You will make a lot of friends riding the Trek Domane 2.3. It’s a popularity booster.
You’ll find that people are eager to know if you’re going out with the local chain gang at weekends or if you want to join them on midweek training runs. I’ll come back to this in a minute, but first we ought to have a quick recap on the technology involved in the Domane (a name that is pronounced to rhyme with Cannondale sprinter Elia Viviani).
It’s not very often that you find something genuinely different in frame design. The odd new aero shape crops up here and there, and we are frequently informed of a groundbreaking lay-up process hidden beneath a frame’s paintjob, but it’s rare to have something quite as radical as the IsoSpeed decoupler.
The theory behind it is very appealing; where the seat tube and top tube meet, the junction is formed by a bearing which allows the two pieces of (in this case) aluminium to move independently of one another. The idea is that the seat tube can flex, thereby increasing comfort, but the flex won’t affect the stiffness, and therefore power transfer, of the rest of the frame. It’s a pleasingly simple idea really.
The stiffness part of the equation is at least as important to Trek as the flex part, because this was apparently designed as a race bike to complement the Madone (crossword fans will have realised that Domane is an anagram of Madone) rather than simply a comfort or touring model.
Fabian Cancellara certainly didn’t seem to be sprinting on a wet noodle of a frame when he powered past Sep Vanmarcke in the Roubaix velodrome in April and, as if to prove its versatility, he has also used a Domane on plenty of races that go nowhere near any cobbles.
However, this is the cheaper (although not cheap) aluminium version and it has to be said that we didn’t really think about pinning a number to our back when we first clapped eyes on the ‘endurance geometry’ of our 60cm test bike, which has a gargantuan 22cm head tube and slightly ungainly proportions as a result.
Any lingering thoughts of competing got up and left when we picked up the 2.3 to have the customary cursory feel of the weight — this is not a light bike.
A closer inspection of the frame did, however, reveal the neat addition of integrated mudguard eyelets just above the dropouts on the forks and seatstays, making this ideal for the inclement British weather that seems to prevail for 11 and a half months of the year. Lovely squishy gel cork tape, specifically curved Domane forks and 25mm tyres also ought to help on the comfort front so perhaps it should be treated as more of a long distance tourer after all.
The obvious inclination once you’ve swung a leg over the broad, flat top tube is to ride along looking for serious bumps to try out the IsoSpeed decoupler on.
But before you find the big bumps, you’ll notice that the little bumps aren’t filtered out quite like you might expect from something built with a bit of comfort in mind. Home in on sunken manhole covers or a farm track (yes, I did have to lift it over a stile at one point during a test ride) and you’ll discover that the edge is softened a little over bigger bumps, but most of the time we felt there was as much flex from the carbon seatpost as from the IsoSpeed decoupler. The aluminium certainly doesn’t make for a featherbed ride.
The second half of the Domane equation is more successful, however. Get up out of the saddle and there is a lovely feeling of a strong platform on which to put in a big effort, with no feeling of flex through the large bottom bracket. The downside is that if you’re sprinting or climbing out of the saddle rather than holding speed on the flat then you really do notice the weight. Uphill progress feels about as draggy as if you’d chucked an anchor out behind you.
What does help on hills is the gearset. There is a straightforward Shimano 105 compact 50-34 pairing up front, but at the back the Tiagra cassette has a sprawling 12-30 range of sprockets. While this can leave some daunting jumps between ratios, the 30 is so large that for most rides you could quite easily ditch the 34-tooth on the front altogether and simply run a 1×10 style mountain bike set-up.
It certainly banishes any need for a triple. Downhill you get nice secure handling from the slightly longer wheelbase and a bit of extra security from the larger tyres too. Ride the Domane 2.3 through winter and I'm sure you'd come out with stronger legs simply from lugging it around, but it isn't a bike that we ever really looked forward to riding. As mentioned at the beginning, however, you will make a lot of friends if you ride one. Despite having the stem slammed as low onto the head tube as it would go and spending a disproportionate amount of time on the drops, my friend Doug still likened drafting me as akin to sitting behind a Honda Goldwing. 'It's lovely' he admitted after one ride. 'I've never felt so sheltered.'Not a glowing report for the aluminium Domane then. From previous tests we know that the comfort side of the IsoSpeed design does work well on the carbon-framed versions, so we'd suggest spending an extra £300 to leap one rung up the Trek ladder and get the carbon-framed Domane 4.0, which should also be a little more hill-friendly.