Trek Domane AL Disc 4 review: An astounding and affordable all-roader
Trek's new entry-level road bike combines an endurance fit with sporty handling and a whole bunch of versatility.
Trek's new entry-level road bike combines an endurance fit with sporty handling and a whole bunch of versatility.
I simply love that some of the most interesting and versatile road bikes on the market currently sit at the budget end of the spectrum. And that’s exactly the case for Trek’s new Domane AL Disc, an all-road-esq bike based around a budget-minded aluminium frame.
Much like Trek’s more premium carbon fibre Domane offerings, this new aluminium version aims to offer plenty of versatility via combining (super-)wide tyre clearance with a comfortable fit and a sporty road-bike feel.
Put another way, the new Domane AL Disc slips snugly in between two other aluminium drop bar bikes in Trek’s range. There’s the more expensive, road-focused, and performance-oriented Emonda ALR; and there’s the road-leaning gravel bike that is the Checkpoint AL. And I truly believe a bike like the Domane AL Disc is the right choice if you can’t decide between these two. That of course assumes you can actually find one to buy.
At our recent Field Test the Victorian High Country’s endless alpine roads and gravel paths were the perfect place to cap off our testing of Trek’s latest affordable road bike. Let’s dive in.
Like the Checkpoint AL, the new Domane AL Disc is built with Trek’s Alpha 100-series aluminium. Trek has kept rather quiet about the specifics of this tubing, but effectively it’s the company’s most affordable material blend with simple straight gauge tubes and only minimal smoothing (or none at all) of the welds throughout the frame.
However, while the material may be price-point-oriented, the general construction is still quite impressive. The tubes have been formed into shapes to closely mimic those of the carbon Domane, the top tube is curved and flattened, while the down tube is almost rectangular in shape. Meanwhile, the chainstays have been dimpled to the extreme in order to provide an elegant sufficiency of tyre clearance.
Up front there’s a fork with carbon fibre blades, but the rest of its construction, including the tapered steerer, is aluminium. With a modest build the Domane AL Disc frame and fork aren’t light and you can expect the frame to be well in excess of 1,400 grams. And there’s just no pretending this is a lightweight road bike once you add in a budget-minded build, wide tyres, and disc brakes.
Despite that basic frame construction I was left positively surprised. I had expected a frameset that did almost nothing to assist with ride comfort, and I was wrong. Instead the Domane AL Disc did a respectable job at numbing vibrations and taking the edge off larger impacts.
A big part of that ride quality is the result of a frame that’s more flexible – this bike does have a little more sway in key areas versus more premium offerings. I didn’t find this to impact on handling, but along with the high bike weight it creates a ride that feels less eager to jump forward with bursts of power.
As stock, the Domane AL Disc is fitted with 32 mm tyres, and without question, these go a long way to making the bike feel as smooth as it is.
Impressively the Domane AL Disc can go wider again. Trek officially suggests the frame can fit 35 mm tyres front and rear, just shy of the 38 mm figure it achieves with the latest carbon Domane. But as usual, that quoted figure is on the safe side, so much so that I managed to fit measured 42 mm Continental Terra Trail tyres into the frame front and rear, and the only touching point was the Tiagra front derailleur. And I’d bet a new Shimano GRX front derailleur and matching offset crank would fix this clearance limitation.
The wide tyre clearance is matched with some adventure-friendly mounting points. In addition to the regular two bottle cage mounts inside the frame, there’s a third mount under the down tube. There are mounts for a Bento-type bag on the top tube. There’s a rack mount at the rear in case you plan on commuting or touring. And there are mounting points for full-length fenders front and rear, with the rear using a removable seatstay bridge for a cleaner look in case you only ride in fine weather.
The frame’s front triangle features internal cable routing for a clean look, with those cables then being run externally past the bottom bracket. That bottom bracket is a standard 68 mm English threaded variant, while the regular round 27.2 mm seatpost with external clamp is equally as common and easy to upgrade. Huzzah!
Another neat trick found on many of Trek’s bikes is a space in the left chainstay for an integrated “DuoTrap” speed and cadence sensor. It is, however, sold separately.
Trek offers this bike in seven frame sizes, all of which feature a modern take on a relaxed endurance-type fit. The stack figures offer a less aggressive riding position without placing the handlebars excessively high to negatively impact handling. The reach figures are kept shorter than the status quo which only assists in a more casual fit that should feel comfortable for most and confident once off the tarmac.
Much like Trek’s existing Domane carbon bikes, this budget model offers geometry designed around the use of larger 32 mm tyres which would otherwise raise the bike’s height. This is most evident by the significant 80 mm of bottom bracket drop, a figure that’s lower than many gravel bikes (including Trek’s own Checkpoint).
I found that bottom bracket drop quite noticeable. Where it can feel like you’re sitting on top of a number of endurance-type road bikes, it actually felt like I was in this one. The whole bike just felt lower to the ground, more stable, and more confident through corners. And that lower centre of gravity also made the bike feel like it’s lighter than its actual mass. However, do be careful of the lowered pedal clearance through corners if you’re used to a taller-standing bike.
The head angle (71.3º for a 54 cm size) is also more in line with what you’d expect of a stable gravel bike versus a road bike. However, Trek has matched this with a longer-than-most 53 mm fork offset which helps to speed up the handling. The result sees the trail figure – a good indication of how quickly the bike steers – kept closely comparable to sportier road bikes. For example, the tested 54 cm sample offers a 61 mm trail figure with 32 mm tyres. And despite its wider tyres and relaxed fit, this still feels like a road bike.
That slack head angle, long fork offset, and 420 mm chainstay length all work together to elongate the wheelbase to over a metre. And while the trail figure may be quite sporty, there’s just no hiding the sheer amount of stability on tap here.
The Domane AL Disc loves to go fast, but it just needs just that little more forewarning to get it turning. This somewhat slower attitude is exactly what most newer riders need and the result is likely to be a safer-riding bike. Meanwhile, that added front centre length provides generous toe clearance to the front wheel.
OK, so the new Domane AL Disc ticks a lot of boxes, but it’s worth reiterating that it’s most certainly made to a price, and the needle on the scale will attest to that. With the only carbon fibre on the entire bike found in the front fork blades, this Domane AL Disc 4 (US$1,600 / £1,350.00 /AU$n/a) test sample weighs 10.45 kg without pedals. That’s not at all a small figure for a road-going bike.
Trek offers the same Domane AL Disc frameset in two cheaper models starting from US$1,050 / £800.00 / AU$1,400, however, both of those feature mechanical actuated disc brakes. Those in certain countries will have access to a model priced above the one I tested: the Domane AL Disc 5 which features Shimano 105 shifting and brakes and sells for US$1,800 / £1,600 / AU$n/a.
As tested, the AL Disc 4 features a full Shimano 2×10-speed Tiagra drivetrain and matching hydraulic brakes. And while the groupset is fairly weighty, its shifting and braking performance far surpasses its price point. Shifts are positive, fast and consistent. The affordable components mean that upkeep isn’t painful on the wallet.
Gearing wise there’s an 11-32T cassette at the back, with a compact (50/34T) crank on the front. This is plenty of range for general rolling hills, however there were times that I wanted an even lower gear for getting the weighty bike up excessively steep inclines. It’s worth pointing out that the more expensive Domane Al Disc 5 (with an 11-speed 105 groupset) comes with a 11-34T cassette, and I feel that size is a much better match to a bike rolling on bigger 32 mm tyres. Thankfully the stock Tiagra derailleur can handle an 11-34T cassette and so making the switch is a relatively low-cost upgrade.
The braking performance from the Tiagra hydraulic disc brakes leaves little to complain about. The light lever feel and clear power modulation are significant improvements over the mechanical brakes fitted to cheaper models in Trek’s range. I understand this will upset those who use mechanical disc brakes, but I believe this aspect alone is worth spending more for.
The rest of the build comes from Bontrager, Trek’s own component and accessory brand. All the pieces proved to be well suited and reliable choices for the bike’s intended purpose.
Clearly built to take a beating, the stock wheels are anything but light. I weighed them at 2,270 g for the pair (1,050 g front, 1,220 g rear) which makes them the heaviest road wheelset I’ve seen in recent memory. At the centre are basic cup-and-cone loose ball bearing thru-axle hubs (made by Formula) and straight gauge spokes. On the outside sit aluminium rims with a surprisingly modern 21 mm internal width and tubeless compatibility (required rim strips are sold separately). Weight aside those are two good things.
Those wheels may be tubeless compatible, but the provided Bontrager R1 Hard-Case Lite tyres are not. These feature a wire bead construction, good puncture resistance, and also carry a fair bit of weight in the process (460 g apiece). A bunch of the bike’s testing was done with Continental GP5000 TL 32 mm tyres, and not only did these knock about 200 g from the bike, they provided a noticeably faster-rolling and smoother (as a result of the more supple tyre construction) ride.
I’d say keep the Bontrager tyres if you plan on commuting, touring, or gravel riding with this bike, but consider swapping them out to a more premium offering if you’re seeking speed on the road.
Bontrager’s own alloy handlebar and stem work just fine, although much like I mentioned in our Field Test review of the Emonda SL 6 Pro, I did find that my wrists would contact the top of the handlebar when riding in the drops. Similarly, the provided aluminium seatpost is wonderfully reliable and easy to adjust, however it does nothing to aid in seated comfort. More comfort awaits through an upgrade to an intentionally flexible carbon seatpost.
Bontrager’s own saddle gave little to complain about with a non-offensive shape matched with a good balance of softness and support. And I quite liked the grippy, thick and rubberised bar tape used here.
Finally it’s worth mentioning that the tested Domane AL Disc 4 is available in three frame colours, and even the boring black option isn’t so boring. Kudos to Trek there for keeping things fun for all.
Trek doesn’t have a whole lot of competition in this space at the moment when you consider that enormous tyre clearance, accessible geometry, and the relatively affordable asking price. The obvious competitor is Giant’s Contend AR, a bike I’ve reviewed and praised highly before. There’s also the new Orbea Avant to consider (a bike I tried and failed to get for review). From there the list gets pretty thin, at least for now. I’m betting we’ll see many more options in this versatile all-road space follow in mid-2021.
Despite its significant weight being a shock for the asking price, I really enjoyed riding this bike. It’s proof that good geometry and a decent ride quality matter more than anything else. So much so that I tried to buy the test sample with plans of maxing out the tyre clearance and building myself a go-anywhere thrasher drop-bar bike.
However, those plans were foiled as Trek desperately needed the bike back due to pandemic-based consumer demand. I’ve since heard from a few sources that demand is greatly outpacing supply for the new Domane AL Disc, and that leaves me feeling happy-sad. I’m happy knowing that many likely newer cyclists have already ordered this great bike, but sad to think that many others will miss out.
For more information, visit www.trekbikes.com.