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First Ride: Trek’s Radical Domane

March 31, 2012
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The Domane design is inspired by the classics legend Fabian Cancellara who wanted a more comfortable, efficient ride, without having to sacrifice performance.  

When we got an invite to Kortrijk, Belgium in January for a ‘Trek function’ the very week of Tour of Flanders, it didn’t take any insider info to surmise Trek was finally going to produce a bike for the cobbles. Besides, a year ago Fabian Cancellara was riding the cobbles with strain gauges wired to his bike in order for Trek to measure impact, and thus determine where to focus their attention in order to maximize comfort. Demanding equipment that would give him an edge, Cancellara told Trek, ‘I want to be smoother over the cobbles. But I don’t want to give up anything.’ Trek realized it was going to take more than just an update to the Madone, they needed a whole new bike-the Domane.
The RadioShack-Trek team will be rolling out the Domane for the Tour of Flanders on Sunday. Although, it has already chalked up a win under Cancellara at Strade Bianche earlier this month. 

Going after the success of Specialized’s Roubaix, the Domane is designed with a clear focus on race performance for the rougher roads and cobbles. While the endurance oriented Domane is a compliment to the all-around racing Madone line, sharing the same OCLV process, it differs in that it comes from Asia rather than Waterloo, Wisconsin. Trek Product Manager Ben Coates says, ‘The OCLV technology that Trek developed in Waterloo is used in all of our carbon frames, even the ones coming from our partners overseas. We have a full staff of employees to oversee our proprietary OCLV process outside of Wisconsin to ensure that it meets our standards.’

While Trek still produces the Madone 6 series frames in Wisconsin, it was a little disappointing considering they’re the last major bike brand with U.S. production. The frame is made up of seven different pieces: head tube, top tube, and down tube are all one-piece, as is the seat tube and bottom bracket, in addition to the brake bridge, which includes the IsoSpeed de-coupler. Chainstays and seatstays are all individual pieces. The construction of the frame involves lug-type tube integration, but rather than a traditional lug system Trek uses a longer but thinner male end on the tube, allowing them to keep wall thickness the same between the joint and the rest of the tube in order to spread the stress load across the entire tube. 

With the cover removed you can see the sealed bearing pivot that frees the joint, allowing movement between the seat tube and top tube.

There are three main details that give the Domane the traits Cancellara has been asking for, they are:
1. IsoSpeed-The IsoSpeed top tube/seat tube cluster junction uses a de-coupler designed to move the two tubes apart in order to soften the joint for compliance. Using a pair of sealed bearings between the top tube and seat tube allows the frame to dissipate vibration, so much so that Trek claims the Domane has 100% more compliance than its nearest competitor. The system does not use elastomers or anything of the sort for damping, it’s the de-coupler that allows the seat tube to the vertical movement to achieve the compliance, and thus doesn’t require any type of adjustment or setup.  A carbon fiber piece covers over the bearings to keep dirt out and give it an unobtrusive look. In all, the de-coupler, which is molded into the carbon, adds a mere 50-grams of weight to the claimed 1,050-gram frame (56cm).

The Domane’s fork is able to use an extended rake for better damping due to the reverse dropouts, which bring the wheel back to an ideal offset to give the desired handling. 

A new IsoSpeed fork is designed with an extended rake to allow for more compliance in comparison to the Madone’s fork. The extended rake would normally slow down the bike’s handling and make steering less precise, but Trek gets around this by using rear set dropouts to keep the wheel where they want it for handling, while still getting the fork compliance-all the while getting a 30% boost in stiffness over the Madone’s fork, according to Trek.

In addition to the fork, a new IsoZone handlebar was developed with closed cell foam pads integrated into the handlebar, which is said to reduce vibration by 20%. The pads sit flush with the rest of the handlebar so there is no bulge or added girth that gel pads or double bar tape add. The handlebar comes in two versions, the carbon RXL ($349), which has the pads on the tops as well as the drops, and the aluminum RL ($89). 

The BB90 bottom bracket shell allows for the use of a massively wide down tube in order to get the most stiffness out of the bottom half of the frame. 

2. Power Transfer-Key to keeping the performance one would expect from a race-designed bike, the Domane was designed with efficiency in mind. In comparison to the Madone, the Domane ends up being 9% stiffer in the head tube and 6% stiffer in full frame stiffness. Most of this increase is due to the down tube’s shaping and what we have to assume are updated layups. The Domane sticks with Trek’s BB90 bottom bracket, currently the widest bottom bracket shell being used in the industry. The wide shell allows for a massive downtube to add the rigidity necessary. The Domane also carries over the tapered A2 headtube used on the Madone.
3. Endurance Geometry-Stability was a priority when it came to selecting the geometry. As with Specialized’s popular Roubaix endurance bike, the wheelbase is extended to 10.1cm, 1.8cm longer than the Madone (size 56cm). The longer wheelbase is achieved by using longer chainstays and a more relaxed head tube angle. For added stability, the Domane has a 7.8cm bottom bracket drop, a full 8mm lower than the Madone. The stability this adds is something that is as much a benefit to the non-racing consumers as the pros on RadioShack-Trek. Maybe not the ideal choice for the criterium racers wanting to pedal through the corners, but that’s not exactly the market Trek is going after either. 

The 3S Chainkeeper is good insurance from the hassles of a dropped chain. It mounts to the seat tube via one bolt and weighs about 10 grams. 

Other tidbits
In a true compliment to the folks at K-Edge, chain catchers are all of a sudden the rage. First it was SRAM Red’s integration of a chain catcher into the front derailleur, and now not to be outdone, Trek adds the 3S Chainkeeper to the Domane. The removable aluminum keeper is a great idea, but it’s a mystery as to why it’s taken this long for a major brand to integrate into their frames. Full internal cables for rear brake and derailleurs with a refined routing that keeps them straighter in order to minimize friction, and most important of all, make replacing cables an easier process (thank you Trek). The Domane is already available for purchase through Trek’s Project 1 custom bike program where you get to pick the exact build you’re looking for, in addition to the paint. Complete bikes start around $4,600 for an Ultegra build. Dura-Ace or similar builds will run closer to $8,800. A RadioShack-Trek team version with Dura-Ace Di2 is also available for just shy of $12,000.
The Domane uses Trek’s proprietary ANT+ DuoTrap cadence and wheel sensor. The integration makes for a clean, wire-free computer system. 

The Ride
When in Belgium ride what the Belgians ride?and what is that? Cobbles! We headed out after the bike presentation adorned in our new Bontrager garb to see if the Domane lived up to the marketing hype. On tap was a 65-mile loop taking us through the heart of Flanders and incorporating the Hoogberg, Kwaremont, Paterburg, and of course, the Koppenberg. Three of the four climbs were cobbled-just what I needed for a good first test. The 50-degree and overcast weather was a little chilly for the SoCal in me, but the local ride guides said it was a “beautiful Belgian day”, and who am I to argue with that?

My ride for the launch treated me well during our 4+ hour outing complete with a full Dura-Ace group and Bontrager’s own, including the Aeolus 5.0 carbon clincher wheelset.

As soon as I jumped on the Domane I bounced up and down on the saddle to see what the IsoSpeed de-coupler was all about. To say there’s a noticeable amount of rearward movement when slamming down on the saddle is an understatement. The feel of the compliance was reminiscent of my mountain bike days on a short travel full-suspension bike. While riding along a smooth road there is nothing to notice in terms of seat tube movement, but when we hit our first section of cobbles every single journalist on the ride had the same reaction-this thing really works! I could hit the cobbles at full speed without being thrown to and fro, allowing me to keep the pressure on the pedals without the hits affecting my pedal stroke.
The Koppenberg is one of the more famous climbs of Flanders, and it turned out to be a good test of the Domane’s ability to help get the power to the pedals over rough roads. 
After a couple cobble sectors one thing that stood out was an imbalance between the front and rear of the bike. The rear was unbelievably plush and efficient over the roughest terrain, but the front-end was noticeably harsh in comparison. With that said, I don’t think the front was necessarily any harsher than other endurance oriented bikes I’ve ridden, it’s just much more noticeable when your butt is not being bounced around.
It wouldn’t be Belgium is there weren’t waffles for ride food. You can go all day with these tasty treats. And of course frites for recovery food…

Overall frame rigidity seems to be on par with Trek’s claims of improved stiffness over their Madone. For a longer wheelbase bike it still had good snap when I punched it over the many Vlaanderen climbs. Although it doesn’t 100% match the acceleration of the Madone or other top road race bikes, its benefits on rough terrain (i.e. just about any road in America) are far more valuable for the majority of riders out there who want more comfort than what ‘race bikes’ deliver, but without sacrificing performance. Do you think Cancellara would agree to sacrificing performance-I think not.
One more solid ride is on tap for the Domane, then on Sunday I’ll be watching the pros do the same climbs we did, just at twice our speed. There’s no word on an updated Madone frame as of yet, but with some of the improvements in stiffness made on the Domane, it’s easy to assume we’ll see some cross-over technology coming the Madone’s way sometime soon. 
After hitting the climbs of Flanders most everyone was content to cruise on the way back from Oudenaarde to Kortrijk. 


History buffs might well remember the last time Trek toyed with a special frame damping system was in 2005 with the SPA suspension bikes used at Paris-Roubaix. George Hincapie used his to finish in third place.

The SPA system was comprised of an elastomer bumper positioned in the wishbone rear end (borrowed off a low-end Trek) that was mated to a Madone front triangle.

Here’s a video from Trek on the Domane’s development:


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