2020 Trek Domane goes all-in on all-road versatility: First-ride review

by James Huang


The new third-generation Trek Domane is a far cry from the endurance road bike it was when it first debuted in 2012. The Domane was once more of a toned-down road bike with ultra-stable handling, a very relaxed rider position, and semi-wide tires — this new one is a thoroughly refined all-road machine with gobs of tire clearance, an even more refined ride quality, a T47 threaded bottom bracket, and some neat convenience features.

It’s heavier, too, but don’t let that detract too much from what’s on tap here. It’s a cracking machine for everyday road riding — whatever that “road” may look like.


“What was traditional road riding is changing”

That’s how Trek kicked off its presentation of the new Domane, and that statement is certainly an accurate reflection of how road riding has evolved in recent years: less racing, more exploration, less tarmac, more “off-piste” routes that are less perfectly paved (or paved at all, in some cases), but devoid of motorized vehicular traffic.

That shift away from pristine blacktop has brought with it a desire for road bikes that are better equipped to handle a broader range of road surfaces, and this new Domane has clearly been developed with that in mind.

The new Domane SLR is a beautiful machine, from any angle.

First and foremost, consider the tire size. The original Domane came with 25mm-wide tires, but the new Domane has 32mm-wide ones as standard equipment, with Trek’s official blessing for tires up to 38mm-wide front and rear. When fenders are installed to the neatly hidden mounts, that figure creeps down to a still-generous 35mm.

As expected, Trek has also brought the Top Tube IsoSpeed design from the latest Madone over to the Domane family for a smoother and more refined ride. Like every IsoSpeed design since its inception, Top Tube IsoSpeed features a pivot at the intersection of the seat tube and top tube, which allows the seat tube to flex independently of the rest of the frame when riding on rough roads, basically adding a leaf-spring element to what is otherwise effectively a rigid structure.

There is heaps of tire clearance through the fork crown. This is a 28c tire pictured here (on a rim with a 21mm internal width), and Trek officially approves tires up to 38mm across.

But whereas the original IsoSpeed still relied on the entire seat tube to flex, Top Tube IsoSpeed splits the seat tube in two, with the upper portion forming a boomerang-like component, with the forward section braced underneath the top tube; the lower part of the seat tube is now wholly fixed in place.

According to Trek, Top Tube IsoSpeed allows for more discrete tuning between frame stiffness and ride comfort than the original IsoSpeed design. And since the length of the section of the boomerang that resides beneath the top tube — the leaf-spring component — can be varied independently of frame size, it can be engineered to provide an inherently softer ride for smaller frame sizes.

Before, the opposite was true: bigger frames have longer seat tubes, and since leaf springs get softer with increased length, taller riders instead got a bouncier ride than was considered optimal, and shorter riders got a firmer one.

The stiffness of Top Tube IsoSpeed is also adjustable for further fine-tuning, and there’s a built-in damper hidden inside the seat tube to make the movement more controlled, too. Granted, the latest incarnation of IsoSpeed on the second-generation Domane SLR was size-specific, too, but the one on the Domane SL was not, and neither was damped like this one is.

Unfortunately, Top Tube IsoSpeed will be limited to the upper-end Domane SLR family; the Domane SL continues on with the original, non-adjustable design. Both still include the Front IsoSpeed feature, though, which takes advantage of carbon fiber steerer tube flex to help balance the ride quality up front, too. Bontrager comfort-focused IsoCore and IsoFlex handlebars are featured throughout as well.

There’s similarly ample room out back, and down below.

In another nod to how road bikes are changing, you won’t find any rim brakes at all on any new carbon fiber Domane, even on bare framesets or custom bikes ordered through Trek’s Project One program. Rim brakes will only be available on older aluminum models.

Lots of small refinements — including T47 threaded bottom brackets

Trek had already introduced its interpretation of T47 threaded bottom brackets on its recently revamped cyclocross bikes, but it’s now on every new Domane, too. Trek is sticking to its 85.5mm shell width for better tool engagement (this iteration of T47 was originally designed around a 86.5mm-wide shell), but even with that slight compatibility qualifier, it should still be a big improvement over Trek’s proprietary BB90 press-fit setup in terms of serviceability and resistance to creaking.

Down below is a threaded T47 bottom bracket. It adds a few grams to Trek’s outgoing BB90 press-fit system, but should be far easier to service and less prone to creaking.

Perhaps borrowing a page from Specialized’s playbook, all of the new carbon fiber Domanes also get a handy storage compartment in the down tube. The bottle cage mount there is attached to a removable hatch that’s accessed with a small lever. Directly attached to that cover is a holder for a multi-tool, and inside the down tube is a nylon tool roll that’s big enough to hold a spare tube, CO2 cartridge and inflator head, and one or two tire levers. There’s perhaps enough room inside for other essentials — maybe even some snacks or a vest — although you’ll obviously want to be pretty careful what you try to stuff in there.

The internal cable routing is a bit more refined than before, with the entry point moved to the top tube, just behind the stem — not unlike several of Cervelo’s S-series aero bikes. Full-length housing is used throughout, too, which will invariably require careful setup for optimal brake and derailleur function, but should also be easier for mechanics to initially install. Housing clips inside the down tube (accessible through the aforementioned storage hatch) will prevent annoying rattling.

Hidden underneath the down tube bottle mount is a new internal storage compartment. A multi-tool holder is built into the hatch cover, but the tool itself isn’t included with the bike. There’s also no chain tool to be found.

Clutter around the top tube housing entry point is minimized with a small plastic clip underneath the stem. And speaking of which, Trek has avoided the temptation to fit the new Domane with any sort of proprietary cockpit; just about any handlebar and stem will work.

Other notable details include a seatpost head that wedges itself inside the no-cut extended seat tube (previous Domane seatmast heads clamped to the outside of the tube), optional integrated front and rear accessory mounts for computers and lights, a built-in chain watcher, a pocket in the non-driveside chainstay for Bontrager’s long-standing DuoTrap wireless speed and cadence sensor, and removable handles on the 12mm DT Swiss front and rear thru-axles.

Faster in the wind, but also heavier

Trek says that aerodynamic shaping borrowed from the Madone has made the new bike a bit faster than before, to the tune of about minute per hour (speed wasn’t specified). Will the typical Domane buyer really care about that much? Not likely, but it’s a neat factoid regardless.

More noticeable is the fact that the new Domane frames are stiffer than before, owing to the new Top Tube IsoSpeed design and the far more bulbous front ends that are required to accommodate the revised internal cable routing configurations.

How fat is the new top tube? By itself, it doesn’t look out of proportion. But compare it to the stem and steerer tube, and it suddenly becomes more obvious just how big it is now.

Both of those things should make the new Domane a faster machine than before, and when combined with the expanded versatility and newfound capability, it’s all shaping up to be quite the compelling case. But the improvements in those areas also come with a step backward in another one: weight. According to Trek, a new complete Domane bike will be, on average, about 200g (0.44lb) heavier than its predecessor, with about half of that attributable to the frameset, and the rest to the ancillary bits: wider tires, wider rims, the down tube storage box, etc.

Claimed weight is 1,235g for a painted 56cm frame and fork, including “all frame hardware, IsoSpeed hardware, and storage.” Add another 30g for the Domane SL variant.

The logo on the down tube is still rather large, but nowhere near as billboard-like as what’s found on the Madone.

For the sake of comparison, a 52cm first-generation Domane I rode in 2012 with a Shimano mechanical Dura-Ace 7900 rim-brake groupset, Bontrager carbon clinchers, and 25mm-wide tires tipped the scales at just 7.01kg (15.45lb) without pedals. A 52cm second-generation Domane SLR I rode in 2016 with a mechanical Shimano Ultegra 6800 drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes, and aluminum clinchers came in at 8.31kg (18.32lb) without pedals. A 56cm third-generation Domane SLR comes in at 8.17kg (18.01lb) as pictured here.

Granted, some of that heft is attributable to the larger frame size (I weighed a cleaner photo sample here, rather than the bike I rode at the event), but that SRAM Red eTap AXS groupset and the new Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 carbon clinchers are far lighter than what came on the Domane that I rode a few years ago.

All of the carbon fiber Domane models are disc-only. Thru-axles have removable handles for a flush appearance should you want it.

Without question, the Domane has gotten heavier over time.

“For this bike especially, we really focused on the ride experience and the ride, and so instead of focusing on numbers, we wanted to be able to present riders with what we thought was the best possible ride for the majority of rides that people actually do,” said Trek road bike director Jordan Roessingh. “As we started going through the development path of that, it included added bigger-volume tires, and adding technologies like [Top Tube] IsoSpeed. All of those incrementally, we believe, improve the ride to the point that, when you’re actually on the bike and feeling it, it’s a better total package.

“We know that, a lot of the times, we all focus on weight — ourselves included — and we have one of the lightest production road bikes on the market in the Emonda, but [weight] is not the end-all-be-all of what creates a great ride.”

How much does a couple hundred grams really matter in the grand scheme of things? That depends on your perspective, of course, but Trek is clearly hoping that potential buyers will see things their way.

Goodbye to women-specific geometry, hello to more sizes in general

Trek was one of the earliest proponents of women-specific frame geometry with its WSD (Women Specific Design) range, citing the usual claimed differences of longer legs, shorter torsos, and shorter arms for a given height. But as other companies that collect a broad swath of rider data through in-house fit programs are now discovering, it turns out that those so-called inherent differences aren’t so inherent, and the old United States Army anthropomorphic study on which so many companies based their women-specific programs wasn’t nearly as indicative as originally thought when it comes to how people sit on their bikes.

Dropped seatstays are usually employed as a means to improve ride quality and enhance aerodynamic performance. But the latter isn’t a big priority here, and the Top Tube IsoSpeed mechanism essentially takes the seatstays out of the ride quality equation, anyway.

For sure, Trek maintains that there are still subtle differences, but that the scope of those differences between men and women aren’t any greater than they are within these sexes.

As a result, Trek is going back to a unisex format for all Domane models moving forward. Each of those will have a wider range of sizes — particularly at the low end, down to 44cm — and there are more color options across the board to suit differing aesthetic tastes. This is similar to what Specialized has done in recent years, although interestingly, the opposite of Canyon’s approach with the WMN line that was introduced in 2017.

The internally routed cables now enter the frame just behind the stem. It seems a bit wonky at first, but is actually quite clean-looking in person.

That said, spec on smaller models will still reflect what buyers favored on previous WSD models, at least in terms of handlebar width and reach, short-reach levers where available, and dedicated saddle widths.

Frame geometry is wholly carried over from before, with the same “H3” fit used on the second-generation Domane range, which is noteworthy given the increase in tire clearance. This means a ground-scraping 80mm of bottom bracket drop for a more stable feel, relaxed angles, and fairly upright positioning, all of which are conducive to everyday riders spending long hours in the saddle.

Riders that want the comfort and versatility features of the new Domane, but with a more aggressive fit and feel, aren’t left in the cold, though. Those buyers can look to the optional Pro Endurance, or “H1.5”, geometry. These bikes feature similar handling characteristics to the standard Domanes, but with far more aggressive fits that are cut-and-pasted from the standard-issue Madone. On average, stack dimensions are about 4.5cm lower on the Pro Endurance Domane models than the regular ones.

The Pro Endurance Domane will only be offered through Trek’s Project One custom program, and only down to the 54cm frame size (since it’s a geometry that was developed for the team’s cobbled classics riders, all of whom are taller in stature).

Models, pricing, and availability

Trek will split the new Domane in two different carbon fiber versions.

Domane SLR bikes are built with Trek’s top-end OCLV 700-series carbon fiber and the new Top Tube IsoSpeed layout, while the Domane SL is built with heavier OCLV 500-series carbon fiber and carries on with the original IsoSpeed design. Both will share all the other new features, though, and will also use the same geometry. The Pro Endurance version will only be available in the Domane SLR variant.

Trek will offer the Domane SLR in at least three build kits, depending on region, ranging from US$7,800 / €7,000 up to US$11,300 / €10,500. The Domane SL will be available in at least five builds, ranging from US$2,500 / €2,300 up to US$6,200 / €5,800. All of the new bikes should be in stock at dealers immediately worldwide, and there’s also a bare Domane SLR frameset available as well. Project One builds will commence some time in August.

UK and Australian retail pricing is to be confirmed.

Putting the new Domane to the test

Trek launched the new Domane just outside of Venice, Italy, and I flew down there on my way home from the Tour de France to check things out. Needless to say, the area is renowned for its high-quality road riding, and this latest visit only reinforced my previous experiences in the region.

My test bike was a top-spec Domane SLR, custom configured with SRAM’s new Red eTap AXS wireless groupset, Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 medium-section carbon clincher, 28mm-wide Bontrager R4 Classics tires (with inner tubes), a Bontrager IsoCore Pro carbon fiber bar, and a carbon-railed Bontrager Arvada Pro saddle.

I wouldn’t describe the Domane SLR’s handling as “nimble”, but rather “planted” and “deliberate”. It’ll carve a tight line when needed, but you have to tell it to do so, not ask nicely. Image: Geoff Waugh.

So-called “tests” like these are always difficult to parse, though: new bike, unfamiliar roads, too many variables to draw any truly significant conclusions. But that said, 65km (40 miles) of distance and 1,000m (3,500ft) of climbing can still provide some decent first impressions.

Without question, the new Domane SLR is a seriously smooth-riding machine, and it manages to achieve that feat while maintaining a fairly traditional aesthetic. There are no dropped seatstays, no suspension elements that are obvious to the casual onlooker, no ostentatious feature call-outs in the graphics. It just works, and extremely well at that.

Despite running modestly wide 28mm tires at 70psi, it’s obvious that the Top Tube IsoSpeed feature does what it’s supposed to. Merely adjusting the stiffness slider between the softest and firmest settings provides ample evidence of its effectiveness at taming pavement cracks and unexpected potholes. The more damped movement relative to the previous Domane was noticeable, too, with a generally more composed feel out back when pedaling on smooth tarmac.

My test bike was equipped with 28mm-wide Bontrager R4 Classics clinchers, perhaps in an effort to give the bike a more sporting feel on tarmac.

Overall ride quality still isn’t completely balanced front-to-rear, but it’s hardly objectionable, and the Front IsoSpeed feature also clearly works as intended. Push down hard on the handlebar and you can see the top of the steerer tube moving a bit fore and aft.

In terms of fit, the new Domane is likely to be just as personal a choice as before. I personally would have preferred a more aggressive riding posture — a 54cm Pro Endurance build may be in my future — but the H3 fit is bound to be just as widely agreeable as it was before, and I was able to get close enough with a 120mm-long stem slammed atop the headset cover.

No dropped seatstays to be found here, folks.

The handling might likewise be a little lazy to some, but it exudes confidence at higher speeds, and is still plenty capable of navigating a sinuous descent provided you’re willing to lean it over enough. If anything, the pseudo-suspension of the Domane SLR feels notably planted in those situations, and seems to actively encourage you to push the limits of cornering traction. The Domane SLR is no crit racer, but it’s not exactly averse to carving a mean corner when you ask it to.

And did I notice the extra mass here? Can’t say I did, at least not in this group-riding situation, but I’m about to place an order for my long-term sample, so we’ll see how things shake out later on.

Time for an upgrade? It depends

I have to say that I left the launch feeling very impressed by what Trek has done here, and I applaud the courage it took to be willing to eat that weight penalty in the name of ride quality, capability, and versatility. The new Domane SLR is clearly just as good on-road as its predecessor, but with a subtly more refined feel, more options for where you can enjoy that performance, and a more modern look, too.

Should you run out and get one? If you’re already on a second-generation Domane SLR, I’d have to say probably not, unless you’ve previously found yourself unable to ride somewhere solely on account of limited tire volume. The ride on the new bike is better, and it does look better, but it’s not a sufficiently significant performance improvement to justify the expense, and what you have is already really good.

If you’ve been thinking about a new all-road bike and holding out as one of the skeptics of Trek’s IsoSpeed concept in general, though, feel free to quit sitting on your hands and just go ride one already. IsoSpeed has never been an empty gimmick, and this latest incarnation sure does seem to be Trek’s best interpretation to date.

I’m certainly looking forward to spending more time on one.

www.trekbikes.com

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