Most readers will be familiar with Trek. The company was born in 1976, when Dick Burke and Bevel Hogg started with steel touring frames, and by 1982, they were manufacturing their own road bikes. The company’s subsequent growth was assisted first by the mountain biking boom of the late-80s and early-90s, then, by its early adoption of carbon fibre, followed by the success of Lance Armstrong at the Tour de France.
The company still operates a manufacturing facility in Waterloo, Wisconsin in addition to partnering with Asian manufacturers. All of Trek’s high-end 6 and 7 series road bikes are manufactured by the Waterloo facility, which also houses Trek’s research and development operations.
Trek’s road bike range is separated into two broad categories: Performace Road versus Endurance Road. The Madone populates the majority of the Performance Road category in which there are six models (2-7 Series). Likewise, the Domane accounts for the majority of the Endurance Road category in which there are four models (2, 4, 5, 6 Series).
The price and specifications for each model increase with the series number, such that a 2 Series Madone costs $1,599 compared to more than $14,000 for a custom-painted and -specified 7 Series Madone. Pricing for the Domane is similar, starting at $1,799 for a 2 Series and rising to over $14,000 for a custom 6 Series Domane.
For this review, Trek Australia supplied a Madone 5.9 and a Domane 5.9. The two bikes share the same price ($4,999) and essentially the same build kit (11-speed Ultegra Di2 with Bontrager wheels), but they are designed with very different intentions: the Madone is a race-ready rig offering pro-level performance, while the Domane promises all-day comfort, regardless of the terrain.
Before the ride
The 5 Series Madone and Domane are both made in Asia using Trek’s 500 Series OCLV carbon. This blend sits in the middle of the range of five OCLV blends utilised by Trek and is described as the best available outside of the USA.
Trek offers a variety of builds for its higher series (4 and above) road bikes and for the 5 Series, there are four builds for the Madone and three for the Domane. Buyers prepared to spend $4,999 for a Madone 5.9 can have the bike with mechanical Dura Ace, Ultegra Di2, or SRAM Red, while the Domane 5.9 is available with either mechanical Dura Ace or Ultegra Di2.
Bontrager supplies the same suite of parts for each 5.9 Series build. The Madone gets Race Lite Aero handlebars, Race X Lite stem, Race Lite wheels with R3 Hard-Case Lite tyres, an Affinity Race Lite saddle that features hollow titanium rails, and Speed Limited direct-mount brake calipers. The Domane shares the same wheels, tyres, saddle and stem, but uses Bontrager’s Race Lite IsoZone bars and Shimano’s Ultegra brake calipers.
The Madone has reasonably aggressive race geometry moderated by Trek’s H2 fit, which utilises a taller head tube compared to its pro-level H1 fit. The Domane has an even taller headtube and relatively shorter top tube for every frame size, as shown in the charts below:
Another 0.7-0.8cm can be added to the stack of the Domane thanks to a lower bottom bracket (Madone BB drop 6.8 to 7.2cm compared to 7.5 to 8.0cm for the Domane). For more details, see the complete geometry tables for the Madone and Domane.
The Domane is further distinguished from the Madone by its IsoSpeed decoupler, a hinge that anchors the seat tube to the top tube of the frame. This hinge allows the seat tube to flex under load, providing a small amount of travel for the seat, and thus, a measure of shock absorption. As a result, Trek promises a lot more comfort for the Domane rider compared to the Madone.
The design of the Madone focuses on aerodynamics instead. The cables are tucked away in the handlebars and frame, while the rear brake has been relocated to the underside of the chainstays. Both front and rear brakes mount directly to the frame like cantilevers on a mountain bike (or CX bike). The new direct-mount design allows the brake caliper arms to hug the frame and forks to minimise aerodynamic drag.
The Domane and Madone are finished with a handful of thoughtful touches that enhance the utility of each bike. Trek’s DuoTrap (a speed and cadence sensor that will connect via ANT+ to any compatible device including Trek’s own bike computers) is installed in the left chainstay. Both bikes have an integrated chainguide that mounts directly to the frame below the front derailleur.
The quick release for the out-of-reach rear brake is integrated into the cable stop at the head tube of the Madone, while the Domane is equipped with hidden bolts for mounting front and rear fenders. And extra attention to detail ensures the headset spacers match both the colour and finish of the stem and headset cap for each bike.
It is worth noting that the 11-speed Ultegra Di2 groupset misses out on Shimano’s new internal battery and is powered by the Shimano’s familiar (and heavier) external Di2 battery. Both frames are equipped with direct mounts for the battery under the bottom bracket, so they are tucked out of the way to some degree, though for the Madone, it adds to the clutter around the rear caliper.
Each 5 Series build is finished impeccably with a distinctive colourway. The Madone Ultegra Di2 build is gloss white (“Crystal White”) and pearlescent black (“Starry Night Black”) while the Domane is matte black with turquoise (“Leopard Blue”) highlights.
Total weight for size 56 Madone is 7.45kg (sans pedals and bottle cages) compared to 7.49kg for the Domane in same size. As mentioned above, the Series 5.9 bikes retail for $4,999 in Australia. For more details, visit the Trek Australia website.
After the ride
I was impressed with the presentation of each bike and the attention to detail. My eye preferred the racier lines of the Madone compared to the hunched stance of the Domane, but I was intrigued by the IsoSpeed decoupler. My initial approach was to ride both bikes over the same route on consecutive days to get a feel for the strengths and weaknesses of each bike, but I abandoned that idea after my first ride on each bike.
In short, the Madone and the Domane are distinctive bikes and there was no point in trying to compare them. One is not a variation on the other, and deciding on their suitability and appeal is a matter of determining where your priorities lie: try a Madone if you have a need for speed, and take a look at the Domane if you have an eye for challenging terrain.
The Domane’s IsoSpeed decoupler is very effective, providing substantial travel for the saddle. Yes, it will smooth out road buzz and chatter through the saddle, but the Domane has more capability than that. Think cobbles, rocks and gravel, the sort of terrain where a road bike (like the Madone) really should not be ridden. That is where the Domane really shines.
Any rider that has ridden a suspension bike will immediately understand the shortcomings of the Domane’s “suspension”. With no lockout, the travel has the potential to undermine the efficiency of the bike when it is needed on the road. And that is exactly what I experienced.
On smooth tarmac, I found myself bobbing on the bike and losing momentum with every pedal stroke. The effect was very much like riding on a soft rear tyre: bearable if you’re making your way out to an enjoyable trail, maddening if you’re trying to stay in contact with the bunch.
The suppleness of the Domane’s seat tube contrasts markedly with the stiffness of the bottom bracket and chainstays. Rising out of the saddle, the plush ride disappears altogether and the Domane transforms into an efficient climbing and sprinting machine. Very little effort is wasted on the bike under these circumstances.
Similarly, the front end of the bike is surprisingly rigid. I’m sure this helped with the steering and handling of the bike, but my hands could feel plenty of chatter while my backside was completely cushioned. Ultimately, the bike felt unbalanced on rough trails, though my weight distribution may have had an influence.
I ride with the majority of my weight over the back wheel, which unweights the front end, so in this instance my position may have accentuated the rear travel of Domane and increased my susceptibility to chatter through the handlebars.
The Domane proved very stable on and off the road. On the road, the steering tended to be slow and suffered understeer through sharp corners, but off-road, it stopped the front wheel from crabbing, enhancing its sure-footedness through dusty bends. The lower bottom bracket also added to the stability of the bike, and overall the handling was well suited to challenging terrain.
My only disappointment with the Domane 5.9 was that Trek did not supply the bike with tubeless tyres. With the rest of the bike’s design, specifications, and marketing heavily biased towards challenging terrain and/or off-road use, Bontrager’s excellent TLR R3 tyres would have been a thoughtful addition to the Domane.
The Ultegra Di2 groupset worked as expected, shifting and braking was both reliable and excellent. The Bontrager Affinity saddle was something of any oddity in today’s road bike market. Where so many brands seem to specify narrow saddles, Trek has opted for a wide saddle, and that should improve its appeal. The compact handlebars should also enjoy the same appeal though the drops have a very tight radius, so riders with large hands may find them difficult to grip.
The Madone was an easy bike to like. It does everything well: the stiff bottom bracket and chain stays offer efficient acceleration and respond perfectly to efforts out of the saddle. And yet the frame was comfortable on all road surfaces — the steering was stable and predictable, though the bike never hesitated when pushed aggressively through corners. Trek’s marketing emphasises the Madone’s racing pedigree and I agree — this bike offers plenty of race-oriented performance.
The Madone promises a reduction in aerodynamic drag comparable to a Cervelo S5 and a Specialized Venge but independent testing suggests that it is trumped by other aero bikes, such as Giant’s Propel or BH’s G6. Out in the real world, such gains are difficult to perceive, but in my hands, the Madone was an easy bike to keep going.
Off the rack, the Madone 5.9 will appeal to enthusiasts with an eye for an upgrade in performance, whether they are racing or not. The geometry tends towards an aggressive race fit, however hardened racers are likely to find more appeal in the 6 and 7 Series Madone that offers the more aggressive H1 fit and a lighter frameset.
The Bontrager Race Lite wheelset was a versatile performer, and suited the Madone 5.9 as much as the Domane 5.9. The rims are wide (23mm) making for a comfortable ride, and the overall weight (sub-1,600g) helped acceleration and climbing. If cost is no hurdle, then an aerodynamic wheelset such as Bontrager’s Aeolus 3 wheels will suit the Madone beautifully.
There was just one shortcoming with the Madone 5.9: the brake calipers undermined the otherwise impressive performance of the bike. Supplied by Bontrager, the direct-mount calipers blend into the frame and forks, but they performed poorly when compared to the Ultegra calipers on the Domane 5.9.
The front caliper was too heavy to operate, requiring considerable effort; power modulation was also lacking. In contrast, the rear caliper offered a much lighter touch, and while there was good modulation, it lacked power. At present, there is only one aftermarket choice for direct-mount brakes — Shimano — but it performs well and there is a choice between Ultegra and Dura Ace (with a 105 version to be released later this year).
The rest of the build performed well, as noted above for the Domane. The Race Lite Aero bars have very flat tops — like spatulas — but they were comfortable to hold on to, while the drops shared the same tight radius as the bars on the Domane.
I’d be tempted to swap out the white tyres, saddle and bar tape once they started to get grubby, perhaps experimenting with parts that were black with white stripes. I’m still impressed by the ergonomics of Shimano’s Di2 levers, and still frustrated by the lack of feedback offered by the shift buttons.
Final thoughts and summary
On the basis of building materials and specifications alone, the Madone 5.9 and Domane 5.9 are priced at the upper end of the market, though they both benefit from a superb finish with thoughtful touches.
Trek has distilled all of its road racing experience into the design of the Madone, and then developed a mid-level blend of OCLV that offers a good balance between performance, weight and affordability to yield the 5 Series. The Madone 5.9 performs well in every regard and offers racing performance without an aggressive race fit, though the brake calipers undermine the final product to some degree.
At first sight, the Domane appears to be Trek’s road bike for everybody else. The bike has a relaxed fit that will appeal to enthusiasts and there is the promise of more comfort. The Domane’s rear “suspension” definitely works, but the amount of “travel” on offer is better suited to challenging terrain such as semi-groomed trails or gravel rather than dampening road buzz. Some riders will revel in the extra comfort, but equally, some may be frustrated by the loss in pedalling efficiency when riding on the road.
- Madone: Great finish, versatile, race-oriented performance, three builds to choose from
- Domane: Isospeed works well, stiff and responsive out of the saddle, two builds to choose from
- Madone: Brake calipers, heavy external battery
- Domane: Inefficient on the road, front end is too stiff, heavy external battery