, as well.

Not the soft handling you'd expect from an "endurance road bike."

Not the soft handling you’d expect from an “endurance road bike.”

On the road the Classics Edition felt much like the stock Domane I rode last year. Looking over my notes from both bikes, I made the same remarks—smooth, comfortable, pretty stable, traction, not happy on Terrace Mountain, 3 hours NBD. The fit for the Classics Edition is more to my liking, but the ride wasn’t all that noticeably different aside from the front end, which was welcome. The Classics Edition fork sports a lower trail number than the stock Domane, 5.1 cm versus 6.1 cm, in my size 56 cm bike. That means it retains much of the straight line stability of the stock geometry, but handles appreciably better–at least to me–at higher speeds. These are hairs we’re talking about splitting, but ride a bike enough and you start to see these things in terms of how and where you ride the most.

But it’s not just an all-day bike. The Classics Edition Domane faired fine at criteriums. I didn’t race the stock Domane I tried last year since, well, the shop’s rental department frowns on that. So I was anxious to put the Classics Edition to the test. The aggressive position translated to great feel in terms of weight balance on the bike. And an added measure of care was taken on a few turns because of the lower bottom bracket as I wasn’t interested in clipping a pedal on the ground. Aside from that, the bike behaved similarly to the Specialized Tarmac Pro that I rode last year. Fast, easily maneuverable, confident. Like a race bike.

Climbing the very steepest pitches is still the weak spot of the Domane, even in the Classics Edition livery. It’s not to say it can’t be done or that it’s awful. But the bike—even sitting at 16 pounds—isn’t the snappy ascender the Tarmac or other bikes with shorter wheelbases seem to be.

It’s no matter though. The Classics Edition Doamne’s overall performance for the majority of my rides and a handful of races makes it a podium contender in my book. As a Project One bike, you can spec it out nearly anyway you can imagine with any build you can think of. Mostly at home on longer rides over rougher roads (re: nearly any road around Central Texas) it’s a capable crit racer and an able if not overly eager climber.

Maybe if I don’t say anything I won’t have to give this demo back.

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