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The Future Of Road Bikes? The Trek Domane SLR 9

From Issue 90

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The Trek Domane and its IsoSpeed decoupler initially met skepticism in 2012. How could a bike be more compliant without losing power transfer? But victories at the Tour of Flanders and Paris–Roubaix under Spartacus himself, Fabian Cancellara, quieted the cynics about this technology. Simply put, the tech works—there’s a reason it has found its way across Trek’s line. But the Domane has often felt like a neglected stepchild in the road range, pulled out of the service course for the gnarliest cobbled classics and maybe again for a Tour stage in northern France. The Madone is the slippery aero solution, one of the fastest in the peloton, while the Émonda is a climbing workhorse. What then is the Domane other than a tool for the spring classics? And who is it for?



With the 2020 line, Trek is firmly cementing the Domane as the bike for everyone. It has been moving that way since its inception—it’s hardly recognizable compared to the original, like a college graduate versus an incoming freshman. But the third generation really sets it apart; it’s no mere update. Trek started from the ground up to make the third-generation Domane better in nearly every way—its most versatile performance road bike to date. It’s more compliant, goes more places and gets there faster.

Let’s start with compliance; after all, that’s what the Domane and IsoSpeed was originally about. IsoSpeed allows Trek to increase compliance by “decoupling” the seat tube from the top tube, building extra flex into the seat tube without losing road feel and power transfer. And it’s easily adjustable, so you can quickly tune the feel you want for any terrain. There’s also a non-adjustable front IsoSpeed for additional front-end comfort. Trek claims that thanks to fine-tuning of the frame and the adjustable top-tube IsoSpeed, this new version is 27 percent more compliant than the previous version. And that’s just from the frame. One of the most effective ways to add comfort to a ride is with wider, low-pressure tires, and the Domane has clearance galore. Trek gives the go-ahead to run up to 38c tires (but manufacturer’s recommendations are always conservative), an increase from 35c in the last generation. Higher volume tires mean road-damping compliance, but they also mean versatility.

The previous Domane was already well equipped for offroading, but 38c (and even 40c) clearance means this can be a true gravel racing machine as well, tackling deep Kansas “groad.” If you ride in adverse weather a lot, or like to commute, there are also hidden fender mounts that still clear 35c tires, adding additional versatility without detracting from the performance-racing look of this frame. The down tube also has hidden storage under the bottle cage large enough for a tool roll—just another piece of thoughtful, tidy design here.

Trek is completely rethinking its sizing options for the new Domane. Gone are gender-specific versions. In their place is an expanded size range, spec’d with appropriately size components to fit more riders better. For an uncompromising road-racing machine, there is an option for Trek’s pro H1.5 geometry, available through its Project One program.

the future of road bikes

The latest Domane has enhanced aerodynamics, saving a claimed one minute per hour compared to the previous version. But it keeps a unique silhouette, foregoing dropped seatstays and truncated airfoils so prevalent these days. Adding to its mass appeal is the user-friendliness. The cable management has been cleaned up for an aerodynamically tidy front end, but does not use an integrated stem. Instead, cables route underneath the stem, making life easier for the home mechanic. A threaded T47 bottom bracket adds to the simple maintenance.


On paper, all those features add up to a bike that makes the most sense to the most people. Luckily, the ride experience matches up. As expected, the Domane is super-smooth. But it is not overly flexy or compliant in a distracting way; IsoSpeed manages to disappear into the background. It’s like a good personal assistant, anticipating your needs so effectively that you don’t even realize it’s hard at work.

The promise of IsoSpeed continues to deliver. Despite the excellent compliance, the power transfer remains fantastic (it’s good enough for tanks like Cancellara on the cobbles, and it is certainly more than effective enough for the rest of us). The power transfer helps uphill too. It does well on climbs where you can stay seated and hold a steady pace. But the added weight for technologies like IsoSpeed simply make the Domane not the nimblest climber. It leaves plenty of room in the Trek line for the Émonda to court the watts-per-kilo obsessives.

We are always concerned with the descending ability of road-damping technologies developed for relatively flat cobbles. But not with the Domane. IsoSpeed allows you to maintain complete control through the negative grades. There’s no delay in reaction when an unexpected crack forces a lastsecond deviation. Likewise, hitting a pothole doesn’t send the front end out of control onto an entirely new line.

The Domane may just make the most sense for the most riders. The ride is super-smooth, but still does everything pretty well. And it is certainly the most versatile of the Trek road range—a potential quiver killer for many that takes on the “groad” less traveled. Most of us only have the money for one high-end road bike. As much as we would all like to own a Madone for flat days and an Émonda for long climbs, that’s unrealistic. The Domane hits on a nice balance that reflects the needs of most riders.


$12,000 as tested (SLR versions start at $6,800); 7.8kg / 17.16 lbs (56cm)

SRAM Red eTAP AXS; Bontrager Aeolus XXX 4 wheels; Bontrager R3 tires; Bontrager Arvada saddle; Bontrager cockpit

This review originally appeared in issue 90.